Friday 31 December 2021

‘Sticks in the Smoke’ - Nick Andrew’s sketchbook project exploring London’s public green spaces

Nick's blog 'Sticks in the Smoke' 

Drawing has always been an important part of my life: a passion, a need, a means of getting to know the world around me, of working out ideas and of trying things out, of playing. But always with an eye on how I may progress beyond drawing.

However, over the past few years I’ve started to see drawing as an act that I can enjoy for its own sake. This began in 2016 with a sketchbook-based project entitled ‘Sticks in the Smoke’, drawing in London’s public green spaces and writing about them in my blog.
‘Sticks in the Smoke’ refers to a rural artist from ‘the Sticks’ visiting London - ‘The Smoke’.

I started working in gardens and parks chosen at random from the three central London boroughs: City of London, City of Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea. My first was on a cold, misty January day at St Paul’s Cathedral Garden, standing amongst a growth of dogwood and enjoying the contrast between the straggly winter garden and the busy rush of city life. 

St Paul's Cathedral Garden
Mixed media sketchbook drawing 21 January 2016

In that first year I drew in over 50 gardens, exploring parts of the city that I had never visited before and realising that they all have important tales to tell about the history and development of our capital. And, while standing drawing for several hours, I was meeting local people who go there on a regular basis and have stories about how the spaces are used today.

Ropers Garden, for example, next to the Chelsea Embankment, is on the site of riverside orchards that belonged to Sir Thomas More in the 16th century. They were a wedding gift to his daughter Margaret on her marriage in 1521 to William Roper, a lawyer and member of parliament.

Ropers Gardens, Chelsea
Mixed media sketchbook drawing 19 October 2016

I made two drawings here in October 2016 -- one of them includes ‘The Awakening’, a beautiful bronze by Gilbert Ledward RA, and in the other is a stone sculpture by Sir Jacob Epstein, ‘Woman Taking off Her Dress’. (Epstein's first studio was in a warehouse on this site before the First World War.) A taxi driver who had parked his cab nearby wandered over to look at my drawing, and we talked about art for a minute or two. Scrutinising the Epstein, he narrowed his eyes: “Not really my cup of tea, mate. Reckon the best bit is the plinth!” 

St Mary's Staining
Mixed media sketchbook drawing 18 August 2016

On a hot day in August 2016 I drew three gardens -- St Mary’s Aldermanbury, St Mary’s Staining and St Olave’s Silver Street -- within a stone's throw of one another just south of London Wall. All of these green spaces are in the footprints of churches which were destroyed in the Great Fire of London, which had happened exactly 350 years before. In each garden I found patches of tree shade where I could draw, and as my wax pastels melted in the heat, I tried to imagine the filthy, narrow and waste-ridden streets of this part of London during the heatwave of August 1666 when, less than a mile away, a small fire that began in a bakery fanned into a thundering inferno.

St Olave's, Silver Street
Mixed media sketchbook drawing 18 August 2016

The following year I started to explore green spaces further afield in London and south of the river. In late March 2017 I made two drawings exploring the north part of Battersea Park -- the first time I’d set foot here since overlooking it from my student hall of residence, a long time ago! It was a beautiful, warm spring day. The park was teeming with runners, dog walkers, cyclists, tourists, families and parents with buggies. Groups of schoolkids on Easter holiday were playing football, their jackets and scooters in a heap. The Peace Pagoda rose through still-bare tree branches with a hazy glimpse of the cityscape beyond, and river breezes softened traffic noise to a gentle hum.

Peace Pagoda, Battersea Park
Mixed media sketchbook drawing 30 March 2017

The last Sticks in the Smoke sketchbook drawing I did was in September 2019. By then 
I had made well over 100 drawings in 99 green spaces. Pressure of commissions and exhibitions made it more difficult for me to get up to London. And then, of course, within a few months came the pandemic and lockdowns.

When I can't get up to London, I work on other drawing projects closer to my home in rural Wiltshire. My most recent project is ’A Gap in the Market’, a year-long series of drawings in Salisbury’s historic Charter Market, which I started in September 2020. The drawings were exhibited at Fisherton Mill, Salisbury in August and September 2021. 

Winter Planes, Salisbury Market Place
Mixed media sketchbook drawing 2 February 2021

Drawing at Salisbury Charter Market 21 August 2021

As a result of my Sticks in the Smoke project I was asked to provide the illustrations for a book, ’Bloomsbury's Squares and Gardens’, which was published in 2020 by the Association of Bloomsbury’s Squares and Gardens. To help promote this, I was invited up to London to draw during the Bloomsbury Festival in October 2021. It was wonderful to be working in London again. I made a drawing in a different Bloomsbury garden square each day, meeting a lot of people and getting an insight into Bloomsbury as almost a village community. 

St George's Garden, Bloomsbury
Mixed media sketchbook drawing 20 October 2021

Over two afternoons I made the panoramic drawing of Bedford Square below. I liked the shadows streaking across the paving, underlying the rounded shape of the garden. Each day I was working almost until dusk, busy city life happening all around. On the second evening I was packing my things when I heard a child shouting “Look, LOOK!!”. As I watched, a ragged russet form ripped across the street through a gap in the traffic: a fox! It stood for a moment by the park railings, sniffing the evening air, then slipped into the dark sanctuary of the garden undergrowth!

Bedford Square, Bloomsbury
Mixed media sketchbook drawing 21 October 2021

In June 2022 the pieces produced during the Bloomsbury Festival will be exhibited in one of the garden squares during London Open Gardens weekend. Fingers crossed!

Also in 2022 I look forward to picking up my Sticks in the Smoke project again. I feel I’ve hardly scratched the surface of London’s green spaces!

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Nick Andrew on mixed media drawing
I like the variation, contrast and freedom offered by mixed media drawing. I generally use Faber-Castell's Pitt oil base pencils, black Uni-ball Air pens, black drawing ink applied with a stick (Costa coffee stirrers are the best, or a piece of twig picked up from the ground!), waterproof wax pastels (Caran D’Ache Neocolour I), watercolours, and a Pentel correction fluid pen (my secret weapon!). I work in Saunders-Waterford HP sketchbooks.

My drawings over the past two years or so are larger-scale pieces -- not sketchbook drawings --  on Saunders Waterford HP watercolour paper, measuring 76 x 56cm. For the larger panoramic pieces (152 x 76cm), I fix two sheets together using Filmoplast acid-free document repair tape on the back. 

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Thursday 23 December 2021

Call for submissions: The Urban Sketchers London 10th anniversary book

Isabel Carmona - on Instagram @isacarand

In 2022 we celebrate the 10th anniversary of Urban Sketchers London. To mark the occasion we're publishing a book of sketches that show London 'one drawing at a time'.

What's the deadline?

We're accepting submissions until midnight (GMT) of 22 January 2022.

Who can submit?

We welcome submissions from any sketcher in the UK or abroad who has drawn London on location in a way that meets the criteria of the Urban Sketchers Manifesto.

How do sketchers submit their artwork?

To submit your sketches, use the Google Form below.
You will of course need to agree to our terms and conditions, which we have set out below.

Lis Watkins - on instagram @lineandwash

What are we looking for?

We want to see a variety of sketches that tell a story of London. Not only the most well known parts, but also landmarks, places, people, and cultural or political events that tell a story about London over the last 10 years.
We also want to know the story behind your sketch, in your words, in 300 characters or less (NB: each space counts as a character).

Si Newell - on Instagram

What do we mean by a story?

A story is essentially a caption for your sketch. 

Adam Jefford - on Instagram @typem2b

Here are our terms and conditions

  • Submissions are free of charge

  • Each person may submit up to three sketches.

  • No sketches from photographs are permitted.

  • Your sketches must have been made during the past 10 years. 

  • By submitting sketches for selection, you confirm they are your own work and you are the rightful owner of the sketches.

  • By submitting your sketches you give us permission to reproduce them and include them in the book, which will be for sale, without remuneration to you. 

  • Submitting your work doesn't guarantee that it will be selected.

  • The copyright of each original sketch remains with the sketcher, and each artwork included in the book will be fully acknowledged.

  • A judging panel will select the images for the book, and their decision will be final. 

  • If your artwork is selected we will contact you and let you know when the book will be available for purchase.

  • If your artwork is selected, you also give Urban Sketchers London permission to re-use the images you submitted as part of any marketing or promotional materials for the book, without remuneration to you. 

  • If your artwork is selected for the book, you will be offered a copy of the book at a 50% discount. We haven't set the price yet, but we will let you know as soon as we do.

And here is the link for submissions 

To submit your sketches, just fill in this Google Form for the Urban Sketchers London 10-year anniversary book

Any questions?

If you have any questions, just drop us an email.

Sasala Wickramasinghe - on Instagram @sasketcher_rw

We look forward to celebrating a decade of Urban Sketchers London in 2022! 

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Thursday 16 December 2021

Update - Stop Press - Covent Garden sketch meet cancelled on 18 December 2021

Covent Garden sketch meet cancelled on Saturday 18 December - online alternative

[by Isabel Carmona and Sasala Wickramasinghe]

It is with regret that we have decided to cancel our sketch meet on Saturday 18 December in Covent Garden due to the surge in Covid cases that makes travelling and mixing in crowded scenarios a riskier situation.

We will in due course reschedule this sketch event as the area is so vibrant and full of sketching opportunities.

Alternative sketch activity for Saturday 18 December

As an alternative we propose you sketch anything Christmas/Winter related (trees, street scenes locally with great lighting, etc) that inspires you. As with other virtual events we ask you to continue to sketch on location from observation and tell a story, following the urban sketchers manifesto.

Please post your images on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (use #urbansketcherslondon) as usual to share with our community.

Urban Sketchers London on social media


Tuesday 14 December 2021

CANCELLED To remind - Let's draw Covent Garden: Saturday 18 December 2021

= Cancelled =

Covent Garden sketch meet on Saturday 18 December

[by Isabel Carmona and Sasala Wickramasinghe]

We are still looking forward to our sketch meeting outdoors at Covent Garden, as planned. London Underground Tube strikes are still scheduled for that day, so please check the Transport for London website for guidance before you travel.

For all of the key times and meeting points, options for drawing and practical information, please see the original blog post

Covid-related precautions

We urge you however to be extra careful, given the spread of the latest Covid variant. And if possible please take a lateral flow test before coming along. If you feel unwell or think you may have been in close contact with a positive case, please stay at home.

On the day

We will meet at 11am outside the Apple Store (1-7 The Piazza, WC2E 8HB) under the arches in the covered area, which should provide shelter in case of rain.

Wherever we meet as a group, whether at the 11am beginning or at throwdown points during the day, we may be less than 2m apart. So even though we will be outside, please wear a face covering unless you are exempt.  Please also respect others who may be a bit nervous about social distance during these difficult times.

COVID-19 visit information

COVID-19 and its variants remain prevalent. It's sensible to take all necessary precautions to keep ourselves and fellow sketchers safe throughout the event. The risk of infection for outdoor events may be low, but basic guidance still applies:
  • please do not attend if you feel unwell
  • wear a face covering when you're close to others
  • give people space
  • practice good hand hygiene.
Please also do a self-test before the event.


Sunday 12 December 2021

We drew the Design Museum and Holland Park - Saturday 20 November 2021

Urban Sketchers London at the Design Museum
November 2021
Photo by Si Newell

[By Jimmy Lu and Helen Hayhoe]

On 20th November we got together at the Design Museum for our fifth sketchcrawl since lockdowns ended.

Despite anxieties about the pandemic, more than 40 people made their way to Kensington for what became a very successful day. 

The Design Museum was a great venue. The staff were welcoming, the location easy to find and the setting in Holland Park had varied and interesting sketch potential. 

Lynne Flinders

We were careful about Covid. People were encouraged to test before they came, and we followed guidelines about mask wearing and distancing.

Many of us chose to sketch out of doors in the morning, just in case it rained. The cold drove many of us indoors but there was a good sprinkling of people around the café, Holland House, the Orangery and the Kyoto Gardens

Mike Whalley

Inside, there was plenty to see and sketch, and the layout of the main atrium with its tiered seating was perfect. It was a social yet spacious place. 

Cal Hoy

It was very heartening to chat to people who had come a long way to join us, and to people who were joining us for the very first time. Meeting old sketching pals after a long absence was also a joy.

People went on to the pub afterwards to compare notes and sketchbooks.

Sasala Wickramasinghe


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