New #USkWorkshop in San Francisco, Oct. 10:

August 30, 2015

Product Review: Field Easel Art Bag

by Róisín Curé in Galway

I've made lots of sketching bags at home, with varying amounts of denim and gingham: the former because it's tough and looks snazzy, the latter because it helps me sew straight lines. But there's been something wrong with all of them. When I stumbled across Darsie Beck's Field Easel Art Bag, I came over all covetous. Once shipping to Ireland was included, it was a little pricey, but I wanted it very much, the more so every time I looked at Darsie's explanatory video. In the end I couldn't fight temptation and I gave in.

Here it is:

I am so glad I did. I bring it everywhere I go. It's big enough to hold my wallet as well as my sketching kit so it's all I need. The whole point of this bag, artistically speaking, is that you can make a sketch without needing to find somewhere to sit down. The front flap (see above) lifts up into a horizontal position, and a plastic piece with Velcro on either end holds it up. The resulting "table" is big enough to support an A5 sketchbook and even an A4. Darsie talks about drawing on the spot using the bag and then painting later but I don't like to do anything after I've left the scene, so I try to paint as well using the Field Easel Art Bag, and it works okay.
The following sketch was done from start to finish standing up. It was tricky enough to stop everything falling but I managed. It's a Connemara boat being rigged by some macho types during Cruinniú na mBád, a traditional boat festival in Kinvara, Co. Galway.
The bag comes with a sort of wallet for your pens and brushes, which you can take out and stick to the shoulder strap with Velcro too. I found that if I put all the drawing stuff away when it came time to paint I could just about manage to hold the paintbox in my left hand and paint with my right. There is a vertical compartment on the right of the outer side of the bag so that's your water bottle taken care of.

I do have three small criticisms.

1. The raw edges of the fabric are left unfinished where the zip is sewn on. This means that the fabric frays a lot, and the loose threads stick to the Velcro tabs when the small plastic support is taken out of its pocket, meaning you are forever picking bits of thread off the Velcro. I think it should be turned in and stitched to avoid this.

2. The bag is a small bit floppy when the "easel" is in use, and I think I need to add another piece of Perspex the same size and shape as the one that you lean on, to give the bag more rigidity. I will simply cut one and add it to the front pocket, whose only use is to hold the slim plastic support when the "easel" is not in use.

3. The shoulder strap is designed for people taller than me (most of the world, no doubt). I am 5'4" and when I attach the wallet to the Velcro tab on the strap, it's too high. The tab needs to be a bit longer to accommodate more adjustment in the length of the strap.

I love the bag and if it ever wears out - which doesn't look likely, except that I literally take it everywhere - I will be buying a new one.

This is an unbiased, unsponsored review.

You can read all about the boat festival on my website here.

Sketches from Urban Sketching Workshops in Singapore

by Shiho Nakaza in Singapore

I really enjoyed attending the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Singapore - the energy of people gathering to draw on location is contagious! I appreciate the hospitality shown by local sketchers, and it was fun to meet new sketching friends in addition to meeting familiar sketching friends I met over the last few symposiums.

I've taken some workshops at the Symposium to concentrate on learning to paint as opposed to "drawing with color". In the meantime, I also took workshop taught by Lapin on 180 Degree Sketching to capture the scene as if with a fisheye lens - and it was a lot of fun to think of perspective in an organic way.

Workshop taught by Nina Johansson was about observing and expressing how the light tend to fade from the sky to the ground. This Selegie Arts Centre was part of many shophouses on Prinsep Street. The wedge shape and different colors on the building made it challenging and fun to paint at the same time.

Workshop taught by Shari Blaukopf was about using a big brush to paint in broad strokes. This helps to cover the paper with paint quickly to better capture the moment. This is a view of the National Museum, which is at the same place where Worldwide Sketchcrawl took place. Painting in hot, humid conditions meant that my washes (and paints in my palette) almost never dries completely, so it was hard to add darker colors without it running. I finished adding some dark values at home for this piece.

Workshop taught by Matthew Brehm was about learning to study the color values and making clean watercolor washes. I did many thumbnail sketches at Singapore Management University - this is one of them. Singapore has a bright light that is ideal for seeing the contrast on the buildings very clearly.

While sketches I do at workshops are typically not my personal best, I know what I learned at the workshops will sink in and help me advance my sketching skills - so I did as much sketches as I could in the short amount of free time I had in Singapore. I will post more sketches from Singapore in a separate post.

En Oviedo, Asturias, España. Las ventanas de nuestra apartamento tenían una vista del mercado. (The windows of our apartment had a view of the market.) Drawings by Sharon Frost.

Un mes maravilloso en Oviedo. Un lugar favorito neuvo para nosotros. Regresaremos el año que viene. (We had a wonderful month in Oviedo this summer: a new favorite place for us. We're returning next year.)
Encontramos un bar argentino para mirar Argentina (cayó en los penales) en La Copa América.  (We found an Argentine bar to watch the Copa América. Argentina lost in penalties.)

Qué fabulosa la vista del mercado: un centro de la vida en la Ciudad Vieja. (How great is the view of the market: a center of life in the Old City.)
Una mañana lluviosa trae una urgencia para los vendedores de paraquas fente el mercado. A rainy morning brings a sense of urgency to the umbrella sellers in front of the market.
Mi ordenador portátil, Lester, se murió.  Pero después de mucho esfuerzo vovió a la vida.  (My laptop, Lester, died in Oviedo.  But I was able to bring him back to life.)
Blog: Day Books

Singapore USk Symposium - part 2

by Marina Grechanik in Singapore

I'm continuing my first post about the amazing experience of Singapore USk Symposium. Teaching our workshop "Face the City!" together with my friend from Denmark Ea Ejersbo was, of course, the main reason for coming there. Ea spent the last winter in Israel, near me, and then born our idea of leading a workshop together again. As our mutual favorite sketching subject is people, the starting point was easy to choose. We even did a rehearsal of our workshop in Jaffa for the local Urban Sketchers group. But, of course, doing it in Singapore, for the international audience, as part of the USk symposium, was a different experience!
Certainly, it's impossible to learn sketching people in three and a half hours, and even in there and a half days. Nothing can't exchange her majesty practice, but still, it's possible to transfer our approach to sketching people, and even maybe to the urban sketching in general. I don't fancy perfect step-by-step recipes of a perfect sketch. For me the way is not less important than the result. Lets's say, the way is what really matters, the final sketch is a nice by-product result. In our workshop the main emphasis was on trying to look better, observing, searching for the stories to tell. First of - what you want to tell, and only after - how. To make it easier, we broke our workshop into three exercises. In first one, called "Capture Emotions", we asked the participants to look around for people with recognizable facial expressions and try to capture them.

In second one, "Capture Action" - to pay attention to the body language, which can tell us a lot without words.
In the final exercise we asked to put our "heroes" in their surrounding and tell us a story, using our ability to capture emotions and feeling through facial expressions and body language.
The results were really wonderful, but most important, we saw the participants overcoming invisible barrier, making step out of their safe zone and really enjoying the process!

I enjoyed it very much! Here are some sketches done on the workshop's spot, checking it before and while doing the demonstration.
I'm grateful for the opportunity of being a part of so great team of Symposium's instructors, also because teaching is the best way to learn!
Here is the link where you can download our workshops' flyer.

August 29, 2015

Trials and tribulations of tablet sketching, traveling in Turkey

Guest Post by Leslie Akchurin

This June, my husband and I set off to visit some wonderful old and new places during our annual visit to our extended family in Turkey. And I looked forward to sketching all along the way, having discovered the pleasures and ease of working on the iPad a few years ago. As it turned out, I encountered a significant app problem for the first time, but I returned home still devoted to this exciting artistic medium.

Until recently, I used Paper 53 exclusively because it’s intuitive and simple to use and can create nice pencil and watercolor-like effects. But recently, looking for more variation in pencil line quality, I switched to Tayasui Sketches. This application is still easy to use. It shares some capabilities with more complex programs, especially the use of different layers (so a background wash, for instance, can be erased or reworked without disturbing other lines and color) and the ease in adjusting width and density for most of the tools. The “watercolor” washes and infinite color palette are just as nice as Paper’s, plus Sketches has a crayon-like tool that I loved right away.

Antalya Beach
I used that crayon tool, for instance, on the bathing suits in this picture from the public beach in the port section of Antalya. The beach was full of Russians, who have recently been moving to this part of the city in large numbers. Thanks to the unobtrusive nature of my art kit, I sat under an umbrella right behind the bathing families and drew without being detected, achieving the kind of invisibility that those of us who find it difficult to concentrate when we’re being watched really value. As long as I have shade, I find I can draw, though it’s true that I sometimes need to adjust colors later because it can be difficult to determine their accuracy while outside.

Konya mosque
After a week in seaside Antalya, my husband and I traveled with his brother northeast into Anatolia, first to Konya, the city where Mevlevi whirling dervishes originated in the 13th century. Thirty-five years ago, I found this town to be very dusty, sleepy, and traditional, with the townsfolk wearing old-fashioned baggy clothing, caps, and shawls. Today, while still quite conservative, Konya has become a city of over a million people, with only a few landmarks that I could recognize. We happened to be there just a few days before the national elections, which meant that vans plastered with garish photos of candidates passed us every few minutes, blaring slogans and deafening folk music. But in the hush of the beautiful Selcuk-era Alaeddin Mosque, we found a rapt all-female tour group listening to their guide. Again, it was only the very discrete nature of my materials that allowed me to stand mere feet away without attracting much attention. I drew very quickly—the figures first and then the basic outlines of some architecture—and just as a larger tour was entering, I took a quick photo with my iPad to remind myself of the locations of some decorative detailing, which I later represented with some transfer dotting, one of the pre-made graphic elements available on the Sketches app.

Flock on plains
From Konya, we traveled further northeast, through the ever-shifting light and shapes of Anatolian mountains and plains. Although sensitivity to motion usually keeps me from even reading in a moving car, I found I was able to make this quick sketch of a distant shepherd with his flock. Having all your tools permanently at your fingertips sometimes makes drawing possible when you least expect it.

Balloons in Goreme
Our destination was the town of Goreme in the famous cave region of Cappadocia, where early each morning dozens of balloons carry tourists above the astonishingly shaped hills. I tried to convey the pervasive dawn glow of this scene outside our cave hotel room window by selecting a peach background color for the base layer; most iPad art apps allow you an almost limitless choice of “paper” colors and some choice of texture. I enjoyed the thrill of the chase as the light rapidly changed and the balloons floated off.

Both the visuals and the complicated history of Cappadocia were so much more varied and interesting than we’d anticipated, and I eagerly set to sketching—the scenery, buildings, international tourists, camels—but to my great dismay, my app crashed on the second afternoon, something that had never happened to me before, and I lost three or four promising drawings. I had made color notes but hadn’t added all the color and so hadn’t saved the drawings to my desktop “Photos” file. If I’d been near computers and equipment, I might have found a way to save that work, but we were only mid-trip and of course I wanted to continue sketching. So I just gnashed my teeth a bit and resolved to save, much more frequently, all future drawings in progress so that after a possible crash they can be re-imported to a Sketches layer and thus finished. My app has only crashed once since then, and that advice to myself allowed me to save the picture I was working on. I’ve also learned to plan my moves better and to shift a bit slower between tools, which I think has probably prevented more incidents.

After three days, we drove south, back over the Taurus mountain range, to the coast and enjoyed visiting Tarsus, where St. Paul was born and Cleopatra apparently used to meet Mark Antony. Then my brother-in-law expertly navigated us westward along the narrow, twisty mountain coastal roads to very windy Anamur, Turkey’s southernmost town and producer of most of its bananas. Its relative inaccessibility has prevented Anamur from growing into a big city in recent decades, unlike so many other Mediterranean towns that have acquired modern roads and airports. It largely retains the lazy backwater feel of a village, with a lovely if somewhat seedy beach mostly populated by locals.

Cirali Beach
After returning to Antalya for a week or so, my husband and I visited our favorite coastal town, which is about a 1½ -hour drive west into Lycia. Cirali is home to one of several cities and accompanying mountains in the ancient world that were named Olympus. But this one was the home of the fire-breathing monster, Chimera (eternally burning flames by that name can still be visited today), which Bellerophon slew while riding the flying horse Pegasus. Today, the town is quiet and turtles breed on the beach. I drew this picture in the breezy early evening, using some transfer dots and lines to suggest the grainy texture of rapidly waning sunlight.

Although I usually prefer a pencil or watercolor-like feel to my drawings, when I awoke to this scene outside our Cirali window, I wanted to use bold colors and shapes to express the brilliance and seeming flatness of the flowers overlapping the chickens and lemon trees. Naturally, the wide variety of tools in an iPad app like Sketches can easily accommodate this kind of change in style.

Family walking past ruins to beach
On our return to Antalya, we spent an afternoon at the gorgeous site of ancient Phaselis, which was once a major harbor city and now comfortably crumbles in a pinewood park. This was a quick sketch from my perch on a Roman wall, just before a line of ants drove me off. The figures are a bit awkward, but I think I conveyed something of the filtered sunlight romantically highlighting the ruined main boulevard.
Beach with ruins
On the edge of the woods, the extensive ruins of Phaselis give way to lovely beach views. You can see in the distance here one of the touristic “pirate ships” that have lately sprung up all over the Turkish coast.
Hagia Sophia
I had been wanting to take a stab at drawing Hagia Sophia for some time, and I got my chance during the one afternoon we were able to spend in Istanbul on our way home to Texas. I plunked down on the first shady bench I could find and fell to drawing whatever I could see, which at times seemed to be the population of the world – it being a spring Saturday in the Sultanahmet district, which must be the most popular tourist destination in all of Turkey. Once again, I reveled in the scene for an hour or so, capturing what I could and sitting virtually unnoticed by the throngs.

I love the iPad for onsite sketching, given that I have been an amateur artist who previously only rarely found the time or nerve for it and who would still find it overly cumbersome, time consuming, and disruptive to work out in the world with traditional art materials. The iPad makes some things a lot easier, but I would not like to leave the impression that an app is so magical that artistic ability and vision become irrelevant. In addition to the possibility of an app crash, there are some real difficulties involved in iPad creation as compared to traditional methods, for example its less accurate drawing capability, unusually smooth, specular, small, and sometimes annoyingly smudgy surface, and one’s inability to work in full sun or even the lightest of drizzles. As with any medium, if you want to succeed, you must accommodate or overcome its limitations and exploit its strengths. What I know is that as long as I’m still learning, enjoying, and feeling gratified by the results, I’ll remain an enthusiastic advocate!

Leslie Akchurin is a New Englander who currently resides in Lubbock, Texas, where she instructs in a university writing center.  More of her iPad work can be seen here.

*Readers – Do you sketch using Digital media? What app do you use and why?

August 28, 2015

The long road (mostly airborn) to northern Spain. Drawings by Sharon Frost.

My husband and I spend a lot of time on the road (and in the air). One of our major occupations since we retired from our day jobs, many years ago, has been travel to Spanish-speaking places and the study of the Spanish language that comes with that territory.

Both my husband and I lived for a time in Latin America when we were in our 20s, decades before we met.  The fascination with the language has persisted, and been renewed, through each trip.  We generally stay in one town or city for a month or so, renting an apartment. Being "there" is the fun part.  Getting "there" is arduous.

Our most recent trip was to northern Spain, hoping to escape some of Brooklyn's steamy summer.  (It worked.)  A month in Asturias and some fantastic exploration of Bilbao and Burgos.
A la playa sin filtro soler. (At the beach without sunscreen). Time stands still in Terminal 7 -- the state of waiting takes over..
On Iberia flight 6250. to Madrid.  Todas las pantallas en el avion brillan. (All the creens on the plane shine, only my husbands is in black & white.)

Renfe alvia tren de Madrid a Gijón. Es mejor leer. (Renfe alvia train from Madrid to Gilón.  As always, my husband is reading.
30 de junio, 2015. Gijón.  Desayuno -- siempre afuera.  (At last we're in Gijón.  Breakfast is always outdoors.)
Blog:  Day Books

Little Italys

Italy's a county where people stroll at a comfortable pace. I wish I could say the same. So often, I find myself huffing and puffing down the hot, sunny side of the street alone. The locals are all sauntering in shade across the way while I pant and squint and sweat. Typical American.

When I find a subject to draw, I'm extraordinarily patient. I can work on a single drawing for hours without interuption, and I'm known for those very works. But between those drawings I'm downright fidgety. So, this year, to fill the gaps, I brought a tiny sketchbook and some black colored pencils to draw when there was no time to draw. Here are the results.



Beach routines along the windy Baltic coast. Surprisingly, there are lots of sand diggers in the every age range.

August 27, 2015

San Clemente State Beach

By Lydia Velarde

Visiting with my oldest best friend at the beach. San Clemente is half way between San Diego County and Brea, Orange County. I thought it would be rude to sketch while visiting but she encouraged me.

old men talking in Mcdonalds

By Byung Hwa Yoo, Mcdonalds, Jongno, Seoul

It was a day when the extreme tension between south and north Korea was on for me to visit Mcdonalds Jongno 2-ga branch. The old men were talking in high tone about the intrusion of North Korea and the responding of South. They seemed like war veterans. Of course they were very upset about the urgent situation. I started this sketch caught by the right man's dignified appearance at his age with white mustache. And he was fanning himself with his fold fan. At first I wanted to draw his figure with fan. But he stopped and laid it on table. I failed to capture the scene. But his white mustache, blue T shirt and white pants was enough to be my subject in that place. 
pen, watercolor, A 4

While drawing there were two men.

One man came after line drawing and I finished washing without the third man.