If you follow sketching posts on the web you find that travel and urban sketchers are all over the place as far as technique, style, and content. Most artist in any medium will develop a style that is distinctly theirs over time; art curators can verify authenticity of paintings by studying the technique, style, and content of a newly discovered piece of art. Not exactly a fingerprint but not far from it.
Look at the work of some of the popular sketchers out there (their links are attached) and you find quite a diversity. These folks have each been an inspiration to me, I have learned from all of them. In the process I have also failed at times because I tried to sketch like them. That is the point of the blog, learn from others, but be yourself. That is the message of my workshops, I can show you an idea, maybe a trick or two, but you in the end have to be you.
Suhita has a style that is quite loose, using many earth tones, people are prominent in most of her sketches, lots of darks to contrast with the lights. Suhita is known for people sketches, and I tried so hard to sketch them like she does, it was disaster. Then I stepped back and looked at what it was about how she sketched that I liked. I learned that my sketches of people in cafes did not have to be detailed portraits, that the rhythm and the shapes of the person and place is what mattered most, and that color was optional, sometimes just shades of gray worked.
Liz Steel uses much lighter washes, tends to sketch in pen first I believe, and does a lot with buildings. Liz Steel made me look at allowing more variations in the watercolor washes I use, it made the sketch more interesting.
Marc Holmes, who is doing more studio painting these days, sketches mostly with just watercolor, he is an advocate of direct watercolor, no sketching first, and many earth tones. His overall tone is lighter than Suhita, but darker than Liz Steel. Marc taught me a bit about layering, and limiting passes, but our styles are so far apart that it has been harder for me to try and match his style.
Maria Coryell-Martin of Expiditionary Art does amazing studio work, yet is known for her scientific expedition sketching. She tends to use light washes with ink for detail and highlights. Maria is an inspiration for me because I like to think our styles have a few similarities. There is not a desire on my part to emulate, however I do learn from her when I see how she captures a scene.
Erin Hill sketches with a loose pen and vivid colors, not attempting to mach the scene’s colors in front of her, but to express the colors that the scene evokes in her mind. Erin Hill’s sketches constantly remind me that a loose pen is ok, though my favorite style does have more precision than her’s. Except when I just grab my Confucius Fude and capture a quick moment that is quite loose. Yet when I tried to do coloring closer to her style it frustrated me, thousands of course love it, we are all right.
All of these folks, and many more I could list, have advocates and followers, so the question is which one should I try to emulate? Answer: none of them. And I am pretty sure they would agree. Learn from them, but don’t try to be someone else.
To find a direction for your style the first piece of advice is not to look for one, let it develop over time as you consider technique, style, and content.
Technique includes medium. What is your favorite, most comfortable. What matches your lifestyle. Pen and watercolor is my go-to because as theTravelsketcher I am often packing light and fast. Plein air acrylic painting is something I love, yet it takes a lot more paraphernalia. I have a watercolor palette from Maria’s Expeditionary Art that fits in my shirt pocket.
Technique also include how you enjoy sketching. In general I prefer to do ink first, then wash with watercolors. Though I do other styles, it is my preferred, I tend to get the results I like best. It is good to try other techniques to test and push your skills, but most will settle on a core of techniques that works the best for them.
Style in this context refers to how loose vs. detailed you sketch. Some sketchers come at it with an architectural background thus they often work a lot more precise detail than I could ever be comfortable with. Graphic artists may look for composition and the overall visual impact. Me, I just want to capture the moment, my mood at the moment influences my style. There are times I want it free of detail, and others with a lot more detail; both are my style. Here are examples of each.
Travelsketchers and urban sketchers will, in the course of things, sketch a bit of everything just because they strive to capture the world around them. Having said that, we all gravitate toward a few favorites.
Maria sketches landscapes and nature more than anything. Suhita does sketch buildings etc, but you see a lot of people, cafes, and public spaces. Marc does a lot of building dominant landscapes. Liz is known for her morning teacup and landscapes with buildings.
Me, I like to sketch in cafes and bars, thus I sketch food and drink. Landscapes with buildings are common, with a few people thrown in. And I love flowers and nature.
The key to finding your style is to sketch a lot, sketch what moves you, interests you, and is fun. That is what you will be best at and enjoy most. So keep on sketching.