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Friday, January 31, 2020

Meet the correspondent: Helen Todd

Sketching at Swanson's
Sketching at Swanson's Nursery.
Photo by Tina Koyama.
Hello, fellow sketchers! My name is Helen Todd, and I’m thrilled and honored to be a new correspondent for Urban Sketchers Seattle! I was born in England and grew up in Northern Virginia, but my husband and I moved to Seattle in 1998 and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. My professional background is in Computer Science, but I’ve always had an artistic streak lurking underneath, and I took various art classes over the years.
I discovered plein air painting about twelve years ago. While it shares similarities to urban sketching (in that you’re painting from life, outdoors), the vibe for me is completely different. When I happened across the Urban Sketchers outings in 2018, I was blown away by how much more connected I felt with the environment and people I was painting -- and also how much more focused I had to be with my paintings given the time limit! That part was a real struggle for me at first, but it has definitely helped me grow as an artist.

Buddha, Swanson's Nursery
Buddha amongst the potted plants, Swanson's Nursery

My first Urban Sketchers Seattle outing was in June 2018 to the Anderson School in Bothell. To be honest, I was a little intimidated about going. I’d taken a long hiatus from anything artistic and the thought of drawing -- in public! -- and sharing it with a bunch of strangers, was slightly terrifying. But to my relief, everyone was incredibly warm and welcoming, and I was hooked. I eagerly went back for the outing at the Seattle Chinese Garden, and many more. Living in Carnation - definitely the ‘east’ part of the Eastside - rush hour and parking make it difficult for me to attend all of the Seattle events. (I am, however, now familiar with my ORCA card!) But this has given me opportunities to find additional places to sketch (and people to sketch with) on the other side of the lake.
sketch on a receipt
In the waiting room...
One of my favorite things about urban sketching is that it’s changed my entire attitude towards drawing. It isn’t something I have to ‘wait’ to do -- everything is an opportunity for a quick drawing. One of my favorite recent sketches was done while waiting for a doctor’s appointment, on the back of a receipt because I’d forgotten my sketchbook! I’d also forgotten my glasses, so it was a bit of a challenge in that respect as well! Technically, it’s not the best thing I’ve done, but it made me much happier to spend ten minutes sketching, rather than messing around with my phone. I’ve been working with digital art since the early 90s, and in the last few years, I’ve been drawing on my iPad as well. Some of you have probably seen me at outings with it -- I know I’ve had quite a few questions, which is great! (If anyone has any questions about iPad sketching or the program Procreate, feel free to ask!)
When I started urban sketching, time constraints nudged me away from my previous style of detailed drawings and layers of watercolor glazing to the much-quicker techniques of pen and wash. Similarly, I found I’ve changed my digital style as well. I’ve started doing looser, more expressive drawings, as opposed to the digital animation-style pieces I did before. I struggled with this process for a while, but it finally clicked when I started drawing people -- a subject that has always terrified me. It’s yet another way urban sketching has stretched my boundaries and helped me grow as an artist.

Cart Guy, digital sketch using iPad.
Cart guy.
Digital sketch using iPad and Procreate.

Drawing on a regular basis has brought a lot of joy into my life, both from the actual process, but also from the interactions and friendships I’ve made within the sketching community. I’m really proud and grateful to be a part of the Seattle Urban Sketchers, and of the worldwide Urban Sketching movement. I look forward to sharing my work with you here, and on Instagram at artgeekstudios!

Freeway Park, Seattle
Freeway Park, Seattle


  1. Welcome as a correspondent, Helen! Your story of growth and exploration is inspiring! It's especially wonderful to know how urban sketching has pushed your art in new directions!

    1. Thanks! I'm glad to be here and looking forward to lots of new things in the future!