Mark your calendar! The 2015 Symposium will be in Singapore, July 22-25. Read more here.

November 21, 2014

Historic Illinois Route 66

Guest post by Adriana Gasparich
Joliet, Illinois, USA

I've heard so much about the famous Route 66; I know it crossed the United States from the Midwest to the West Coast, but .... does it still exist? In my quest to know, I found that part of the old road still exists and passes through nothing more and nothing else than Joliet, the next town from where I live. So on the first weekend of November, I drove there and south to sketch some of the roadside attractions in three different towns.

The first one was the Rich & Creamy Ice Cream Store in Joliet. Once my husband took me there when I first moved to the United States
. I wasn't impressed, I thought it was dated and old. With my limited knowledge about this country, I had little appreciation of what I was witnessing. That has changed.  Now I like anything vintage and that has history. I sat on the shade across the road, it was cold, but I captured the Blues Brothers on top.
20141101-Joliet IL Ice Cream Store Rt-66

Next day, Sunday, I headed south to the Village of  Dwight, Illinois. There's a beautiful historic place called the Ambler's Texaco Gas Station. I LOVED the vintage gas pumps. This time I wasn't going to let the cold weather get to me, so this smart girl parked the car with the trunk's window facing the building. I sketched in the trunk very comfortably and stayed warm. I love the result.
20141102-2-Dwight IL Ambler-Becker Texaco Gas station Rt-66
Finally I headed back north to the town of Wilmington to make a stop at this statue made of fiberglass, the Gemini Giant. Now a restaurant, it started as a stand selling only hot dogs. I believe old Route 66 is full of these giant statues, something in vogue then. I had a great weekend on Route 66.

20141102-1-Wilmington, IL Gemini Giant

Adriana Gasparich, originally from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, has lived in Joliet and, more recently, Shorewood, Illinois. She posts to Urban Sketchers Midwest Facebook, Urban Sketchers Chicago Facebook, and to her own blog, A blog about worded sketches.

Houses of Memories

By Eduardo Salavisa in Santiago, Chile and Buenos Aires and Rosario, Argentina

Do you know what Plan Condor was? According to the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón it was “a diabolic operation from some secret services, coordinated by CIA and by Latin American military dictatorships, destined to annihilate the left wing movements on the regions through the detection, elimination and disappearing of their elements”.

Since these countries (Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay) democratized they dill with this past as well as they can: some better then others. Some cities were able to create “Houses of Memories” as didactic museums so that the generations do not forget and do not make the same mistakes again. When, last year, I travel through Latin America I was able to visit some.

There are touching places to visit in silence. The sketches below are also a way of remembering my visit to those places.

Santiago do Chile: Memory and Human Rights Museum

Buenos Aires: Memory Park: Monument to the victims of the State Terrorism

Rosario: Memory Museum 

November 20, 2014

The Beauty of Alexandria, Threatened by Development

By Sylvie Bargain in Alexandria, Egypt

I would like to tell you about a project that went well above the ordinary.
On occasion I've met sketchers who have lost a little of their motivation to draw. They've asked themselves the question, "What's it all for?" and have wondered if their sketchbooks truly reflect the country, the people and the personal encounters after a trip abroad. So when I met a group of people doing just that, I was very excited.

For a number of months, I had been in contact with Mohamed Gohar, the force behind "Description of Alexandria" .You can find out more on his blog. I decided to join them, in spite of the current less-than-ideal circumstances, and travelled to Alexandria on my own, where I met up with the group. I wasn't disappointed, and my time there was rich in meetings and in friendship: the drawing was a starting-point, to be sure, but it led to genuine friendships with certain members of the group.
Mohamed's project is ambitious, with many books in the pipeline, and the aim of it is as follows: "To document the vestiges of the cosmopolitan town through drawing and describing the urban and architectural elements with the aim of educating the public as to the rapid and unplanned development of Alexandria, in particular by profit-hungry developers, whose actions will change the face of Alexandria forever."

This is a city of silent contrasts: modern streets are juxtaposed with areas that make you wonder if an earthquake or war have just taken place. Back home in the calm of Cahors, I missed the incessant honking of cars, but above all I missed the laughter of my new friends.
So here are some of my sketches from Alexandria. They will be on display at the Rendezvous of Travel Sketchbooks at Clermont-Ferrand, for those whom I will have the pleasure of meeting.

Venetian buildings on the coast road

 Our group after drawing the Venetian buildings - that's me with the yellow sketchbook

 A boatyard on the beach

Alexandria Library

Roman Theatre

A bird mosaic and my Egyptian friend Mai

If you'd like to read more, I'm writing a daily reportage to keep my head there a little longer here.

Sylvie Bargain is based in Cahors and contributes to Urban Sketchers France. You can see more of her work on her fantastic blog at the above link.
Translated by Róisín Curé

November 19, 2014

Like a Bad Haircut

Guest Post by Tina Koyama
Seattle, Washington, USA

I have a love/hate relationship with utility poles and power lines. Stark and unattractive, they have certainly marred many otherwise scenic photos. At least as a sketcher, I can choose not to include them in a sketch. But if they are a prominent part of a cityscape, they seem to demand to be included. Ugly as they may be, they add a certain rhythm of lines, both vertical and horizontal. They are also inescapable.

Trees, in particular, are often hapless victims of power lines in Seattle. Standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, many tall trees get their limbs chopped away like a bad haircut. As I sketch them, I imagine how grand and beautiful the trees might have been if left to grow undisturbed. At the same time, I appreciate their silent dignity as their remaining branches negotiate with the straight, unyielding wires.

Shown here are some trees I’ve sketched in all seasons in various Seattle neighborhoods. All of them were sketched from my car – my all-weather mobile studio.

Tina Koyama is a Seattle native and active member of Seattle Urban Sketchers. She enjoys sketching outdoors when the weather allows and inside coffee shops and her car when it doesn’t.

Explore, Investigate and Communicate (Sharing Students' Works from Italy)

By Fred Lynch, Boston, Massachusetts

Explore, investigate and communicate - that's what my students do every July in my class called Journalistic Drawing in Italy. The results can be terrific, and, I hope you agree, worth sharing. No doubt, I'm lucky, because I get to work with a pretty remarkable group of students, mostly from Montserrat College of Art and Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), the two schools where I am a professor. (No, this is not an advertisement- sorry, this is a college course). This year, my colleague from both schools, Kelly Murphy, was my co-teacher.

The class explores much of what we refer to as “urban sketching,” but with a particular focus on drawing as a communication tool. Students learn the skills of drawing on-site and then use them to investigate their surroundings. As a final project, students explore a singular, narrow topic and aim to make personal works which share views, opinions and/or information. (Like my own work, the art is perhaps better understood as “urban drawing,” as much more time is spent on each work, and students may go beyond the long, on-site experience to form a more completed statement, if needed. That said, the works must act as evidence of the artist's “had-to-be-there” experience of working on-site.)

The class also focuses on “voice, ” that is, by pushing students to celebrate how each artist has a different style of drawing - a different aesthetic - different interests.  In other words, we aim to make our point as well as make our mark through our drawings.

Ok, with all that in mind, here are some examples from last summer - series' that address narrow themes. Creating works as a series promotes deeper investigations and artistic advancements. I hope you like them as much as I do.



Song Kang, a RISD student from Atlanta, Georgia, explored stonework in the medieval city of Viterbo to the extent that nothing else mattered.


Bronte Pirulli, a student at Montserrat College of Art, from Connecticut, explored the passages of light and space through the city's archways.

Ala Lee, a student at RISD from Seoul, Korea, focused on characters "chillin'" in public spaces.

Dong Min (Katie) Shin, from RISD and South Korea, communicated her thoughts as well as her observations as she sat in the city's public spaces.



Hans von Schroder, a RISD student from Bliestorf, Germany focused on the "open spaces between" in his cityscapes.

Natalie Fondriest, a duel degree student at Brown University and RISD, from Massachusetts, explored  the passages of time and movement through the city's piazzas.

More great works can be found on the course's blog: Drawing Viterbo.

Winter blues

by Shari Blaukopf, Montreal, Canada

It’s full-on winter today, although thankfully I don’t live in Western New York where a huge storm has blanketed the area. I thought I’d try a little experiment: a winter scene, painted from my car, just using the blues in my palette. Cerulean, Cobalt, Ultramarine, Phthalo and a bit of Alizarin. Even though it’s still November, doesn’t this look like the middle of January? Sure feels like it.

All of a Flutter

By Róisín Curé in Kilcolgan. Co. Galway

Yesterday I was doing the usual thing - trying to listen to my younger daughter tell me in her adorable way all the things she got up to at school, whilst at the same time getting bits of work done - and succeeding in doing neither particularly well. Then this butterfly woke up from its winter nap: I'd seen it many times, upside down on the ceiling of the cloakroom. It landed on my messy piles of paper under a lamp, where I suppose it liked the light and heat. It looked a bit groggy, so myself and my little girl dissolved some golden syrup in a honey jar lid. It would have been honey, except that the jar had been knocked off the countertop an hour earlier, and all that remained was the lid.

We watched as the butterfly approached the lid...and turned away...then went back, uncurled its long tongue (proboscis, I know) and poked it into the sweet solution. We were really excited and I called my son, who is always thrilled to have a distraction from his homework. I also told my teenage daughter, but she was watching far more interesting things on a tiny, flickering screen, and had no interest. Then the poor butterfly got what I can only assume was a sugar rush, flying like a maniac all over the place, eventually staying still long enough for me to grab this sketch.

"Oh no, what have I done?" I said. "He's got lots of energy and is looking for a lady now."
"Don't be so gross," said the uninterested teenager, as anything her dad or I say in "that" vein is disgusting.
"Maybe it's looking for a boy butterfly," said my husband, "maybe it's a girl." That didn't go down any better.
The butterfly is sleeping it off somewhere today. I told the kids in my art class to draw a live animal for their homework - there are lots of cows, sheep and horses to draw around here, not to mention cats, dogs, chickens and fish.
I wonder if any of them will have drawn an insect!

November 18, 2014

Sketches on Calle Rosario.

By Sharon Frost in Cádiz, Andalucía.
Calle Rosario. My husband reading Tomás Eloy Martinez in front of El Habana.

Again at the Habana Café, sitting opposite the magic O's of Nuestra Señora del Rosario.  We were helping the Habana celebrate it's 25-year anniversary.  As I wrote in the caption we feel a real  pull to this place.  We are very grateful to the owners (Waldemar de la Torre and Ricardo Ochoa Dobla) of the Habana for giving us such a delightful place to sit here and day or night dream.

Blog:  Day Books

November 17, 2014

Wayang: Chinese Opera

By Don Low, Singapore

In July this year, I was able to go behind the scenes of a local Hokkien opera that has been around for generations. The opportunity came when a friend of mine, Tung invited me to sketch with him. He told me he has known them for a while now so it would be easier to get around the performing troupe when there were familiar faces. I was elated and immediately packed and went even though it was a last minute notice. 

The weapons rack
The opera was commissioned to perform for a festival held at Hougang's Dou Mu Gong, one of the oldest temple dedicated to Dou Mu and Jiu Wang Da Di. 

On that hot and humid afternoon, since it was a weekday morning, there wasn't any audience, but that did not stop them from putting on their best act, not for the human audience but for the deities that stand guard at the temple.

With special permission granted, I entered the back stage (which was just located right behind the stage's backdrop curtain) to see how the performers got ready for their act. I have always wanted to watch and sketch how the performers prepare for their performance.


The entire preparation took like less than 30mins and in no time, the music began to play by a 3-man band, and they were already on the stage doing their part. All the performers were doing this on a volunteering basis, and most of them were in their 60s already, except for a school girl who is in her teens.

Head dresses

Personal makeup stations
The band corner