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.
My 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.)
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).
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.