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Step-by-Step Drawing Example : Davis House Dot Plot

July 23, 2014


The other day I showed you a quick example of what I’m calling ‘Dot Plots’. I really need a better name for this. Maybe somebody who isn’t such an autodidact can tell me what it’s called? I came up with this on my own, but there is probably an official name for this trick.

Anyway -  I was out sketching the other day, and got another good example. Here’s the step-by-step shots:


This is the first pass of the Dot Plot.

What I have here are a set of small dots and dashes that describe for me the roof line of my subject, and where the ground line falls. The two major perspective angles I need to know in order to fill in the ‘face’ of the building.

It’s just a matter of putting in a small mark wherever there is a corner or intersection. The peak of each cupola, the width of each column of windows. You can stop whenever you have enough measurements to see the silhouette. Once you’ve got the ‘box’, you can just pile the details inside.



Ta da! See how the building appears, simply by connecting the dots? This is what they mean when they say ‘work larger to smaller’.

It might be easier for beginners to do this in pencil. You can poke in a few of these tiny markers, and if a quick sight measuring check says they’re wrong you only have to erase a few dots, not a whole drawing. When I’m doing it like this in ink, if I mis-place one, I just ignore it, and put another in the right place. At the end of the drawing, you don’t notice any stray marks.

I talk a fair bit about sight measuring in my upcoming book on sketching. (Sorry, sorry, relentless promotion. Baby needs a new pair of shoes). But, even while doing so, I try to give you the techniques to escape measuring as quickly as possible.

My philosophy is, learn to make measuring instinctive. It really should not become labor. That sucks all the fun out it. I don’t think anyone enjoys the measuring part of sketch. We’re in it for the excitement of the rapid scribble! The lightning fast impression. The measuring is only so we’re not disappointed later, coming home with an out of proportion sketch, or a drawing that’s crammed into the corner of our page.


Personally, I’m aiming for the best of both worlds. A way to get just enough accuracy to keep my left brain happy, but to go fast enough to keep my right brain engaged.



14June01_On Location

By the way, this is Davis House. It’s in is in a great location on De La Montaigne where you can sketch five small buildings surrounding a cute little park. A real oasis for sketchers. If you’re ever in Montreal, and find yourself near McGill, you might like this spot. (MAP).

Oot and Aboot

July 20, 2014


Out and about sketchcrawling with a buddy from the old gaming days.  We went into this little place on a whim – could hear the music from the open balcony. Sat right up front to sketch the band, which ended up meaning we sat at their table. So we showed them their sketches and hung out.


The ladies at the bar were less cool with being sketched. Got the cold shoulder when they saw it. I guess in this setting, ‘acting sketchy’ gets you classed with other stalkers. Oh well, can’t win them all.


Renew your Artistic Licence, or: “Don’t Just Document – Design”.

July 13, 2014


Every spring in Montreal we have a brief opportunity when it’s warm enough to be out drawing, but before the leaves come back on the trees. I try to make the most of this time – running around looking for views that will be obscured by foliage later.

This sketch, (done back in April) is the Chateau Ramsay. The old Governor’s residence from 1705. I drew this one leaning against our city hall, looking across the street to Jacques Cartier Square. The Chateau was the first building proclaimed as a historical monument in Quebec and is the province’s oldest private history museum. In the summer tours are given by docents in 18th century costumes.


Bonus sketches! I went by the chateau on the weekend, as part Montreal’s World Wide Sketchcrawl #44 and drew the guards, and these pipers. They seemed to get a kick out of being sketched – despite being photographed about 100 times while I was there. I don’t suppose an artist comes by every day. The pipers asked me inside to get photocopies of the sketches. (I can report, the chateau’s office is not 100% historically accurate). These drawings might turn up on their team shirt later this summer.


I’d like to use this sketch to talk about ‘artistic license’. Your special ability as an artist to alter reality to suit your needs.

I feel we should be making a conscious effort to compose what we see. We are free to edit out unimportant or distracting details.

A great storyteller never lets facts get in the way of the truth.

One of the big advantages of drawing on location is that you can move around the subject. It’s the reason I often sketch standing. You only need to shift a foot to the left to change your view angle enough to understand what’s blocked by a tree. You’re not a camera – locked into a point of view.  And, unlike a plein air painter, you don’t have a big easel pinning you in place. (Ok, in fact I do have an easel, but I use a light-weight camera tripod I can pick up and walk with).


In this case I have made some significant changes from reality. Can you ‘spot the differences’?

I’ve cut down a big tree, pushed another one behind the tower, lowered the fence posts, and removed a complicated lamp post as well as a bunch of ugly signs. This is all in order to sketch an unobstructed view of the front elevation. I’ve also completely ignored the correct number of windows and dormers. And of course I’ve left out the neighboring buildings. Plus I frequently do this unconscious thing – ‘slimming’ the building, sketching it a little taller, a little more elegant than it really is. And of course – I am using color to selectively guide your attention. The principle I call ‘Gradient of Interest‘ at work.

This is all stuff that just happens without planning. It’s built into my eye-brain-hand circuit. These errors (or improvements, depending on your taste) just happen naturally. In fact, I’m *trying* to be as accurate as possible. But I’m not willing to slow down the energy of the drawing in order to be perfect. I’m going for the feeling of the building, not the architect’s rendering. (Nothing against architects! Some of my best friends and all that).

I hope you’ll be encouraged to take some artistic license with your own sketching. Just have fun with it. Concentrate on what a place feels like, the impression, the atmosphere, and it will come through in the sketch.

OK – I’m going long here – so I’ll wrap up with some progress steps, showing what I call ‘Drawing from the Outside In’. (Lots about this in my upcoming book ). It’s just a matter of getting the outside ‘box’ first, then filling all the details inside the box you’ve made.







Next Week: Figure Drawing Marathon

June 28, 2014


So, next week I’m taking a bit of a ‘sketching holiday’. Going back to school for the figure drawing intensive at UQAM. This is an event they do twice a year where you can take  a whole week of uninstructed life drawing, 6 hours a day. Sort of a life drawing marathon. I won’t post as I go (well maybe just a phone-shot or two) but I am thinking about doing a collection of the results at the end of the week. More news on that soon!



Announcing a new book from Marc Taro Holmes and North Light Books: “The Urban Sketcher: Techniques for Seeing and Drawing on Location”

June 24, 2014


I’ve been holding in this announcement for months now! I’ve been well nigh bursting with not being able to talk about it.

Finally I can tell you guys about “The Urban Sketcher: Techniques for Seeing and Drawing on Location”.  My up coming how-to art-instructional  ‘workshop in a book’. It’s a hands on course condensing everything I’ve learned about urban sketching and drawing on location. It’s coming out in October from North Light Books, and is already available on Amazon for pre-order.

In the next few weeks I’ll have more news, some free tutorials to expand on the book content, and possibly some details about a book-related online workshop. (Possibly! If there’s enough interest :)

I want to say thanks very much for following my blog all this time. This book would not have been possible without all of your interest and involvement.

Click here to hop over to my new BOOKS page for a few teaser images and more details!



Cracking open the Beehive : Visiting Montreal’s Rooftop Bee Colony to Talk about the End-of-the-World

June 23, 2014

14June16_Insectarium Bees 01

I imagine we have all heard the stories about the vanishing honey bees, collapsing colonies, and the risk it all poses to the production of food. This spring it seems every news outlet was running something about bee-troubles. (Note – not a domestic honey bee in the sketch – I was down at the Jardin Botanique, so I popped into the Insectarium and sketched the exotic bees on display).

The strangest I saw was about bee rustling. This is crazy right? The idea that beehives are now so important to food producers, that it’s become worth it to steal some hard working beekeeper’s insects. Unscrupulous individuals show up in the dark of night, steal the bee-boxes, spray a new logo, and the bees are in a different field the next day. It’s a beehive chop shop!

That’s a spectacularly negative example of people adapting to the problem of bee scarcity.

When I heard there was a beekeeping collective here in Montreal, I thought – Let’s go down there and find out about some of the positive things we can do? See the sketches and interview below the fold:

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A Simple Trick for Planning a Sketch : Connect the Dots

June 22, 2014

14June22_USK MTL Botanical_01

Just back from sketching with Urban Sketchers Montreal. Here’s my morning drawing from the Chinese pavilion at Montreal’s Jardin Botanique.

This one turned out to be a useful example of what I call “Marking Extents”. How to design the page with small dots measuring the height and width of key objects, and their internal landmarks (doors, windows, floors, etc).

After the break – A few process shots that might explain:

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