Wednesday 17 February 2021

We drew 'Naughty and Nice' 13 February 2021

Zooming into 2021 

 by Helen Hayhoe

Our first virtual sketch meeting: 'Naughty and Nice' on 13 February 2021        

In 2020, soon after I joined the USk London admin team, I was lucky to participate in a (4am!) global USk meeting via the video conferencing platform Zoom. I heard about the resourceful ways in which people across the planet have managed to keep on sketching in the face of the global pandemic. What struck me was the fact that, despite COVID-related lockdowns, sketchers have found ways to remain true to the USk manifesto of drawing on location, storytelling, keeping a record and being truthful to what we witness, in whatever media we choose. What we lacked though was the mutual support of being together in our sketching.

I could see that many USk chapters are using virtual media to sketch together and share their work. In our London chapter we already use social media: our blog, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and Instagram --  different people favour different platforms. But until 2021 we hadn’t used a virtual platform for our live meetings.

All that changed in February. We had set sketch meeting themes for the first months of 2021, and in January for the theme 'Regeneration' we had encouraged participants to sketch changes in their homes and neighbourhoods. Participants produced lovely sketches, but we had hoped to see more drawings from that session on social media. So for our February sketch meeting we decided to try a new tack: Zoom.

Nicky Browne gamely agreed to host the February meeting, and as it was Valentine's Day weekend she chose the theme ‘Naughty and Nice’. Nineteen brave souls joined in. It was so good to see everyone's faces and find out where they were located. We began with introductions, and learnt that many of our sketchers had had difficult times during the pandemic. We heard tales of loss and demotivation, but also positive stories about new ways of working, and some incredible visual diaries of the past year. 

Nicky Browne's delectable still life

Nicky had prepared some delicious prompts – Cavan cakes and champagne – and started us off with a pep talk and examples. Many people then headed off to another room in their home, or ventured out despite the chill weather to sketch what they could see in their local streets. Others had set up sketching stations at their computers, and continued to sketch together via Zoom. It was lovely to hear the squeak of their pencils and the sigh of brushes across London. Nicky could be seen bravely live-streaming her sketch the entire session.

Sasala Wickramasinghe's 'Naughty and Nice' 

At 2.45 people got together again to show and talk about their sketches and where they had observed their subjects. Looking at their sketches in the moment, and later as they popped up on Facebook, I delighted in the humour, the storytelling and the range of styles and media on show.

Sarah Lee's Valentine's treats

Feedback has been positive. I think that if we use Zoom as one of the ways we get together, it will continue to add to our experience. I definitely don’t see it as a substitute for face-to-face meetings out of doors and on location together. Think of it instead as a supplement.

We will continue to come up with themes that can prompt us to sketch in ways that are true to our USk mission, however we manage to do that. If you would like to join us for our virtual sketch meeting on 27 March, please do. For the Zoom link and passcode, just send us an email and we will send you the details. Or if you prefer you can just sketch as you always have, and post your drawings on social media. We welcome you.

Oh, and if your sketches are drawn on location within the M25, please send them to us, and we will add them to the Our London interactive sketch map on our blog and Facebook. 
John Webb's cellar


Tuesday 16 February 2021

Let's draw: 'People' Saturday sketch meeting 27 March 2021

"People are always missing from my drawings."

(Could this be you?)

Hosted by John Webb

St Paul's
All sketches by John Webb

As Urban Sketchers our default setting tends to be the built environment. But if it were not for people, there would be no need for places. People come first, then come places. So drawing people in places is a legitimate urban sketch. Indeed, places without people would be unnatural. So why are they missing from the greater proportion of our drawings? 

Richmond Park

Are we like some photographers who will wait hours to get a ‘good shot’ without people, believing that ‘people spoil the picture’? Not in my case. For me it's simply that drawing figures is a challenge. 

Kensington busker

I’m sure I’m not alone in having trouble with people (read that as you will!). But people are a big asset in a setting -- they give a sense of scale and direction, lend interest to a composition, and add life and a bit of fun. This isn’t portraiture or long-pose life drawing, but the human part of the urban scene...whether people are sitting, standing, cycling, contemplating, reading or running, or playing instruments or sports.

Some of us are old enough to remember dry-transfer figures available by the sheet to rub onto graphic illustrations, their frozen-rigid postures instantly recognisable. Or the stylised, hand drawn carrot-shaped figures loved by architects. 

There's an equally wide variety of styles and techniques dotted about on our social media pages. At the end of this day, there’s a lot for us to enjoy and take inspiration from. 

Lord's Cricket Ground

Plan for the day

This will be our second sketch meeting with an online element (our first virtual session, 'Naughty and Nice' on 13 February 2021, was a delight). Please draw whatever and wherever you can on the day, while observing current COVID restrictions, and post the results on social media in the usual way.

As always, we will be sketching from life -- but you are most welcome to join us to say hello and for an online introduction to the March challenge.

You can stay and sketch together -- sketch yourself, whoever is in your household, whoever walks past your window, or anyone you see if you venture out and about -- or join us later for show and tell. 


We will host a Zoom meeting around the 'People' theme. First, John will introduce the session with a few words on his ideas about sketching people. You are then free to go and draw. The Zoom link will remain live throughout the day, so that anyone who wishes to do so can stay in the Zoom session and sketch together at home. We may throw in a few in-the-moment challenges!

2.45 - 3pm

We will gather again on Zoom for a show and tell. The Zoom link will remain open for a while, so anyone who wishes to can have a virtual drink together afterwards. 

Our first virtual sketch meeting, 13 February 2021

How to join in

If you are interested in joining the Zoom meeting, please let us know via our email address. Put 'March Sketch Meeting' in the subject line of your message, and we will send you the Zoom link and passcode.

Wait, there's more!

If you are sketching from London and drawing a specific place in your neighbourhoods, your sketches can be included in the Our London interactive sketch map. We can then see who is where and get a sense of place. It may help sketchers to know who is very local to them when, in future, we are able to meet again in small groups.

We are very interested to know what you think of these new ideas, which we hope will combine our desire to continue to sketch in situ with the social element we all miss.

And if you'd like to see what we have planned for the coming months, have a look at the USk London programme for 2021.

Happy sketching!

Metropole waiters