Sketching Boston: 6 Astonishing Discoveries Made While Urban Sketching

As a low-key, relatively drama-free slow travel urban illustrator, I often seek quiet spots in Boston to sketch, draw or paint. In that quest though, I quickly discovered six astonishing things about the city while sketching. And, I’m sticking with them.

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Rue Tremont, Boston, Massachusetts

1. Too Many Destinations To Illustrate & So Little Time for Sketching

“Ungodly,” is all I can say about the disconcerting amount, of preliminary planning I make, just to choose a single destination! This gets worse, especially when I need to take into account, only places I can get to, observe, sketch and finish painting under two hours.

In actuality, that research part is always fun. That’s the danger you see, the resulting list ALWAYS crosses the line between selecting one simple location…to the epic realm of "101-Places-to-Paint-&-Draw-Before-You-Die" sort of list. By the way, someone should write that pamphlet.

Time and again, I have to reluctantly reel myself back to reality. Hey, I’ve only got 4 hours to make art – including train commuting time. I must start somewhere.

Fortunately, smarty-pants here, invented an arcane (but advanced) mathematical formula to take decisive action:
*       *       *       *
Train Travel Time + Walking Time + Hangry Situation + Food Proximity + Weight of Art Supplies = Happy Urban Sketcher
*       *       *       *
Paralyzing Disaster averted.
Problem solved.
This works – I recommend it.

2. True Story: Random Folks Love To Give You Free Art Supplies

Often, when I finally get to my travel destination and get into the groove of things, something reeeally funny starts happening. Very serious folks, sometimes in power suits approach me as if they were staking me out on a dark street corner – ready to deal illicit goods.

When it comes to acquiring, budget-busting, hard-to-come by high-quality art supplies, no self-respecting creative soul can “just say no.” Especially when they’re free.

One time, I returned home gleefully with a brand new set of amazingly fun Pintar oil-based paint markers in two sizes. A brand ambassador was giving them away!! I was at the right place, at the right time.

I mean, who am I to decline the universe’s bountiful generosity?!

Watercolor Urban Sketching Travel Art Journal Page Isabella Garden Museum Patricia Jacques
Isabella Gardener Museum, Boston, Massachusetts

 

3. From Quiet Urban Sketching to Boston Performance Illustrator

For some mysterious reason, artists who paint or draw outdoors, seem to attract fascinating and chatty folks like magnets. I observed, first-hand, this interesting popular phenomena while sketching everywhere from Turkey to Boston. Tentative theory of everything? It’s a basic human thing.

Imagine this: I’m seating down in a cozy corner at a Boston Commons cafe, minding my own business. The place is just off Rue Tremont and my table is in a secluded alcove, practically invisible from everyone (or so I thought).

The large, wall-to-ceiling glass window that runs the entire wall makes it a prime location for some exciting people-watching [featured art: Rue Tremont].

So I’m doing my thing. My muse is driving this bus. I’m just riding the waves of creative currents. The flow and I are one. The genius loci of Rue Tremont is frantically taking shape onto the double page spread of my art journal. Watercolor surprisingly behaves.

Lo and behold, it goes where I tell it to go and not a millimeter further. The ink flows. All is good in the world.

When I finally come up for air, I’m startled to see a small audience of fellow coffee drinkers huddled together at the table next to mine. They were leaning as one (quite precariously) in my direction, apparently as invested as I am in the progress and development of that atmospheric graphic illustration in my art journal.

Regardless of how many times this occurs, I always feel, as if I’m very badly, impersonating a Boston performance street artist!

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Aquarium MBTA Stop, Boston, Massachusetts

 

4. Human Connections Illustrated While Urban Sketching

And then..they pounce. They pepper me with questions about the sketch, my art in general. The next thing I know, I’m being lavished me with their own fascinating stories. That’s usually how this goes.

In those moments, I’m floored. I’m constantly reminded that this is the true power of art. The power to open the gates of the human heart in a very practical, mundane way – not just the esoteric, museum kind.

It’s like gazing at art in the process of creation (or manifesting), prompts human beings to talk to each other about real things. Meaningful, personal, important things.

If everyone has a superpower, then by golly the universe must have decided, in its wisdom, that my personal job in this plane, was to unchain the human heart. That’s a lot of pressure.

I’m being super cheeky and I’m NOT complaining. Besides, some of my truest fans (and best human beings) – whether while I’m painting in Turkey, Japan or Davis Square, I’ve met during these marathon, art-prompted, hours-long fantastic conversations.

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Davis Square, Boston Massachusetts

 

5. Foodie Artists Beware: Boston Eateries Shall Be Your Downfall

The trouble with being a slow traveler who paints and illustrates uplifting art is that I, hmm, also love to eat. Whenever it’s especially lovely, I itch to paint my food too. Alas, there’s a couple of problematic issues with that sort of thinking:

  • a) Once you start going over budget on food and eating out, putting that genie back in the bottle goes the way of the dodo.
  • b) In that world, the concept of eating “hot food, hot” also gets on the endangered species list. Somehow it never gets off.

 

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Tatte Cafe, Beacon Hill, Boston, Massachusetts

 

When The Illustrator Wrangles Epicurious Tendencies

After one too many a close call, I devised, yet another clever logic formula to curb my latent epicurious tendencies:

 

*       *       *       *

Whenever I spend more than I intend during one of these creative forays-turned impromptu food-fest, I immediately move twice as much of the funds I spent and put them away in investments far, far away from me.

*       *       *       *

In fact, I’ll quite possibly, never see the likes of these green monetary units again until I’m a mature 59 1/2.

That’s the plan anyway.

Solving the Food Illustration Catch-22.

As for the second caveat: well, if eating that meal hot is part of the EXPERIENCE (or I’m simply running on fumes), I’ll sketch and paint really, really quickly as much of the dish as I can.

Behold Exhibit A: French Meadow Cafe.

 

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French Meadow Cafe and Bakery, Fish & Chips, Minneapolis, Minnesota

 

First, I’ll take detailed pictures for reference, in case I want to add more to the illustration later, once the I finish my meal and while I’m still at my dining table.

Alternatively, if the hunger pangs were just too great even for that level of commitment, I’ll try to at least come back home with a detailed rough pencil sketch and written notes about mood, intent, colors etc.

I’ll finish the entire thing in the studio in one sitting (hopefully). I’ll use the pics, my memory and other reference photos to polish off the piece and call it good.

6. Just Give Up Already: Let Kokopelli Do The Planning

All these chaotic events are forever fomenting to slow down my creative art process. I’ve given up on trying to plan too closely these artist dates. Kokopelli and his ilk can have their field day. There!

There’s a message in there somewhere, I’m sure.

Could be the universe is telling me, in no uncertain terms, to embrace its idiosyncratic enfolding. Who knows. Ultimately, this seemingly chaotic process leads to lots of serendipitous experiences, elevated human interactions and timeless illustrations.

To be fair, l always end up accomplishing my goal for these outings. I replenish my creative well while allowing my wanderlust to guide me through the city.

Quiet and peaceful art-making is so over rated. Don’t you think?

 

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Work With Me

 

  • To see what original art and art prints have been released and are already available for sale visit the art shop at United Wanderlust
  • If you’d like me to commission a new art piece or license existing art for your own projects (marketing, book, editorial, stationery etc.), simply submit a request in my Illustration studio contact form with what you have in mind and we can go from there.
  • Or, send me a note through the United Wanderlust shop's contact form.

 

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     Patricia Jacques works as a food illustrator, travel Illustrator working with food and travel individuals and commercial clients, with an interest in slow food, slow life and slow travel.

     

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