Travel sketches vs urban sketches, and what about plein air?

The teapot in Bath, and a street in Kyoto are both travel sketches yet they do not qualify as urban sketches.

The teapot was done on location yet it does not qualify for an urban sketch due to the content. Travel sketching strives to capture the moment, the content reflects a time and place that is meaningful to the artist/traveler. If the view included the whole cafe, or a view through the window to the outside, it would be an Urban sketch as well as a travel sketch.

This sketch brings back memories of a morning in Bath, England when I went out for tea while the rest of my travel group slept-in; a nice memory.

The content of this sketch of a street in Kyoto, Japan is certainly typical of an Urban Sketch, yet it was not done on location, it was done months after the trip from a photo, since it was not done on location it does not qualify as an urban sketch. One of the joys of travel sketching is to revisit a place by sketching it from a photo, reliving the moment long after the trip has ended; a way to reflect on another time and place. Doing this sketch took me back to a July day in hot Kyoto, almost two years after the trip, a pleasant memory.

The Seattle Urban Sketchers web site posts the Urban sketchers manifesto.

• We draw on location, indoors or out, capturing what we see from direct observation

• Our drawings tell the story of our surroundings, the places we live and where we travel

• Our drawings are a record of time and place

• We are truthful to the scenes we witness

• We use any kind of media and cherish our individual styles

• We support each other and draw together

• We share our drawings online

• We show the world, one drawing at a time

Here are two that are urban sketches – the Ferry Dock at Mukilteo, and Diamondknot Brewery

So the difference between travell sketching and urban sketching is not huge, in many respects they are the same. Yet some sketches that we travel sketchers do would not fit the Urban Sketchers Manifesto, so being a travel sketcher gives one the freedom to sketch from photos, and even change the content a bit.

What about Plein Air? The simple definition is: painting that is done outside, on location. So urban sketching and travel sketching would both fall under that definition quite frequently.Yet Plein air most often refers to the mediums of oil or acrylic paints done on canvas or panels, pastels, or watercolor with little use of pen and ink; both travel sketchers and urban sketcher make frequent use of ink in their paintings, though many never do.

Plein air tends to use a more elaborate set up and takes longer. Travel sketching and urban sketching are usually quicker, with a more spontaneous feel about them.

There is no official body which has decreed strict definitions, yet there are some general categories. In the end what matters is that a person enjoys their art

This is an plein air acrylic on a 5”x7” canvas panel that I did at Mukilteo Beach State Park.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Jaya Singh says:

    They are simply beautiful

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gavin Darvell says:

    Am loving your sketches, keep up the amazing work

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, glad you enjoy. I am also on Instagram. Thanks again

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll be sure to seek you out on there


  3. Love your work and words of inspiration. Thanks for the definition I now know I’m both an urban and a travel sketcher. We’re on the road quite a bit (in Australia) in our caravan, often there’s time for getting the composition right for a photo but not to sketch. In the quiet of the evening I find it sublime to bring out the pen and pencils and lose myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much. Not sure my definition of travelsketching is as universal as the definition of Urban Sketching. There is an USK Manifesto that outlines the doing on-site etc. One of my goals as theTravelsketcher is to define a difference between the two, as I described – I do think many make no distinction between the two, but as you have pointed out there is a difference. Knut of respect for USK i never label a sketch i did from a photo as an urban sketch, but do label as a travel sketch. There is a #travelsketcher and #thetravelsketcher tag on IG, share some of yours there. Thanks again.


      1. Many thanks Terry and happy sketching!

        Liked by 1 person

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