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Creative Spirits – Urban Sketchers Ottawa

Cindi Moynahan-Foreman feels blessed to be able to draw, paint and create everyday .

She loves exploring new art techniques and learning about and meeting other artists. She is inspired by her family, nature and poetry. She is an urban sketcher and co-founder of the Ottawa Urban Sketchers group..

Kristina Corre is an analog collage artist based in Ottawa, Canada.

Born in Manila and raised in Toronto, a lifetime of imagining new worlds led Corre to study architecture at Carleton University’s Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism, where she graduated with her Master of Architecture degree in 2012.

Colin White is an artist, illustrator, designer and urban sketcher based in Ottawa.

Colin has been making art in Ottawa since 2006. He completed his BFA in 2002 and MA in 2004. He has held 3 solo exhibits in Ottawa, and participated in numerous group shows. In 2015 he organized and put on a group show entitled ‘Forgotten Spaces’ which was held in an alleyway.

Emma Cochrane is a designer and creative strategist with a background in architecture and fine arts.

She is the Creative Director at Jackpine . Her combined interest in doodling and exploring cities has led to whimsical drawings of back alleys and maps of local neighbourhoods. “I love trying to tell the story of a space through my sketches”

Carrie:  How did you discover the art of urban sketching?

KC: I studied architecture, and sketching was always a way to understand and process information about the world around me.  It wasn’t after I’d graduated though, and invited myself on Colin White’s (fellow admin) alley sketching adventures that I began to sketch urban environments with a group.

CF: I have always sketched all my life. My work required me to travel quite a bit and I always carried my sketchbook with me everywhere I went. One of my portfolios required me to spend two weeks each year in New York City at the United Nations and that is how I came to know Mark Leibowitz of the NYC Urban Sketching group . On one of my visits to NYC in 2015, Mark encouraged me to start up an official regional chapter of Ottawa urban sketchers. In January 2016 we became an official Urban Sketchers Regional Chapter.

CW: Somewhat randomly. I did some while traveling after university but really started doing it regularly and understanding what I was doing when I started living in Ottawa, and using it as a way of exploring a city I was largely unfamiliar with while simultaneously improving my drawing.

EC: My experience is very similar to Kristina’s – I had a prof who encouraged my studio to keep a daily sketch journal as we walked around the city to keep track of any details that inspired us. I took up sketching again as a hobby a couple years ago when we did the alley sketching project.

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Creative Spirit Cindi Moynahan-Foreman with Ottawa Urban Sketchers at the 56th World Wide SketchCrawl in Ottawa

Carrie: For those who do not know, how would you describe urban sketching?

KC: Urban sketching is sketching one’s surroundings on site, regardless of where those surroundings are – in Ottawa we have such easy access to rural and forest environments within or not far from city limits.  With the official Urban Sketchers International group, all sketches must be completed on site, without the aid of reference photos. It’s a way to sit, observe, record, and share your experience of a place.

CF: The term “urban sketching” refers to artists carrying sketchbooks and using mediums of their own choosing and sitting and recording the places where they live, where they travel and people around them. Urban sketchers are capturing what they see from direct observation and not from photographs.

CW: Sketching on location (en plein air) in a built environment.

EC: For me, urban sketching is about using art to capture pieces of the city that are often overlooked. We had some photographers and videographers out one summer, and while not technically “sketching”, their mission was the same.

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Creative Spirits – Urban Sketchers Ottawa

Carrie: How does urban sketching positively impacts the people who participate?

KC:Mostly it gets people out to locations they might not have discovered, and allows them time to do a relaxing, zero-pressure activity.

CF: Most important for me is how urban sketching requires that you become totally present and really SEE and truly experience your surroundings. There is a museum (Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam)  that has banned cell phones and cameras (that result in “a passive and superficial experience”) and they hand out sketchbooks and pencils instead. This has enhanced the experience of visitors because they are required to really pay attention.

This is reminiscent of the quote in The Zen of Seeing,  (Frederick Franck) “I have learned that what I have not drawn, I have never really seen and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing, I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle …”

CW: It offers one a different perspective observing daily life in a metropolitan setting. One becomes a semi-passive observer, focusing on the smaller details that make up a city. It forces one to intentionally slow down in what is often a fast paced or hectic environment. It can become a different way of connecting with a community. One will always see something new or learn something while urban sketching.

EC: It can be kind of meditative, to just sit and focus on the space around you, and it’s an opportunity to get outside and get creative.

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Carrie: Was there one notable location or event for urban sketchers in this past year that stands out for you? Tell us about it.

KC: I really enjoyed our meetup at the newly opened Art House Cafe.  It’s a gallery with a coffee shop and lots of space to settle down and sketch, and our group filled the space up.  The managers of the space commented that having our group was exactly what they’d envisioned for how their space would be used.

CF: I really enjoyed the WorldWide SketchCrawl #56 in July because we replicated the WW SketchCrawl 48 that we did in July 2015. In 2017 we had such a terrific turnout of artists of ALL ages and ALL levels and there were large crowds downtown because of Ottawa’s sesquicentennial celebrations. The sketchers really enjoyed the day and all of the sketches were amazing.

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Sketcher Kristina Corre

Carrie: What have you learned about yourself and/or your work through urban sketching?

CF: I have fallen in love with sketching/painting on location and capturing what I see from direct observation. The reward for this level of “paying attention” is a real sense of connection.

CW: Despite seeming solid a city is always changing. Urban sketching is a way of capturing that.

Carrie: Do you have any anecdotes about a learning moment or epiphany a sketcher has had through joining and engaging with your events?

CF: What I love most is that at every sketching event there are always “new” people that have never sketched with us before and they say how much they have always wanted to try it but were nervous about it. And they enjoy themselves so much!

Carrie: I know quite a few artists who are nervous to show up to these events: drawing in public, or self-identifying as an artist can feel intimidating. What advice or encouragement do you have for people interested, but nervous to join the urban sketching community?

KC: We’re entirely welcoming to anyone who has a pen and a paper and wants to sketch.  While the Ottawa group does include artists and illustrators, the majority of people who come out just enjoy sketching, or enjoyed it in the past and are looking for a fun way to get started again.  

CF: We emphasize that all of our sketch events are safe, inclusive spaces where we welcome ALL ages and ALL skill levels. Drawing in public alone can feel intimidating but much less so when you are part of a sketching group.

CW: The urban sketchers community is very welcoming, but it is understandable how one might be nervous about drawing in the general public or on the streets. The advantage to coming with a sketch group is you will always have a fellow sketcher nearby. Choosing to sketch in slightly less travelled areas or on side streets can help negate having significant public interaction, but people will always be curious. Also, most people passing by will likely enjoy your work and tell you the cliched line “Oh I can’t draw…”

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Sketcher Colin White

Carrie: How can people get involved if they want to dive into the world of urban sketching?

KC: Simply show up!  All one needs is a pen or pencil and some paper.  It’s been said that our meetups are great for introverts because they can be social if they want, or they can just enjoy sketching in the company of other sketchers/

CF: Our events are free and no special equipment is required. I have seen amazing sketches done with a ballpoint pen on regular paper! You can find announcements and details about our events on social media (Facebook, twitter, blogger, etc) and artists are free to join us for one hour or the whole day. Whatever works.

CW: Work with whatever you feel comfortable with and explore from there. Stay hydrated.

EC: Just start. Come out to an event. Don’t stress about making a finished piece or defining a style, just draw something. Anyone who’s nervous about drawing in public can get started by simply drawing the view from their window.

Carrie:  What is one creative resource you can’t live without?

KC: Ottawa’s artengine artlist is a great way to keep up with what’s going on with Ottawa’s art communities. It’s been a great way to discover other artists and also ways to get involved in Ottawa’s art community.  

CF: I follow a lot of artists on social media and I am energized and inspired by my daily feed on twitter, blogger and instagram. I also subscribe to a lot of art mailing lists that let me know what is happening close to home and far away.

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Sketcher Emma Cochrane

Carrie: Who/what inspires you?

KC: I spend a lot of time looking for new artists on instagram, but nothing’s more inspiring than getting out there and seeing new pieces in real life, or spending time with other creative people.

CF: I’m inspired by meeting new artists and trying new art techniques.

CW: Small observations of everyday reality. Meeting new people.

EC: Little details of spaces, especially when I can see the way people living or working in a space have adapted it to suit their needs. A little hand-built staircase that leads from a window to a rooftop garden, the various objects that act as seating for smoke breaks behind restaurants, etc.

Carrie:  How do you define Creativity?

CW: Any action taken to express one’s internal reality onto the external reality.

EC: My definition of creativity is about vision. It is the ability to see something in a new way, see relationships between ideas that others miss. And then the ability to express that vision through a chosen medium.

CF: I really like the way Brene Brown defines it: “Creativity is the way I share my soul with the world” and Dorothy Parker “Creativity is a wild mind and a disciplined eye.”

Be Creatively Courageous: Tell us about your first public drawing experience in 2-3 sentences. OR, commit to your first urban sketchers activity and announce it in the comments below.

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