Cars in the City (with Lapin and Gerard Michel)

rainy Manchester


USk Symposium Morning 1
The 7th International Urban Sketching Symposium kicked off on the Wednesday evening with a big gathering at Manchester Town Hall in a huge, wonderful room that was not unlike the Great Hall at Hogwarts, but more ornate and elaborate. I didn’t however take any photos or do any sketching, busy as I was meeting with old friends and chatting away. I did got for dinner afterwards and sketched there but I will post all the ‘dinnertime’ sketches separately I think. I’d like now to dive into the Symposium itself – above is a quick sketch I did of the first morning introduction session, with Simone Ridyard, Elizabeth Alley and Omar Jaramillo there. It was time to go and sketch, and my first workshop was one I was really looking forward to: “Cars in the City“, with Lapin and Gerard Michel.

Lapin and Gerard
Yes indeed. I’ve known Lapin and Gerard since the first Symposium (though have followed their work since the start of Urban Sketchers), both have very different approaches but have a big love of drawing cars, especially classic vehicles. This workshop of course was originally to be co-taught with Florian Afflerbach, the great sketcher of cars who sadly passed away earlier this year. I took a workshop Gerard and Florian co-taught in Lisbon, teaching me a lot about perspective. While this workshop was not necessarily about large scenes and mastering vanishing points, the workshop did focus very much on how the eye perceives the world based on our distance from what we are sketching, and Lapin and Gerard did a good job of showing us what they mean.

Cars in the city A

Our first assignment was to sketch a car from a distance of about a metre or so, maybe a little more. The view of the car would be more typical, and they gave us an example of how to work out the shape using simple boxes. My first car happened to be a Mercedes, and I drew in pencil (thinking again of Florian), keeping a little way back from the car, crouched, as it looked very much like it might rain. Oh and by the way it certainly did rain.

Cars in the city B

So we found a car-park not too far away which was sheltered beneath an overpass, and sketched in there. Lapin asked us to sit very close to the car we wanted to sketch – the closer you sit, the more warped the perspective would start to look. This is a good rule for perspective – you position matters enormously, and even slight changes to your position can alter the perspective of what you are drawing immensely. I found a blue Ford Focus – hardly a beautiful car but still attractive for the sketch’s purpose. I drew my reflection in it and also changed the number plate to something more fitting the Symposium. Lapin came and said, sit even closer! I was pretty close, but still two feet or so out – he suggested going right up to the car, and seeing what happened. His suggestion to the class was that we don’t think about perspective rules, rather, just see what is in front of you as a series of shapes, and draw the shapes, letting the picture unfold itself. For my next car then I chose a Rover 400 (below), a more classic British brand, and sat right up to the headlight.

Cars in the city C

Well I think you can see the difference! Immediately everything bends that bit more, yet the sketch really starts to pop out. This is something I would like to try a bit more. We ran out of time before I could add colour, and we had a little gathering to discuss what we had learned, but the parking attendant in charge of the car-park came along and booted us out; I guess the car park is private property, but it was good shelter from the rain. We moved along to a spot around the corner for the final part of the workshop, drawing cars with the city around them. This was very much Gerard’s part of the class and he showed us some examples; including the cars in the foreground of the sketches helped to add depth but also some foreground anchor to help understand the perspective of the scene. there was a nice spot away from the rain next to an office block, showing a clear view of Manchester’s skyline (thanks to a building having been demolished, I believe it was something to do with the BBC). We did go into the building and ask permission to sit beneath it and sketch, and they were fine with it. It was a very interesting view, with the Palace Hotel there, but oh so rainy.

Cars in the city

Key points I took away:

  • Your perspective of an object curves dramatically as you get closer to it
  • Use box shapes often helps figure out the car’s overall shape
  • Draw the scene as the shapes you see and the perspective often figures itself out
  • Manchester really is quite rainy

LapinGerard Michel

Many thanks to Lapin and to Gerard! Awesome instructors!

a red BMW for Florian

Red BMW for Florian 071716

I walked around downtown in Davis yesterday looking for a car to sketch in tribute to Florian Afflerbach – Flaf – who passed away recently, far too young, far too soon. I could have drawn any of the scores of beige Toyotas or silver Hondas parked along the street – it was Florian who taught me to see the beauty in the form of a car, or a modern building – but I saw this red BMW parked along 2nd Street, and immediately I thought of the BMWs Florian, himself from southern Germany, had drawn. I sketched in pencil and watercolour, with Florian in mind. I felt pretty sad though, remembering Florian; in the spread about drawing cars in my book Creative Sketching Workshop, I mentioned Florian as one of my main inspirations. I think it’s hard to sketch cars and not think about him.That’s a feeling that will be shared by many at this year’s Urban Sketching Symposium in Manchester. The participants in this year’s symposium were asked to draw a car as a tribute to Florian, and this one is mine.

I sketched this on Stillman and Birn ‘Alpha’ paper, in pencil and watercolour rather than my usual pen; I think Florian would have been proud of me. Still can’t believe he is gone.

Florian Afflerbach


Last week the urban sketching community was stunned by the news that one of our own, Florian Afflerbach, aka ‘Flaf’, had passed away in a traffic accident. He was just 35. I am still in shock about the news. Urban Sketchers has posted a tribute to Florian at As one of the original contributors to the Urban Sketchers website he was a popular and inspiring artist, an architect by training, perhaps most famous for his incredible perspective drawings, and of course his love of classic cars – he was often called the ‘Car Guy’. He taught all over Europe – only days before he had been giving a workshop in Malaga alongside Luis Ruiz, another of my sketching heroes – and he made a lot of friends along the way.

florian afflerbach sm.jpgflorian and rolf at kaffeehaus.jpg

I remember Florian from just before Urban Sketchers, back in the early days on Flickr, he always gave me encouraging comments and I was so inspired by his grasp of drawing perspective. We finally got to meet in Lisbon in 2008, and had some nice conversations about sketching and football. I took a perspective workshop led by Florian and Gerard Michel, and saw that he was such a patient teacher. The next time we met was in Barcelona, and we laughed because we were both wearing white shirt, black hat, glasses, red hair; I’m copying you again, I said. I had started to get into sketching old cars too, and I was looking forward to taking the workshop offered by Florian and Lapin this summer at the Urban Sketching Symposium in Manchester. It was ages since I last spoke to him, and now the chance will not come again. So I’ll say it here: thank you for everything Florian, I learned a lot from you my friend. You will be greatly missed by urban sketchers across the world, and by me.

Brehms pic 1

At the 2nd Urban Sketching Symposium in Lisbon, 2011: Liz Steel, Florian and Pete (photo by Matthew Brehm)

My deep condolences are with his family and friends at this time.

You can see Florian’s work on his Flickr site, and on Urban Sketchers, and at his website, I hope he inspires you as much as he has inspired me.


lisbon symposium, day 2: lisbon perspectives

lisbon praca comercio

Day Two of the Lisbon Symposium started with the eagerly awaited Lisbon Perspectives workshop, led by Gerard Michel from Liege, Belgium, and Florian Afflerbach of Cottbus, Germany. I met Gerard last year and talked about curvilinear and other forms of (very difficult) perspective with him; he is the master of the art form! I have wanted to practise it for a while (did a couple of drawings last year, but none since) so the tips Gerard gave me were very useful. The drawing I did, which took me a lot longer than a drawing normally does, was a lot of fun but I didn’t stretch my curves anywhere near as much as perhaps I should; I was a little reticent I think. It gave the impression that I was sat a lot further back than I actually was. Still, I’m pleased enough with the overall effect, but I really want to practise more now! Gerard gave me a couple of his large and amazing prints; they’ll serve as inspiration.

Below, Gerard shows some of his examples of 360-degree perspective, and Florian does an impression of Tower Bridge…

Gerard Michel Lisbon PerspectivesLisbon perspectives, Florian and Gerard


gerard michel, animated

Above: some very quick impressions of Gerard speaking about six-point perspective (in French), while below, Jason Das looks at the world through a grid.

Lisbon perspectives, Jason Das

Lisbon perspectives

And here are the sketchbooks! More symposium sketches to come…

In the meatime, you may like to check out everybody’s sketches and photos in the Lisbon 2011 Flickr pool