I was lamenting two frustrations and ultimately solved them with one short drive.

Feeling a little trapped in the neighbourhood, both my efforts to run more frequently and sketch things beyond my backyard, finding motivation to push myself outside my comfort zones has been a roadblock. Then it occurred to me that sketching in place, the foundational pillar of so-called urban sketching, was not necessitated by either walking somewhere or being — strictly speaking — outside. I could, say, drive somewhere and if it were, say, raining and thus risking my delicate notebook with getting drenched I could just sit in my truck and draw.

Couple this alongside the repetitive monotony of running from my front door day after day after day … literally … after day, and a solution presented itself in the form of a ten minute drive.

I dressed for a run and grabbed my sketching supplies and drove down to the ski hill.

Yeah. This city has a ski hill nestled in a creekside valley, seventy-five meters of decent if a foot, and transformed into a quiet recreational area with running trails in the summer. The nearby freeway dips into the valley and spans the gap with a short, utilitarian bridge through a ribbon of urban greenspace.

Pencils do not do it justice.

I sketched from the drivers seat, watched a dozen or so people wander by in the drizzly rain, dropped my eraser under the seat once, and after about 20 minutes of freehand sketching the contrast of grey concrete with dense foliage suited up and went for a run through the drizzle — and eventually pouring — rain.

Urban sketching for the week: complete. I thought.

What was bugging me was that contrast between the green and the greys which I was not equipped to capture with my limited artistic experience. I assume that will come with time and practice, but for the moment it was a rough, abstract impression that I could not quite hit the mark upon.

Then, as these things do, another epiphany occurred to me while I was running through the lush, wet natural trails.

I snapped one photo when I returned to my truck after my run, hopped in the vehicle and drove home.

That photo was a bit of a colour reference. I snapped a picture of the sketch from my book and imported it into the art software on my iPad.

Using a photograph as a reference for a sketch, tracing the initial shapes is — admittedly — a bit like cheating. I like to think of it as a style, just like animators might lean on rotoscoping to capture lifelike movement, artists can put some of the heavy lifting on capturing lifelike shapes from photos before adding details and abstractions through their own colours and textures.

But using your own freehand sketch as a starting point? Not cheating at all. I started by tracing the lines and shapes from my freehand sketch, then as the image took shape digitally, ditched the sketch and filled in the colours and textures looking at the photo I took to jog my memory and some creative interpretation through the hundreds of varieties of brushes and infinite colours available on the software reproduction.

And sure, maybe under a grey bridge is an odd place to sit and draw, but having run under it, past it, over it, and on it countless times, used it as a landmark for distances, and driven it sometimes daily, it’s a bit of my local life that is more than some grey concrete spans. Which is kinda the whole point of art isn’t it?

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