What This Winter Has Taught Me (Or, What to Sketch When It’s Cold Outside)

I’ll be completely open: Winter is definitely my least favorite season of the year. While Christmas is nice (especially here in Germany where markets pop up all over), I feel like January, February and March are some of the hardest months of the year. That’s particularly the case when you’re just dying to get out and do some urban sketching.

But with all the sketching limitations that winter brings with it, it also teaches you to approach things differently. This year, for example, I’ve noticed how I’ve gotten more creative in choosing my subjects – that is, once I overcame the initial winter slump.

Food Sketches:

Normally, I’m so focused on buildings and streetscapes that I rarely take time to stop and draw food. This winter, though, I’ve done more food sketches than ever before – whether it’s pastries, German pretzels, my dinner or a half-eaten bagel!

The thing I like about sketching food is that it teaches me to approach textures and layers differently. Sure, brick buildings and half-timbered houses have texture to them. But after you’ve done multiple architecture sketches, you sort of get in the groove. For food, though, I feel like each object is different. How will I approach the shine on an apple? How can I give a sense of depth to a pretzel that is all mostly one color? How can I capture the translucent look of lettuce? You get the point.

Animal Sketches:

Before this winter, I hadn’t sketched many animals. While I’m still trying to figure out the best way to capture things like hair and fur with my go-to medium – ink and watercolor – I’ve had a chance to try my hand at parrots, zebras, insects, lobsters and frogs at museums in and around Frankfurt.

As with food, I feel like animals also have a whole new range of textures that go with them. So while I may not be happy with every bird or frog that I’ve sketched, I do feel that I’ve been growing a bit.

(Indoor) Plant Sketches:

Another thing I rarely sketch while out on location are plants (that is, in isolation). Although it may sound a bit contradictory that I’m drawing plants in winter, I’ve had time to stop and smell the roses – or, more specifically, the orchid blooming in my living room and the bird of paradise flowers at the nearby botanical gardens.

Museum Sketches:

To be honest, I’m not the biggest museum person. However, once I have a sketchbook in my hands, things change. Suddenly, that old antique car in the corner of an exhibit or those bronze coins in the vitrine seem so much more interesting. The same holds true for porcelain sculptures from Asia or stone statues from the Middle Ages.

Abstract Illustrations:

If all else fails, there’s always fun to be had in painting things that are a bit more abstract. While I very rarely venture away from the world of realism, I’ve used the winter months to try out a 360-degree sketch as well as an unconventional sketch of the Frankfurt skyline.

With the sketches above, I didn’t really know what the end result would look like. While I did plan the layout in my head vaguely before starting, the sketches sort of grew on their own and came together bit by bit.

Of course, there’s one thing missing in this list of things to sketch in the winter, and that’s people. But to be honest, I’m just not much of a people sketcher. I’ve tried and tried, but I’m much more interesting in capturing the essence of a place – whether it’s through objects, street scenes or architecture. In fact, when push comes to shove, I’m more likely to sketch AROUND people (see example below).

In closing, winter has forced me to take some risks and sketch new things. Yes, it can be a hard time of year, especially for us urban sketchers. But because we have to be more creative and approach sketching with a different mindset, there’s a lot that winter can teach us – if we let it. So when all is said and done, I’m actually a bit thankful for this winter, even if I can’t wait for spring to hurry up and get here.