Through Travellers' Eyes

PUBLISHED IN EMIRATES MAGAZINE
APRIL 2020

A global community is sketching their travels as they go

A couple take a seat on a bench in a bustling city square without exchanging a word or a glance. From a distance, they seem the perfect incarnation of modern society's technological isolation. On closer look, in fact, not so much – instead of tablets or cell phones, they're holding sketchbooks. While they observe the surroundings with an attentive eye, vivid sketches quickly fill the pages.
In times when youngsters play on touchscreens from the cradle and everyone carries a camera in their pocket, walking around with a sketchbook and a handful of pencils can look like a nostalgic pastime. However, the urban sketching movement (USk) arose in the digital era, and is very much connected to it. Initiated by Gabriel Campanario (@gabicampanario), a Spanish-born journalist working on the Seattle Times who began to illustrate his pieces instead of conforming to the industry standard of photography, the movement developed from a blog back in 2008.
 
In a well-rounded and successful strategy, Campanario set a date for the blog to air and promoted the initiative beforehand in the press, while simultaneously contacting illustrators from all over the world to contribute sketches. "It was madness, back then. You would post a sketch on the blog, and ten minutes later, you had to scroll and scroll if you wanted to see it", says João Catarino (@joaocatarino65), a Portuguese illustrator who was among the first to be contacted. From day one, the manifesto was clear: all sketches should be drawn on-site, without previous study, and the movement should be all about sharing in an inclusive and non-judgemental atmosphere.
Even though USk is, in essence, analogue, it wouldn't exist in its current form and international scope without the help of the digital. Since the launch of the international blog, many countries have also created national ones, and due to the swift changes in the internet landscape, a big part of the action has since moved away from the blogs and into social platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
Freelance writer, creative director and photographer based between Lisbon and Madrid. Branded and editorial content creation for print and digital.