Sheffield’s latest big draw places it on the world map

Illustrator Lynne Chapman
Illustrator Lynne Chapman

LYNNE Chapman has a simple suggestion for you, which would cost about as much as a coffee on Ecclesall Road.

“My mission,” she says, “is to get everyone in the world to go out with a sketchbook.”

Sheffielders are taking Lynne at her word: over the last few months Sheffield has become established as one of the world’s ‘sketchcrawling’ hotspots.

This Saturday will see the latest posse of pencil-pushers sizing up the Central Library, the Cathedral Church of St Marie and Crucible Corner, as Sheffield participates in the official 30th Worldwide Sketchcrawl Day.

“It’s a way for illustrators to get together and jam, like musicians,” Lynne explains.

“A lot of people said the sketchcrawl is what they’ve been waiting for. Up to now they haven’t had the confidence to come out and do it on their own.”

Without any advertising other than a mention on Lynne’s blog, the Sheffield Sketchcrawl has been attracting dozens of people to come and sketch Sheffield together since September.

Lynne already has 60 local sketchers on her mailing list, plans to hold the event every four to six weeks from now on and a new venture for the restless sketcher: evening ‘sketchjams’ at local hostelries.

(As a professional illustrator who does all this simply out of her enthusiasm for spreading the sketching word, she could also do with some support: keen retired people with IT skills as well as an enthusiasm for local illustrative art particularly welcome, she says. Hosts with space, visual interest and other sketchable locations nearby also sought).

The pictures by Lynne and her fellow Sheffield sketchcrawlers have caused a stir internationally and will now form a special chapter in a book covering the work of the worldwide urban sketching community.

The ‘Urban Sketchers’ group was launched by Seattle-based illustrator Gabriel Campanario and now includes the work of more than 100 professional and amateur sketchers of local life from six continents.

Gabriel recently gained a book contract to cover the work of the group under the tentative title ‘The Art of Urban Sketching. Drawing on Location Around the World’.

And from all the world’s cities, from Singapore to San Francisco, he chose Sheffield to be featured as “a centre of excellence”, he said to Lynne.

“I’ve been inspired by Lynne’s work ever since I first saw her drawings and knowing that she’s already tapped into a talented group of local sketchers, it seemed logical to recognise Sheffield as a hot spot in the global urban sketching movement,” he said.

Sheffield is a very good subject for sketchers, Lynne notes. The landscape, the combination of old and new buildings and perhaps most importantly the people all make Sheffield a perfect location for urban illustrators.

“It’s a lovely, friendly, open place. In some towns, if you were sketching in a public place the security might try and move you on but in Sheffield they come up and look over your shoulder and say “Ooh, that looks really nice, love. My girlfriend likes to draw…”

Lynne moved to Sheffield from East Ham in the 1980s and chose her new home simply by coming up to cities like Liverpool and Manchester and walking the streets to gauge the character of the place.

“I came here on the train through Edale, then walked up London Road, through Sharrow Vale and back into the city along Ecclesall Road and it felt exciting.

“There was a buzz to it, so I said ‘that’ll do’!”

The nearby countryside and the “truth of the rumours of northern friendliness” all helped once she’d moved in.

“The fact that bus drivers smiled at you and you could talk to people in the street without them backing away. And the access to the countryside, whereas in London I’d had to go underground for an hour just to find a path to a farm. It does not compare.”

Lynne worked as a lecturer at Sheffield College and an editorial illustrator and then about 12 years ago she moved into illustrating (and more recently, writing) children’s books.

As a professional illustrator and writer she’s now also in demand for school visits all over the country.

Travelling by train encouraged her to use her sketchbook more often (to draw unsuspecting fellow passengers). In the past she’d only sketched when on holiday. (Sketching is less intrusive than ‘taking’ photographs, she feels.)

She’s now so inspired that she feels everyone should try sketching: a small sketchbook (A6 is ideal, she says), a few 2B or 3B pencils and a sharpener are all you need.

“No faff, just the bare essentials,” she says.

The reason that sketching is so good for depicting urban life is that sketchers can capture the whole scene. The smell, the sound, all the people who come up and talk to you – “all that is sucked up into that sketch”, Lynne says.

And projects like sketchcrawl and urban sketchers are an ideal way for Lynne and her fellow paper and 3B pencil evangelists to spread the word. “It’s like a wake-up call for everyone living in their little bubble thinking everybody’s life is like mine.”

Lynne is delighted by the opportunity to collate the Sheffield sketching showcase. “With all the cities in the world to chose from, Gabi chose me and my city…

“It’s a wonderful project. It’s like someone’s held open a door and said: ‘Off you go! Go and play’!”