August 28, 2014

How I spent my summer vacation, part two : Banff and Kananaskis

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[Moraine Lake]

Handbook Travelogue Watercolor Sketchbook 10.5x8.25”
W&N bijoux box with split primaries (pigment list in here).

We had a weekend of outrageously good weather. Might have been the best I've ever had in the Rockies. Sketching times ranging from 45 minutes sitting in the sun, to 5 minutes leaning on the car while photographers jumped out for roadside shots.


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[Welsh Pond] Note: This was 7am so the photogs could get this mirror glass water. I can tell you, watercolor won't dry on a chilly damp morning. Had to walk back out of the trees and find patch of sun to dry the painting between doing the first wet-in-wet pass and the dark tree line.


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[Mount Kidd]

14Aug18_Banff_Kananaskis (2)
[Lower Kananaskis Lake]

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[Lake Louise]


Urban Sketching Symposium Paraty 2014 - Day One!

Day one of the 5th International Urban Sketching Symposium found people - you guessed it - sketching! Check-in for the Symposium and late registration for the Sketching and Activities passes began in the afternoon, and later in the afternoon attendees took part in the first of several sketch crawls before the Welcome Reception at Casa da Cultura.

Kumi Matsukawa - She'll be leading the activity Sketching Straight to Watercolor

Alexis Landry sketching at Casa da Cultura

Ch'ng Kiah Kiean

Paraty presents a unique challenge at high tide. It looks like Marc Holmes is trying to figure out how to cross it, but he's really looking for a place to sketch it.

Liz Steel found a dry spot to capture the reflections

Sketchers nearly took over the town, sketching and visiting in the street

Check-in at Casa da Cultura

Attendees were greeted by our wonderful volunteers!

Urban Sketchers Executive Board President Jason Das welcomed Symposium attendees

First sketch crawl!

Today the workshops and activities begin, and the sketch crawls continue! It will be a busy day for the sketchers in Paraty. Follow along throughout the day by following USk Paraty 2014 on Instagram, and following #uskparaty2014 on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

August 27, 2014

Balcony experience -- Buenos Aires. Barrio Norte.

We've been spending August here for 6 or 7 years. This city does grow on you.
Back on Billinghurst, it's not Boogie Street.  There isn't a banjo, but there is a traffic jam.
Broken view: Buenos Aires.
Gardens of Billinghurst.

Sharon Frost. Blog: Day Books

Urban Sketching Symposium Paraty 2014 - Preparation and Arrival

Sketchers attending the Symposium in Paraty have been making their plans for months - selecting workshops and activities, making travel plans, anticipating meeting old and new friends - but the shareable images really start with the packing...

Thiago Bueno Salcedo

Our local organizers had a lot of packing to do...

Cretacolor giveaways with USk Paraty 2014 logo

As early as last week sketchers began to arrive in São Paulo and in Rio...

Liz Steel and Marc Holmes - São Paulo

Some were even on the same plane!

Everyone immediately began meeting up to sketch...

Making their way to Paraty was the next step, and got them that much closer to the Symposium, which starts Wednesday afternoon.

Fernanda Vaz de Campos and Eduardo Bajzek, our intrepid local Symposium leaders, roadtripping it to Paraty from São Paulo

Liz Steel, Suhita Shirodkar and Esther Semmens enjoying the cool winter night

Lynne Chapman sketching from the bus to Paraty

Martine Kervagoret sketching Paraty's beautiful light

We'll be bringing you more updates throughout the event here and on the USk Paraty 2014 site. You can also follow along on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram - look for #uskparaty2014 - and share your own pictures if you're there!

Every day a sunny one in our memories (except in Bray)

Bray is a Victorian seaside town on the east coast of Ireland. My father was born and brought up there, and his parents ran a pharmacy on the Quinsboro Road just off Main Street. Dad ran his knitwear cooperative in a little building behind his parents' house on the Herbert Road, and I had to walk from the train station to my grandparents' house every day after school, to await my lift home. I hated Bray growing up - there was nothing really wrong with it, but it was the setting for all my teenage grievances, my constant social embarrassments, my failures to impress. Now it is a town full of Euro saver shops and fast-fashion boutiques, and a McDonald's occupies the entire ground floor of the beautiful red-brick Victorian Town Hall.

I grew up about six miles from the town, which means that I'm not from Bray. Nonetheless my husband thinks it is very funny to say "You're such a Bray girl," which he has no right to do because (a) I'm NOT from Bray, and (b) he's English, which automatically disqualifies him from slagging any Irish person's hometown (or not, as in the case in point).

Bray has a very special redeeming feature in the form of a long seafront promenade along the water's edge where the Irish Sea starts. It's always packed with walkers, joggers, dogs and people on varying numbers of wheels. Along its length are ice cream parlours selling anything from your standard Irish '99 (that's a white swirl of soft vanilla ice cream in a cone with a Cadbury's Flake sticking out the top) to much more fancy Celtic Tiger-esque Italian gelato in lots of flavours, with fancy prices to match. It's far from gelato we were reared!

These two ice cream parlours are very much in the former vein. The one on the right is called Maud's, but I suspect Maud may have a hand in both establishments, as the ice cream cones on the overhead signs are obviously designed and produced in the same factory, some of them having been cunningly reversed in Photoshop to give the illusion of a great variety of pictures of ice cream. Happily for Maud, my drawing is so inaccurate that this illusion is even more convincing.

Some people who saw this sketch spoke of how it evoked happy memories of visits to the seaside. That's why I felt I had to give the full picture of my chequered experience of Bray. Thanks be to the heavens, those miserable teenage years are far behind me, and now Bray is a place where the wonderful things in my life are underlined. I'm lucky enough that my family and I often stay with my parents in their lovely home near Bray Head: after a walk along the Seafront, I buy my kids garishly-topped whipped ice creams at Maud's, and we take a meandering walk up the hill to my folks' house, past all the beautiful gardens and lovely Victorian houses.

There are funny little kiosks all along the Seafront selling all kinds of stuff (including ice creams). I don't know how I didn't notice that they are all painted in different candy-striped colours until earlier this year. I think it may be because they were painted pale gloss blue for ages, but my mother says they've been stripy for years. Maybe I refused to see them, like a prisoner who can't go through the open door when he's been released. The kiosks are actually adorable now, and I very much want to sketch them all. There is a sunshine-yellow striped one: a crushed-berry striped one: this blue one, and just wait until St. Patrick's Day, when I will sketch, and post, the Kelly-green striped one, which is festooned with green, white and orange bunting, and sells green, white and orange balloons. Mmmm. I know all the sketchers are salivating at the thought. Add to this the hordes of people dressed in weird plastic leprachaun suits - just the facade of the leprechaun, mind - like the black guy I saw last year with a fake hairy red beard, fake stovepot hat with big gold buckle and fake pink plastic pot belly, and us sketchers are giddy with excitement. But the kiosk I drew here was a little more low-key.

 Normally passers-by have quite a bit to say when I'm drawing, and I love the interaction, but I was out of luck that day. Bray attracts a demographic who may or may not be avid sketchers, but the lovely thing was that the one or two people who did stop to talk to me became very thoughtful as they reminisced about how they used to love drawing as a kid. I always evangelise them immediately, and urge them to take up urban sketching. Most people were more interested in those huge inflatable balls and the Hello Kitty and Homer Simpson inflatable dolls, and I heard a young lady complaining about one of those games where you have to hit a target for a prize or something.
"Ye have to do it tree or fower times before you even GET de teddy," she said - I hope that's easily translated into whatever English you're more used to.

From my parents' house, there's an amazing vista of the Seafront wrapping its way along the water's edge, with a row of those beautiful Victorian houses lining the road that runs along its length. One side is all buildings and funfairs and stuff, the other is a great sheet of blue sea: I will make a point of drawing it the next time I'm up.

I won't be drawing the Euro shops matter how brightly-coloured.

August 26, 2014

My Summer Location Drawing Class at AAU, San Francisco (Pt 8: the san francisco zoo)

I had never been to the SF Zoo, though I had just been to the Denver zoo a few weeks before with my buddy Adam, who, back in the day, used to visit the zoo in Sacramento with me where we'd see extraordinary things - steam rising off the haunches of mating zebras in winter, gibbons pausing their brachiating, transfixed by floating bubbles, and that one time passing by the tiger enclosure when a tiger spied us from across the yard and came bounding for us, smacking with a mighty leap into the chain link fence (!) mere inches from Adam, giving him a rare view of what few have ever seen and lived to tell. Nothing so colorful happened this time, but a fine day was had. It was San Francisco resident day, so most of the students got in free. I headed for the megafauna, wanting to draw some rhinos. The big greater one-horned here took a few passes as he kept moving around. Someties if there are several animals together, you can draw one and then another as they change positions, and keep several sketches going at the same time. Alternately, if a more solitary animal, you might have to wait until it comes around again to a similar pose. Drawing at the zoo brings out the historical naturalist in me, I try to get both the essence and the details down, as though I am seeing these creatures for the first time and reporting for a wondering audience back home.

We ran into my friend and colleague Mark Simmons who draws at the zoo quite often and who gave us good tips about where to go at what times to see feedings, presentations and petting opportunities, and shared his current zoo sketchbook with us. I spent a while watching the grizzly bears, playful,  majestic, and primal, swimming and cavorting behind thick walls of glass. If I really were a naturalist back in the day, I could never get so close to draw so much. So many more wonders than I got a chance to draw, I'll have to come back. Next: the Cable Car Museum.

Riding the 1920 Carousel in Balboa Park, San Diego

"The 1910 Balboa Park Carousel, adjacent to the San Diego Zoo, is a menagerie of animals and all but two pairs are original with hand-carved European craftsmanship. This carousel is one of the few in the world still offering the brass ring game for everyone taking ride."

My friends and I sketched outside the San Diego Zoo before the carousel opened. This was a little secluded spot across from the Otto Center in Balboa Park.

All Sponsors Announced for 2014 Symposium


For Release August 26, 2014

Urban Sketchers Announces All Sponsors for 2014 Urban Sketching Symposium 

This week over 200 urban sketchers from around the globe will converge on Paraty, Brazil, for the 5th Urban Sketching Symposium. The 4-day event is organized by Urban Sketchers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering the art of on-location drawing. Beginning on Wednesday afternoon, sketchers will discover Paraty as they explore materials, techniques and concepts of drawing on location from direct observation.

This event is made possible in part by working with the following sponsors:

Platinum Level
We are pleased to welcome PEN.UP as a Symposium sponsor for the first time this year.
PEN.UP is a creative social network service that allows you to share images and pictures with other users. PEN.UP has also scheduled a meet-up during the Symposium, where they will demonstrate drawing with a Samsung Galaxy Tablet.

Gold Level
Cretacolor is sponsoring the Urban Sketcher Symposium this year for the second time. Made by Brevilliers, Cretacolor pencils are part of a 150-year-old tradition in the making of pencils. Cretacolor has prepared a set of six pencils as giveaways for Symposium attendees, packed in a practical metal box with the Paraty Symposium logo.

Moleskine has been our partner for many years as a Symposium sponsor. Moleskine and Urban Sketchers share a love of the analog approach of recording what we see in a notebook, and the digital approach of sharing online. Moleskine has also provided sketchbooks for Symposium attendees.

We are pleased to welcome Strathmore as a Symposium sponsor again this year. Strathmore has been making paper products in the United States since 1892.

Silver Level
We are happy to introduce new sponsor Super5, a fountain pen from the format-creative workshop in Darmstadt, Germany. Attendees will receive their own Super5 pen, and various inks will be available for testing.

Bronze Level
Cretacolor’s sponsorship was made possible with kind support by the Austrian Chamber of Commerce.

Laloran joins us as a sponsor again this year by providing sketchbooks handmade in Portugal.

Casa do Artista, an art supply store based in São Paulo, has provided sketchbooks and pens for Symposium attendees.

In addition to providing materials for participants, many of these sponsors contribute funds that go toward airfare and lodging for instructors and staff, all of whom volunteer their time to the Symposium.

More than 200 sketching enthusiasts will gather for hands-on sketching workshops, demonstrations, lectures, and sketch crawls in Paraty. Sketchers will gather at host institution Casa da Cultura. The workshops and activities are led by an influential team of local and international artists, listed on the Symposium site,

Urban Sketchers is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to raising the artistic, storytelling and educational value of location drawing; promoting its practice and connecting people around the world who draw on location where they live and travel.

Feel free to contact us with any questions.

Elizabeth Alley, Events Director


Amongst the tombstones

A sketch-crawl through the vast Peidmont Cemetery. From the top there are beautiful vistas across the Bay Area with downtown Oakland, San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.  The layout of the cemetery has lovely swooping curves like the shape of an artist's palette. There are some incredible tombs like the pyramid visible on the left of the picture below.

This was my 'warm-up' study. I'd seen George Romero's 'Night of the Living Dead' recently and was on the look out for zombies!

Down at the main gate these old Navy veterans were entering the chapel for a memorial service. They each had a rifle which they fired in salute. I couldn't resist trying to capture them in their neat uniforms.

How I spent my summer vacation: Scaling the Alberta Rockies


One of my old art school chums has become a serious rock climber in the years we've been away. On a recent trip back home, she invited us to join her climbing buddies for a day at Grassi Lakes, above Canmore AB.



The ladies were doing rapid scrambles up 35 feet of vertical rock faces, taking only five or six minutes top to bottom, testing themselves against different routes and difficulties. Sometimes ‘hang dogging’ or ‘taking a whipper’ – but mostly making it look easy.

My friend led her first 5.10d pitch on that day, which was cool to be there to see. Much appropriate high-fiving and who-hooing all around.

I think this group of climbing vets wouldn't normally choose this kind of spot. I get the feeling it’s a lot closer to civilization than they prefer. They’d quite generously picked a place I could hike into without raising my heart rate.

We started early, initially having the spot to ourselves, but by mid-day the walls were crawling with climbers.


There are lanes of bolts set in to the walls, every 20 feet or so around the upper lake, making what I can’t help calling a vertical bowling alley out of the box canyon.

Every pitch was in use. There were old pro’s showing new guys the ropes – (hah! Literally!), hard core mountaineers with ratty dreadlocks and well used gear, next to city people in super hero lycra and matching harnesses. At the foot of the wall patient crag dogs waited, people prepped lunch, (we had smoked sausages, that I bet smell *great* to bears), and significant others swam in the lake while their buff-er partners clung to the rocks. Or mostly, swapped stories and waited their turn.

You have to wonder how long the rock faces will stand up to such popular use. But I guess, this is the way of things. I can see the climbers love the mountains, and people try to be responsible. But at the same time, it seems there’s no stopping the growth of sport climbing in the Rockies. Every year it’s just going to get bigger. I suppose it will push the good climbing further out into the parks – and then there will be heli-climbing. You can’t stop people getting at the thing they love. Which I have respect for in its own way, given what I do.


I’m always excited (and a bit nervous) to sketch something like this. Something I haven't seen before. Doubly so, when it’s something that won't hold still for you. You never lose the concern you’ll flounder, be unable to capture what’s happening.

But I think the very new-ness of the thing, the fact you've never drawn it before, makes you hyper focused. Plus the pressure to live up to the occasion. The drawings might not be as polished as with more familiar, or more standing-still subjects, but they’re always a living record of a new experience.