Creative Living Creativity Corner

john cash and urban sketching

June 25, 2012

A few weeks ago i somehow stumbled across a short course in urban sketching, offered by the london metropolitan university as part of their interior design course. Eternally trying to improve any sort of sketching skills, i was excited to try my hand at location sketching. This was definitely a challenge for me. The short course consisted of 4 x 3 hour sessions. The first was studio based and introduced techniques, media and processes……the other 3 consisted of location trips (tate modern, the british library and the british museum) where what was learnt in studio could be applied and developed.

I will show you my sketches a bit further down but first let me introduce you to my fab teacher john cash. He has this wonderful way of explaining, making you feel at ease and encouraging you to try and work through any difficulties. I attribute my results and my new found confidence in location sketching to his brilliant teaching skills. You guys know me by now, right? Of course, i asked john for an interview and secretly hope i can get some of us together for some private tuition with john. More of that later. Meet john

John, please tell us a little about your background and your teaching methods: my own academic background is very much based within fine art and Ii completed my ma back in 1997 at goldsmiths before being represented by ‘the agency’ gallery for a few years, participating in both solo and group shows with a mix video and large-scale drawing work. Currently I divide my time between my academic commitments as a visiting lecturer, teaching at both london metropolitan university and central saint martins college of art & design and also working out of a home-based studio developing my personal interests in painting. I have been teaching now for about 14 years and still find it a very enriching experience. The philosophy that underpins much of my approach to pedagogy is centred around ideas of ‘collaborative learning’ and ‘teaching for democracy’ in which the learning environment is treated as an empowered space where knowledge and experience can be shared and diversity embraced. We all have our own fears and anxieties when it comes to learning, with the psychological and emotive associations that this brings, and I firmly believe that when it comes to being creative (which often involves a willingness to try new things and take risks) this can only be achieved when we are in environments that aspire to be open, nurturing and inclusive. This is what I hope to facilitate whenever I approach the classroom.

Apart from the urban sketching short course, what other courses do you teach? Over the years i have taught on a variety of different courses within the visual arts. My current posts involve a ‘sketching life and environment’ 12 week taught module on the interior design & technology ba at london met as well as working across the academic year on the newly formed year 0 which acts as a diagnostic experience for new students who then progress onto specialised degree courses within art, media and design. Finally, I also teach at central saint martins and work on a month long summer course for international students introducing them to workshops and projects within the context of graphic design and illustration.

Are the short courses long enough for people to pick up the basics? You might be in a stronger position to answer that question tina having just successfully completed it? I would hope that within the 4 taught sessions of the ‘urban sketching’ course that students come away having been introduced to new drawing media, applications and techniques and develop a better understanding of how to sketch live spaces with more confidence and energy (using linear perspective). One of the great joys i personally find when drawing is that it tends to connect me more rigorously to the things I see around me and provides one of the most immediate forms of expression for both artists and designers. I think there is a slight danger with the advance of new technologies that we are tending to ‘tune-out’ of direct experience  (with our immersion in virtual spaces and accumulation of gadgetry) and so for me drawing is one way of re-engaging physically and emotionally with the world. I think its something that was reinforced during the short course location trips…………that effective drawing isn’t just about having practical skills to hand but also requires you to look with greater clarity and pay closer attention to what you see and feel.

A lot of people shy away from drawing. Do you have to be really good to join one of your classes? The ‘urban sketching’ short course welcomes participants from a range of different backgrounds and levels of experience. This year on the course we had first year ba students studying interior design to more mature students like yourself who work professionally within a related industry. So it was a good mix of ages and experience that allowed each of you to share in your existing knowledge and build on the skills of others, which is always lovely to observe as a teacher.  What I would say is, because of the current length of the course, it obviously helps if you come with some prior ability and experience, even if very limited, as this allows you to get the most from each location visit (which is 3 hours in duration). What was rewarding for me to observe through the course was how each of you improved and developed in your sketching process in such a short space of time – whether it was in relation to understanding perspective and how to integrate it as a way of measuring space all the way through to being more assured and informed in using various drawing media as a way to build tonal contrasts and effectively convey light and mood (will you tell them about the battery operated rubber or shall I?). I think there was general feedback amongst the group that you really enjoyed the classes but would like to have seen them extended and this is something I will certainly look at when we advertise it in future.

Yes, my favourite new toy, a battery operated eraser, introduced to me by john and bought from cass art for £2.50

What aspects of teaching do you enjoy most? I enjoy the social aspect and sense of community that comes through teaching, in that it brings people together from different backgrounds that are united by a shared passion and curiosity around a subject. To have an active role in shaping and facilitating that sense of inquiry is both exciting and challenging.

Are your courses made public or just modules for university students? The ‘urban sketching’ short course is made available to individuals from all walks of life and you do not have to be studying at london metropolitan university in order to apply. Short course programmes can be viewed via the main page at and accessed through ‘course finder’. Thanks for giving me the time to talk about my teaching experience and the short course that you attended tina. I am pleased you enjoyed it and look forward to seeing your finished drawings on your blog soon.

Ok, eek, here they are. I’ve shown my art before so why do i still get nervous? The first 2 drawings were studio based and copied from photographs we were given.

Next, we went to tate modern and the next 2 sketches were done there with a little bit of rendering back at home. 3 hours isn’t very long so it was important to get the basic perspective and all components in.

The following 2 sketches were done in the british library, again with rendering at home.

This last sketch came from the visit to the british museum. We were asked to use yellow as a background colour.

Now you’re in for a treat! Here are some more accomplished pieces supplied by john. The sketches that follow come from a 12 week module for 1st year students entitled ‘sketching life and environment’. This module was much more intense and covered in-depth studio workshop sessions where a broader range of drawing media could be tested and explored. Some of the drawings from the sketchbooks are also based on photographs students took direct from location sites which they have then responded to independently at home.

John has also supplied 2 very strong final location projects as part of the ‘sketching life and environment’ module. The bigger drawings are A3 size. Students had to select a specific location and revisit it and produce four A5 drawings as prep for a final A3.

I don’t know about you, but i’m even more fired up to learn how to sketch on location, especially seeing these wonderful drawings on the longer module course. It totally inspired me to see so many different styles and am always reminded that less is more, something i struggle with.

Here is my fantasy. I wonder whether we could get enough london bloggers to form a small group and get john to teach us privately? The ultimate would be a city urban sketching weekend. How cool would that be? Alternatively, check out john’s current courses and treat yourself to a new way of ‘seeing’.

John, thank you for giving me new found methods and tools, being patient with me when i kept misjudging the eye level:) and for agreeing to this interview. Thank you so much also for the images you provided of your student’s work. I hope to continue sketching on location and being taught by you again real soon.

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  • Reply Kelly Sparkes June 25, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    I would love to be involved in a sketching weekend! It’s so important to have a great teacher that can help you build your confidence and it sounds like John has done that.

    Your sketches are really impressive. I like the glass roof in the British museum and the movement of your people.

    I couldn’t get the rubber when you recommended it, but my husband ordered one online and surprised me for my birthday. I was so pleased, however his colleagues at work thought it was a terrible present 🙂

    Keep me posted on the class x

    • Reply tina June 30, 2012 at 12:30 pm

      Hey Kelly, let’s see whether we can get enough people to make a sketching weekend viable and whether John is up for it!

      Thanks love. I certainly struggled with people and the glass roof of the British Museum.

      I LOVE that rubber and know it looks a bit like a ‘naughty toy’… your husbands colleagues just don’t get it! We women can be pleased with so little:) x

  • Reply Holly June 25, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    How cool is this!!?!!

    Tina, you constantly surprise me with your exploratory nature and love of learning – and I feel so lucky that you share that with us here.

    Your sketches just blew me away.

    I love what John says about how drawing encourages us to look at things more closely, or from a different perspective. Especially important to our current times, where we can create images of our surroundings with a simple, and often thoughtless, click.

    Your battery operated eraser is the bomb!

    Love this post xoxo

    • Reply tina June 30, 2012 at 12:32 pm

      Thanks love. Yes, I need to ‘see things differently’ from time to time as the computer screen makes me want to scream sometimes!!!
      I feel I’m more in the moment when sketching, photographing and experiencing life as it’s happening in that instance!
      Thanks darling x

  • Reply Sam Lennie June 25, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    Wow, great sketches, great teacher. That’s amazing that you achieved all this in such a small space of time. I’d be really interested in a group course, what a lot of fun and scary too. Improving perspectives and sizing of things would really benefit me and knowing where to start actually!!

    The battery operated rubber made me chuckle 😉

    Good work Tina x

    • Reply tina June 30, 2012 at 12:33 pm

      You must get that battery operated rubber. You’d love it!!!

      I hope we’ll find enough people interested in a course/weekend. Let’s all mull over it….. Ta x

  • Reply Igor June 25, 2012 at 7:43 pm

    Your sketches are amazing, Tina. I wish I had the slightest talent with sketching/drawing…but alas, I am a lost case…

    • Reply tina June 30, 2012 at 12:34 pm

      Igor, a lost case? I don’t think so…. I bet when you were little, teachers told you you are no good at drawing and that’s why you shy away from it. Pity….:)

  • Reply Theresa June 26, 2012 at 12:59 am

    What an inspiring post, Tina! You know if I lived in your neck of the woods, I would be all over this class. To sit and sketch for three hours sounds like heaven to me right now.
    Like Holly, I loved what John had to say about re-engaging ourselves physically and emotionally with the world. It’s a point well taken as I rush through life and become increasingly attached to gadgets. Need to stop and observe more.
    John seems like an amazing teacher. Thank you for getting the interview and sharing it with us.
    Your sketches are really good, Tina. I could only imagine what you could accomplish in the longer program.

    • Reply tina June 30, 2012 at 12:36 pm

      I know I know, you would be there in a flash!!!!!
      Of course, you’re great at Illustrations…. I really want to continue practicing but know I’m better when doing a course and being accountable.

  • Reply noreen June 26, 2012 at 2:27 am

    i’m with theresa! it is so interesting. the sketches that you did are beautiful. i really like the ones with the yellow background. this is grown-up learning, complete with field trips! i hope you get enough people for those lessons, and continue to share your journey. enjoy!

    • Reply tina June 30, 2012 at 12:39 pm

      Very grown up:)

      You know so many people offer courses with field trips but am always worried the teacher would be rubbish.
      Hit the Jack Pot with John. That’s why I want to hold on to him…..

      I will work hard to get enough people to make this happen. I’m on a mission….:)
      Thank you Noreen!

  • Reply Ingrid Weir June 26, 2012 at 8:38 am

    Tina, I think your drawings really stand up to the more ‘ advanced’ ones- I the sketchiness of them makes them look professional. Great what John says about direct experience – I truly believe it. There is a fantastic Michael Crichton book-‘ Travels’ (personal journeys, nothing like his blockbusters) and that is what he talks about in the intro – direct experience. So much of what we get is second hand, the majority really. Great idea for the sketch class,

    • Reply tina June 30, 2012 at 12:41 pm

      Oh, I wish you wouldn’t live in Aussieland but in the UK coz I know you would join us:)

      Thank you for the Michael Crichton book-’ Travels’ introduction. I will check it out!
      Thank you Ingrid.

  • Reply caroline @trend-daily June 26, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    Yes yes yes-what an incredible discovery, what sublime sketches and how completely wonderful!!! Don’t know where to go next with this comment… ooh, apart from I’ve just taken some more flower shots and decided I would LOVE to do some botanical sketches-can you source that too please maestro!!!xx

    • Reply tina June 30, 2012 at 12:53 pm

      Haha…. botanical sketches… I’m sure there’s tones of courses on that.
      Maestro, nice new title!! xx

  • Reply Catherine Bedson June 26, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    Your sketches are fabulous Tina. Hope you get a group together, if I was in London I’d be there in a heartbeat..doing this sort of class with a teacher like John would be so inspirational. I’m behind with the BYW2 course as well, going to try and catch up some tomorrow!!..Smiles..Catherine

    • Reply tina June 30, 2012 at 12:54 pm

      Oh, you live so far away. I wish everybody who expressed interest here could do a course with John. You would all love it!!!!
      Gosh, missed most of BYW2 but have a month now to be on the forum. Here’s to hoping x

  • Reply ursula (room to bloom) June 26, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    You’re sketches are great Tina! I did a course like this to improve my skills a while ago and it must be said – with a good teacher most of us students were surprised at what we could do! But still I’m not brave enough to show mine – reserved for clients and builders in my note books…

    • Reply tina June 30, 2012 at 12:55 pm

      Go on, if you can show them to clients, why not show them to us?????

  • Reply geraldine June 26, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    What amazing sketches. Thanks for sharing. I’m afraid when it comes to sketching, I’d better stick to my day job! 🙂

    • Reply tina June 30, 2012 at 12:52 pm

      What is your day job? Thanks Geraldine.

  • Reply annie June 27, 2012 at 7:59 am

    Your sketches are very good Tina of course, I wouldn’t be shy about showing them if mine were so good!

    I almost did an urban sketching course at st martin’s last year but couldn’t get the time off work, I was really disappointed. I still see them occasionally in Leadenhall receiving curious looks!

    So satisfying producing a drawing isn’t it? Although not doing it for the 20th time like I am for the moment 🙁

    • Reply tina June 30, 2012 at 12:51 pm

      Actually I don’t think my sketches are very good when I look at the more accomplished ones beneath… but know I can improve and did so as the course went on.. which is always satisfying to see.

      Well, you can always join a course with John. He teaches at St. Martins so maybe he was the tutor.

  • Reply Toni June 27, 2012 at 9:04 am

    I won a Nordic price for drawing back when I was a young kid ,however, I no longer draw and very much doubt that I have retained any talent! I Admire your enthusiasm and your sketches are amazing.

    • Reply tina June 30, 2012 at 12:42 pm

      Did you? Gosh, that’s amazing. One never forgets…. I’m convinced that if you would try you’d surprise yourself and it could be the beginning of a new way of expression for you.
      Go on, try….:)

  • Reply Anya Adores June 27, 2012 at 10:41 am

    Tina these sketches ROCK. I love them you are very talented my friend. I am useless at sketching, would love to a course like this, thanks for sharing – makes me want to come to London even more:)
    Have a marvelous day

    • Reply tina June 30, 2012 at 12:45 pm

      Thank you Anya…. NO NO NO, I don’t believe anyone is useless at sketching. Please try. OK, what about instead of a European blogging weekend, we have a sketching weekend all Europeans come to (Sorry rest of the world:( So, it could be in any of the major cities… it doesn’t have to be expensive. We rent an apartment and off we go sketching!!!!! x

  • Reply Michaela June 27, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    Very Jealous – that looks such good fun! And it’s at my old Uni on the lovely sunny Holloway Road! I used to live not that far away!!! 🙂 x

    • Reply tina June 30, 2012 at 12:47 pm

      Don’t be jealous, come on a sketching course.

      Actually, when I enrolled I thought the course would be in Holloway Road BUT for the first studio session I had to ‘schlepp’ to Commercial Street and then we went on location anyway..
      Ha… serves me right!!

  • Reply parisbreakfast June 30, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    Oh I completely missed this!
    Fabulous drawings!
    wish I lived in London to do this too

    • Reply tina July 1, 2012 at 3:07 pm

      Yes, you would be the star student!!!

  • Reply Gerard McGuickin July 1, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    Hi Tina. I’m interested in my first emotion on seeing this post… I was scared. I used to do a lot of drawing, especially technical drawing, when I was at school and over the years lost my way in that sense. I feel more confident on my Mac now and much less confident with a pencil in hand and a sheet of paper. I don’t even own a pencil – how bad is that!

    John sounds like a great teacher. That’s so important. This would be a big challenge for me, but I’d love to get involved with your idea of a course for bloggers.

    Can I just say that your drawings are wonderful and in many ways, their rawness intrigues me more than the later more polished examples you showed.

    Great post – thanks darlin’ xx

    • Reply tina July 1, 2012 at 3:09 pm

      You don’t own a pencil????? Gosh, I’m shocked!
      You know there are very stylish pencils out there. In fact I collect pencils so if in need, you know where to come:)

      Really, you want to join? How fun..

      Awww, I’m blushing! Thank you!!! xx

  • Reply Nicola July 1, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Hi Tina

    Just resurfacing and amazed to find how busy you’ve been and what you’ve been up to!

    All these great posts!

    I’d love to be part of a sketching course – one of my most memorable days was with The Big Draw. If you want to be able to draw you need to be able to look and you can certainly do both xx

    • Reply tina July 3, 2012 at 12:41 am

      Thanks you. x
      Glad you’re re-surfacing. Nice to see you back here.

      I remember the Big Draw, never joined it. Will let you know how I progress with the course idea.

  • Reply sue July 1, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    crap, another course i NEED to do… love your sketches, they look amazing… i’m ok sketching as long as it involves straight lines! haha… curved furniture is my nemesis! i love those erasers too, but curiously struggle to change the damn rubbery bit when it’s running low… if you figure it out, do please drop me a line!

    • Reply tina July 3, 2012 at 12:39 am

      You’re ok with straight lines but not curves, ha…
      I have figured out how to change eraser and will leave instructions on your blog:)

  • Reply Paige Elizabeth August 6, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    Tina! Your sketches are gorgeous!!! I’m seriously knocked out impressed. That you can be so sweet and kind and so talented… you are very special indeed. Sooooo lovely…

    • Reply tina August 6, 2012 at 9:54 pm

      You are too kind my love… but I will except the compliment gladly xx

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