2013 Sketching School

Professors: David Covo and Robert Mellin

Place: Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Dates: Thursday, August 22 to Friday, August 30, 2013

ARCH 325, Sketching School:
Eight days of supervised field sketching outside Montreal in the late summer, followed by coursework and fieldwork in Montreal examining architectural sketching as a process that develops an intellectual and physical framework for encounters with the urban environment. (Students are required to include Sketching School (ARCH 325) in the B.Sc.(Arch.) program.)

ARCH 680, Field Sketching:
Observation, notebook recording, sketching in a range of media in the field in Montreal and other urban sites.  Eight days of supervised field sketching outside Montreal, followed by local fieldwork and coursework examining architectural sketching as a process that develops an intellectual and physical framework for encounters with the urban environment.  (Students newly admitted to the M.Arch. (Prof.) Design Studio concentration are required to take Field Sketching (ARCH 680) right away.  Students in the M.Arch. (Prof.)-Design Studio Directed Research may also take it as an architectural complementary. Please see further details provided at the end of the document).

Sketching School in Portsmouth, NH (David Covo)Sketching School in Portsmouth, NH (David Covo)


A wide range of hotels, motels and inns are available and students are expected to arrange their own accommodation.  The Google.ca search engine will provide you with a full list of inns, hotels, motels, B & B’s, chalet rentals and campgrounds.



A variety of travel choices are available to students.   The School has looked into the best economical way to travel; it is by car or van.  However, some of you may wish to travel by Amtrak, and local transportation will be used to connect to Portsmouth.  You may also consider travelling by airplane.

NOTE:  Train or plane travel is very popular at this time of year.  Please book your tickets as quickly as possible.

Health Insurance

Please remember to bring with you the Quebec Medicare Card, and proof of any other supplementary health insurance you have to cover your stay in the USA.  You must complete the McGill University Travel Registry which will require health insurance information, etc.

Sketching School in Portsmouth, NH (David Covo)Sketching School in Portsmouth, NH (David Covo)

Required Equipment

Watercolours, watercolour paper, brushes, pencils, pen and ink, conte crayon, sketchbooks (including the standard 13 x 21cm Moleskine with heavy-weight paper) and drawing paper of varying size and type. Sketch pads, sheet material and watercolour blocks should range from 9" x 12" to 18" x 24".

As for sketchbooks and pads, we recommend, in addition to the list above, a small pocket notebook or sketchpad for thumbnail sketches and experiments with wash and watercolour.  A few good sable or synthetic brushes are also essential; a small and medium round, and a medium to large (1/2 inch or ¾ inch) flat are always useful.

If  you need to buy a set of watercolours, you could consider a set with "cakes," or you could purchase separate tubes of pigment.  If you decide to buy the separate tubes, you will need to develop a versatile palette.  Below is one suggestion for a 12-colour palette – please note that the palette does NOT include black or white, which are unnecessary and even undesirable.

  • Reds: Alizarin Crimson, Indian Red
  • Blues: French Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue
  • Yellows (difficult): Winsor Yellow or Cadmium Yellow Pale, Yellow Ochre
  • Greens: Hooker’s Green, Olive Green
  • Browns: Burnt Umber, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber
  • Other: Payne’s Grey

The first experiments in watercolour will be based only on French Ultramarine and Burnt Umber, which produce a surprising range of values and colours.

Bicycles have always been valuable additions to the standard "kit" and are highly recommended.  We have also found that a folding camp stool or small foam pad can make 2 - 3 hours on the cold ground much more endurable.

Schedule and Meeting Format

The emphasis is on field sketching as opposed to studio work, so students draw outside every day, working individually and in small groups, and under the supervision of the instructors for the first four mornings of the course.

Our first meeting, a short one to orient everyone and coordinate the time and place of the first workshop, will be at 6:00 p.m., Thursday, August 22, at 143 Daniel Street, just a few minutes' walk from the centre of town.

Four other meetings – these are discussions of the work being produced – will take place between 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., at 143 Daniel Street, on the following days:

  • Meeting 1: Friday, August 23
  • Meeting 2: Sunday, August 25
  • Meeting 3: Tuesday, August 27
  • Meeting 4: Thursday, August 29

The group meets in a gymnasium, hotel meeting room, community centre or some other place large enough for the class to assemble comfortably and with enough wall space for two days’ worth of sketches.  These 90-minute sessions provide a forum not only for a review of the work but also for informal discussions on the intentions of the course and on the process by which images and memories are formed.

Most people will leave Portsmouth on Friday morning, August 30.

Please visit this page of the School website for any changes to the schedule and meeting places.

Morning Workshops

There will be three morning workshops for all students.  The first workshop will take place at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, August 23, at a location to be announced.


During the course, students are expected to explore both townscape and landscape and to make sketches that describe what they find.  Final evaluation is based on a portfolio of at least twenty pieces, the majority of which must be substantially worked.  All portfolios must be left in the Room 512 (old freehand drawing room), one pile for ARCH 325 Sketching School and another for ARCH 680 Field Sketching, by 1000 hrs on Thursday, September 5, 2013.


Students currently registered in the B.Sc.(Arch.) program are required to attend ARCH 325 Sketching School.  Students who began the B.Sc.(Arch.) program as of September 2010 will register for ARCH 325 with the remaining Fall 2013 courses.  Early Registration is open.

B.Sc.(Arch.) students who began the program prior to September 2010 (i.e. 2009, 2008, etc.), will register for ARCH 324, as a summer 2012 course.  Registration is restricted, and students are asked to contact Mary Lanni-Campoli, before July 15, to enable your registration. 

Newly admitted students to the M.Arch. (Prof.) program, will register for ARCH 680 Field Sketching with the remaining courses required in the Fall 2012 term.  Attendance is mandatory for students admitted to the M.Arch. (Professional)-Design Studio program.

If registration (including withdrawals) is problematic, please contact Mary Lanni-Campoli by e-mail: mary.lanni [at] mcgill.ca or by telephone at (514) 398-6702, before the commencement of Sketching School/Field Sketching.

Donate to the school: