The Concept of Context

I’ve been thinking about context all week. Last weekend I participated in an Urban Sketcher workshop with Frank Ching, a former architecture professor and phenomenal sketcher. We met in front of the Lenin statute in the Fremont area of Seattle. He explained how simply drawing the statue would be OK, but a better drawing would result with the statue in the context of its surroundings.

Due to steady rain we ended up moving up the hill to use the troll under the freeway as our subject. It was dry there, but the chilly, breezy day had me huddled in layers of clothing with hood up and gloves on. I walked around to find a good view of the troll in the context of it’s surroundings. Look at the difference between simply drawing the troll –


and placing the troll within the structure of the freeway and adjacent stairway:


Thinking about this concept, I suspect that I naturally seek out the larger story. It does, after all, make for a much more interesting drawing. Along the Oregon Coast, I could have drawn just the lighthouse and nearby buildings.


But when you place the Heceta Head lighthouse in the context of it’s spectacular surroundings, it reveals a much more interesting story:


It’s funny how we don’t realize we do something until it’s pointed out to us. I enjoy taking workshops because I always learn something new to add to my repertoire of ideas and concepts, and of course, I love to keep growing as an artist. This was a useful workshop and I am eager to continue down the road to better drawings


  1. So true! A good urban sketch tells a story in the picture, and the same can be said of all good art. Glad you enjoyed that chilly morning at the Troll — I’m sure the workshop was worth a little shivering! I could only stand the cold for a short while.

    – Tina

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