Building cityscapes out of pen, ink and watercolors, Gabriel Campanario can be seen throughout the streets of Seattle capturing the city’s subtle nuances and familiar landmarks both in the pages of his sketchbooks and in his Seattle Sketcher column for the Seattle Times. Even more inspirational is Gabriel’s dedication to the art of sketching. Seeking artistic community and a place to share and celebrate ideas, he spearheaded the Urban Sketchers movement, created to connect artists the world over through the art of sketching. With a network of sketch groups in over 30 countries around the globe, urban sketchers draw on location, immortalizing their cities through lines and colors, and visually sharing their adventures with each other and the world online.
Sketch by sketch, Urban Sketchers has grown and gained momentum, with the latest project resulting in a book filled with over 500 illustrations by artists of all backgrounds. The book not only showcases artists’ sketchbooks, but also discusses each artist’s inspirations, drawing process, and techniques. Inspired to grab her pen and watercolors and start sketching on the spot, Culture Vixen’s Gayle Wheatley caught up with Gabriel to find out more about his illustrated life.
Gayle: How did you get your start working as a professional illustrator, and how did you land your job as sketch journalist for the Seattle Times?
Gabriel: I was lucky enough to get an internship at my hometown newspaper, Barcelona’s daily La Vanguardia, in 1990, while I was still attending college. The internship was at the news art department, where I was regarded as the geeky kid who was good at using Aldus Freehand, the hottest graphic program back in those days. During the internship, I created maps, charts, and the occasional spot illustration. Ever since, my career has developed in the realms of newspaper design and illustration in Spain, Portugal and the United States, where I arrived in 1998. I’ve worn many hats in this fascinating field, such as info-graphics artist, page designer, graphics director and assistant managing editor. The role of sketch journalist, however, is fairly new for me. I was already working at the The Seattle Times newsroom art department when I pitched the idea of a drawn feature in 2009. My editors liked it and now “Seattle Sketcher” has become an addition to my duties creating illustrations and graphics for the newspaper.
Gayle: What inspires you artistically?
Gabriel: In somewhat of a chronological order, I take inspiration for my sketching from the work of newspaper “special artists” who documented the news for the illustrated dailies and weeklies of the second half of the 19th century; the combat artists of the Second World War; the reportage illustrators of the 20th century like Paul Hogarth, Frank McMahon and Ronald Searle, and the urban sketchers of today who share their work online. Artwork drawn from life that tells a story is what makes me tick.
Gayle: What is your drawing process like, and how has it changed over time?
Gabriel: I draw from life, usually directly in ink, unless a complex perspective merits blocking outlines in pencil first. I also try to color my pen and ink sketches on location, using watercolors, but if time doesn’t allow, I color later, as soon as possible while the scene is still fresh in my mind. My process, however, is not set in stone. I try to experiment with new media and formats. For my newspaper column, I draw on spiral-bound sketchbooks and tear off pages. I also carry a pocket sketchbook for quick notes at all times.
Gayle: How many sketches would you say you’ve done so far over your lifetime?
Gabriel: Since I started sharing my sketches online, my flickr photostream has grown to about 2,000 images. For The Seattle Times I’ve done nearly 150 weekly columns and some 500 blog posts. But I am still pretty much a beginner! I majored in journalism, not art, and have so much to learn! Starting Urban Sketchers and working on The Art of Urban Sketching book has certainly sped up my education in this art form. I’ve learned so much from every artist featured in the book.
Gayle: What are some of your favorite things to sketch and do you have any visual obsessions that you find yourself returning to often?
Gabriel: The list is too long! I’m fond of sketching old bridges, ships and waterfronts, industry, architecture, people at work. Because I commute to work, I also tend to draw a lot of bus commuters.
Gayle: Do you have any advice for artists who struggle to create art on a regular basis?
Gabriel: My advice to stay motivated creatively is to join an online community like Urban Sketchers. Basically, find others to share the struggle with! There’s nothing like a supportive network of like-minded people to get you going. But be sure not to get demoralized by seeing how many people have sharper skills than you. Measure your work against yourself, not against others. Am I a better artist today than I was five years ago? Heck, yeah. A lot of it has to do with drawing every day, sharing the work online and getting positive feedback that encourages me to keep going. The more you draw, the better artist you become. You can’t go backwards!
Gayle: What gave you the idea to start the Urban Sketchers website and community?
Gabriel: I started my own sketchblog at gabicampanario.blogspot.com in 2007, inspired by other artists who were also sharing their drawings online. At one point, I thought, why not join forces? I started by creating a flickr group first, then a group blog just dedicated to drawings made on location, sketches that would show the world, the cities where we live. The idea of urban sketching is resonating with folks because it’s been done for many years. It’s not new. On the web, the SketchCrawl forum started by Enrico Casarosa in 2004 was also helping people around the world find each other to draw where they live. We just didn’t call ourselves “urban sketchers,” a term that seems to have stuck with folks because it defines who we are in a very broad and inclusive way—it crosses over professions, borders, cultures…
We draw our cities and everything that happens in them. That’s what urban sketching is about. And the artwork we create, shows you the world from thousands of unique vantage points, how cool is that?
Gayle: Do you have plans to expand the Urban Sketchers movement?
Gabriel: Urban Sketchers started as a blog and the idea of drawing our cities has spread quickly. I think many people appreciate the value of a sketch, and all the benefits that come with drawing on location. You engage your surroundings in a different way. It’s like getting a new pair of eyeballs! Now that we are a nonprofit with 501(c-3) status our goal is to continue promoting the practice of urban sketching around the world. We’ve started an Urban Sketchers Workshops program to help people improve their on-location drawing skills. We’ve also held two international symposiums, in Portland, and Lisbon, and the third one will be in July in Santo Domingo. So, I guess the answer to your question is, yes, we have plans to expand the movement. But we need donations and volunteers! If you are reading this interview, go to our site urbansketchers.org to learn more about Urban Sketchers and consider a small donation so we can continue “showing the world, one drawing at a time.”
The beauty of sketching is that, almost by definition, a sketch can be completed as simply and quickly as you like. It can involve making a fifteen-minute sketch of the view from your window or whipping out a collapsible sketching stool and spending an hour or two capturing the way the light hits that beautiful old church. In either case, sketching stops the clock and lets your mind turn off all the noise…it has the power to turn a moment of boredom into a creative pastime. In a sense, urban sketching can be more about the experience than the result…sketches bring back memories in a way photos don’t, evoking the sounds, smells, and recollections of the places in which you created them.
(from The Art of Urban Sketching)
Thanks for your insight Gabriel!
Visit the links below to check out more of Gabriel’s work: