Sketch in the city - Sheffield drawing classes offer people a connection with the natural world

If you’ve spent your life telling yourself you can’t draw, maybe it’s a good idea to sit yourself under a large tree in Weston Park and sketch the shape of its trunk with blue and yellow crayons. Then draw the bandstand, using the hand you’ve never drawn with before.

Thursday, 8th July 2021, 6:00 am

“Use two pencils at once!” says Colette Cameron. “Sketch it out in one or two minutes! Use unusual colours! Don’t look at the paper!”

For a slightly anxious sketcher-to-be, these are ideal warm up exercises. And wow, there on the page is a wobbly, but recognisable, left-handed bandstand! What’s next?

Colette has been busy over the last year. “I’ve sensed people have needed a creative outlet, or discovered their creativity more,” she says. “It’s been really hard for people, but it has also given people the opportunity to try out their skills.”

Tutor Colette Cameron drawing in Weston Park.

Saturday’s “Sketch and the City” course at Weston Park was organised by the Art House charity, based in Sheffield City Centre, who host a range of public art and craft courses, with income going to provide arts opportunities for people in difficult circumstances, particularly those with mental health problems.

It’s been a “tumultuous” year, said Lottie Berry from The Art House, with a real worry early in 2020 that the charity wouldn’t make it through the pandemic.

“We were extremely fortunate to receive funding and donations that kept us going, and means we are still standing here today,” she said, adding that they had to slim down their range of courses and workshops to survive difficult times.

“The team may be smaller, and classes less frequent than they were before, but our vision remains unchanged. We are an inclusive space, where all are welcome to express themselves and learn new skills. Since reopening in May, we’ve of course faced challenges – but who hasn’t!”

Susan Woodhouse during the drawing class in Weston Park.

Colette is one of the artists now offering real life courses for the Art House (the charity’s next course is for aspiring illustrators with local book illustrator Carl Flint. “Draw Your Own Story” is on July 15 from 10am – 4pm).

Early in the lockdown, Colette found online platforms worked well (except for watercolours, which it seems are too subtle for most computer cameras).

There’s been an increase in people trying out drawing, she thinks, and taking courses online has the advantage of allowing an artist to keep their computer desk stocked up with sketchbooks ready to work at any time between tutorials.

“There have also been a lot of cats joining in,” she observed.

Colette Cameron drawing at a local lakeside

Colette intends to offer both online and hands on outdoor courses from now on. After drawing and painting in Sheffield since she was a child, she says the greenery and hills of the Outdoor City, along with the easy access to arts and art courses, makes Sheffield “brilliant for artists living here, and a great draw for visitors.”

For her the hills are a key inspiration. “There are lots of views, where you can see across Sheffield, and I think that helps you feel not hemmed in by straight lines. There’s something organic and flowing about this city.”

She says sketching outdoors fosters our own connection with the living world, the seasons, and with our natural selves. “It helps us to get in touch with what is alive in us in this moment.”

In Weston Park, we sketched trees, flowers and pigeons, and in one case disembodied footballers, following Colette’s key advice that new artists should try things out, not always getting it right but learning as we go. “Embracing our messy humanness,” as she puts it.

'Self portrait' drawing by Colette Cameron

We should be willing to live with uncertainty, she says. “To travel without knowing the outcome, to live with trial and error, and to welcome being less than perfect.” All qualities we can also make good use of in an increasingly uncertain world, she notes.

After a two hour watercolour session curtailed by a sudden downpour on Froggatt Edge, Colette and her friend retired to a nearby pub to consider their artworks.

“We opened our sketchbooks, but it had all gone, washed away by the rain, disappeared back into nature. So we just had another drink and enjoyed it.”

See and

Checking perspective during the Weston Park sketching
Colette Cameron's sketches of birds and trees in Sheffield parks
Sketching the City Museum during the Park Sketch course