When and how did you become the Seattle Sketcher? Back in 2006, I had just moved to Seattle and started a blog where I posted illustrations, sketches and other stuff. My blog didn’t have much of a focus at first. It was a hodgepodge of everything I drew at my newspaper job as a graphic artist and for pleasure in my spare time. A year or so went by before inspiration hit. I decided to call the blog Seattle Sketcher and concentrate on posting my observational drawings of life here.
Please note that I’ve never thought of myself as “the” Seattle Sketcher; many have drawn this city before me and continue to do so. My favorite Seattle sketcher is the late local architect and activist Victor Steinbrueck. His sketches of Pike Place Market back in the early ’70s helped draw attention to the historic market and saved it from demolition. The British sailors who surveyed Puget Sound in the 1800s documented their sightings with sketches that you can see in Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry. You see, urban sketching goes way, way back!
How did you develop your journalistic approach to illustration? For someone like me who earned a degree in journalism and liked to draw as a kid, art and journalism were bound to intersect at some point. And I’m glad they did, although it took me some years to find my own approach. I didn’t start combining my observational drawings with my own writing until Seattle Sketcher came about. I think my approach grew out of the blog format, a chronological stream of posts where you can easily combine images and text. The blogging tools hooked me. I still feel a bit of a rush when I hit the publish button on a post that has a good storytelling sketch.
How do the experiences you’ve had as a journalist inform how you work as the Seattle Sketcher? Since my sketches and writing started appearing in the Seattle Times, I’ve been finding it hard to draw a street scene or a building or a person just for the sake of drawing. I feel like if I’m drawing, it has to be a story; I have to interview my subject and get a good quote that will enhance the text. It’s hard not to wear my journalist hat when I draw from life. But I also create editorial illustrations for the newspaper and as a freelancer that have no journalistic purpose. I’m grateful for those opportunities to do something different.
Has illustrated journalism secured a foothold in the field of journalism? Maybe a little, but I don’t think it’s a strong foothold yet. Journalism—newspapers and print media in particular—is struggling financially since losing its main streams of advertising revenue to online platforms such as Craigslist, Facebook and Google. It’s hard to make a case for hiring illustrators and visual journalists in general. More people need to subscribe to their local newspapers and support their journalism. More people need to express how much they value this type of journalism for editors and publishers to want to invest in it. When you see illustrated journalism you like, email the publication and thank the editors for it!
What are the unique opportunities and challenges of sketching on location? The number one challenge may be the weather. I have had my watercolors freeze on my palette in the wintertime. Sketching in the rain while holding an umbrella and a sketchbook isn’t the easiest thing either. I’ve been facing the opposite problem since I started using iPad and Apple Pencil—too much sun can make the screen hard to see! Regardless of the weather, sketching on location requires you to respond to situations quickly, especially if you are sketching a moving target, such as a demonstration or a sporting event.
You never know when the best sketch will happen. During a football game in Seattle, I found the best subject when I went up to the top of the bleachers at CenturyLink Field and stumbled upon the pyrotechnician in charge of setting off the fireworks after the game. My quick sketch of him pressing the button that set the fireworks off was my favorite of all the drawings I did that day.
Sketching on location can lead to memorable moments you can laugh about afterwards. I was once pushed by a goat while I was making a portrait of a horse owner. Another time, while kayaking, I took a plunge in the water to sketch a derelict boat. Oh, and how could I forget drawing from a paraglider. The flying instructor I flew tandem with was certainly impressed.
You founded the global community Urban Sketchers. What is it about urban settings—and Seattle in particular—that inspires you? Urban sketching is not only a way to document what I see, but also a way to find a connection with a place. I didn’t grow up in Seattle, so at first it was easier to find inspiration in unfamiliar surroundings. These days, I’m inspired by the way the city is rapidly changing and the impact those changes have on the people who live here. Young tech workers are being lured by Amazon and the growing tech industry. You see them zipping by on electric unicycles, holding giant orange and white umbrellas provided by the company, and standing in line at the ever-increasing number of food trucks during lunchtime. These types of scenes, which define the Seattle of 2018, keep me busy sketching.
Do you find yourself adapting your style of sketching to each place you visit? Keeping the style of my sketches consistent is an ongoing struggle. It’s not only the subject that influences the outcome. Your emotional state and frame of mind also matters. When you draw, your feelings can manifest themselves through your lines and brushwork. A sketch made on a day when I’m feeling upbeat is likely to come out different than a sketch I have to make when I’m not feeling that great.
What advice do you have for an illustrator who’s just starting out? Draw and write as much as you can. Have a blog. Use social media. Don’t wait until you think you’ve found “your style.” I can’t say I have found mine yet, and I’ve been at this for years!