I’m Marc Taro Holmes (visit my website, Citizen Sketcher, and follow me on Facebook and Twitter!). I’m Canadian, and was born in Alberta (a mid-western province) – but have worked all over the USA as an artist in the video game industry. Recently we moved back, settling in Montreal. It’s one of the more scenic cities in Canada. Great place for an artist!

Little bit of personal info about yourself, when did you start painting?

Actually, funny story, I always wanted to paint – but I didn’t want to make any bad paintings. Around age 19, I finally realized it doesn’t work that way. I wasn’t going to spontaneously discover how to paint so I’d better get started practicing. I’ve been fairly compulsive about drawing ever since.

What’s your background? What inspired you to paint?

Urban Sketch by Marc Taro Holmes - Doodlewash Guest FeatureWhen I was a kid I was into fantasy and science fiction. I loved the art in book covers and in comics and role playing games. I ended up designing dungeons and dragons roleplaying games for many years. But the real deal was when I discovered World Wide Sketchcrawl, and later UrbanSketchers.org. Just google either of these groups – they’re both online art clubs that encourage people to go drawing in the streets of their cities. Anyone trying to motivate themselves to draw should join (or start) a local chapter! This was life changing for me in a literal sense.Quebec City Post Office by Marc Taro Holmes - Doodlewash, Urban Sketch in watercolorI’ve been quite involved in Urban Sketchers for the last 9 years – serving a few years on the board of directors and teaching at workshops annually. And of course it’s been the main subject of my blog – Citizen Sketcher. The bottom line is, I love the combination of art and exploration you get by travelling with a sketchbook. For me, it’s the best way to experience the world. Every street becomes a potential painting, every event a chance for sketching.

What do you do now for a living?

Algarve Beaches by Marc Taro Holmes - Doodlewash, Urban Sketch in watercolor of water and waves on a beachI still do the workshop teaching part of Urban Sketchers. This summer I’ll be one of 20 or 30 instructors in Manchester UK for the annual USK symposium. We’re expecting about 500 artists from all corners of the world. That’s not directly making a living, but it has inspired many other things. I’ve been doing my art blog since 2007- that matured into my first art instructional book, The Urban Sketcher, spun off into online classes for Craftsy.com, videos for ArtistNetwork.tv and along with all that my own workshops and public drawing events.

Sure, I have long term goals. Like most artists I’d love to just paint for myself. Possibly open a gallery. Live the life of the fine artist. But I do really love being an art blogger. I find the constant engagement with other artists keeps me motivated and constantly learning.

Singapore Chinese Garden - Doodlewash, Urban Sketch in watercolor

A little about your process and the favorite materials you currently use:

I love drawing quickly. I’ve always preferred doing 100 one hour sketches over making a major museum piece that takes 100 hours. I’m trying to get over that mental block – so that I can make some of those masterpieces! But it’s been natural for me to transition from rapid ten minute pen and ink sketches, to tinting my sketches in watercolor, and later full-fledged painting. But always with the approach of finishing a sketch in a single session. As far as materials – it changes all the time – but right now, this week anyway, my favorite things are old style dipping pens (used with colored ink).

Singapore Grand Mosque - Doodlewash, Urban Sketch in watercolor

That, or just drawing directly with a nice sharp sable brush and my watercolors. I’m working to develop what I’d call Alla Prima Watercolor. Going directly into the paint without any preparatory drawing. I love the sense of risk and reward. You only get one crack at it. It’s perfectly suited to working rapidly on location. But I’m always giving myself a new challenge to try. I’m about to start a long term project to do with making my own pens for instance. I’ve been admiring an Asian artist who does incredible drawings with just a stick! We’ll see how that goes.

Any tips on Urban Sketching?

Like I say – the way my mind works, I develop various skills by giving myself small challenges. Little games or short term projects with weird constraints. Here’s something I was just trying out this week. A warm up exercise I’m calling ‘Three Times Fast’ – which is pretty much what it sounds like… Draw something three times fast! How about we try this out?

Three Times Fast

A Sketching Exercise by Marc Taro Holmes

Photo of Auberge Bishop, Montreal Canada by Marc Taro Holmes - Doodlewash Guest Feature

This is the Auberge Bishop. A historic building downtown, not too far from the Museum of Fine Arts. It’s actually a hostel these days – but it’s clearly got some history behind it.

Three Times Fast Urban Sketching Exercise - Step 1 by Marc Taro Holmes

The idea with this game is, instead of crunching up your concentration and trying to force out a good drawing on demand, I go into the thing not even trying. Just testing it out. Just seeing what happens.

Three Times Fast Urban Sketching Exercise - Step 2 by Marc Taro Holmes

I do three in a row, without stopping. With each one you learn a little more about the subject. The second part of the game is not to slow down. If you’re going to be on location for half an hour, then get all three done in that half hour. This keeps your drawings lively. No trying hard here! Trying hard leads to pressure. Pressure leads to stiff drawings.

4_16Apr28_Three Times Fast_Auberge Bishop_01B_Color - Doodlewash Guest FeatureAlong the way I’ll start adding a bit of color here and there. I feel like you can trick your brain into getting that great drawing by sneaking up on it.5_16Apr28_Three Times Fast_Auberge Bishop_02_Line - Doodlewash Guest FeatureAs well, you almost get a little bored by the third time – so you can draw it without the preciousness. Sometimes the third one is the charm, sometimes it’s the first. You never know. But the liberating thing is, in the back of your mind, you know you’ve got three kicks at the cat – so you can stay relaxed, and keep that feeling of freedom – of experimentation.6_16Apr28_Three Times Fast_Auberge Bishop_02B_Color - Doodlewash Guest FeatureSo thanks Charlie! That’s something I’ve been wanting to try out lately. Thanks for the chance to show it off. If anybody out there finds they like this exercise, send me some pics of what you drew!

People can always find out what else I’m up to over on Citizen Sketcher – or just friend me on Facebook.

Happy Sketching,

Marc Taro Holmes
Citizen Sketcher

Examples from Readers of Three Times Fast

I received a sketch in the e-mail from Bill Fagan – an architect and reader of the blog. Here’s his test of Three Times Fast. It’s neat to see the small variations in each one – even with an architect who is trained for consistency :)  Bill says this was three in 45 minutes – which seems pretty great to me. Thanks for sharing Bill. You can see more of his stuff at his flickr site

Bil Fagan - Watercolor and urban sketch using Marc Taro Holmes Three Times Fast exercise - Doodlewash

Reader Erik Madsen of Santa Fe New Mexico sent in his Three Times Fast sketches.  It’s fascinating how they look similar at first, but the more you look the more you see interesting differences. I love how it’s hard to choose which is best. I think it’s great fodder for going back into the studio in the winter and doing one big painting taking the best touches from all three.

You can see more of Erik’s wonderfully free flowing sketches on his Flickr stream – or check out his guest post on Urban Sketchers.

Doodlewash - Urban sketch and watercolor by Erik Madsen using the Three Time Fast Exercise by Marc Taro Holmes

If anyone else has given the Three Times Fast Exercise a try, link your drawing in the comments below so we can see how they’re turning out! 

Posted by:Charlie O'Shields (doodlewash)

Creator of Doodlewash® and founder of World Watercolor Month™ (July) and World Watercolor Group™. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world!

63 replies on “GUEST DOODLEWASH: Urban Sketching With Marc Taro Holmes

  1. Without doubt one of my favorite artists. His book and follow up Craftsy classes are exceptional. Thank you Marc for sharing your “Three Times Fast” exercise! Thank you Charlie for a great doodlewash!!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. This is fantastic advice! I truly love the idea of three times fast exercise….just wondering how large are these sketches. I am going to try this out. I am already following Marc is this a past post of his that you shared here Charlie? Thank you for this post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey Margaret! Nice to see you over here at Charlie’s place – He invited me over to guest post a while back and we finally made it happen:) (Thanks Charlie!)

      So yes, those are 9×12″ sketches. I just grabbed a pad of Strathmore Multi-Media paper to try this out. I always have a stack of those pads for ink drawing ~m

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      1. There’s two inks – the Higgins Sepia and R&K Blue Mare. So the first colored one is just water going into those inks. Pretty much the same for the second – except I touched it with some DS Quinn Gold Deep and possibly some Transparent Red Oxide – but i don’t think so. So the pink is the Sepia ink flowing out with water and interacting with the blue. I do love the Mix Media paper for that ‘bloom’ you can get with the fountain pen ink. Not all papers bloom so nicely.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Hah! see I went so fast I can’t even remember🙂 – Looking for the *third* time i see – the blue in the roof is ALSO emphasized with MGraham Turqouise – it matches the ink so well I didn’t notice at first. But it has to be that, looking at the line versions. It’s fun to work this fast, but not great for making color notes🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I just took the Craftsy class before I went on a recent trip to Kauai. I look forward to incorporating and practicing what I’ve learned. And now…going to check out the book! Thank you Marc and Charlie for this wonderful post!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Marc is a wonderful artist and amazing sketcher I am a long time follower of his blog! His book is fantastic! Thank you Charlie for another great feature! And thank you Marc for be such an inspiration to all of us! Thanks for the idea of the “Three Times Fast” that’s sound a great practice for sure to try out! 😉 Carolina

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  5. Thank you Marc! I have really appreciated your book! I will try the exercise. Love your blog too! One day I would like to get to an Urban Sketchers event. Thanks Charlie…

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I just signed up for his People In Motion class..
    I love his work..I first discovered him trough Shari Blaukhopf ..another artist I love.
    Then on a blog I also love and follow..a comment led me to his Craftsy class..
    The class is fun..and I picked up a new pen..and sketchbook..
    I would like to find a niche in my very green/novice style that has a bit of motion..
    so talented..I thought..this is the wrong class for me..

    but you pick up things..and I plan to persevere.
    So generous in sharing tips and ideas.
    I love the class!
    And I just discovered his blog through the class.
    A great artist!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That is how I discovered the various urban sketchers . Craftsy classes on sketching-one led to another. And then their books and their blogs. I have learned so much. Great teachers and artists.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey Marc, I’ve done the “three times” exercise off and on for a while now – never quite as intentional as you’ve described it, but certainly with similar results. One of the things I try to actively weed out of my work and my students is that paralyzingly sense of preciousness. This is a great way to loosen up – thanks for sharing!


      Liked by 2 people

  7. I have two Craftsy classes from Marc.. I’m going to have to wait until the summer to really delve into the classes. I did start People in Motion which has helped me tremendously in quickly sketching gestures. Poking forward to learning more from you! Thank you, Charlie and Marc!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Marc, I like your loose style. If I were a drawer, that’s how I’d like my work to look. And it reminds me a little of Tofan Gheorghe’s work, he’s also on WordPress. Kudos.

    Liked by 2 people

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