As I started writing about the Rutgers Urban Sketching project, I found myself wondering about the difference between sketching and drawing. Eventually, I turned to the dictionary, where I learned that drawings are defined as being made with pencil, pen, or crayon, and that the aim of sketching is to capture one’s surroundings or draw what you see.[i] A sketch is a rough or unfinished drawing or painting, often made to inform the creation of a subsequent, more finished product.[ii] One of the most interesting aspects of sketching, and the urban sketching movement, is how similar it is to the scholarly research process. Both rely on observation, analysis, storytelling, and contributing to community knowledge. To be precise, both processes use a curated set of data and observations to tell a story that will likely turn into something more.
Many people are afraid to try a new creative skill like sketching because they are afraid of “failing.” The publicity we shared encouraged everyone to participate, regardless of their level of art experience, but many people are intimidated by the prospect of trying out something like drawing, which can take years of practice to master. Nonetheless, brave souls came forward: the project began on November 2, 2020 and ended on December 6, 2020 with 96 images submitted. Please visit the virtual gallery of images submitted to the project and find more by searching the hashtags #rutgersurbansketching and #ruusk2020 on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
I also created an assignment for 249 student workers at the RUL-NB Libraries in fall 2020. Although not many student workers participated in the Rutgers Urban Sketching assignment (likely because it was optional, or maybe because they were intimated by a drawing activity), the outcomes and responses from those who did participate were amazing. One student noted how much they missed drawing and said that this assignment reminded them, “that drawing our surroundings every day is healthy for the mind and can develop cognitive skills.”
On November 19, 2020 I attended a 60-minute gathering hosted by EJB|Designs, a student run organization from Rutgers Edward J. Bloustein School of Urban Planning and Public Policy. The mission statement of this group is to re-establish the core values found in hand drawing by elaborating on digital rendering techniques and graphic negotiation, which drives thought and evolves design.[iii] Although this group hosts bi-monthly sketching, this event was special because it expanded beyond the Urban Planning Department, and included student participants from the Landscape Architecture Department, and me, the Art Librarian. Although this was my first time attending, the students embraced me as though I was one of their own. They thanked me for being present and encouraged me to attend future events. But also, at the end of the hour the students from both departments began discussing how they could start working together to encourage crossing inter-disciplinary boundaries. I left the event feeling charged, and began brainstorming: how else can the libraries support the work of these students?
The Art Library collections, which include many books tied to artists who are known for sketching, were full of resources to support the project. For example, during the workshop with the RUL-NB faculty and staff, I was able to show one of the Art Library’s most prized rare books, Disegni by Leonardo da Vinci. This back-breaking, two-volume set of books is 50 centimeters tall and weighs more than 30 pounds. Unless they processed these books or stumbled across the title when performing some type of research, many RUL employees don’t even know the Art Library owns Disegni. These volumes allow readers to see copies of da Vinci’s original sketches, which outline the ideas behind master works such as the Vitruvian Man and The Last Supper. When I shared this resource, people were amazed by the great Renaissance master’s work, and they were also reminded that all ideas, projects, articles, books, and manuscripts start somewhere. You never know when you might create a drawing that will one day become the next Mona Lisa, a painting considered one of the best-known artworks in the world.[iv]
The Rutgers Urban Sketching project encouraged the Rutgers-New Brunswick campuses to think about life in new ways during a stressful time. During the pandemic, people are in need of activities, like urban sketching, to help them connect, share, and escape their everyday lives. Sketching scenes from daily life elevated seemingly mundane moments, allowing us to see our own world from a different perspective. Urban sketching also relieves stress, hones observational and analytical skills, and forces us to take a moment to stop and “draw the roses.”
LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS PROJECT
- Project research guide
- Project press release
- More about Urban Sketching happening on the Rutgers campuses by watching a video by Richard Alomar, Chair of Landscape Architecture Department, Associate Professor, and Director of Office of Urban Planning.
- PowerPoint from the RUL-NB Urban Sketch workshop on November 19th.
- Please view a 34 second short which started as a 2-minute drawing she created on her iPad using screen capture and iMovie.
- Library Take Out is a very interesting short film that hit the library world earlier this year and takes “stick figures” to a new level. Look closely and you will see a few 6-line drawings
- Press release about acquiring Disegni by Leonardo da Vinci.
The Urban Sketching Project is featured as a case study in the book:
Lotts, Megan. “Advancing a Culture of Creativity in Libraries: Programming and Engagement.” (Chicago: American Libraries Association, forthcoming 2021).