Workshop 10: Urban Sketching on Assignment: Planning & Executing Team-Based Sketching Reportage

Instructor: Marc Taro Holmes

Workshop Description

One of the great things about USK is the group dynamic of online sharing, our regional chapters, and our sketchcrawls. In this workshop we will tap into this magical feeling of sketching together, while simultaneously learning about reportage sketching.

Our goal is to plan and execute a complete sketchbook documentary of a specific site in only 3.5 hours, by working as a team! At the end of our drawing session weíll have a complete visual analysis ñ a group sketchbook made by everyone working together.

I like to define reportage sketching as a documentary film made by drawing. As urban sketchers, we often use drawing to spontaneously record an event in our own visual language. But a sketcher cannot draw everything ñ not in the way a film maker can instantly capture the entire visual field. Even the fastest sketcher is slower than the camera. Thatís the trade off for our individual style.

Therefore, to be successful we must select specific topics. We need to choose the right set of compositions to tell the story. By planning a shot selection list in advance, we can be more free to concentrate on drawing, without fear of missing part of the story, or wasted effort wandering in search of subjects.

In this workshop we’ll review the organization of a general purpose shot list, designed for maximum coverage and we’ll discuss/demo some speed drawing techniques to go along with it. Then we’ll head out on location and actually do the whole shot list together in a series of timed drawing sprints.

This workshop is an intensive learning-by-doing experience. We should approach it with a sense of fun and an open mind for experimentation. I hope you’ll be excited to work together!

Workshop Schedule

The Exercises:

  • Weíll open with a 60 minute crash course in speed sketching. We can do this outside the chosen location on the street, or in a side spot at the symposium main venue before we go on location.
  • Gesture Drawing: Sketching in continuous pen motion with a single, or limited number of lines. Establishing poses, structures, and spaces in slender line, restating in bold line. Also – eyeball-estimating perspective.
  • Iterative Drawing: Sketching the same object or view quickly three times to improve a capture. Donít make thumbnails, but treat each drawing as an experimental sketch.
  • Annotated Drawing: Taking color and value notes, and texture swatches, recording data for painting from memory assisted by notes in the immediate aftermath of sketching.

The Group Reportage:

  • Students will choose sketching assignments by pulling from a pre-planned deck of drawing subject cards. 
  • I will make these cards in advance, theyíll be customized to the location weíll be drawing ñ In this way Iíll be a kind of ëart directorí of the documentary. 
  • Students may execute their assignments in any media they prefer. 
  • The distribution of drawing subject cards will ensure as-total-as-possible coverage of the site. People will not be drawing the same things. The work will be divided among the group.
  • Weíll do two 30 minute rounds of documentary sketching – fulfilling our assignments.
  • And one 45 minute free drawing round where students may choose from the assignment list, or draw their own sketches (to defray any feeling of lack of control of the project).
  • Between each round weíll do a mini-crit. 
  • Student will get a hand out at the end of class about how to plan subject cards in case they wish to take this project back to their own sketching groups. 

Learning Goals

  • Students will experience:
  • How to build a shot list and capture an entire location
  • How to focus on sketching action, and documenting a process, rather than making scenic views
  • How to sketch as quickly as possible, using Gesture Drawing, Iterative Drawing, and Annotated Drawing


This kind of project is best executed with whatever drawing supplies you’re most comfortable with. Youíll be drawing very quickly, and should know your own gear, and not have too much stuff to juggle around. Keep it simple.

MOST IMPORTANT: Have plenty of paper you are willing to burn through! We will want to make many rapid drawings in this exercise. I would like you to experience how quickly you can work, and how to interate through many rapid drawings in order to get the capture you want.

Other suggestions:

  • At least one EXTRA FINE pen or mechanical pencil for initial gesture drawing (Lamy EF, Platinum Carbon Pen). 
  • At least one heavier line pen for building overtop of gestures (I like Flex nibs for this).
  • One EXTRA BOLD for darks. Possibly a brush pen (my favorite) or a chisel nib (Lamy Joy calligraphy nib, or parallel pen).
  • I suggest a pad of paper – or a ring bound book ñ so you can flip pages fast enough to keep working. Perfect bound books can be a bit fussy when drawing at high speed. 
  • Loose paper is also great for this kind of speed sketching. You can leave wet pages on the ground, draw on the front and back, and shuffle the order of your final drawings into the best presentation (Papers I like: Canson Montval, Canson Mix Media, Strathmore Bristol).
  • I use a portable watercolor set (24 half pan box) for embellishing my drawings after the rush of sketching. This won’t be a major part of the workshop but will be nice for a wrapup or for yourself later on.
  • A full list of my own drawing supplies is available here:

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