Urban Sketching – a global art movement

Why do people meet regularly to draw together, share their sketches online, and connect with each other in blogs and communities around the world?

9 mins read

A little over a year ago, on a Sunday morning, I once again visited a temple in Seoul. While I was enjoying the morning silence and view, a slightly older Korean man approached me and asked if he could draw me. After about 20 minutes he came back and presented me with the “artwork” which he then handed over to me. He told me that he lived nearby and was an architect. His great passion, however, was urban sketching. He loves to capture and record spontaneous scenes outside in nature by means of sketches. He is a member of Urban Sketchers Seoul and he invited me to participate in the next event.

With Urban Sketcher Seoul since its inception: Yong Hwan Lee 이용환. | Photographer Daniel Thomas Faller

On a Saturday a few weeks ago, the time had come. On the homepage, it said short and sweet: Myeongdong Station, Exit 3, 1030am. And so, I made my way to Exit 3. My initial fear that I wouldn’t find the Urban Sketchers quickly subsided. The motley group, which was already busy drawing, could not be overlooked. I also met again the elderly gentleman, Lee Yong Hwan, 이용환, who then introduced me to the head of Urban Sketchers Seoul, Charlie (Chang-Hoon) Lee 이창훈 (55).

Charlie, what exactly is Urban Sketchers?

Urban Sketchers is a global, networked movement. The goal is to focus on everyday life and capture it in drawings. Mostly these are city views as well as all imaginable representations of the current reality. There are no guidelines for the choice of motif. You can say it is a kind of visual journalism, which shows life and the environment as the artist sees it at the moment of drawing. Also, it is free, which drawing materials are used. However, these are usually pencil, ink, charcoal, and watercolor. Anyone can participate, whether an architect, artist or untrained layperson. The Urban Sketchers movement was started in 2007 by Gabriel Campanario, a Spanish journalist and illustrator living in Seattle (USA). Today it is a non-profit organization that promotes urban sketching. Thus, thousands of sketchers worldwide get in touch via social networks, according to the motto “We show the world one drawing at a time!”. The organization’s manifesto is also committed to this motto:

  1. we draw after direct observation on the spot – indoors or outdoors.
  2. our drawings tell the real story of our surroundings – the place of residence or the destination.
  3. our drawings are a chronicle of the place as well as the time.
  4. we represent our environment truthfully.
  5. we use all available types of media.
  6. we draw together and support each other.
  7. we publish our finished drawings on the Internet.
  8. we show the world – drawing by drawing.

How are you organized?

The USk, Urban Sketchers Seoul was 3rd chapter in the world. We have a small organizing committee that meets regularly and defines the next place to meet each time. Then the date is published on the website and social media.

The Urban Sketcher in Seoul are well organized. | Photographer Daniel Thomas Faller

Where are Urban Sketchers located in Korea?

There are 7 official USk chapters in Korea which locations are Seoul, Suwon, Incheon, Ulsan, Daegu, Gyeongju, and Jeju. In total, we are around one thousand active Urban Sketchers in Korea. However, we have the most members in Seoul.

What kind of knowledge do I need?

The good thing is none! Anyone can draw and paint. You bring a notebook, pencil, or ink and off you go.

Jonghee Park 박종희, attending Urban Sketcher Seoul for the first time. | Photographer Daniel Thomas Faller
A welcome shady spot in the middle of the city of Seoul. | Photographer Daniel Thomas Faller

That sounds very simple. But when I sit there, in front of a blank white paper…

Then you start intensely observing your environment, the buildings, and the people you see at that moment. You start with sketching, withdrawing. Stroke by stroke…and with time your personal picture emerges. There is no good and no bad with us. Because in the end, that’s the beauty of it, anyone can do it…

How did you get into urban sketching?

I came to sketching about 6 years ago. I remember that time very clearly. I was on a business trip in Europe at the time. In Paris, I met some interesting sketches. I was fascinated by the pictures and the people who painted them. Afterward, I organized my pen and drawing pad and just started. I had no previous knowledge of drawing and painting.

Charlie (Chang-Hoon) Lee 이창훈 tells me about his experiences. | Photographer Daniel Thomas Faller

Did it remain with this unique attempt?

No, on the contrary. I became almost addicted to this kind of painting. Then, 2 years later, I registered at an international symposium in Porto. Urban sketchers from all over the world met there. One got to know many people from all over the world at this symposium and discussed about pictures, techniques, and painting. A highlight of the symposium – it takes place in a different city every year – is always painting together. It is very impressive and fun when hundreds of people sketch and paint the same object at the same time in one place.

Insight into the diary of Charlie (Chang-Hoon) Lee 이창훈. | Photographer Daniel Thomas Faller

What fascinates you so much about this kind of painting?

In my daily job, I work very top-heavy. With urban sketching, I can relieve my stress. I concentrate on my drawing and my environment; I can forget all the stress of everyday life. In addition, drawing is also a kind of diary for me. Wherever I am at the moment, be it on a business trip abroad, on a camping site, or in a coffee shop. My little notebook with a pen is always with me. It’s a bit more work than just pulling out my mobile phone and quickly pressing a button. But that makes it even more fun. I can say that urban sketching makes me happy.

So, you’ve probably already painted a few pictures?

Over the last few years, I’ve done quite a bit. I don’t count the pictures, but there are about two thousand.

One of many paintings by artist Yong Hwan Lee 이용환. | Photographer Daniel Thomas Faller

When will the next event take place?

Urban Sketchers Seoul meets on the third Saturday of each month. The next event is scheduled for August 21, 2021. More info can be found on our webpage.

Daniel Thomas Faller

SEOUL | Korea

Daniel is the founder of Schauplatz Korea Magazine, editor-in-chief and creative director. He is a Swiss native and Korea lover based in Seoul. Daniel is interested in people’s stories and projects and passionate about visual art and photography. And he likes to be seduced by Makgeolli…

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