Book reviews

"The Urban Sketcher" (Marc Taro Holmes, 2014)

Marc's art is beautiful—who wouldn't want to find out his secrets? There's a lot of them, clearly explained, in this book. However, I feel like some things don't quite work.

Probably the aspect that was bothering me the most is the layout of the book. There's a continuous, stupid, insisting footer in almost every page spread exhorting readers to sign up for the editorial's newsletter for bonus materials, adding unnecessary noise to the page. Then, the kind of gimmicky textured canvas background, which doesn't quite match with the author's style (who uses just paper, not canvas). More unnecessary noise.

The book could also do with a lot of additional editing. Quite often the author uses "just do this..." or "just do that..." when "this" or "that" is not trivial at all. The "just" could be dropped for a more encouraging book, but there's so much of it throughout.

The progression is not quite gradual. It is very steep, in fact. We go from the simplest examples to a very complex one. Sometimes I also miss more step by step examples, to see different ways in which the author would solve a problem. And some of the proposed exercises are a little bit verging on the extreme.

However, there are lots of cool ideas and concepts to experiment and have in mind here:

  • sketching outside in
  • sight measuring
  • the gradient of interest
  • three-pass sketching (pencil, ink, BOLD ink shadows)
  • growing washes, charging-in, edge pulling, splatter, drybrush
  • line and wash versus three pass watercolour sketch
  • and finally his famous tea, milk and honey technique for colouring
Supposing the shortcomings are fixed and the scale of the proposed exercises adjusted a bit more realistically, this can be a pretty cool book to get started in sketching.