Urban sketching as creative fuel

Urban sketching is mostly a hobby, but it can also benefit many people in their professional occupations. In his new book, Freehand Drawing and Discovery ($65, Wiley & Sons), urban designer and educator Jim Richards gives urban sketching his stamp of approval as a tool that can help architects, urban designers and creative professionals throughout their careers.

Jim, an associate professor at the University of Texas School of Architecture, makes a simple but powerful point in this beautifully illustrated, 265-page manual, that the more we draw the things we see, the better equipped we are to draw what we think, to translate abstract concepts into easy to understand visual communication. That’s why he defines urban sketching as “creative fuel,” offering this quote from professor Frank Ching to further illustrate his point: “If you draw 1,000 trees from life, then the tree you draw from imagination will have integrity.”

Jim’s book offers a great mix of thought-provoking narrative about the value of freehand drawing in the digital age and practical drawing instruction. In the section titled “Learning a Language,” urban sketchers of any skill level will find useful step-by-step sketching tutorials and drawing tips (work small, simplify technique, draw people first.) Jim has gone as far as redrawing his own sketches to reveal the steps he took to make them while on location.

Work by several urban designers (i.e. Michael VergasonKevin Sloan) and sketchers (i.e. Luis RuizLiz Steel) is also featured in the book. I am honored to be one of them, but even more delighted that someone of Jim’s professional standing has given a nod to urban sketching in such a prominent fashion.

I first met Jim in person at the 2nd International Urban Sketching Symposium in Lisbon and I have followed his artwork online ever since. Jim has a long career as an urban design consultant and this is his first year stepping into the world of academia, where he is sure to get students excited about drawing on location. Jim also serves on the board of the Urban Sketchers nonprofit and is founder of Urban Sketchers Texas.