The Sketchbook Lifestyle by Tina Koyama

Tina Koyama is one of my sketching heroes. Her commitment to sketching everyday life every day is inspiring. Her blog is constant source of delight and I’m honoured that she took the time to write a post for Pens! Paper! Pencils! to introduce Urban Sketching.

Tina sketching Eiffel Tower

The Sketchbook Lifestyle

Urban sketching: It’s not a hobby; it’s a lifestyle.

That’s the subtitle of my blog, Fueled by Clouds & Coffee, where I have been sharing and writing about my sketches since 2012. The dictionary says that a hobby is “an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation.” Although urban sketching certainly provides both pleasure and relaxation, I don’t think of it as a hobby. I think of it more as a way of life – something that has become such a normal part of my everydayness that it shapes how I view the world.

5-3-16 Whole Foods - Tina Koyama

I haven’t always had this world view. For most of my life I had both the fear of drawing as well as the desire to draw. Yet every time I tried to learn by reading how-to books, I became bored practicing still lifes of boxes. I would eventually quit (many times, in fact). Then in 2011 I discovered Urban Sketchers, a worldwide network of people with a common passion to “show the world, one drawing at a time” and share those drawings online. They weren’t sitting in studios drawing models or vases; they were hitting the streets of their cities. And unlike plein air painters carrying 50 pounds of equipment, they were going out with a simple sketchbook and pen in their pockets. I was inspired by the mundane beauty of their everyday subjects as well as the simplicity of their tools.

8-21-15 backhoe near Bradner Gardens, Seattle - Tina Koyama

It didn’t take me long to find a local chapter of Urban Sketchers in my hometown of Seattle. It was all I needed to finally overcome my fear of drawing and take to the streets. Emboldened by meeting with fellow sketchers nearly weekly, I also became fearless about sketching on my own!

With portable art supplies carried with me at all times, even when I’m just running errands, I am ready to capture whatever might fill five minutes or a half-hour of my ordinary day. A utility pole, a tree and its shadow, people working on their laptops – it’s all fair game in my sketchbook. I enjoy sketching on location so much that during the cold-weather months (many of which we have here), I sketch from inside my car!

12-26-15 Maple Leaf neighborhood, Seattle - Tina Koyama

And what about those portable art supplies? I’ve used all kinds of pens, colored pencils, brushes and paints and change them out constantly to keep myself entertained. Right now my favorites are a Sailor fountain pen with a Naginata fude de manner nib, various brush pens with “hairy” and “non-hairy” tips, and water-soluble coloured pencils. A while back I sent myself on an obsessive quest to find a grail fountain pen that could make the widest range of line widths. You can read the whole 12-part Epic Pen Search here. (Spoiler alert: the grail turned out to be and still is that Sailor!).

Interested in learning more about Urban Sketchers and finding a chapter near you? Check out the international blog for information. Once a year members worldwide gather for the Urban Sketchers Symposium – three days of classes, lectures, sketchcrawls and other activities for education and camaraderie. In the past, the symposium has been held in Portland (USA), Lisbon, Santo Domingo, Barcelona, Paraty (Brazil) and Singapore. This July, it will be held in Manchester, England. See you on the streets!

4-18-16 University Village, Seattle - Tina Koyama


  1. Ian, thank you so much for inviting me to guest post! Your blog is one of my favorites!

    – Tina

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