Author: James Richards

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James Richards sketching techniques online!

This just in–many of you know that a large part of my work in recent years has been responding to invitations to provide lectures, demonstrations and workshops to conferences and campuses on my approach and techniques for freehand concept drawing and urban sketching.  As a logical next step, I’ve collaborated with the excellent online learning company Craftsy to distill the key elements of my approach to on-location sketching into a crisp, 1.5-hour course that walks you through where to start, drawing architecture and entourage, creating an illusion of 3 dimensions, working with watercolor, and sketching on-location.  Computer motion graphics clarify concepts and enhance the learning experience.  I think it will be a great learning aid for designers who are interested in upping their sketching skills as a catalyst for creativity.  You can see a preview here:

James Richards Interview on Travel and Urban Sketching

Your sketches have a very unique, fun style to them. How did this develop?

My visual sense is undoubtedly shaped by the magazines and comics I read as a kid. I’d try to emulate the drawing styles of Mort Drucker, Ronald Searle, Paul Hogarth and others, so there’s some of that there. Also, the demands of my professional work as an urban designer has trained me over time to draw very quickly, so the speed of the strokes and the natural “left-handed lean” that results from my working fast probably translates into a more loose, fun style.

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

What inspires your work?

I travel a lot (43 countries so far); I’m inspired by the architecture, lively plazas and the buzz of positive energy I feel when I’m walking in great cities. Best of all is the people watching; as a designer I’m always watching the kinds of activity and human drama that unfolds in streets, parks and plazas. I see it, I want to draw it, and I want to do it in a way that others can share a part of that experience.

Paraty, Brazil

Let’s talk about process. What steps do you take when creating each piece?

I sketch on-location. I learned from urban sketcher Veronica Lawlor to walk all over, around and through a place, making a series of very small, quick thumbnail sketches. This was invaluable advice. When one of the thumbnails reveals a story to tell with a strong composition, that’s the subject.

RELATED STORY: Interview with Urban Sketcher Chunling Wu

I usually start with a horizon line, and a line frame. Then, I’ll actually draw some people first—some close, some further, walking, chatting, etc.—to ease my way into the sketch and to immediately add some life and depth to the scene. Then, the architecture is blocked out—big shapes first, then details, then darker values. I’ll add more people, cars, signs, street furnishings and other details to try to recreate the feel of the place. Then I’ll decide where to use color to underscore the focus of the sketch, or to try to capture a mood.

What do you hope each piece tells the viewer about the place it depicts?

Every place I visit has its own unique setting, architecture, history and culture. Great cities and places reflect that uniqueness, and the pride, aspirations and talents of the people who live there. I feel a sense of exuberance when exploring new places, and want others to sense that exuberance, too. In this sense, I think on-the-spot sketches, like travel, can open a window to open-mindedness and understanding of other places and cultures. I’d love for the drawings to inspire the people who view them to visit these places themselves.

The Palais Garnier, Paris

You seem to sketch quite a lot of busy, bustling cities. Is there a connection between style and subject?

Yes, I think so. I’m not trying to accurately recreate a view as much as I am trying to capture the energy I feel in the place. I try to express that in a strong overall shape for the composition, quick, variable lines, strong value contrast, and the focused use of vibrant color. I’m never quite satisfied with my interpretation at first, but when I revisit the sketch later, my experience of that place comes back to me.

Washington DC

Where or what has been your favourite place or subject to sketch and why?

The places I love best have a strong sense of history, authenticity, variety and a lively street life. The sites of our last three International Urban Sketching Symposiums—Lisbon, Santo Domingo and Barcelona—really stand out in my mind. You can walk everywhere, and there’s amazing subject matter everywhere you turn. And they are full of people who really love their city. That’s inspiring. Having lots of other sketchers there also enhanced the experience of those places, I’m sure.

Bosphorus waterfront, Istanbul

If you could sketch anywhere or anything in the world, where or what would it be and why?

I want to sketch the places I haven’t been. Cuba was at the top of my “bucket list” until this summer, when I got to travel and sketch there for a week. I’d still like very much to sketch in India. Hong Kong is high on my list. And I want to get to Africa, though it would be a different kind of environment and sketching challenge.

Rajburi, Thailand

Finally, do you have any tips or advice for readers who might be interested in sketching the places they visit?

Yes. Try to sketch whenever you can, of course. But here’s the thing: Try to find a group to sketch with. Sketching with a group versus alone is like the difference between plunking away at a guitar on your bed and joining a garage band—everyone rises by being part of the group. You learn from each other, you support each other, you inspire each other. You should take any opportunity to sketch that you can, obviously, but being part of a group accelerates the learning process, and adds to the fun, as well.

You can see more of James’ work on his blog.

I’m a big fan of James’ quick sketchy style that captures the busyness of places. What do you like most about it?

This interview was conducted by Lizzie Davey and was first featured on Wanderarti

The 4th International Urban Sketching Symposium

The 4th International Urban Sketching Symposium was held last week in Barcelona, Spain.  It was attended by about 200 “registered” participants from 30 different countries; another 100 or so showed up from across the globe just to meet each other, draw together, and celebrate the urban sketching phenomenon.  My fellow ASLA member Richard Alomar and I were among the workshop instructors.  Participants included landscape architects, architects, artists, illustrators, film animators, computer game designers, as well as accountants, biologists, and entrepreneurs – all brought together by a love of on-location sketching.  More landscape architects attend each year; building skills and learning how location sketching – capturing “what is” – can be a springboard for envisioning “what can be.”  I’ve posted an album with more sketches from the Symposium in my Land8 Folio that you can view, here

Jim’s sketching book is finally out!

Hello all! Many of you have asked when I would come out with a drawing book. I am delighted to announce that after nine months of writing and another six of book design and production, my book Freehand Drawing and Discovery: Urban Sketching and Concept Drawing for Designers, has been released by John Wiley and Sons.  The book’s Amazon page and the reviews sum it up pretty well…please check it out.  Keep dreaming, and keep drawing!  


Check out some of my sketches I have posted here on Land8:

Top: Spanish Steps, Rome.  Above: Italian Market  View more… Freehand Drawing and Discovery


View down pedestrian street

View down pedestrian street, Santo Domingo.  View more… 3rd International Urban Sketching Symposium – Dominican Republic


Machu Picchu, Peru bw – View more… Urban Sketches South America 2012


James Richards Sketchbook: A new blog!

Hi all; my new blog is up!  Check in for current sketches and musings on design and creativity (and music and Mexican food and…you get the idea).  I’ll also be posting updates on the final weeks of writing and illustrating my first major book, Freehand Drawing and Discovery: A Sketching Renaissance in a Digital Age (that’s the working title this week).  Please check out the blog at the link below and become a member; I’d love to hear from you!  -Jim

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