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Streetnotes is a peer-reviewed journal for the interdisciplinary study of the city, its lifeways and social relations, with a special concern for the cultural and aesthetic forms that arise through its traffic.

Sketchbook: Drawing the City

Issue cover
Cover Caption: Cover for Streetnotes 30: Sketchbook: Drawing the City
Streetnotes 30, “Sketchbook: Drawing the City” has gathered work by artists, ethnographers, urbanists and architects, all of whom use sketching as a means to observe, interpret, and contemplate the city.


Introduction: Sketchbook: Drawing the City

An introduction to the issue and its content.

“Space shapes a person; constraints free the soul”: Watercolour sketches of Moscow panel-block apartments on the eve of demolition.

This visual anthropology project was informed by a series of plein-air water-color sketches of panel-block apartment buildings, painted in conversation with ethnographic research participants in Moscow in 2021. Such housing, built on an industrial scale during Nikita Khrushchev’s mass-housing campaign between 1955 and 1964, and which came to be nicknamed khrushchevkas, became ubiquitous across the Soviet Union. In 2017, in Moscow, Russia, panel-block apartments were threatened by the renovatsiya campaign, which asked residents to vote to demolish their own homes, now declared dilapidated housing. The author painted a number of these apartment buildings slated for demolition, recording details in the construction, ornamentation, and topography of each apartment block. The author also gathered testimonies of artists who live in-, and whose artistic practice revolves around such housing, asking participants to share their artistic process, memories of growing up and living in such housing, and feelings about the prospect of losing their home. While supported by the majority of the population, the renovatsiya campaign would erase local histories, revealing the state’s authoritarian attitude towards its own citizenry, but much worse, it served as premonition for Russia’s renewed aggression in Ukraine, which, less than a year later, caused a widespread political and humanitarian disaster, closing all possibility for further research.


Dumbo, Brooklyn

Streetscape of Dumbo, Brooklyn in April

City Sketches (2018-2021)

Drawing is an act of discovery, according to the late culture critic John Berger. Drawing forces, the artist to look at the object, to dissect it in their mind’s eye and put it together again. Much like writing, drawing is also a means of observing and thinking about the world around you. Berger’s philosophy has animated many of my creative projects over the past five years. This is how I approach urban history: observation, reflection, and analysis. But I have discovered drawing as an intimate medium through which to think about my relationship to New York City.


Tilted Upwards

G.K. Chesterton’s short and surreal parable, “The Angry Street: A Bad Dream,” reminds us to not overlook things that surround us in everyday life, and to show them respect. Wayne Thiebaud’s paintings of cityscapes, inspired by San Francisco’s steep, building-lined streets, reestablish our links to the built environment with a vitality that sometimes the real—and the camera—lacks, but which drawing and painting bring to that which is represented. Chesterton and Thiebaud underscore how fictions are more evocative than truths. In this essay, accompanied by my own drawings of San Francisco’s steep streets, I suggest that fantastical fiction and art, in allegorical forms, can inspire us to reconnect with the material world around us—of things, and even streets—with renewed civility and respect.

Mohammadabad Isfahan

Hand-painted images of the historic city of Mohammadabad Jarghoye, located near the city of Isfahan, which dates back to the Qajar period at the end of the 18th century. These plans include the entrances of the houses and the general view of the city.

Urban Journeys of the Rhizomatic Line

Using visual hierarchy, representational media often separate diverse urban experiences. Three categories of foreground, middle ground, and background are easily distinguished in photography and painting. Urban sketches separate buildings, figures, and natural features. In architectural working drawing, “poché, entourage, and mosaïque” forms a structural system for representing cut walls, environment, and texture respectively[1]. Recently, photogrammetry or Lidar scanning claim to break these hierarchies by creating “a uniform unbiased document of things in space as they exist.”[2] However, these tools fail to reveal the speculative imaginary experiences hidden behind surfaces.

This series of my drawings that I named “rhizomatic line”, is the result of a non-hierarchical process inspired by French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's concept of rhizomes. Described as an array of attractions without beginning or end, a rhizome negotiates between things, “fosters connections between fields, the removal of blockages.”[3] Rather than producing fragmented abstract shapes, the rhizomatic line moves between the objects and intertwines them. Seemingly recording eye movement, rhizomatic, line does not construct complete outlines, but through loosing their completion, it connects them. As it explores the city, it does not differentiate between humans, pedestrian lines, high-rise building edges, urban skylines, stairways, leaves of a small plant hiding behind a window in a private room, entrances to residential units atop towers, or imaginative spaces.

When looking at similar images, different people show different eye movements.[4] A designer sees the world in the process of construction, and from multiple perspectives at once. Architects use a specific language to draw rhizomatic lines. Axonometric projection takes advantage of both the visual aspect of perspective in photography, as well as the mathematical precision of orthographic projection in computer cartesian systems. Although I do not claim that my rhizomatic lines are true or close to the vision, I emphasize on " a continuous space in which elements are in constant motion."[5] The dotted texture suggests one understanding of the scene's porosity, among many others. Through the blurring of boundaries between poché, entourage, and mosaïque, only a portion of the image is displayed as a work under construction, inviting the viewer to complete it with their imagination. In this sense, a rhizomatic line is not a cartesian representation of space. This single “active line” ending in itself, is an exploratory journey fusing imaginations, speculations, desires, memories, and dreams about the city; “a walk for a walk's sake.”[6]

[1] Michael Young, Reality Modeled After Images: Architecture and Aesthetics After the Digital Image. (New York: Routledge, 2021), 10.


[2] Young, Reality Modeled After Images: Architecture and Aesthetics After the Digital Image. 53.


[3] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1987), 12.


[4] Alfred Yarbus. "Eye Movements During Perception of Complex Objects." Eye Movements and Vision”, (Springer: Boston, MA, 1967)


[5] Stan Allen. "Construction with Lines: On Projection", Practice: Architecture, Technique+ Representation. (New York: Routledge, 2009), 19.


[6] Paul Klee. Pedagogical Sketchbook. Translated by Sybil Moholy-Nagy, (New York: Praeger Publisher,1953), 16.

Seoul 2022

Drawings from an online ethnography class and a discussion of the impact on student experience.

Winter Drawings on the Université de Montréal Campus

These sketches, drawn from my work-place, show the area around the Université de Montréal environmental design faculty in winter. From the windows where I drew them (sheltering from the cold), we see the surrounding landscape, as well as the mountain in the distance, through the leafless trees. These drawings, in black and gold ink and watercolor, evoke, on a small scale, the connections between the city and the landscape of the mountain – Mount Royal, the emblem of Montréal. Like landscape paintings with multiple grounds, they speak of the public space, the winter vegetation with its mesh of branches and the icons of Montréal.

The Urban Presence of Sketchers

The presence of urban sketchers has an impact on pedestrian traffic and exchanges in the city. The nature of these exchanges depends on where people sketch from and whether they are alone or in a group. This piece includes sketches from the Christian Science Plaza in Boston, which were drawn in public by the author.

Capturing Memories in My Sketchbook

In this opportunity, I want to share a little glimpse of the memories and places I’ve been able to capture in my sketch-books all over the United States.I was born and raised in Guatemala and art has always been a really big thing in my life. Seven years ago, I decided to stop taking a lot of picture with my phone and instead capture the moments, memories and places I was able to experience. I thought that people take pictures to capture moments and places and maybe they’ll check them once in a while and some will be forgotten in just a few weeks. At least I have more than 10k photos in my phone and I can’t believe it. With my sketches the moments and places will always remain vibrant and I will always carry them with me no matter what.In the past few years, I’ve been traveling all around the US visiting family and friends so here are some of my favorite sketches of different States.

By Caricature Artists in Times Square (series)

In this series of drawings commissioned by Thomas Ray Willis, Portrait Artists in Times Square depict their pandemic-affected environment. In a project statement, Thomas Ray Willis provides his experience sitting with artists.