September 14, 2014

35 hours in Rio

My stay in Rio during my recent trip to Brazil for the Urban Sketching Symposium was very short, just about 35 hours, but quite memorable nonetheless. Here are some moments I recorded in my sketchbook.

Exuberant locals strutting down the endless sidewalk along Ipanema beach.

It was elbow-to-elbow at the mountaintop with the iconic statue of Jesus.

How many cities can boast a viewpoint like this one from the Sugarloaf? I was in awe.

Guest post: My first sketch in watercolor

By Gabriel Ronco

I’ve been rejecting the idea of trying watercolor for a while. I started drawing in May, copying photographs including portraits and landscapes. Later, I was seduced by charcoal and I continued drawing portraits and landscapes but always from a photograph. It was in July when I found about Urban Sketchers and I got caught by the manifesto and the challenge it supposed for me to start drawing on location and forgetting about copying. Thus, I saw lots of sketches but I didn’t feel inspired. I thought that every sketch was so good and the technique so complex that I could never get something like that. A hot evening in the middle of July, I went to the yard and looking at the ugliest corner of my house, I found a pile of plastic chairs, an old table and two buckets. It was perfect. The first problem was to frame what I wanted to sketch. Once I started, however, everything was solved naturally.

That crucial sketch was made with a pencil and later I added ink. Later, I bought the book Urban Sketching by Thomas Thorspecken. At first, I felt that I had wasted my money on a book that was mainly focusing on watercolor. And I repeated to myself that I was not going to use watercolor. At the beginning of August, I found myself buying online a pack of Pentel waterbrush and a watercolor book. I kept on sketching a church near the town where I’m currently living, but again, using pencil, ink and colored pencils (which produced an effect I didn’t like very much…).

Finally, I decided to use my watercolor book. I was determined to sketch something, and I didn’t need to go out of home. I looked over the house searching a good corner and I found the heater and an armchair. It was perfect to start. After spending some time organizing the sketch, I completed it with a pencil. Later, I used ink, as before. I liked so much the result that I was afraid of using watercolor. I didn’t want to ruin the sketch! I waited for the next day and I started to read about mixing colors, water, paper… I tried to get a grey and I got a muddy horrible color. I tried again and again. I couldn’t get a grey but I found a similar color that I liked and I ended up applying it. I liked the result so much and I had lots of fun during the process. I’m eager to do the next one.

Gabriel Ronco is a teacher of English and urban sketcher living in Arenas de San Pedro (Ávila), Spain.

Charming Sweden - part 01

While the most of urban sketchers where celebrating in Paraty, I spent a small family vacation in Sweden. Sweden isn't one of the hottest tourist destinations, and in our book store I couldn't even find a guide about it. There are a lot of places with much more spectacular and dramatic scenery and views, more attractions, and with richer histories. But all we wanted was a calm and cool place with simple nature close to our house, and a big city not very far away in case we missed urban life…. And, the most important element, a place where there was no need to rush around, nor run from attraction to attraction, but simply offered us the opportunity to escape from the heat and pressure here, and to find ourselves living in a different kind of world. In our farm cottage that we rented close to beautiful Stockholm we got this all, and much more! 
As usual on family trips I couldn't sketch everything I wanted to, but every page in my Swedish sketchbook reminds me of all those precious moments I had during this charming trip. 
I'll start with sketches done around or inside the house - honestly, I didn't need anything else: just to wake up every morning to this spectacular (for me!) view of the lake from our balcony, and to be minutes from a real forest full of smells, sounds, mushrooms, berries and memories of my childhood.

our charming cottage
during our first walk in the nearby forest - it was like going to back to the childhood!
not very successful fishing at our beautiful lake
on the right - view from our cottage window 
Here are some more sketches from the closest surrounding - small towns and villages, and again - lakes and forests!
center of Ekerö - small nearby town
drinking coffee in Ekerö main coffee shop - miss its bakery!
traveling around - at Tyresta National Park
Dalarö - one of the small villages on the Baltic sea 

I'll tell you about our Stockholm trips in the next post. Meanwhile, you can find the entire Sweden sketchbook on flickr.

My first visit the very opposite side of the globe: Brazil

I participated in the 5th Urban Sketching Symposium in Paraty, Brazil. Without this event, I wouldn't have visited this county as first South American nation to visit, especially concerning the distance and the language matter... But I'm so glad I did! Brazilians are friendly, kind, down to earth and a bit shay people (as far as I experienced during my stay there). I often heard them saying “I'm sorry, my English isn't good.” This sentiment is often seen among we Japanese as well. We want to communicate, and help foreign visitors, but our linguistic skill is limited since we Japanese hardly use English in our everyday life. In this point, I felt sense of closeness. One day I enjoyed communicating with the hotel manager in Paraty. The story is, I was going to check out early in the morning the next day and will have no time to have breakfast, so I asked him if I could bring some bread as packed lunch instead of having breakfast there. I wrote message in English and he read it then he wrote back his message in Portuguese in his computer, then translated the sentences into English using google translation. He and the hotel staff were very kind that they prepared for me some sandwiches, yogurt, cheese, some oranges, and something more full of plastic bags! I was able to do with these food for the morning, the afternoon and the evening meal of that day. That's the way how we communicated. One of my fun memories. How I loved and enjoyed my stay in that hotel! Talking about symposium, there were so many people came from around the world, and many of them ( including me)are not native English speakers but we strived to communicate, tried to understand and helped each other. I felt that's wonderful part of this unique gathering. We learned each other like small children do from seeing/showing, hearing/talking through firsthand experience.
I appreciated a Brazilian girl, Bi, helped me by translating Portuguese into English and English into Portuguese while I'm attending Brazilian artist Carlos Avelino's demo as well as while I was doing my demo. Muito obrigada! I think I should have studied more expressions in Portuguese. Well till next time. I had so much fun time from this trip. I thank all the people who put their effort to made this wonderful event happen, those who I met, and helped me in many ways, and all the luck I had. I feel blessed.

Casa da Cultura de Paraty
Casa da Cultura de Paraty

My demo:D2 Sketching straight to watercolor-1
My first demo:D2 Sketching straight to watercolor result

My demo:D2 Sketching straight to watercolor-2

My second demo:D2 Sketching straight to watercolor result

Béliza Mendes's sketch of me!
My demo scene captured by Béliza Mendes. I really love this! Thanks!!

September 13, 2014

Brazilian Review: Capturing Intangibles

Home now from the Urban Sketchers Symposium in far-away Paraty, Brazil, I'm currently reflecting on the work I created there, and thinking about the Workshop I taught called "Capturing Intangibles." The goal of the short class was to learn to create more meaningful sketches by intent and by design. Intangibles are not the persons, places or things of a sketch, but rather, the descriptions, feelings and qualifiers. Intangibles are the adjectives and adverbs of drawing. They are what makes the wind bitter, the house haunted and the laughter explosive. Often we aim to draw what we see, but how often do we try to draw our thoughts? Impressions? Feelings? Pictures are, after all, vehicles for communication; we read them and we can learn to write them, too. As an Illustration professor, I deal with such lessons every day.

If I were to judge my own success in capturing intangibles, I'd say it was mixed. But then again, only twice did I set out for an extended period of time to really look at the town and to seek out something to draw from true, personal interest. As I've written on this blog before, I'm a slow sketcher, a long-form sketcher. I hunt for a long time and then draw for an even longer time to capture my subjects. And, unlike many of my colleagues, I almost always draw alone. I want to disappear in the place. I want to be a solitary sponge. It's a personal choice, no better than any other.

My favorite drawing is featured above. It shows a side street that ran outside of the tourist section of town. Like many of Paraty's coastal streets, it floods at high tide, creating a surreal effect. Combined with the week's overcast weather, things looked as if a hurricane had recently passed through. Everything was damp and grey. Where I sat drawing, a local family came and went, exchanging horses and carriages which served the tourists a short distance away. They lived a tougher existence than their customers. The family argued and laughed and went about their business. Like the sea water, I was treated as a minor obstacle, something to navigate around, something that comes and goes. It was a fascinating afternoon. I even learned where they hid the key to their front door. Hint: you'll need a long, thin stick.

I'll always remember what I saw in Paraty, Brazil, thanks to my drawings and photos. But, with this, my favorite drawing, I'll  remember a bigger picture: a rich story and the perceptions and feelings that go with it.

Travel to Kallisté

On the ferry to Corsica
A shot in the stomach, a breath of wind in the hair, the sun in the dark glasses ... It's like being there ... We are in Corsica!
A world full of incredible places, cut in half: up the mountain, down the sea ...
The gods of the Mediterranean Sea could move there ...
Corsica is home to a unique community: the Corsicans. A people often conquered but never submitted. A son of shepherds people with heart and character, strong, proud and capable ... A people where honor and blood ties outweigh all other considerations when it comes to avenge the family .. .
The island deserves: it takes time to see through. It will take the same time for it to get used to you: It's a girl from the Mediterranean Sea ...
Hard, tragic secret, Corsica nothing is rational nor relief, nor the climate, nor the Corsicans themselves.

During the travel
Ajaccio (South Corse) Cathedral
Corsica center is that of the "maquis" and wild pigs, cows release and flocks of sheep, fountains roadsides, by fragrant flora that comes to mind, that of a deli which matures slowly in the smoke of chestnut wood.
It is the island's musical traditions, thin spiers dialogue and bells that echo in the valleys, where men gather to ancestral polyphonic songs and passed from father to son ... Every village, every valley has its own directory ...
The Corsican cuisine justifies the arrival on the island: charcuterie, soups, fish, meat and cheeses and famous fig jam, honey none! A man or woman who serves you ask "Who cuisine as well?" You answered, "My mother!" Feels then a small woman dressed in black as a beautiful heroine of ancient tragedy ...
There is no dark thoughts in Corsica: Everything seems to bring down heaven on earth ...
All this wealth lies in one island 183 miles long and 85 miles wide ... Almost nothing on the scale of the planet ... And yet all the world ...

Close your eyes, smell, listen ... You are in Corsica
Propriano Gulf of Valinco

Corte (center Corse the most corsican town)

Ile Rousse the first harbour built during the Corsican Républic

Calvi (North Corse) Church Santa Maria Maggiore

Bonifacio (Extreme south of Corse)

Cemetery in Ajaccio...

Holyrood, Edinburgh: Scotland votes

On Thursday the Scottish people go to the polls to vote on becoming independent, which would see the end of a 300-year union with England. The consequences of such an event have been much discussed – which currency would they use, would there be border controls, would taxes go up or down, how would the UK's debt be divided, would Scotland compete independently at the Rio Olympics, what effect would independence have on the UK's economy?

The polls are extraordinarily tight, with Yes and No neck and neck, and the 17% share of undecided voters holding the key to the result. Waking to a Yes vote on Friday morning would mean a painful period as the parting of the ways becomes reality. I love Scotland, a huge, lovely part of the island we live on. Which way would I vote? This is a decision for the Scottish people.

This drawing from Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh – with the hill Arthur's Seat visible through the trees – was done close to Scotland's current parliament building during a cycling trip over the border last year.

September 12, 2014

Hotel Sketches sometimes feels like hard work - Yet I'm still addicted!

I've drawn every hotel room I've stayed in the past 8 years by measuring and drawing on location.
It started off as just a simple way of remembering my trip along with all the other sketches I do during a trip.

Recently this is starting to feel a little bit like work since no matter how tired I am, I need to spend 4 to 6 hours drawing the room. Sometimes I get the temptation to just want to relax by watching TV over a drink or two.

Last weeks trip to Rhode Island felt this way.
My wife took a picture of me and told me I didn't look happy working on the drawing - and it's true, it felt like a chore.

Yet now that the trips over and I look back at the sketch, I'm glad I captured the room.
It was a difficult to capture room but quite a unique one compared to mainstream hotels.

I have a feeling I'm going to continue sketching hotel rooms with this mindset for many more years to come  :)

Would You Like the Symposium to Come to Your City in 2015?


Previous hosts:

Would you like the Symposium to come to your city next? Apply to be the host of the 6th International Urban Sketching Symposium in 2015!

Send your proposal to with the following information. Please keep overall response around 500 words. Feel free to include images.

  • Why should the Symposium be held in your city? What makes your city ideal for meeting and sketching?
  • Where will the group gather as a main meeting place? Where will the group gather for lectures and opening and closing receptions?
  • Where will we sketch? Is it easy to get to these places from the main meeting place? List 10 to 15 possible locations or mark the locations on a Google map.
  • Who will work on the Symposium? Tell us about yourself, your team, and your prior involvement with Urban Sketchers.
  • When will the Symposium take place? Suggest approximate dates that work best for your location. Most Symposiums have taken place in July.


What is the Symposium?
The International Urban Sketching Symposium is an annual educational event organized by Urban Sketchers (USk), a nonprofit dedicated to fostering the art of on-location drawing.

The goal of the Symposium is to celebrate and practice the art of on-location sketching in the host city. The event offers valuable field-sketching instruction and opportunities for participants to network and socialize.

In 2014, the Symposium programming expanded to include three registration passes: Workshop, Activities, and Sketching. These gave participants more options for their level of participation, as well as a range of registration fees.

Geographical diversity is also important to us! Following our spirit of showing the world, one drawing at a time, we aim to bring the Symposium to new cities and countries every year.

How is the Symposium organized?
The Symposium is a true team effort led by USk’s Symposium Organizing Committee and the representatives from the host city. Here’s an outline of responsibilities of each party:

USk responsibilities:
  • Pay all costs associated with the event
  • Provide scholarships to sketchers based in the Host city or country
  • Recruit team of instructors (USk has final say on instructors and workshops)
  • Determine and collect registration fee from participants
  • Manage travel and lodging arrangements for instructors and Symposium staff
  • Manage online registration of participants
  • Manage Symposium web and social media presence
  • Manage sponsors in conjunction with Host
  • Work collaboratively with Host to ensure the success of the Symposium

Host responsibilities:
  • Determine dates for the event (can be three days or longer)
  • Find a venue for activities (opening and closing, panels, demos and lectures)
  • Recommend sketching locations for workshops
  • Oversee local scholarship selection process and select scholarship recipients
  • Assist with check-in of participants
  • Local logistics (including but not limited to selecting and coordinating local volunteers; receiving shipped materials; production items such as badges and brochures; working with local sponsors)
  • Work collaboratively with USk to ensure the success of the Symposium

Joint responsibilities
  • Determine number of participants
  • Determine schedule for events
  • Creation of a Symposium logo
  • Promote the event
  • Create printed material (brochure, maps, etc.)

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Local organizers will work with an international committee, and will be expected to keep in contact via a Google group, Google docs, and a project management site (such as
  • You may want to plan for a small number of local organizers to work on the planning, but have more local volunteers present at the event.

Contact with questions:
Elizabeth Alley

Fall Fashion Ritual

This year looked as if stripes and plaids, with black booties were in. What do I know? Just that skulking around Lincoln Center during Fashion Week provides me with a drawing day almost unparalleled with opportunity. Designers, models, model wanna be-s, the famous, infamous, paparazzi, seekers of fame and the people- 
like me, just happy to be in and around one of the hottest tickets in town come Fall.

some sketches at Ewha Womans University, Seoul

ECC viewed from main gate of Ewha Womans University, watercolor, (37 x 52 cm)

Welch-Ryang Auditorium (Music Hall), watercolor, (37 x 52 cm)  

Pfeiffer Hall (Main Hall), pen and watercolor, (21 X 29.6cm) 

Centennial Museum and International Education Building, pen and watercolor, 
(21 X 29.6cm)

Ewha-Samsung Education Culture Building, pen and watercolor, (21 X 29.6cm)

nearby buildings across from the backgate of  Ewha Womans University, 
pen and watercolor, (21 X 29.6cm)

Stephen Kopp from Australia joined Seoul sketchers, pen and watercolor, 
(21 X 29.6cm)


Last Saturday, we Seoul sketchers met at  Ewha Womans University. It was founded on 1886 by Mary F. Scranton, an American missionary of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The campus located in central Seoul with surrounded natural greens and a number of old and contemporary buildings nearby one of the most popular shopping district in Seoul. 
Across the heart of the Ewha Womans University, the recently completed ECC (Ewha Campus Complex) shaped valley, is Korea’s largest underground campus. The ECC provides students with various services, from learning to cultural activities, all under the one roof. In a whole campus, lots of historic stone buildings and modern high-rise buildings are mixed intimately and harmoniously.  
It was a little hot during the day, but the natural air conditioning from the wood offered a cool atmosphere for sketching.  I enjoyed sketching the beautiful campus buildings and several colourful scenes.