Thursday, January 12, 2017

Winter Survival for Urban Sketching

Sunbathing, camping, picnicking, urban sketching…wait a minute. Aren’t these out of the question for several more months for most of us? Sadly, yes–but urban sketching is the exception! Marc Taro Holmes is here to tell us there are abundant opportunities to stay warm and cozy inside and still draw your favorite outdoor scenes.

Marc is one of our instructors at ArtistsNetworkTV (watch his and 600 more art workshops for free January 16-23!), and today he shares his favorite indoor/outdoor urban sketching areas around Montreal, Canada. Share yours with us at, and you could have a chance to win a copy of Marc’s The Urban Sketcher and some sweet drawing supplies. Happy sketching! ~Cherie

Urban sketching ideas | Marc Taro Holmes,

Urban sketching examples by artist and author Marc Taro Holmes

Urban Sketching Winter Survival: Share your Favorite “Inside-Looking-Out” Sketching Spots! by Marc Taro Holmes

We’re in the deep freeze here in Montreal. This time of year I end up scouring the city for the best views from the inside, looking out. I just need a warm place with a great view. Somewhere to hang out for half an hour or so with my sketchbook. Preferably somewhere I don’t have to buy a $7 cup of coffee, and where I won’t be in anybody’s way.

Yes, the classic solution is the coffee shop. It’s the home away from home of urban sketchers everywhere. Or, you can ride the subway if you’re looking for people to draw. And then there are your local museums and libraries. But after a while these familiar sketching spots get stale. And sometimes, they’re not the best record of the city. For example, every Starbucks looks the same from Montreal to Beijing.

Over the years I’ve found a few great places in Montreal. But we want to know what you guys have found in your city! Let’s make this post into a holiday gift for other sketchers.

Leave a comment below telling us about your favorite Inside-Looking-Out sketching spot. Anyone who’s in town can try out your recommendations. As an extra bit of fun, ArtistsNetwork is going to do a prize drawing*! (U.S. residents only, sorry. But we’re sure you understand–due to the shipping and such.)

And now, here are some of the great “inside-looking-out” drawing spots I’ve sketched in Montreal.

Urban sketching ideas | Marc Taro Holmes,

Urban sketching idea: The Palais des Congrès de Montreal

The Palais des Congrès de Montreal, ground floor lobby, facing Rue de la Gauchetière (Google Maps)

This spot is accessible (without going outside) from Place d’Armes metro station, and the RÉSO Montréal underground walkways (tunnels connecting some of the major shopping districts). So if you take the metro you don’t even need to put your coat back on.

From Place d’Armes go up and over an enclosed overpass (you can sketch the Chinatown gate here as well) and you’ll find a giant lobby with a wall of glass doors facing onto a courtyard.

Outside the entrance there’s a quaint little church in a park, looking like a historic village in a fish tank. There is usually plenty of foot traffic going to the metro, so that’s fun to add to your sketch.

Poke around a bit and you’ll find plenty of other views from this giant glass complex. If there’s a major event on, you might have to stay on the metro side but as a bonus, there are restaurants, facilities and a few art galleries over there.

Urban sketching ideas | Marc Taro Holmes,

Urban sketching idea: The Montreal Science Center

The Montreal Science Center, 2 Rue de la Commune O, Montréal, QC H2X 4B2 (Google Maps)

This is another building with a large glassed-in lobby open to the public. Sketchers have the option of drawing the 300-year-old buildings along the Rue de la Commune, the ultra-modern Pointe-à-Callière Museum, and occasionally, cruise ships or harbor tours docked at the next pier.

There’s a second floor with wider views, but the windows have an energy saving reflecting pattern that make it a bit tricky for urban sketching. Not impossible, but your eyes might develop waffle patterns.

Bonuses at this location are an on-site café, a free lunch room, coin lockers or coat racks, and the option to pay to get into the exhibits, where there’s plenty more to sketch.

Urban sketching ideas | Marc Taro Holmes,

Urban sketching idea: Hotel Bonaventure

Hotel Bonaventure, third-floor lobby, overlooking Place du Canada (Google Maps)

One of the best ‘secret spots’ for urban sketching downtown is the upstairs lobby of the Hotel Bonaventure.

Right beside the elevator bank, you’ll find a large window equipped with a simple wooden bench. You don’t have to be a guest of the hotel to visit this floor, but I didn’t exactly announce my freeloader status. There are always people passing through from the hotel’s meeting rooms and exercise facilities.

From here you can look down on St. George’s Anglican Church on your left, and the impressive dome of Marie Reine du Monde Cathedral on the right. It’s great to see these monuments from this drone’s eye view! A fun companion to any sketches you might make on ground level.

The hotel lobby also features a Japanese Garden (ish) sort of thing behind glass (looking austere, covered in snow as I write this) with plenty of comfy seating. As well there’s the hotel bar, so this might make a good last spot of the day. ~Marc

Remember to comment on this blog post for your chance to win a package of drawing supplies and a copy of The Urban Sketcher by Marc Taro Holmes! *Contest ends January 31, 2017.

Marc Taro Holmes is the author of The Urban Sketcher: Techniques for Seeing and Drawing on Location (2014) and appears in the four-part video series on Urban Sketching beginning with Urban Sketching: Drawing and Painting in a Travel Journal

Marc blogs about drawing and painting at He is the Montreal correspondent on, and was recently elected to the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour

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