Art teacher Ryan Pace says there is so much more to a good sketch than simply putting paint to paper.
Members of the online art community Urban Sketchers want to “see the world, one drawing at a time” – and that’s exactly what art teacher Ryan Pace aims to do. “When I found the Sketchers, I knew I had found my tribe,” says Ryan. It also inspired him to share his passion for sketching beyond the classroom and throughout the streets of Zurich.
He started running ‘sketch crawls’: journeys of discovery at locations across Zurich for members of the ZIS staff and faculty to try their hand at capturing images. “We might start at Polyterrasse at the top of the Polybahn station, because it gives a great view of the city skyline,” explains Ryan. “From there, I might set a timer and we’ll walk for five minutes in one direction and draw what we find, or I’ll pull a destination out of a hat. I like going to places I haven’t been before, it’s part of the fun. It’s about discovering things together.”
For Ryan, a sketch is not simply a pen-on-paper drawing: it’s about making a memory. “When you’re drawing for 30 minutes or so, you have to really look at something, and that inputs it into your brain better than anything else,” he explains. “It’s a gift we’re giving to our future selves.”
He gives the example of a recent family trip to Amsterdam, where he walked past a fountain he recognised from a drawing he had made of it when he was just 12. “Even if an image is from 30 years ago, I’ll be able to remember if I was sitting uncomfortably, what the weather was like, who was there – just from looking at the drawing.”
He was inspired to sketch by his great-uncle, Bob Miller, a well-known graphic artist. “He was my idol,” Ryan says.
“You have to stop, slow down, be present in that moment, be mindful of the space and time”
“He travelled extensively and always had this hardbound, black Canson sketchbook with him to record what he saw. When I was in fourth grade he bought me one for Christmas. Before the internet and cell phones there was a lot of downtime and I spent that time drawing.”
Today, he has boxes of drawn memories – which are sometimes a dangerous rabbit hole, he says. “My notebooks are my most precious thing, apart from my family of course,” says Ryan, whose children, Seth, Grade 11, and Corinne, Grade 9, as well as his more reluctant wife Reina, have learned to share his passion. “I get the books out fairly regularly to look up the name of a hotel we’ve stayed at or something – and then I realise I’ve spent a couple of hours down memory lane.”
The process of drawing is like meditation, he adds. “You have to stop, slow down, be present in that moment, be mindful of the space and time. It’s like yoga or exercise. At one point I realised I wasn’t drawing during stressful periods, like the IB submissions or an art show, but that that was exactly the time I should be drawing. So now I have a pocket-sized book, and I make time to draw almost every day – it’s like a reflection on the day.”
Naturally, the book goes with him on the sketch crawls, too. “My philosophy is that we’re making a memory, not a picture. We’ll spend time looking, because drawing is about seeing. And let’s be honest, there is no shortage of views in Switzerland!"
WORDS MEGAN WELFORD PHOTOGRAPHY KATE PETERS