Urban Sketching To Find Creative Inspiration [Using Google Maps For Virtual Travel]

Overcoming a creative block and finding inspiration can be a real challenge, there are times when each and every creative will fall into such a rut but there is a series of techniques that can be used to break out of the block. In this article we will look at how you can use Urban Sketching as a way to find creative inspiration.

The way of the Urban Sketchers have been overlooked by many creatives and not given the attention and credence deserved by the humble, yet incredibly rewarding act of simply getting stuck into documenting your surroundings using whatever tools are at your disposal.

Another great tool that you can use to aid you in the virtual travel journey is Pinterest, you can even using Pinterest to create a board for Urban Sketching inspiration. I recently wrote an article explaining how to create inspiration boards and how to use Pinterest to find creative inspiration.

Back to the subject of Urban Sketching, we all know that for most of the world it hasn’t been quite so easy as grabbing your equipment and heading out over the past year, that being said though it shouldn’t be written off or viewed as a limitation, we have Google Maps.

Some of the points covered throughout this article will be:

  • The definition of Urban Sketching
  • The history of Urban Sketchers
  • The Urban Sketching community
  • Tools and equipment necessary
  • How to choose a location
  • How to use Google Maps
  • 4 Steps to begin an Urban Sketch
  • Where to find creative inspiration

What is Urban Sketching?

Simply put, Urban Sketching is the act of drawing on location, depicting and documenting the world around you and more often than not, this occurs in an urban setting. Mostly consisting of architecture or people’s interactions with the world around them within villages, towns and cities, urban sketching is an inspiration fuel that exists everywhere and is available to everyone, the world can be your muse with this endeavour.

There are slightly different views on this definition held by purists to dabblers but the official mission of Urban Sketchers as defined by the UrbanSketchers.org website is:

To raise the artistic, storytelling and educational value of on-location drawing, promoting its practice and connecting people around the world who draw on location where they live and travel.

What is the history of Urban Sketching?

Urban Sketching as we now know it was founded in 2007 when a journalist based in Seattle named Gabriel Campanario started a blog and online forum for Urban Sketchers. This online platform gave Urban Sketchers around the world the opportunity to share their artwork with others, get to know their peers and connect with like-minded people.

Truth is, there’s nothing new about people documenting the world around them and being inspired by their surrounding environment, but the global community aspect of this practice has definitely been propelled into its highest popularity since Campanario started his platform and began bringing everyone together.

The Urban Sketchers manifesto pretty much explains what Urban Sketchers are all about!

1. We draw on location, indoors or out, capturing what we see from direct observation.

2. Our drawings tell the story of our surroundings, the places we live and where we travel.

3. Our drawings are a record of time and place.

4. We are truthful to the scenes we witness.

5. We use any kind of media and cherish our individual styles.

6. We support each other and draw together.

7. We share our drawings online.

8. We show the world, one drawing at a time.

Urban Sketchers Manifesto

Is there an Urban Sketching community?

Yes, indeed there is and the Urban Sketchers community is not only huge, it’s worldwide!

There are tens of thousands of Urban Sketchers to be found online that you can connect with and even in local cities and towns there are many groups that are operating and arranging meetups whether that is out in person or online.

As an example, my local group is the Urban Sketchers London Group on Facebook and that has almost 4,000 members, this shows the massive potential for meeting locals in your own areas to connect with for encouragement, motivation and inspiration.

Another great aspect of the Urban Sketch community is that it is made up of artists and hobbyists of all levels and walks of life, all you need is the motivation and some basic tools to go out and get involved, becoming a part of this great community in the process.

What tools and equipment do I need for Urban Sketching?

There are absolutely no rules here. You could use a full oil painting setup, an iPad or a half snapped biro with a piece of toilet tissue, the key is getting out there and doing it.

The true beauty of Urban Sketching is that it is a great way to push yourself to try something new, to get into a new routine of regular sketching and even experimenting with media to see how your style develops. By taking the time to stop and observe your surroundings, you will gain a new appreciation for the world around you and a better understanding of how it works.

A great way to get started would be to simply grab whatever tools are closest, sit by a window or step outside and start to capture the scene in front of your eyes, drawing what you see in anyway you can manage. It will not take too long of doing this before your skills improve and a style begins to develop.

How do I choose a location for Urban Sketching?

This factor is dependant on the current circumstances where you live as well as your confidence level. As a beginner or a more introverted person, you may prefer to pick a quiet and secluded location. Equally you may to choose to travel virtually in order to carry out your urban sketches.

The possibilities truly are limitless and the environments necessary for Urban Sketching are available to anyone and everyone, you just need to draw a scene that you can see and that appeals to your creative nature, again that may be architecturally focused or people focused, it doesn’t matter, as long as you are documenting what you can see.

Here are a few suggestions of places to find inspiration:

  • Your own home
  • Your local market or shops
  • Any distinctive buildings in your area
  • Coffee shop sketches
  • Parks
  • Restaurants
  • Gardens
  • Beaches
  • Museums

How to use Google Maps for Urban Sketching

So without harping on about the impact of the pandemic and the situation people have been in of late, let’s take a look at a great method of getting out and exploring the world; virtual traveling and still managing to sketch regardless of any restrictions or lockdowns.

Google Maps.

Not only does Google Maps make it possible to get out irrespective of restrictions, it also opens the world up for people who don’t have the means or opportunity to travel in person and visit far-off places. With Google anyone can travel, almost anywhere, at the touch of a button or screen.

With the Google Maps approach to traveling and Urban Sketching there now comes another tricky aspect as to how to choose a location. There are 3 prime options for picking a location when traveling virtually.

  1. Research based – Pick a location you’d love to visit, do some research to narrow it down and pinpoint an exact spot
  2. Random choice – Use a tool such as Map Crunch or throw a dart at an atlas (I’m sure there are digital tools for this)
  3. Recommendations – Ask your friends or peers for suggestions and recommendations

4 Steps to begin your Urban Sketching journey

  1. Pack your equipment, including lunch
  2. Pick your location
  3. Get comfortable and set up
  4. Begin sketching

How my Urban Sketching Session went

Where to find more creative inspiration

This article is a part of a series of articles in the works under the umbrella topic of ‘How To Find Creative Inspiration’ which will soon be put together and published as a free eBook for everyone that has signed up for the mailing list.

Don’t miss out, subscribe via email to the JGlover Art studio in order to receive inspiration into your inbox monthly, a new article to read, some artwork to inspire you as well as exclusive discounts, prize draws and more!

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