The Urban Sketcher – Techniques for seeing and drawing on location by Marc Taro Holmes

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by Chantal Fournier on November 14, 2014

Way back in 2011, our founder, Aimée did an interview with Marc Taro Holmes and in 2012, we featured Marc’s sketchbook.

Well, we can never get enough of Marc’s work, so here is a review of his all new book:”The Urban Sketcher: Techniques for seeing and drawing on location.“

Disclaimer: Marc is my friend. I attended the workshop he and Shari Blaukopf gave in Montreal in 2013 and we hangout every once in a while. However, I paid for my copy of this book and I’m going to try and make this review as honest as possible.

Marc teaching a workshop.

The first thing one notices is that this is a very good looking book. My boyfriend, who has no interest to ever learn how to draw or paint, carefully paged through it and exclaimed how great it looked. It is very hard to scan sketches and subtle washes and the reproductions in the book are good. A few of the photographs are a bit dark, but when you stop to consider that they are action shots of Marc drawing in a student belly dance recital, well, it’s no surprise that they are dark.

The book is split in 3 main sections: graphite, ink, and colour. Each section is in turn split in 3 parts. In the first part, in addition of walking you through drawing on location with a pencil, Marc touches on drawing from the outside in, measuring and making sure that your whole subject fits on your page.

In the second part, the tools become a bit more involved and so does the process, but the third section is where the real challenge comes in. Plein air painting is quite the step up from doodling and sketching and Marc goes into details regarding logistics and techniques.

A Basilica painting by Marc Taro Holmes

But it’s not all about materials. At the same time as you go from simple pencil drawings to ink drawings with spotted blacks to tinted drawings and finally fully painted scenes, there are lessons and exercises that start you up drawing the covers and food on a table to object montages, street view vignettes up to complicated street scenes filled with cars and passersby. There is quite a bit of space dedicated to drawing people who are not posing for you. From the easy person reading the paper in a café to belly dancers, musicians, pedestrians and cyclists zipping by.

Strewn around the book are sidebars and tidbits that can save you a lot of time as you don’t have to make those mistakes yourself to learn. Also, while he also talks about composition, measuring and points of interest, most of the space is dedicated to the specific skills related to drawing on location. This book is amazing at what it does, but it’s not going to replace good basic books to learn perspective, anatomy or even how to start doodling. Some of the concepts are complicated and I see them more as prompts than as instructions. I see them as the author’s way of saying:”Hey, this concept exists and it’s useful to what we are doing, look into it.” Because no book could ever contain all the information needed to learn to draw and paint.

Museum objects montage by Marc Taro Holmes.

I recommend this book to anyone who has dabbled in drawing and is interested in drawing from life more, even if it’s just inside your own home. It certainly is one of the best ways to improve.


You can get the book on Amazon here. The Urban Sketcher: Techniques for Seeing and Drawing on Location

(When you follow this link, the affiliate revenues help Drink and Draw, because we are run by volunteers and do not have advertisement on the site.)

Or you can buy directly from Marc here

And as always, you can join the Urban Sketchers for a fun art outing every month.


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