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What is an urban sketch?

An urban sketch is a drawing created on location, indoors or out, capturing what the sketcher sees from direct observation. Urban sketchers use any kind of media to tell the story of their surroundings, the places they live, and where they travel.

Is a drawing’s degree of completion, its sense of being “finished,” important in urban sketching?

Urban sketching is a record of time and space, an event, something happening at a given moment, somewhere in our world. For some that can be a quick sketch of a scene, with a short caption of what’s going on, and for others it’s a piece that can take a long period of time to complete.

It is an urban sketch as long as a sketcher has captured the essence of the moment and place on location.

"Unfinished" sketch
"Finished" sketch

These sketches are related to see the difference/progression between what’s essentially captured in the initial on-location sketch and the embellished finished version.

In terms of record purposes, is it absolutely essential to write down the date, location, and other such information on the drawing itself?

While it is not essential, it helps to tell the story when you include some writing whether on the sketch or as accompanying text. 

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What are the differences between urban sketches and other art forms such as landscapes and plein-air painting?

While there is some overlap between plein-air and urban sketching, the former tends to focus on the aesthetic outcome of the finished piece, whereas the latter’s primary goal is on storytelling, witnessing, and recording, using any medium, indoors and out.

Plein Air
Urban sketching
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Does urban sketching only take place in an urban environment?

Urban sketching doesn’t have to take place in a city. It can be done in any environment, indoors or outdoors, in urban, rural, or natural areas. 

What is reportage?

Reportage is a visual account of a current event, cultural phenomenon, history, customs or rituals, human condition, etc. done in drawings and writing. In Urban Sketching context the work is completed from direct observation while on location. The drawings have to tell a story by capturing an event and showing context, characters, and setting. Sketches are accompanied by short pieces of narrative writing presented directly on the drawings or added separately. The narrative is informed by firsthand accounts, research, and interviews. A successful visual reportage gives viewers a feeling for the setting and the people.