Those who live, work or play in Harrisburg encounter the city daily, but probably only see the same few scenes: your commute, your neighbors, maybe your favorite coffee shop. A group of artists meets monthly to see Harrisburg from different perspectives—and then put that vision to paper.
Harrisburg Sketchers gathers every third weekend in a new location with the simple mission of sketching what they see. Founders Ben Cohen and Brian Zeiders started the group in 2012 after learning about Seattle’s Urban Sketchers movement, which started in 2007. Both sketchers, they liked the idea of illustrating city scenes on location in a way that embraces the person’s style. So, they decided to bring the concept to Harrisburg.
Other than a rogue trip to Metropolis Collective in Mechanicsburg, the group meets at Harrisburg locations such as the Broad Street Market, the Market Street Bridge, the Capitol steps or Federal Taphouse. Depending on the weather, the sketchers meet indoors or outdoors.
“It’s best when there’s a lot of activity around you,” Cohen said. “It gives you more subjects for your drawing.”
One of the biggest things Zeiders has taken from the group is the opportunity to meet people.
“Since we’re always drawing in an open location, people might come up to us and ask us, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ They might say, ‘I can’t draw a straight line,’” he said.
Zeiders and Cohen encourage those people to pause and ask themselves why they’d pass up the opportunity to relax and have fun.
“It’s not about making a finished, great piece of something,” Zeiders said. “It’s about taking a moment to tell yourself, ‘You can do this.’”
Prospective members should know the three tenets of the group. There are no rules. There’s no criteria to get involved. And they encourage and love new members.
“People say, ‘No, I’m not an artist,’” Cohen said.
“And we’re like, ‘Good.’” Zeiders said. “That’s not what this is about.”
The group doesn’t judge the quality of attendees’ work. A Harrisburg Sketchers meeting is about enjoying making art in the city. The group values having a diverse crew of sketchers to capture many perspectives of the same location.
“Meetings are the best when there’s a good mix of people, conversation, production of sketches and activity,” Cohen said. “I think it’s about this mix of elements that must include sketching, but also includes a lot of social things, as well. That makes it special.”
“All kinds of styles come out in the different people that show up,” Zeiders said.
Zeiders tends to narrow in on figures and people to sketch. Cohen takes a wider angle and attempts to capture the whole environment.
People come and go from the group, but there are loyal members, including Matthew Hockenberry, who became interested in the urban sketching movement when the Harrisburg Sketchers formed in 2012.
“I remember really liking a session in front of the Capitol building,” Hockenberry said. “I think the thing that keeps me returning to group outings is the conversation. We often talk about current events, both local and regional, as well as pop culture and art.”
The Harrisburg Sketchers group has many ideas for the future. Five years in, the Sketchers have not remotely exhausted Harrisburg’s wealth of distinctive architecture. The group yearns to capture the city from the top of a parking garage, for instance. And it has yet to sketch inside the state Capitol.
Zeiders and Cohen would like to create a show bringing together sketches from the group’s excursions.
“We have enough work from over the years from different sketchers to show Harrisburg from our perspective,” said Cohen.
Chief among their future goals—bringing in more members.
“We want people to know we’re not some closed-off group,” said Zeiders. “We want people. We want all the people.”
For more information about Harrisburg Sketchers, visit their Facebook page. Also, find them on Twitter @HBGSketcher or Instagram @hbg_sketchers. They meet every third weekend of the month.
Author: Kari Larsen