Salem and Boston

It was time to make a road trip to Boston, and Salem being so nearby, we wanted to stop there as well. Salem plays an important role in a manuscript I’m working on and I figured that it was a good idea to go and experience the place first hand. Google searches can bring an overwhelming amount of information, but it can’t give you the essence of a place. That’s what I went for. Granted, the experience was different with my family than it would have been on my own, but I did my best to let the place sink in to me. I would have loved to wander from one corner to the next, taking lengthy stops to sketch all of the crazy old architecture and grave stones and every flavor of person one can imagine.  As it was, we walked quite a bit of Salem, over two days, and my sketch stops were intermittent and decidedly short. I like quick sketching, so it didn’t bother me, but I barely dusted the immense, rich history scattered everywhere.

Boston was disappointing only in that we didn’t have time to see much of it. It is stunning! We had planned to go for the full day on Saturday, but learned of the “Free Speech” Rally that was slated for The Commons, which was exactly where we were headed, and being on a family vacation and not an activist trip (though we out-rightly oppose the notion of spreading hate), we decided to steer clear and opt to visit Salem again.

Once in Boston, we wandered The Common (a large park) and hit the Boston Public Market for a quick snack before wandering down to the waterfront.  Sketching time was even more constrained, given we were only there for three hours, but I managed a few quickies and finished the rest en route back home to Montreal.  I want to go back.

Do you travel sketch when on family vacations? How do you squeeze in your sketch time?

Urban Sketching With Kids at Atwater Market

It’s a very empowering thing to let go of your notions of perfection and, with a few key basic steps, be able to produce a snippet of your experience of any given place. Urban sketching is about more than drawing what you are looking at. It’s about immersing yourself in the place where you are and drinking in all of the things you might never have noticed had you not stopped to look at it with a sketcher’s eye. It’s about connecting with your community and the passers-by who often have some interesting tidbit to share of their own experience of the place.

Urban sketching is for everyone, no matter the age or skill level. It’s an amazing thing for youth to get involved in, for all of the reasons I just mentioned, and for the incalculable emotional benefits that finding an avenue of expression can provide. Urban sketching allows the sketcher to take ownership (and control) of where they are in the world, in their own small, but significant way. And it makes me think, in this sometimes dizzying digital world we live in, it’s a profound thing to actually step outside and be a part of the world, to slow down and see – I mean really see – something. And then to record your interpretation of it in a way that is uniquely you.

To this end, I teamed up with to offer a one day sketching workshop for kids and teens. As these things go, they are hard to get off the ground sometimes, and in the summer, even harder, so the teen class was shelved due to under-enrollment. For any of you hoping to plan something like this in summer in your community, note that advertising for workshops is more effective if done in late winter/early spring when parents are looking to book summertime activities to keep their kids busy.

The kids’ class went ahead. We had four kids and four parents. I had offered the class free to parents if they wanted to stay with their children ( but it was optional). The thinking behind this was that, 1) it would help me to be able to solely focus on teaching and not have to worry about wrangling possibly wayward kids and the legalities of the adult to child ratio, and 2) sometimes kids need a little extra over-the-shoulder encouragement. These were only really a concern if I had filled the class to 15 children, in which case, I may have struggled to meet the needs of all of them on my own. Granted, I would have brought my 16 year old daughter along as my helper, but I decided to experiment with the free parent thing. Aside from my more selfish reasons, it was really sweet to see parents and children learning together. As it was, we were a nice sized group.

We focused on the basics of perspective. It made for a sort-of dry-ish first hour, I’ll need to tweak that, but I think it helped the kids (and parents) to feel more confident when diving into their sketches. In the future I think the 3hr-one-day time block is maybe not ideal for kids (tweens). Even though it went quickly, I think they would benefit more from a more drawn out approach. A regular weekly meeting may be a good way to go, or a week long daily class. Perhaps in the future I will offer a family class for a reduced rate instead of the free offer to parents, in order to have the option of all family members to take part. I’m also looking at other class models, like day camps for professional days off school (we call them PED days here).

If you have any feedback on art related classes you or your children have taken, or tips and tricks that you have used for rallying and teaching your own creative kids classes, please share in the comments.

In preparation for the class, I did some brushing up on my knowledge of perspective.

I watched Stephanie Bower’s Perspective for Sketchers class on Craftsy. Stephanie is an architect and Urban Sketcher based in Seattle.

Below are some other Urban Sketchers who have produced classes with Craftsy. I highly recommend (and not just because these are affiliate links and I get a very small kickback if you buy classes via my website, but because I either know these sketchers personally and greatly admire them,  and/or have taken their class(es) myself).

Shari Blaukopf 

Sketching in the City in Pen, Ink and Watercolor

Sketching Landscapes in Pen, Ink and Watercolor

Marc Taro Holmes

Travel Sketching in Mixed Media

Drawing People in Motion



A Mess of Sketchbooks – How to Make Your Own

I got into making my own sketchbooks after I felt I was holding back from making that first mark on the page of my newly store bought sketchbooks out of fear of somehow ruining them. Instead, I got over my hesitation by employing a little DIY. If I make something, it feels like I have the right to wreck it if I want to, and that seems to do the trick in removing that mental barrier for me. Truthfully, I’ve learned that all the marks I make in my sketchbooks are noble – all heading toward my improvement of expression – squiggles, scratches and all. So, I just needed to get over myself.

But now, I love making my own sketchbooks. I feel like they are way more precious than store bought (which, ironically, doesn’t seem to make me pause even a little bit before marking them up).  They have become a tool of expression, as they should be.

Here are some insights into my process, as well as links to where I learned how to put everything together. Some of the following links are affiliate links.

Paper: I like fabriano hotpress. I buy a pad of the 8×10 or 9×12 (or 11×14 then halve it) and use the whole pad to create one book, reserving the cardboard backing for the front and back cover board. It’s got a nice smooth surface, so it takes ink nicely, as well as watercolour.

Other Tools:
  • bone (or plastic) folder – use this to create a nice sharp crease when folding each page
  • awl – for punching holes in the paper
  • spray glue – for fixing the cover fabric/paper to the cover board
  • thread, string, or embroidery floss – for stitching the groups of pages together. You can run this item through solid bee’s wax to help prevent tangling, if you like.
  • sewing needle – that suitably fits the type of thread you choose.

How To Put It All Together:

  • figure out what kind of binding you want. I have a bunch of posts on my pinterest board. Have a look. My favorite so far is an open binding (no spine) using the kettle stitch (and Jennifer from Sea Lemon has lots of great tutorials, so look around her channel).  This kind of open spine allows me to open the book flat, no matter what page I am on. It’s great for sketching.
  • Whether or not you intend to include a spine, check out this tutorial from James Darrow (or on Deviant Art if you are not on Pinterest).  He outlines all the steps you need to do to get to the point of stitching, and beyond, if you want to include a spine. This process requires a bit more patience (overnight glue setting) and you will need a few other supplies for this, like a glue stick, a strip of cotton and extra cardboard for the spine. I have been know to glue together double or triple layers of cereal box cardboard to get a reasonably stiff spine. It looks great and is definitely worth the extra time if you can spare it.  Otherwise, when you are ready to stitch, leave this tutorial and refer to the kettle stitch video above.
  • For the cover, I LOVE to upcycle old pants pockets. Use what you already have. And it’s so dang practical. I can tuck all of my most used travel sketching supplies in the pockets and grab n’ go when I want to head out on the town and sketch. Super convenient.

I’d love to hear about your adventures in bookmaking. Leave me a comment. And I’m happy to answer any questions.


Happy stitching and sketching!


#OneWeek100People2017: Day ONE

That’s the challenge issued by Urban Sketchers, Marc Taro Holmes and Liz Steel. It’s designed to get us out there to exercise our sketching muscles, have fun and try and drop any notion of good or bad, success or failure in any given drawing. It’s meant to encourage us to just let go and rediscover the joy of drawing – at least that’s what it means to me.

I went out in Verdun today, in below zero temperatures, and my fingers froze (it’s hard to sketch with mittens on), but I got my first twenty in.  I stood outside Station W Cafe on Wellington and considered going in to warm up, but the sight of (always super interesting looking) hipsters lined up at the front windows was just too charming to pass up. I did manage to add colour to this little scene, but once I moved along to the corner of De l’Eglise and Wellington, in front of the huge, glorious church, my frozen little popsicle fingers let me only go as far as line drawings (I added the Payne’s Grey wash later).

I ran into a fellow sketcher on the street around the time I was frozen right through. I wanted to hang out and draw a little longer, but such are the perils of sketching outdoors in winter in Montreal.

I’ll be posting my daily sketches of people on Instagram – @juliepresceskydesignink. Find others, too with this hashtag, #OneWeek100People2017.