On a muggy Sunday morning, a group of Londoners sat in lawn chairs facing the Middlesex County Administration Building. But, they weren’t just there to admire the 191-year-old gothic revival building — they were there to sketch it. 

Urban Sketchers of London is a recently established group in the Forest City, though the practice of urban sketching has been around a lot longer. 

Urban sketching is the exercise of drawing a location as you observe it, capturing the buildings, people, animals, or natural surroundings as they are at that moment. It tells the story of the artist’s surroundings and serves as a record of time and place. Most importantly, urban sketches must be drawn on-site, not from a photograph or memory.

urban sketchers sit in front of old courthouse
Urban sketchers spread out in front of the Old Courthouse on September 13, 2020. Photo by Laura Thorne.

Surrounded by Canadian geese, the artists spread out across the Old Courthouse’s lawn and pathways, each with a unique perspective on the building. Their tools of choice varied, using pencils, pens, watercolours, and pencil crayons to capture the scene. Urban sketching encourages the use of any media and for members to appreciate each other’s unique styles. 

A Global Community 

Taking online courses in drawing and watercolour inspired artist Amy Timperley to start the group. One of her instructors told the class to check out their local Urban Sketchers chapter. “So I was like, okay, London’s got to have one if this is a global thing.” She was surprised to find out there wasn’t one in the Forest City and decided to change it. 

Woman painting urban sketch
Artist Amy Timperley adds watercolours to her sketch of the Old Courthouse. Photo by Laura Thorne.

“I looked at the qualifications to create a chapter on the Urban Sketchers website. And I decided that if it was something that I was interested in it, that some other people, some other artists, in the community would be interested as well.” Timperley created a Facebook group, and it took off. “I hardly had to do any sort of sharing or advertising. It kind of just picked up and grew with a life of its own through other people sharing it. I had a couple of people join right away that immediately said, thank you so much, we’ve been waiting for this chapter to open.”

Founded in 2009, international non-profit Urban Sketchers fosters a global community of artists who draw on-location, support each other as artists, and share their work online. There are chapters across the world, including ten in Canada. The closest official chapter to London is in the Waterloo Region. Before the London group emerged, some artists were driving to Waterloo to participate in the community. 

The group must meet for six months, photographing and sharing their work online before they can become an official chapter. January will mark the sixth month for the London group. 

Everyone’s an Artist

The group welcomes anyone interested to drop by and join them, no matter their skill level. “We hope that everybody that has an interest in drawing or just being creative or wanting to meet new people even will come out and just experience live art, live drawing,” says Timperley. 

The group has a basket full of materials for anyone to use to reduce barriers and encourage new members or even curious passersby’s who take an interest. So if you forgot a pencil or paintbrush or just see them and want to join in, you can.

A container of art supplies with a sign welcoming people to join urban sketching
Urban Sketchers of London provide supplies to those who forget theirs or want to join in. Photo by Laura Thorne.

The hobby is accessible for those who don’t consider themselves artists. Urban sketching can be done almost anywhere and everywhere and is an easy hobby to bring with you. It doesn’t require fancy equipment or expensive materials. Supplies range, but a simple piece of paper and a golf pencil can get you started, says Timperley. “And then as you get into it, of course, you, you start drawing with pen or fountain pen or painting it. But we do have pencil crayons in that basket, clipboards, erasers — everything that you’d need.”

Different sketches laying on a rock
Urban Sketchers of London’s completed works at the end of their meeting at the Old Courthouse. Photo by Amy Timperley.

In addition, Timperley notes that urban sketching is also appealing for seasoned artists. “It’s really challenging for some artists or creatives to draw what’s right in front of them. It’s kind of scary for people to try to commit to putting what they see on paper in front of them. So [urban sketching is] for anybody’s that’s looking for a challenge, looking to expand their artistic abilities, or looking to kind of shake it up a bit.” 

Location, Location, Location 

Urban Sketchers of London get together as a group to sketch one or two times a month. So far, they’ve sketched the Covent Garden Market, Springbank Park’s Storybook Gardens, Dundas Place, and the Middlesex Administration Building. In between sessions, members continue to draw and share their work with each other.

Person sits in orange chair sketching
Artist Dana Nosella sketches the south side of the Old Courthouse. Photo by Laura Thorne.

Though part of the practice’s beauty is that it can happen almost anywhere, picking the right location is important. Timperley and the other group administrators Karen Rhebergen and Dana Nosella, often scout locations in advance, taking pictures of places they think would be cool to capture and share with the group. In addition, they also solicit suggestions from members at the meetings and through Facebook. Eldon House, where their next meet-up is scheduled for Sunday, September 27, from 1-3 pm, was suggested by a group member.

And with cold weather fast approaching, they’re also looking for indoor space they can use to gather and sketch safely. 

Get Sketching

You can find information on meetings and group updates on their Facebook group, Urban Sketchers London Ontario. The group also has a hashtag on Instagram — #uskldnont — where they share their sketches.

Feature photo by Laura Thorne.

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