Urban exploration

I stopped along my meandering urban route yesterday to sketch a few non-human-made things. It was a pleasure to discover there are trees, and even large “unimproved” areas of woods sprinkled along the river, between the downtown airport and the North corridor of warehouses.

I wanted to get out and ride fixed wheel, and there’s a 6km circuit around the airport that is relatively flat and attracts a lot of cyclists. It was fun riding light, fast circles on my 1946 Hobbs of Barbican, but after a while circles get a little old. And I’d noticed the underpass, so I figured the opportunity was ripe for a little urban exploration.

This sad little neighborhood seems entirely forgotten. In fact, I had no idea it even existed. I love coming across hidden gems, but frankly there seemed to be no charm whatsoever in Harlem, Missouri, and it took quite some looking to find anything I wanted to draw. Yet, as I mentioned before – there’s still a certain pleasure in the knowledge that amid all of the urbanization a small pocket of trees can exist, albeit situated within a corridor of blight.

Today began with much needed rain, but as the precipitation trickled to a stop and the winds began to kick up, I decided to explore the south side of the river, just opposite Harlem in downtown Kansas City’s River Market. There’s a river front trail that meanders some 15 miles or so, crossing from Missouri into Kansas, and I was interested in discovering what there was to be seen along the way.

Not knowing if the path was gravel or paved (it’s well paved), or if sections of the trail followed city streets (it does), I took my Cycles Toussaint Velo-Routier. The 650b tires are not only a good choice for gravel, they do a nice job absorbing the crappy road conditions in downtown Kansas City, not to mention the urbanized neighborhoods I had to pass through to get from small town Liberty to my city destination.

The trail sounds like it would be fun, if not especially long. But alas! The exploration wasn’t to be. So many roads are under construction in the area, sidewalks and streets completely blocked off, and I could only get so far before finding myself at an impasse. The trail is bisected, and sliced and diced and literally shredded apart: I never found a safe way to cross the midpoint to continue. I wound up riding around on streets familiar to me, pedaling around the farmer’s market, and then taking a slightly circuitous and definitely leisurely route back again.

Tomorrow is, of course, a new day. Maybe I’ll ride out and explore another part of the city after work.



6 thoughts on “Urban exploration

  1. Nice drawing of a tree. With each year it becomes increasingly difficult to get my design students at OCADu to pick up a pen or pencil, even when you show them the magic. I gave my graduating students a copy of Paul Laseau’s little book on freehand sketching in the hope that they won’t forget.

    • I totally understand your dilemma. I was a very successful designer for about twenty-five years. My bookshelves are lined with sketchbooks filled with ideas and scribbles and notes and sketches. Many stink, if not most. Many ideas were not worth sharing, but the act of putting them down on paper in the first place was important to me, an incredibly important early step in the design process. This remained true even after I moved entirely to digital production: the ideas were still a “manual” process, I still felt a need to maintain a connection between hand, eye, head, and paper. Most of my students – like yours – feel it’s an unnecessary step, a waste of their time. They see the required sketches I demand as an undue burden. Certainly the minimal ten scribbles that get submitted as “ideas” represent nothing more than checking something off the list. Heck, maybe they’re right – I really don’t think so – but I feel a great sadness at seeing so many terrifically talented kids lose out on such a vital part of the art and design process.

      • By the way, those same kids marvel at my ability to freehand draw Helvetica, Goudy Old Style, ampersands, and lower case “g’s.” 🙂

  2. I find a similar pattern with libraries. As a retired elementary, secondary and public librarian, I have many students resist learning the manual skills of extracting information from actual print and illustrations. Digital is “faster” and “more complete” except that it isn’t for many topics. There is a loss in any transition and we are seeing it in this generation. The sad thing is that they are unaware of that loss.

    • Oh man, does that ever ring true! I teach an art history course that is writing intensive, APA format and so forth. It is incredible that I have to insist upon a minimum number of high quality references actually coming from books. The internet is a wonderful world, but being able to discern between what makes something a complete high quality bit of research and simply parroting what others have said is not a skill set my students have. One of my most valued possessions is a fairly rare encyclopedia of art history, filled with essays you’ll probably never find anywhere on the internet. Google just won’t find those. 🙂

  3. Absolutely!

    Drawing and developing a “hand” requires lots of repetition. Writing and researching and developing a written “voice” requires repetition, as well, which digital media speed seem to discourage. The result is “research” which is frequently a pastiche of cut ‘n’ paste from digital sources alone. Those obscure but informative and enlightening sources like the encyclopedia you mentioned are often simply dismissed as unneeded.

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