A new group of artists in Charlotte have made the city their canvas. They are the Urban Sketchers, a local offshoot of an international nonprofit organization of the same name founded in 2007.
Ellen Ward, an illustrator and art teacher, started the Charlotte group this past July for artists of all ages and skills. Group members get together around the city to draw live scenes in parks, coffee shops, and most recently at an Opera Carolina performance of Tosca.
Members Peg DeLamater, Anna Dlougolenskaia, Seymour Simmons, Ed Rihacek and Janis Schneider attended the opera to sketch and, like they do for all of their drawings, share their images on the group’s Flickr website (www.flickr.com/groups/charlottesketchers/.
Ward hopes to bring out the creative side of people who think they can’t draw. “You do not have to be an artist, or a self-defined artist or someone who does it for a living,” she said. “No matter what your ability, no matter what your style, there is something for everybody.”
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Ward, an illustrator and art teacher at Winthrop University, Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens and Central Piedmont Community College, was feeling stagnant in her creative endeavors. The international Urban Sketchers’ motto of “seeing the world one sketch at a time” invigorated her own artistic process.
Today she carries a sketchbook with her everywhere, even to the hair salon to draw while she waits for her hair appointment. “It is a type of journalism about your life,” she said. “At the end of a month, when you look in your sketchbook, it shows the truth of your journey. And that’s valuable.”
Textile artist Dlougolenskaia might appreciate the ability to sit and sketch anywhere in Charlotte more than anyone else in the group. Back home when Russia was the USSR, artists were forbidden from drawing and selling portraits in the streets. They could only draw landscapes and cityscapes. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, artists were free to draw and sell what they wanted. Dlougolenskaia, then 20, had people pose for her on the sidewalks. They paid her 10 rubles for each drawing.
Today, she still prefers to draw people in real time. “It’s a totally different process of drawing from life,” she said. “It’s like you’re creating something that doesn’t exist, and when you copy a flat picture, it’s just copying.”
Although this professor has been sketching for his entire life, and teaching drawing and art education at Winthrop University, Simmons still has new things to learn.
He joined Urban Sketchers to get back to paper in a digital world.
“There’s a revitalization of energy and interest in drawing now,” he said.
“It’s a reaction to the computer boom, so people want to get out and do things the old-fashioned way, connect to the experience of nature.”
Rihacek first saw Urban Sketchers as a new challenge in his longstanding art career and a chance to connect with other artists in a stress-free environment.
He wanted capture movement and emotion from a live subject.
“(The challenge is) trying to capture some expression, the whole figure expressing itself in a few lines, a few strokes of your pen,” he said. “It forces you to be really brief and make every line count.”
A botanical illustrator for 15 years, Schneider was ready to take on an art subject that moves faster than the growing moss she’s used to sketching.
When she started with Urban Sketchers over the summer, she and Rihacek started drawing at the Little Sugar Creek Greenway on Mondays.
Her most challenging part of the experience? Drawing across a body of water and fending off mosquitoes.
Still, the native New Yorker sees the Queen City as her muse.
“I love Charlotte because it’s like living in Central Park,” she said. “I just love all the trees.”
DeLamater, a retired art history teacher at Winthrop University, has known Ward for 20 years. She was ready to make the most of her retirement and get involved with a group of like-minded artists. “(The biggest challenge is) deciding whether to concentrate on one or two figures, then by the time you do they’re moving on,” she said.