Embarcadero Field Sketch


Stories attract attention when we tell them in powerful ways.



A few months ago, Wendy MacNaughton, Bestselling Author and Illustrator of Meanwhile In San Francisco: The City In Its Own Words, came as a guest speaker in our class where she held a workshop that introduce us to the concept of merging both Illustration and Journalism. It's the middle ground where we seek stories out into the world and convey them through meaningful drawings.

Wendy Macnaughton is an Illustrator, Social Worker and Storyteller, which she sums up in how she observes the world: Look, Listen and Convey. Her career allowed her to be mobile and flexible, always capturing and observing the world around her. One of the most insightful statements she shared with us was this, "When I find something that interests me I stop and tell myself: I want to know what it is."


Wendy's Field Sketching Tips

Create a setting and scene in which the object lives. This adds more character and story to it.

Scout the field. Capture and sketch anything that catches your interest.

Learn how to sketch without looking down at your paper.

When approaching others for a quick conversation or interview, keep in mind to ask open-ended questions.

Give the opportunity of silence when having conversations with strangers.

How to get a story out of someone? Simply say the magic words: "Tell me more about that."


These gave us a starting point for the next day's field exploration. It was a Saturday and we were scheduled to have a make-up class for 6 hours. Insane, I know. Our professor arranged a mini-field trip to the pier to do a day of field sketching. It was a nice, sunny day, and we met up at the Embarcadero to search for stories beyond the four walls of our classroom. We spent all morning and afternoon walking around: observing, sketching and conversing with strangers. It was a bit overwhelming because on Saturdays' there's a Farmer's Market and the pier was crowded, but this only allowed us to be more immersed in the experience. I've been to the Embarcadero before so it wasn't anything new to me, but it was nice to see things from a different perspective. 

I wouldn't lie though, as great as it was, a few frustrations did occur since we were required to have a certain amount of sketches by the end of the day. At some point, I felt a bit constrained with the time and the requirement of sketches since not everything I saw caught my eye and I felt forced to keep sketching even when I didn't feel like it anymore. It was tiring, that's for sure. Nevertheless, it was a refreshing experience to simply go out, observe and draw, especially with friends. I would say that it's been a while since I worked on any illustrations and this was a nice way of getting in touch with that part of myself.  


The more we pay attention to our feelings and the stories that surround us, the more we become attuned to them.



As an illustrator, I've always been drawn to sketching visual representations and imagery of the world around me. One thing that I've never really fully explored is field sketching or live drawing. I have tried it before since it was required in my drawing class but I always preferred using references, such as images to draw a particular piece of work. It was my preferred method because it allowed me to go into detail and work at my own pace.

I soon realized that I didn't need to be so adamant with my preferred method just because I was comfortable with it, and that every now and then it's good to try out new techniques. This allows us to be more proficient in our skills because it opens our mind and trains our hand to something new. 


Resist The Urge of Making Things Perfect

Whenever I'm travelling, my approach has always been to take a photograph and sketch it later on. However, I found that this method hinders me from fully engaging in the experience and I miss the opportunity of capturing the energy of the moment. I also tend to forget the reason and the feelings that accompany my initial interest of wanting to draw a specific scene or object. 

The same also holds true when I try to redraw my sketches. I feel as if a part of it gets taken away and it's not as authentic as I want it to be, as opposed to the original sketch that I drew on the spot.

If you're someone like me who worries too much about the details and the output, my advice is this: Whenever you're on the field and you're sketching, preserve anything that you capture in that moment. Praise yourself for what you were able to get in that few minutes. Don't try to perfect it and don't try to tear the page out the moment you come back home. Field sketches are meant to be raw and rough. That's the beauty of them. You can always improve it if you want to, but I suggest that you keep the original sketch. If you find yourself feeling frustrated, try asking yourself which one has more energy and triggers more memory:  the sketch you drew on the spot or the sketch that you improved once you got back home?

I find that asking myself this whenever I feel like I want to make revisions allows me to appreciate what I was able to do, no matter how visually displeasing it looks to me. It creates more value in what I have created and brings me the chance to accept that not everything needs to be polished and perfect.  


Draw The Energy From The Experience

During my First Year, I remember being told by my Painting Professor that it was better to go out and draw from live references than using images or photos but I never really took his advice to heart. It was difficult for me to quickly capture things on the field because, like I mentioned, I tend to be a perfectionist and relish in the small details. However, this day of exploration taught me that drawings produced in the moment — drawings that are rugged, rough and raw — contains the energy gathered from the experience, and that gives it more context to the story I was trying to convey.

I felt that capturing things as they are, in a certain moment, makes it more valuable. Moreover, I learned that there are things that you can't capture if you're merely using photo references and drawing in the comforts of your home. 


Put On The Hat Of An Observer & Capturer

The entire experience was truly enlightening to me and I learned a lot about being flexible and dynamic with capturing my surroundings, how it moves and how it interacts with one another. I saw things in a different perspective.

Engaging in the role of an observer and a capturer of things attuned me to my environment and I felt more immersed and grounded in the moments that I allowed myself to slow down and sketch the world around me. 

So go out there, observe with an open-mind, and capture the moment in a sketch.