By Beverly Choltco-Devlin
We live in a region rich with possibility for sketching, for experience, for inspiration, and for reflection. Since making the radical move here two and a half years ago after 31 years in upstate NY, I am struck by surprising similarities between the two places; for me, the Pacific Northwest, unique, majestic and of a grand scale like few other places on the planet, somehow seems familiar to me. This may seem sacrilege or a stretch to many, but I ask you to each consider my perspective.
The city of Tacoma, where I now work, has a temperament and authenticity akin to that of Utica, NY, where I worked for most of those 31 years. Tacoma and Utica, industrial cities, are each decidedly overshadowed by nearby Seattle and Syracuse, respectively, in terms of acclaim. But each also have so much to recommend them, include incredible natural spaces, a thriving artistic milieu and a caring unpretentious population. And, looking east from each of those four cities, two major mountain ranges provide a strong and welcome counterpoint to urban life: here the majestic Cascades and in the east the venerable Adirondacks. Additionally, my former home back east and my current home here were sited on the the brink of those wild places.
What has this to do with urban sketching, one may ask? I feel home here in the Pacific Northwest. Though the dramatic move at first seemed as if I had dropped through a rabbit hole, I now sense a deep continuity in my life and art. It is no accident that I am drawn in work and play and life to those spaces that both represent the excitement of the city and the grandeur of the mountains.
I often wonder where urban sketching ends and my love of the mountains and nature begins. I believe it doesn't matter all that much. I appreciate that "urban sketching," while originating in an urban environment, is more about experiencing, recording and, most importantly, expressing life and place in situ and in context, rather than having to actually take place within the "city limits" or reflect entirely urban themes.
That being said, I offer here some recent sketches, all technically drawn within city limits, but each representing the natural world in some way. I questioned whether the simple drawing done from 3600 feet above sea level in a hot air balloon over Woodinville qualified as an "urban sketch," but decided that if we think of such political boundaries, a decidedly human invention, in three dimensions, it works.
I am still trying to decide if I will add color, but offer humbly here what I drew in the basket of that balloon for some brief minutes of that exquisite hour. I am inclined to leave it in its state of immediacy as a primal representation of the excitement and awe I felt then, tempered with a teeny bit of fear. When I think of how terrified I was 20 years ago of flying, this simple little drawing gives me great joy! Each time I view it, I remember that I was floating through the amazing natural world of the sky that few get to experience, while relying solely upon a basket, some fabric, a propane torch and, ultimately, the trust I placed in the expertise of our pilot. The simultaneous view of the Cascades and Seattle and Woodinville and even Victoria was incredible. While most assuredly not the best sketch I have ever done, this is one for which I feel great pride. Such a sublime melding!
To an extent, this is what urban, and in fact, all sketching and artistic endeavors mean to me: i.e., the blending of human constructs, and the natural world that give us both joy in its pure state and, also, the resources with which we build our cities and the roads to the mountains, and the paper upon which we draw, and the computer we use to create these posts. Most importantly, sketching and drawing reflect the human experience, my own and that of others. I have done many truly "urban" sketches (in that strict sense of the word) of buildings and architecture and denizens of the inner city, but, for today, I post images of those places that reflect the bridge between the wonderful worlds of city and the wild.