It doesn’t get much more urban than New York City. But urban sketching in NYC can mean a lot of different things. Like leaving the city.
Lead Image: Sketch by Andrew Borloz
The Urban Sketchers: New York recently traveled to Hoboken, New Jersey, and sketched New York from across the Hudson River. “You need a little bit of distance for some views,” says Mark Leibowitz, the organizer of the drawing group. “Technically, Hoboken falls outside of our mandate, but it has great views of Manhattan, as does Long Island City in Queens, and Brooklyn Heights. As beautiful as the view is from Hoboken and those other places, the compositional challenge is to come up with a foreground and a middle ground, and add it to the fantastic distant panorama. I think the single distant view by itself is interesting but visually boring.”
Hoboken had a number of good points. Leibowitz says the group could easily set up and get to work — not a given in many parts of New York, where even personal space is at a premium. Hoboken is a pretty place, “with a wide-open, campus feel,” Leibowitz says. And it also has good restaurants. “We ate lunch at a pizza place where the slices — well, let’s just say that if their slice of pizza were an article of clothing, you would call it a cape.”
The urban sketchers of New York City meet quite often, in all five boroughs of the city. It’s an active group, one that seems to enjoy the post-drawing get-together, where the members show their work and libations are enjoyed. Everyone is interested in improving their drawing skills and exploring the beauty of the Big Apple, but the camaraderie is clearly king.
“You are with people who are pretty passionate about what they are doing, enjoying the synergy and energy you get from being around people with the same passion,” says Leibowitz. “Over beers and such, the topic came up of why we do this. Each person informally gave his or her own thoughts. The general consensus was that we do it for the feeling we got while doing it, what happened to us during the act of creating. There’s the commonality with plein air painters — it’s about the process, not the product. My question to plein air painters is, are you sure it is the high of being in nature that you like, or the high you get from the act of creation?”
Of course, New York is full of people, and the group often focuses on this. USK NYC has zoomed in on activities, putting the emphasis on humans. One outing was to a fencing club, another, a tango. “With the tango, there are circles of dancers within circles, and nothing stands still,” says Leibowitz. “You find yourself creating a Frankenstein’s monster, grabbing a hairstyle from one person, a neck angle from another, a pair of pants from a third, and a coat from another. Whether it is a face, a building, or an activity, it’s about capturing the moment — our modern time and the moment we are living in it.”
Leibowitz is heavily involved in the umbrella organization, Urban Sketchers, that USK NYC is but a part of. He has sketched all over the world under the auspices of Urban Sketchers. So what makes New York City different?
“As a native New Yorker, I would love to say that New York is unique, but I suppose there are more similarities than differences among cities,” he says. “Big cities have more in common than I’d easily like to admit.” But do other cities have a great slice of pizza the size of a cape?