First Art Show for Urban Sketchers, Boston

Urban Sketchers Boston, my local chapter of this worldwide sketching movement, was gearing up for its first ever art show recently and I went along to help.

Emma Thurgood, business manager at ArcWorks Gallery in Peabody, Massachusetts, had reached out to the group and offered gallery space, then came to several meetings to collect members' sketchbooks and framed images ready for the show.  The last opportunity to submit work was at a sketching meeting on the concourse of one of Boston's Amtrak/Commuter Rail Stations. 

It was an incongruous sight, sorting through art in a train station. Add live Christmas music from the Handel & Hayden Society's Young Men's Chorus gathered around a grand piano under the departures board, and who knew what would happen next?

In South Station, Boston, Emma Thurgood, business manager of ArcWorks Gallery, looks through exhibit submissions with Laura Sfiat, cofounder of Urban Sketchers Boston

Meanwhile fifteen sketchers, including two new people, had found the gathering spot in the food court. Most of them arrived carrying a contribution for the show. They looked over the exhibition pieces then dispersed for an hour of sketching the busy train station—on the platforms, the concourse or outside the entrance—before gathering again to share the results. 

There was also a hum of excitement from participants over the newly printed promotional postcards for the art show using already submitted pieces. 

Group results of a Saturday morning hour sketching in South Station, Boston

Urban Sketchers?

Urban Sketchers is a global community of artists who practice drawing on location where they live or travel. The ability to share images online was the fuel that ignited this popular sketching movement and brought people together from every corner of the planet.

The Boston Urban Sketchers chapter was founded in January 2014, but the Urban Sketchers movement began back in 2007 as a simple Flickr account by Gabriel Campanario, staff artist and blogger at the Seattle Times. He intended the photo sharing group to showcase location drawing that depicted real life.

This idea was expanded to an invitation-only group blog where correspondents posted artwork from their many locations around the world. Campanario and others, went on to establish Urban Sketchers as a nonprofit organization in 2009. 

Urban Sketchers' Manifesto
1. We draw on location, indoors or out, capturing what we see from direct observation.
2. Our drawings tell the story of our surroundings, the places we live and where we travel.
3. Our drawings are a record of time and place.
4. We are truthful to the scenes we witness.
5. We use any kind of media and cherish our individual styles.
6. We support each other and draw together.
7. We share our drawings online.
8. We show the world, one drawing at a time.

The phenomenon grew quickly to the point where an international symposium was hosted in 2010 in Portland, Oregon. Since then a symposium has been held each year in locations such as Singapore and Portugal. The 7th annual international event is scheduled for Manchester, England in July 2016.

Sketching as a group in South Station, Boston

Urban sketching is a sociable way to refine your artistic skills. Elizabeth Alley, Executive Board Vice President and Events Director of Urban Sketchers explains, "In addition to special events, Regional Chapters exist on nearly every continent, hosting sketch crawls for local and regional sketchers, giving them a chance to meet, sketch and share in person on a more regular basis."

Lonely sketcher meets social networks. 

Urban Sketchers Boston

Each local chapter determines the practical details of how to communicate and how frequently to meet.

Urban Sketchers Boston is organized via the online service Meetup and has over 800 members, though attendance at any given meeting ranges from a handful, to several dozen for the popular free how-to workshops held by co-founder Laura Sfiat. 

Volunteers plan and announce upcoming Boston meetups, sometimes as many as two locations per weekend, but with a goal of at least several a month.  Organizers highlight the location's historical and architectural background beforehand. Laura Sfiat told me, "Boston has such a rich architectural heritage and we try to research background information on each place where we draw. Finding our town is what Urban Sketching is about; learning about it by drawing it." Nina Johansson, blog correspondent at from Stockholm, backs up the idea: "Drawing a city isn't just capturing it on paper, it's really about getting to know it, to feel it, to make it your own."

Urban Sketchers Boston member April Wu was a member of Urban Sketchers Taiwan before arriving in the States to attend college earlier this year. Since meetups take place anywhere from Boston Common to the Italian North End, from the first public library in the country to the nation's oldest arboretum, April has quickly come to know Boston's varied neighborhoods. She even volunteers as an assistant organizer.

Urban Sketchers Boston is a low key, no judgement, encouraging group, with no prerequisites of artistic background or skill. Emma Thurgood, business manager of ArcWorks Gallery, is committed to curating local art and is impressed with the prolific nature of the group. "This might be a hobby, but this artwork still deserves to be seen," she explained. Laura Sfiat is excited that the work of both new and experienced members will be showcased in a public gallery. "We have a great community here! I'm so proud of how we have grown this fast!"

The Art Show

I had hoped to be at the exhibition's opening reception but was waylaid by jury duty, where I found out how hard courtroom sketching is.  I'm excited to visit the Urban Sketchers of Boston art show in the new year before it ends January 23 and am encouraged since it includes two sketchbooks, the first work I've exhibited as an adult.

Is there an Urban Sketchers group near you?

(And if there isn't ... why not start one?)