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.