Ken Avidor on the urban sketching movement

The Metro Sketchers 
The Metro Sketchers 

The urban sketching movement is on the rise, as artists get out of the studio and into the streets (or some public yet indoor location for these bitter cold days). One of the trend's biggest enthusiasts is Ken Avidor, who along with his wife, Roberta Avidor, is active in the sketching scene here in the Twin Cities. 

A sketch of Cray Plaza, posted on the Urban Sketchers website. 
A sketch of Cray Plaza, posted on the Urban Sketchers website. 

Ken and Roberta were recently selected, along with Lisa-Marie Greenly and John Miller, to create images of Lowertown St. Paul to be printed on coasters for a Springboard for the Arts project, called Lowertown Sketchbook. They've also recently been included in a book titled The Illustrated Journey by Danny Gregory, and were featured in the 2014 St. Paul Almanac, where Ken did the cover art and Roberta created two maps of St. Paul. [Editor's note: Ken Avidor's illustrations have also been featured in City Pages throughout the years.]

According to Ken, the local urban sketching movement draws inspiration from Gabi Campanario, an artist based in Seattle who started a blog called Urban Sketchers. The site got so popular that it has expanded to other cities, including a Twin Cities version which the Avidors contribute to.

Here in the Twin Cities there's also Metro Sketchers, a group made up of both professionals and amateurs who organize monthly "sketch outs," where they'll go to a Twin Cities location and draw for four hours, meeting up again at the end. "Art is such a solitary, lonely thing," Ken says. "This is a social thing. It's fun to get together."  The Metro Sketchers also go to the Minnesota State Fair every year for their big annual event. 

Coaster by Ken Avidor
Coaster by Ken Avidor

As for sketching in public, the style has to be quick and fast. Often, you don't have a drawing table, so you have to have all of your tools in your hand. While his wife prefers watercolor, Ken often uses colored pencils and sketching pens. "I don't do pencil at first. The challenge is to get it all down as quickly as you can."

Often when he's sketching, people will come up to him. "I welcome it," he says. "People always have observations and suggestions." While some artists don't like the distractions, Avidor says he doesn't always mind having his concentration broken.  

Sometimes Metro Sketchers will have as many as 30 people come to a sketch-out. Avidor believes that may be because of the growing popularity of place making. "It grounds you when you spend a great deal of time in one place," he says. "It's about connecting people with the place they are sketching, and how the person feels about the place."

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