A sketch is a rough or unfinished drawing or painting, often made to inform the creation of a subsequent, more finished product.
The Urban Sketching movement was created in 2007 by Seattle journalist and illustrator Gabriel Campanario. Like the plein air (outdoor) painting method popularized by French Impressionists of the 19th century, urban sketching encourages artists to work in situ, taking their art out of the studio and into the world. Urban Sketching is distinct, however, in that it has journalistic roots and focuses specifically on telling visual stories of everyday life, which are then shared online.
The focus of Urban Sketching is to capture one’s surroundings or draw what you see. The connections between scholarly research and the Urban Sketching movement are notable as they both rely on observation, analysis, storytelling and contributing to community knowledge. Both processes use a curated set of data and observations to tell a story that will likely turn into something more.
Urban Sketching also relieves stress, hones observational and analytical skills, flexes creativity and problem-solving skills as well as elevates seemingly mundane moments from everyday life, allowing us to see our own world from a different perspective.
The project was a collaboration between associate professor Richard Alomar, chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture and director of the Office of Urban Extension and Engagement, and Megan Lotts, art librarian, Rutgers University Libraries-New Brunswick. Throughout the month of November 2021, the Rutgers Urban Sketching project invited individuals to document, share and connect by building a virtual collection of drawings from life as we know it.
Beyond collecting images, the RU Urban Sketch project invited individuals to attend community sketching sessions. EJB Designs, a student run club out of The Rutgers, Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, held two virtual sketching events, open to anyone who wanted to participate. Also on November 9, project participants gathered on the steps of the Art Library to sketch Voorhees Mall. Sketch sessions bring together people from all disciplines and are a space where communities are created and many individuals are introduced to like-minded thinkers with whom they might have never come in contact with.
One of the most exciting moments during the 2021 project was when art librarian Megan Lotts and Giovanni Caputo, RU SEBS alum and former 2020 project co-coordinator, were invited to share the project with landscape architecture professor Anette Freytag’s course. Throughout a 3-hour workshop with the class, they were able to discuss Urban Sketching, the importance of visual literacy and the RU Libraries, as well as learn more about each other and our local communities, all while examining and sketching the Cook Campus landscape.
When it comes to trying something new like sketching, however, participants are hesitant because they are afraid to fail. Many comment, “I can’t even draw a stick figure” yet Urban Sketching isn’t about creating a masterpiece, it’s about taking time to stop and observe one’s surroundings and learn from what one sees. When stopping to “sketch the roses” one can begin to form questions and ideas that might not have been considered without a closer look. In one workshop attended by faculty and staff from the Rutgers University Libraries, one participant confessed they were very intimidated and unsure about participating in the project. However, after attending a workshop and learning more about the project, they realized they could connect with Urban Sketching because they understood math and creating six line drawings, a sketching concept that was new to them.
As part of this project, Megan Lotts also curated an exhibit for the Rutgers Art Library featuring resources related to Sketching & Drawing which are available within the Rutgers University Libraries.
The project’s weekly prompts included the following:
Nov. 1-5: Draw a landscape or the sky
Nov. 3: EJB Virtual Drawing Session w EJB Design
Nov. 8-12: Draw an indoor setting you visit daily
Nov. 9: Draw Voorhees Mall (meet on Art Library steps, noon)
Nov. 15- 19: Draw what you see out a window
Nov. 17: EJB Virtual Drawing Session w EJB Design
Nov. 22-26: Draw a friend, family, or pet
Nov. 29- Dec. 4: Draw a meal
To learn more about the project and to see additional sketches, go to the Rutgers Urban Sketching webpage!