I’m a big fan of Guy Granit, the man who is basically a walking 101 for everything Israeli Illustration.
As you probably know, I’m super excited about the first Illustration Week going on right now in Tel Aviv (one and two happy posts so far) and when Guy offered to share with me his insights regarding Urban Sketching in Tel Aviv, my immediate response was jumping up and down with excitement.
Anyways, I’m sure you’ll find his post super intriguing plus, it’s always fun to get an illustrated sneak of so many of my favorite spots in Tel Aviv. So… Thank you Sari for the fab translation and now Guy, the stage is all yours!
The combination between the non-stop bustle of a city as dense and frenetic as Tel Aviv and its hidden architectural gems, alongside a few quiet spots that offer a getaway from the urban clamor – are probably the reason why urban sketching is gaining momentum in this city.
Urban sketching is the documentation of places and activities through quick freehand drawings, which relate what the eye sees onto the page. The example here of two sketches might be a bit complex. Both show a road leading to a parking lot in downtown Tel Aviv. If you look closer, you can see another common denominator: three buildings of ascending heights and a face peering out of the graffiti. The drawings were made using different techniques and each focuses on different elements of the scenery. This is actually the idea behind this post: to try to understand the variations between sketches of similar scenes, created by different sketchers.
Tel Aviv boasts two different sketch groups that head out into “the field,” or the street in this case, to do urban sketching. The first is The Israeli branch of the international Urban Sketchers community, a group open to anyone interested in sketching in the city. The group has been meeting once a month for the past two years, at various locales around the city. The second is “Shmezalel”, a one-woman drawing and painting school started by Natalia Zourabova.
Launched last August, Shmezalel aspires to offer an alternative to the painting classes provided at the various graphic design colleges, and focuses on classical academic techniques. Painters and sketchers looking to hone their craft are invited to a weekly session, for a fee, at surprise locations around the city, that often feature staged scenes and models. The goal is to challenge and encourage the participants. Both groups present their first exhibition this month.
The following drawings are from Shmezalel. The task was an educational one in which the group members sketched the same landscape, although the differences in technique, style, and focus are clearly evident.
I perused quite a few drawings from both groups, seeking to understand the differences and similarities between visual interpretations of identical subject matter. I found that it is the combination of elements in space along with the sketcher’s choices and preferences, working method and technique that make each piece unique. I spoke with Marina Grechanik and Natalia Zourabova, the administrators of Urban Sketchers and Shmezalel, respectively, to delve deeper into the world of sketching. Marina Grechanik, illustrator, designer, veteran sketcher and the Urban Sketchers correspondent and Israel’s branch administrator, introduced the idea of group sketching to Tel Aviv. Her group is made up of permanent and occasional participants (illustrators, designers, architects, artists, students and hobbyists, and a few people whose specialty is sketching like Marina herself). Together they tell the story of the city, fleeting moments recorded succinctly yet with a great deal of sensitivity.
Marina, how does the specific scenery influence the sketcher’s approach to his/her drawing? For example, choosing a technique, choosing what to focus on, how much detail to go into, and the amount of time spent.
“Urban sketching is done in many different settings: indoors or outdoors, in hectic or quiet places, in industrial districts or green parks, etc. Some artists develop a favorite technique that they feel most comfortable using, and they use it in every setting and they work on developing it. If, for example, they sketch in pen and add color with watercolors, then in more dynamic locations they only have time to sketch in pen.
For some people (myself included), the setting, scene and atmosphere play a role in the choice of technique. For example, to draw people in action – children playing, passersby in a park, etc, it’s easier to use a single drawing utensil – a pen brush, marker or pencil. In general, the setting has both static and dynamic elements. I like starting with the big, fixed objects to mark out the space, then wait for something interesting to happen. As soon as something interesting happens in the frame, you can quickly add it to the “stage” you have already set. I developed a technique of working with watercolors and water-soluble colored pencils, in which I started with patches of color rather than lines, then progress in layers of line and color. This allows a lot of freedom, dynamism a “room for error (…)”
(…) “It’s very important to carefully consider the surroundings before starting, to decide what to focus on, what your ‘story’ is going to be. We aren’t photographers and don’t need to draw everything we see. As for how long to spend on a drawing, I like that to be decided by the setting. For example, if the people I was drawing leave, or my waiting period ends and I have to go soon. It is often hard to decide when to finish a drawing, and some drawings remain ‘unfinished’ and that is their appeal.”
Although I myself haven’t taken active part in those urban sketching sessions (sketchcrawls), I observed quite a few with Liran, my partner, who is an illustrator, and I think I have witnessed quite a bit of the “flashpoint” Marina spoke about, the moment when the sketcher is done observing and starts drawing.
The approaches and work processes of the Urban Sketchers and Shmezalel (which operates as more of a drawing class) differ from each other, but also share some common elements, evident in Natalia and Marina’s answer to the following question:
How do the different drawing techniques and utensils affect the character of urban sketching and vice versa? Natalia (Shmezalel): “Heading outdoors with serious equipment like an easel, professional paints and canvas, like relocating the studio to the street, means to interrupt and disturb the city’s routine. A city is a functional system, but when we go out and draw it, we experience it as a nonfunctional entity. Every time you draw an urban landscape, you cope with the main challenge: finding a balance between two contrasts – small moving figures and the giant geometric forms of buildings. When you stand and draw in the middle of a crowd for three hours, you’re like a simultaneous translator. In Shmezalel, I like using oil or acrylic paints, because they lend themselves to more massive and continuous work; you can become completely immersed, but sometimes we do short, quick sketches with pencils, watercolors or markers, which create an intimacy with the place and objects.” Marina (Urban Sketchers): “I would say that more than the technique affects the illustration, the character of urban sketching affects the various drawing techniques and the drawing utensils used. Real urban sketchers always carry their toolkit around with them, which has to be light and portable – a sketchbook, a few pens and pencils, maybe a compact set of watercolors. This basic toolkit lets you set up quickly – be ready in a moment to capture an interesting scene. On the other hand, these simple tools let you draw in a range of techniques.
What characterizes urban sketching is that everything is ‘kosher’. You can use just watercolors or pencils, and be very academic and traditional. Or you can mix ballpoint pens with cheap markers, oil pastels with collage, and it’s all part of the genre. What’s important is that the drawing tell a small story we were witness to. Of course there are tools more suitable for quick sketching – markers, pen brushes, pencils; on the other hand, watercolors and acrylics let you make slower progress and spend more time on a drawing.”
Natalia, let’s be pedagogical for a moment. What do students learn at Shmezalel from drawing in urban spaces? Natalia: “Drawing outside is an inexhaustible source of learning when it comes to techniques for describing spaces. For example, in Shmezalel we held special classes devoted to the study of linear perspective by drawing on the beach, and using the line of the skyscrapers for measurement, or aerial perspective by using color and tone contrasts. In our class at Habima Square in Tel Aviv, we worked on developing a sense of proportion by comparing large and small volumes, an ability which comes in handy later in drawing portraits and scenes. Chiaroscuro, or the emphasis on light and shadow, is also an important part of drawing outdoors. Shmezalel students must often cope with the problem of changing lighting, and learn to store what they see in their memory.”
(The sketches of Habima Square shown here are from Urban Sketchers and not Shmezalel. You can view these on their facebook page.)
From what I saw at the Urban Sketchers sketchcrawls, when the group reaches a destination the sketchers tend to spread out, each seeking his/her own personal niche and angle, and move around during the session. I was interested in why the sketchers often naturally choose the same objects to draw. Sometimes it is obvious, like the sparkly new facade on Tel Aviv’s city hall or the curving, snake-headed street lamps along the boardwalk at the port.
Marina talks about true sketchers, who sketch in every spare moment. Sketchers don’t only draw in organized groups but also independently (both of the first two examples are such) or with a few friends. Their daily route through the city (and it doesn’t have to be Tel Aviv, there are Israeli sketchers elsewhere as well), affects the places they choose to document. There are places they return to draw again and again, simply because they pass there often or because they are drawn to them. That is how, coincidentally, Marina sketched the same parking lot with the graffiti (shown at the beginning of the article) again this week.
I think the factors leading to the differences among sketches of the same place are a little clearer to me now.