Book Review: The Urban Sketcher by Marc Taro Holmes

Every once in a while I receive an email from a sketcher (or a potential sketcher) somewhere in the world asking what book I would recommend to them as an urban sketcher. My go-to book for anyone new to the subject is Gabi Campanario’s The Art of Urban Sketching.  But often they own this book already and are looking for yet another book recommendation.

And that is hard. Not because there aren’t great books on the subject. (more on some of my favorite books through the rest of the year as I get to reviewing them) But because everyone learns and is inspired differently. So I usually ask: do you like books based on lessons and exercises? Or are you inspired by looking at sketches by different people? Do you like looking at visuals but not reading? Or do you enjoy reading longer form text? Are you completely new to sketching? Or have you been doing this for a while?

I think I just found a book that would work across a great swath of sketchers, both new and more experienced. Marc Taro Holmes’ The Urban Sketcher is structured as a book filled with exercises, which is great for those who like to have their content broken up into lessons and exercises.

arc_bookcoverMy already-slightly-dog-eared copy of the book.

If you’re NOT one of those that ends up actually doing the exercises in a book, don’t stop reading just yet: This book is packed with little tips and tricks and theory, and with Marc’s take on many things: on line, tone and value, on his approach to 3-pass drawing and painting, on tools and composition and many more things. All this tucked into the “exercises” format that the book uses to break down the information into smaller chunks.

One of things I liked best about this book is that since Marc is such a versatile sketcher, you get to be one too when you use this book. Many sketchers are highly partial to a style or a medium, to drawing architecture or drawing people, to drawing in black and white, or in color. Marc’s versatility is a big strength. No matter what your medium preference, you’ll find whole sections of this book that will play off what you are familiar with before pushing you to try new techniques and mediums. ( And, if you are a beginner, the first section of the book walks you through the basics.)

arc_beginnerA section of the book that’s especially helpful if you are a beginner.

arc_tea_milk_honeyAnd Marc’s more advanced Tea-Milk-Honey approach.

A word of caution: don’t expect to do an exercise-a-day and move on to the next one. Some of what is broken down into seemingly simple exercises is stuff that you may work on over and over for a long time before you can actually produce something half decent. (For example, in the section on drawing people, the progression from drawing passive subjects to captive subjects, to subjects engaged in repetitive motion, to capturing a subject that only passes through your scene once is something that could take you a long time to work through).

arc_peopleThere’s so much information packed in these pages. 

And that’s what I liked about the book: it is dense, and it’s not a one-pass book. It’s a book you could work with for a long time through your sketching practice. Or one you could come back to from time to time for inspiration.

About Suhita Shirodkar

obsessive-sketcher. graphic designer.
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6 Responses to Book Review: The Urban Sketcher by Marc Taro Holmes

  1. Diane says:

    So glad to hear your take on this book! Received it for Christmas and just started reading it yesterday. I’m thinking I’ll take a 2 pass approach – read through once for overview – then a second time to savor and really learn from!


  2. Good and honest review. I agree with your comments and feel it’s an excellent resource. Frank B


  3. prafull says:

    thanks suhita for real 3rd person review. this makes me to buy a book now and let me take this opp to say that your winter vacation and latest sketches are great – liked loose style and great water coloring approach. you are my hero- great sketcher. Thank you suhita.


  4. Melissa says:

    So funny, I JUST bought this book for myself, and the day after it arrived I saw your review. Glad to know someone recommends it!


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