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State of the Arts: Sketch and the city

Vancouver Urban Sketchers explore city with pen, pencil, paintbrush, pastels

Graphic designer Sigrid Albert started drawing the alleys, dumpsters and old houses in her Mount Pleasant neighbourhood as a stress reduction strategy in 2010.

“I’m really normally very busy and I run around and I don’t take time to slow down, so sitting in the street, looking at something for an hour or two and drawing it was very meditative and it gave me a good balance to my frustrating work life at the time,” she said.

Last winter, Albert spent three months in Berlin, connected with the German capital’s Urban Sketchers group and returned determined to fashion a similar community in Vancouver.

She started the Vancouver Urban Sketchers group on last February. The  group boasts 467 members, a portion of whom attend weekly drawing sessions. “There’s 35 of us on Saturday getting together and it used to be just 10 or 12 and it keeps getting bigger,” Albert said.

She says a lot of young students from Asian countries have arrived in Vancouver seeking an artistic activity and joined the group.

Members include professional animators, retirees and people who haven’t drawn since elementary school. “You just have to admire their courage and then they’re so happy when they’ve sat there for an hour and they’ve actually done their first sketch and they’re very excited,” the 48-year-old said.

Albert loves how this common interest in urban sketching, which is based on the tradition of reportage drawing, links people of different ages and backgrounds. “There seems to be this connection when you’re drawing next to somebody and you’re not necessarily talking… It creates some kind of a connection or a vibe that is very exhilarating,” she said, adding it can boost the confidence of artists working in public places to have other sketchers near them as part of a critical mass.

“It keeps everybody a bit motivated when they have to RSVP and make an appointment to go draw,” she added.

Albert not only found community in Vancouver Urban Sketchers but also has been drawn to sites she’d never previously visited.

“The Burnaby Village Museum, I didn’t know there was a pioneer village, I had no idea, and there’s an animal farm in North Van that somebody suggested — I’ve never been there,” she said. “I’m expanding my own horizons.”

Vancouver Urban Sketchers have put pen, pencil, paintbrush and pastel to paper at the central library, Hastings Racecourse and at Kits Beach. They typically gather for 10 or 15 minutes and then fan out on their own or in small groups, later returning to check in with one another. At the end of a meet-up, the remaining sketchers lay their sketchbooks on the ground and Albert captures their images in a photo.

She’d like to self-publish an online book of Vancouver Urban Sketchers and perhaps instigate an exhibition of sketchbooks.

Albert encourages members to post events on their meet-up page. She notes that as part of the upcoming Vancouver International Dance Festival, dancers will pose at noon at the Roundhouse Community Centre from March 12 to 28 and Opus Art Supplies will lend drawing materials free of charge.

She also likes to attend the monthly Dr. Sketchy event at the Wallflower restaurant on Main Street where attendees drink, dine and draw a live model, usually a burlesque dancer who discards clothing as the night progresses.

All beginners need is a sketchbook with a hard cover, a drawing implement of any variety, warm clothes and perhaps an inexpensive folding camping stool, Albert says.

“There’s so much to do around the city if you’re into drawing.”

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