Sketching, both as an activity and as an art form, is a perfect medium for our time. It’s informal, claims very little artistic pretension, and just about anyone can do it. It’s a great democratizer of art – no MFA required.

Retired University of Oregon art professor Ken O’Connell has made practically a second career of teaching sketching to students, many of whom accompany him on trips to Italy. And a new show at Eugene’s Gallery at the Watershed features work by him and his followers.

Vallo di Nera, Italy | Tricia Clark-McDowell

Vallo di Nera, Italy | Tricia Clark-McDowell

There is something just flat inviting about these sketches, whether they come from accomplished hands like O’Connell’s (or some other professional artists with work in the show, such as Satoko) or from people who signed up for the class, perhaps on a whim, and found they were able to knock out a few interesting pages of visual travelogue.

One important ancestor to today’s personal sketchbook is old scientific notebooks, dating perhaps back to Leonardo and complete with technical observations written onto the page. Some of the works that Watershed owner Amy Isler Gibson has framed and hung here – there are 67 in all – are reminiscent of 19th century travel journals by explorers seeing places like Antarctica for the first time.

Tricia Clark-McDowell’s sketches from Italy are in this vein – with observations like “Pink petunias spilling out of a flowerbox beneath a window that perfectly reflects the sky. How sweet is that?”

But there is also an element of whimsy and performance here. O’Connell, of course, takes a fairly sophisticated approach in images like his picture of the onion truck, above; and some of Satoko’s sketches are simply her watercolors, done perhaps smaller and more realistically than her usual gallery fare.

And some are just great, small art works. Micahel Maszk has three small pencil/colored pencil drawings of birds – a woodpecker, a meadowlark and a lazuli bunting – that seem to be finished works that might have been inspired by field sketches (though perhaps Maszk, whose images I haven’t previously encountered, is just one of those artists who produces highly finished work on the spot).

Another artist whose work is new to me is Alessandria Pignatelli. She has three panoramas that are pulled from a small Moleskine sketchbook, perhaps the Cadillac of sketchbooks. Moleskine books are utterly warm and tactile, almost to the point of annoyance, so this makes these pictures even more appealing.

The show is up until Jan. 17. O’Connell will give a free gallery talk from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Jan. 8.

Works are for sale, with varying prices. Caveat emptor: Most of the exhibited works are not original drawings, but inkjet prints. This, curiously, is not reflected in the wall tags, which list the medium of the original drawings only. If this distinction is important to you, and it would be to me, ask before buying.

World Sketches

The Gallery at the Watershed
312 Mill Street., No. 6
11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday; closed Christmas and New Year’s days.

Through January 17