August 21, 2014

Go Bags Go: Field Sketching Kits for the Brazil Symposium

It’s last minute packing time before the symposium.

I’ve been waffling back and forth over what to bring. There was a time I was willing to carry the kitchen sink, but these days my 40 year old neck is telling me to pack light.


[The old me, in Santo Domingo with a huge tripod easel]

Experience from last year in Barcelona suggests being attentive to ‘bag security’ while in Brazil. There were a number incidents of theft from distracted sketchers. Mostly phones and tablets. This is easy enough to avoid. Just don’t bring those items. But, in any crowded city, my general policy is: never put your bag down, never spread your stuff out, be able to walk away at any time. This is not just paranoia, it’s handy for staying out of the way of traffic, avoiding panhandlers, dodging police, etc.

So, here’s what I've settled on. The plan requires two bags actually.


Go Bag Watercolor! 14 Liter 34x26x14cm Cocotte FRED. Loaded weight 11lbs.

CONTENTS: A: Sirui tripod, B: Eric Michaels tripod accessory tray, C: 6 - 11x14” Coroplast drawing boards (thus, 12 sheets of paper – more than enough for a day – typical over-packing!), D: brush case full of too many brushes (I will probably only use the #10 round), E: Holbein 12 slot tin palette, F: 250 ml Nalgene water jar (optionally x2 - will see if I need more), G: bag of bulldog clips for dogging down boards,  H: Moleskine mini-sketchbook (removed)  I: pouch with paper towels, eyeglass cleaner, J: pouch with black and sepia washable ink (removed), 60ml water bottle for ‘kung fu grip’ and misting bottle. K: sun screen, sun sleeves and scarf (yes, I'm over doing the sun safety - but now that I’m outdoors ‘full time', better safe than sorry). There’s even space remaining for a water bottle.

You'll note the absence of any drawing supplies. This my minimum kit for watercolor. If I bring pens, I'm going to end up drawing :) I just like drawing too much. But mainly I want to be able to grab the bag and go, knowing I'm set up for watercolor. This is the way my creativity works: I set up a project for the day, and do ONLY that. Otherwise I'd be bouncing around and never finish anything.


Go Bag Sketching!  6 Liter 27x19x12cm Cocotte FRIDA. Loaded weight 4.6lbs.

CONTENTS: A: Hand Book 8x8” watercolor sketchbook and coroplast backing boards. B: pouch with tin boxes of (way too many!) pen cartridges and pencil leads (what is wrong with me? it's not like I'm going to run out this many times! Security blanket behavior!), black and white gouache, kneaded eraser, C: mini-kit of W&N half-pan watercolors and #10 DaVinci sable travel brush (don't know what I'll do if this wears out/gets lost - I bought it back when I had a job!), D: pencil box with Lamy Safari fountain pen, 0.7mm pencil, Kuretake #13 brush pen, E: Tachikawa nib holder and various nibs, F: Pouch with 30ml bottles of black and sepia (washable) ink, 60ml water bottles, sun screen, sun sleeves and scarf. G: That's not really there. Combined with H.

If I can manage it, (convenience/willpower) I might do all my drawing with the dip nibs, allowing me to ditch all those pen cartridges. That would be nice. I could lose all the tin boxes and probably save an entire pound.


August 20, 2014

Costa Rica. Part 3 and 4

I'm rolling up part 3 and part 4 of my Costa Rica reportage together. That doesn't do two incredibly beautiful places,- the Monteverde Cloud Forest and Manuel Antonio National Park- justice, but it just might help me pack in time to get to Paraty for the 5th International Urban Sketchers Symposium!

Getting to the cloud forest in Monteverde involves a ferry ride across Lake Arenal, a huge manmade lake that once generated 70% of Costa Rica’s electricity.

The cloud forest is like something out of a dream. The mist never clears and it never truly stops raining. There are a million layers and textures of vegetation, and every imaginable shade of green. Trees compete for light, and are covered in bromeliads and mosses and are taken over by strangler figs and fungi. This is a guide at the Monteverde cloud forest, setting up his scope to look at birds in a nearby tree.

And maybe I just won't learn, because I attempted to sketch yet another waterfall in the rain. And, like many other drawings, it got seriously splashed on, but didn't wash away...

After 10 days of rain-without-a-break, we went to the relatively dry (what's a couple of thundershowers everyday?) Pacific Coast near Manuel Antonio National Park.
These were our last days in Costa Rica and we spent lots of time at a quiet little cove called Playa Biesanz where the ocean was as calm as a pool and there were more locals than tourists. At Manuel Antonio the forest comes right down to the beach and the ocean is dotted with little green islands.

Like every other place in Costa Rica, what fascinated me most was the vegetation. The forest is everywhere, and always on the verge of taking over the little patches of man made landscape.
Some trees I drew: The Banana Tree

And a tree we called the ‘Sloth tree’. Almost every sloth we spotted (and we spotted a lot of them) was in this tree. And yes, this is another sketch that a thundershower played a big part in shaping.

When you live right at the edge of the forest, the iguanas join you for breakfast. This guy waited patiently by us while we ate breakfast on the patio. He was just there for the crumbs. For a black spiny tailed iguana, he was small at about 2 feet long.

I could go on and on, and post so many more sketches of amazing Costa Rica. But I'll leave you with a Costa Rican toast and a Costa Rican beer. Pura Vida!

 More sketches from Costa Rica here on my blog, or, all the sketches and none of the commentary in this flickr set.

The Buzz and Liveliness of Covent Garden

3 Rickshaws Covent Garden
I have known Covent Garden since 1999 when I first came back to London after 19 years of being away from the place. It was first place I attended an interview to be a School Representative of African Arts Centre which used to be at Covent Garden and still has a new location but different from where I attended the interview.

I sketched this place with Liz Steel when she visited London about 2 years ago, and ever since then I've always wanted to go back and sketch there.

It's such a busy place, with people of all works of life moving up and down, its crazy! There is a certain buzz to the place.

So I went out to capture a bit of that buzz and liveliness!

I sat down on the floor to do the sketch below, as I sketched from a more relaxed view at Mark & Spencers for the Sketch above.

I've know Covent for years but sketching it made me appreciate it even more.

The Buzz of Covent Garden

Urban swimming

One cool thing about Stockholm is that the water is clean enough that you can take a swim right in the middle of the city. It feels a bit unreal to swim so close to where the boats and ferries are, seeing wellknown landmarks from the surface of the water. There are a few small sandy beaches, and quite a lot of cliffs to go to if you want to cool off in the summer.

There is still a lot of work to be done about the environment here, as in most other cities, but we´ve come a long way from the 60´s, when the water was too dirty to even dip your toe in.

Meet the Correspondent: Teoh Yi Chie > Singapore

I'm Teoh Yi Chie from Singapore. I'm also known as Parka online from my website, a blog where I post my sketches, art book reviews and some musings. My exposure to art was through comics I read when I was a kid. Since then, I have always been interested in art. I never had any formal art training and sketching is a hobby I picked up only in recent years.

I started sketching regularly after joining the Urban Sketchers Singapore group in 2009. Since then, I've learned a lot about the art of sketching and the places I've been to. I've also made many friends along the way – both sketching and non-sketching friends. It's great fun to hang out with people who share the same interest and enthusiasm.

What I like about sketching is that you get to connect with the place or the person that you draw. I'm able to remember more vividly things that I've sketched. That's a bonus when it comes to sketching overseas; I can remember places and events without having to refer to photographs. You know that heightened sense of awareness you get when you're overseas or visiting some place new? I get that when sketching, and maybe that's why I feel like I'm on holiday whenever I'm doing it.

My preferred medium is ink and watercolour. My favourites are technical pens for their predictable, uniform lines, and I have a small, portable, 12-pan set of watercolours. It's a lightweight and versatile combination that I've been using for years. Recently, I've been trying other media to experience drawing in another way.

Parka's sketches on his blog.
Parka's sketches at Urban Sketchers Singapore.

After I kept drawing illustrations for hours, this is how I spent waiting time in an office

I was asked to come to an office to draw illustrations for an advertising company at around 20:00 pm.
Then I finished the assignment there at around 1:30 am. It was way past midnight and I was a bit fatigued, but they requested me to stay a little while there while they confirmed that all the necessary drawings were properly done and there was no missing piece.During this waiting time, what could I do except sketching the environment I was forced to stay. Nearly forty minutes later they set me free. After all I always enjoy drawing regardless it is working time or waiting time...

in a office

All ready for Brazil

There is no doubt that getting your sketch kit together is a good feeling when packing for a symposium. So here is mine (any questions go here). Still a lot to do as I leave early tomorrow morning. I am pleased it is a mere 18 hours of flying time to get from Sydney to Sao Paulo. (often it is in excess of 24 hours flying - 40 hours door to door)

I am really looking forward to my workshop Feeling the Edges and last month found a local church that has similar characteristics to the building that will be the subject of my tacile approach to sketching architecture.
Here is a photo of my planning .... and a sneak peak at my handout
I know many people are not able to make it this year  (will miss you all terribly!) so don't forget to follow the hashtag #uskparaty2014
I will be posting at a regular rate as much as I can - sharing my work, where I am and who I am with. So if you want to follow me please do.
Facebook LizSteel Flickr LizSteelArt Twitter lizsteelart Instagram lizsteelart 

And also if you pop over to my blog on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the next 3 weeks I have pre-scheduled a few "Rewind! Symposium" posts during my absence. Looking back on what I got out of the previous symposiums (I am one of the select few that have been to all of them)

Safe travels everyone heading for Paraty! See you soon!

August 19, 2014

Meet the Correspondent: Bruno Agnes > Montélimar, France

I am a landscape architect, I live and work in the south of France, in Montélimar along the Rhône Valley between Lyon and Marseilles. I am also a co-founder of the French USk group I have been hosting since its beginning and a USk France Blog correspondant.

I have drawn since my childhood and naturally I turned to the artistic and technical education (Fine Arts school, Leo Marschûtz school and then Landscape architecture in Aix en Provence, land of Paul Cezanne.)

Drawing and drawing again allowed me to gain some mastery that has long been a personnal challenge, a kind of race toward a well done job...

Today I have discovered a real pleasure in playing with blunders and blemishes. In order to master drawing, I had to be extremely patient only to find out in the end that the sum and substance are out of control...

Sketching is —for myself— a vector for journeys and discovery (foreign countries, other French areas.) It is also a way to meet people and sahre ideas: linguistic and social borders seem to disappear when I draw. The wonder of a child in front of my drawing is a wonderful gift.

When I draw, my personal time stops: I am one with space, it is an inner immersion.

My job naturally led me to draw monuments and landscapes, but I recently discovered other interesting topics: cars, everyday scenes...

For my sketches I use calibrated pens and my palette consists of warm colors that are as close as possible to our local color and light

Thus, beyond the sketch, thanks to the colors I try to capture the change in the light ... and life ...

Printable Cheat Sheet for Tea, Milk and Honey Workshop

I've done up a little ‘cheat sheet’ for my class at the USk Symposium in Paraty. It’s a single page (folded) booklet crammed with notes about my watercolor field sketching process.

Naturally it’s meant as a companion to the workshop, but even if you can't make it to Brazil, it can still be a handy guide.

I find, once I dive in to a sketch, it goes by in a blur. So it's good to have a plan in the back of your mind. Maybe tuck the booklet into your sketchbook, and just glance over it before you begin – kind of a refresher about strategy.


You can download THIS PDF FILE, (also found on my Downloads page. Send this link to friend). Then print it and fold it: in half lengthwise, and in half again shortwise – to make the booklet. It's set up for Letter size (8.5x11") and uses the entire page so un-check 'fit to printable area' (under the page scaling pull-down) to use every square inch on American sheets or, if you're using A4 leave that feature checked and you'll get a bit of extra white on around edges.

Feel free to use this handout in your own workshops or classrooms, even if they’re not a USK event!


Meet the Correspondent: Marcia Milner-Brage > Cedar Falls, USA

I’ve drawn my whole life. As a five-year-old in the backseat of my family’s 1950 Oldsmobile on a trip from Kansas to California, I tried to capture with pencil and paper those animal-shaped clouds sailing by. Across the years: sketching my then infant son as he napped to drawing my elderly mother’s hands on the day she died—drawing is one of the few continuous strands that runs through my life. Through joy and loss, busyness and ease, it’s always been a dependable way for me to name my life going by.

My favorite tools: a 5B pencil, Neocolor II water soluble wax pastels, and watercolors. I value the time and physicality to sit and look at something for a good long time, while my hand serves as scribe.

In 2010, I stumbled across the Urban Sketcher Flickr and Urban Sketcher Blog. Urban Sketchers gave me a new assignment and vitality. I launched into drawing landscapes of my Cedar Falls, Iowa neighborhood. Each drawing made me see and appreciate my longtime home more. I posted them on Flickr and Facebook and received invaluable encouragement from the Urban Sketcher community. In 2013, this flurry of work became my one-person exhibit, Drawing the Town, at the Hearst Center for the Arts in Cedar Falls.

Cedar Falls—a small, Midwestern US city—is as worthy a subject as any of the great metropolises or bucket-list worthy destinations I’ve been to. When the weather is nice, about half the year, I draw outside. Otherwise, I draw inside, looking out. This drawing—Windowsill Hickory Nuts, Winter Outside—is looking from my kitchen window on a February day. As a Correspondent, I’m thrilled to give you a window on my world. I look forward to your response.

Thank you James Naismith for early Saturday mornings

A Canadian bloke called James Naismith invented basketball in 1891. Something to do with providing an "athletic distraction" for wintertime sportsmen in Springfield, Massachusetts.

He sent a copy of his basketball rules to a sports teacher in New Orleans who in turn sent an interpretation of those rules to a school in England.

Somehow by the time basketball was first played in England a year or so later it had only a passing resemblance to Naismith's rules.

Somehow it had turned into a passing game - no dribblers thank you very much! (Naismith's rules at this stage allowed for 'ball rolling' only). Basketball was played outside, in all weather (today an exception is made for lightning storms) and played almost exclusively by women.

The sport of basketball initially spread through the British Empire and is now played worldwide by over 20 million people according to Wikipedia. Naismith had inadvertently created what is today called Netball.

The first international netball match was played in 1938 when a New Zealand team toured Australia – helping to fuel a sports rivalry that continues to this day and inspiring thousands of Kiwi kids to drag their parents out of bed early on cold, wet winter mornings for the netball run.

August 18, 2014

Eungbongsan artificial rock-climbing wall, Seoul

32 x 24 cm

A 4

A 4

small and low scale for beginners
I visited the rock climbing wall located near Eungbong station for sketching. All the climbers looked gread to me. The artificial climbing wall locates in small mountain. The place was originally stone quarry. But the purpose was fulfilled the remained feature was horrible. So the district office decided to set up a rock-climbing park consulting with rock-climbers. The park opened on December 1999. The wall has 14 meters width and 15 meters height. There is another small scale wall for beginners. The climbers' equipment added taste in addition to the great challenge of climbing. When they fell down from top to ground leaning on ropes with hooray I felt same excitement too. Of course I hoped to to that with them, maybe some day. 

Oxford Workshop - Pushing your Sketching Boundaries - July 2014

It was great to see the long planning coming to fruition and we were getting more excited about the Oxford Workshop as the day approached. On Saturday morning I hear that Swasky has started his journey on a Mini Countryman and it is heading for Calais - Dover - Oxford where he would arrive on Sunday night. You can see some of the sketches of that journey here. Meanwhile I (Isabel) was finishing off preparing all the handouts for my colour workshop and the prints for the exhibition initial set up. On Monday, Swasky and I met at the Arts at the Old Fire Station to set up the boards for the exhibition and that initial setup was finalised on Tuesday morning.

In the afternoon we prepared the timetables, information and their for the workshop attendees who started arriving (eager and early) at 4pm for a quick welcome, introduction gathering and we gave to them their goodies bags (Stillman & Birn Watercolor sketchbooksRosemary and Co. pocket brushes and Canson sketchbooks and some more little presents), followed by drinks at the nearest pub:)), where we started to get to know them.

Preparing goodies bags (Stillman & Birn, Rosemary and Canson presents)

Delays on traffic and flights made it impossible for all to arrive on that earlier date including Miguel who suffered some overbooking on his flight and managed to get to Oxford late on the Tuesday night (nerves!!).
Work proper started on Wednesday morning with the workshops on colour (Isabel), people (Swasky) and line (Miguel).
Each day we took a group each in the morning and one in the afternoon and took them to one of six locations to explore our themes. At the end of each session, we gathered the sketchbooks and each person put forward one sketch for the exhibition for each workshop, that we copied and we pinned up on the walls of the exhibition. The result a “work in progress” exhibition for all to see and that got attention from the visitors to the venue and the local press albeit the article was published after the event. The group photo by freelance photographer David Fleming for the Oxford mail captures the nice feel of the group at the gallery space at Arts at the Old Fire Station.

Isabel says:

Colour and Texture is what I love the most and I wanted to get the participants excited about. I got them to try watercolour even if some were not confident at first, I hope they all felt they can now try without fear. Most of them normally sketch neatly something and colour it afterwards, whereas I got them to work in colour first and primarily, without drawing first, and in blocks of colour and tone, in layers to approximate the sketch that only at the end could be drawn over if desired. I think that most were out of their comfort zone but they were all very receptive to new ideas and experimented in ways they had not done before and pushed themselves, in their own styles, to use more colour and lose the fear of not doing it “right”.

The morning session was outdoors (except when we had to use a cafe in the vaults of St Mary’s as the rain was pouring down), and watercolour run freely and colorful.

The afternoon session, at the Oxford’s University Natural History and Pitt Rivers Museums, was more challenging as we could not use media inside that involved water. Also the two museums have a multitude of potential subjects that i find fascinating (loads of animal skeletons in one and loads of ethnographic artifacts in the other) and hoped others did too. To overcome the “rules of the museum”, I thought we can use a multi visit approach, choose the subject and sketch it in colour first (with watercolour pencils for example), looking for tone; then come out and do a watercolour sketch based on that first sketch whilst seating out in the green in front of the museum, and finally go back in and finish it with further colour touches in watercolour pencils and or pen indoors.

The afternoons were hot and we did suffer a bit on that front, luckily we had an ice cream vendor on the green! I also got them to do a couple of “games” which involved using candle wax to do an invisible sketch only revealed after they applied watercolour over it, and using an ink pad to create colour blocks over which sketch inside. I was very interested in seeing the different responses from the students to this challenge. Some did a single very detailed sketch based on multiple additions in colour inside and outside whereas others did various drawings using the different techniques. All in all these afternoon sessions were exhausting but loads of fun and with good results.

Swasky says:

Preparing this workshop was an idea I got two years ago. I was staying in London and I met Isabel, we went drawing to the Tate Modern and also Saint Paul’s Cathedral. It was a great time and we enjoyed it a lot. From the first time I realized that Isabel is an energetic woman who doesn’t stop working and she was the person who I wanted to organise a workshop with and I love her work with watercolour. Nevertheless, at that time, I was busy with the Barcelona Symposium so we had to wait. After summer 2013 and a great symposium in Barcelona, I got some free time in my life and my desire to organise a workshop was even bigger so I sent a-email to Isabel. She was busy (as usual) but we agreed to start organising the workshop. One last thing I suggested, before we started is that there should be three instructors, three points of view, three styles, three are the minimum number of supports to have a chair, a stool …so, I suggested Miguel Herranz a great sketcher and great teacher. She didn’t doubt and said yes.

My workshop was about drawing people and my two sessions were focused in getting to draw people without fear. I know that sometimes we sound like coaches, even some people called me “Yoda”, but in someway we are I also recognize that sometimes we may sound “weird” because we say obvious statements, but we have forgotten most of them and we need reminding.

Once we started I really enjoyed working with a small group, they were 10 people. For me it was a need to work a maximum of 10 people, I suggested it when we were talking about organisation issues and we all agreed that it is the best number for working individually and as a group.
Oxford is a nice city with a bustling city center. I was lucky and in two sessions we had the chance of drawing in a open-air market, and in another one, due to the rain, in the covered market. Open-air markets are quite similar to the mediterranean markets, relatively speaking, but the most important thing was that we found what we needed: people.

On the other hand, the covered market was different, nice as a venue but sometimes quiet. Luckily there was a nice bakery where bakers worked behind a big display window so we took advantage of this and drew people doing things.

Before going to the venue I started with a series of warm up exercises, plenty of exercises and then relax... It is like when you go to the gym and do a quick series of exercises and then relax, it stretches you.

I have to say thank you to Isabel because I know how difficult is to organise something and you have been in charge on place, thank you so much!

Miguel says: 

I must say I was the last one who arrived at this project. I knew that Victor was working on some workshop with Isabel but at some point (it was february or so) he asked me whether I was interested in joining the project and it was some kind of unexpected gift. Teaching for 3 days in a row, 6 hours each and in english was a big challenge, but of course I was interested, actually I looked forward to it!

I have worked now for 3 years with Swasky, teaching together and at the organisation of the USk Symposium that took place in Barcelona in 2013. I knew he’s a great partner. The great surprise was Isabel, a true force of nature, it’s been a pleasure to work with them, or should I say to give them my little help. I feel so grateful to both of you.

My workshop was about line and my aim was to give the attendees new tools to face drawing on location as some kind of personal writing, to get a “hand” as one used to be say in calligraphy. I tried to give some tips to take memory references that allow to translate what we see on the paper, but the hidden idea is to acquire a way to approach what we see and what we draw as a life moment to be captured in the sketchbook.

I saw some perplexity on the attendees about a way of teaching that does not give instructions but tools. I must say that it all disappeared when they perceived and felt that it’s not so important if the drawing is right or wrong but only whether it is or is not what you want to tell, and it allows you to express yourself as you want.

It’s been a great experience to collaborate with Swasky and Isabel, meeting some old and new friends and having again the opportunity of sharing the joy of drawing together.

Party and Sketchcrawl finale:

After all the work we wanted a small party to finish off and to show off the exhibition to the participants that they had put together so we had brought a little surprise Cava! to say thank you to all participants!

Thanks to Isabelle, Judith, Francesca, Jane, Jon, Len, Robin,Rebecca, Martine, Guylaine, Zahra, Andre, Chris, Jeanette, Bridget, Enuma, Helen,Rachel, Simon, Claudia, Zofia, Cristiano, Barbara, Natalia, Caroline, Lawrence, Martin, Livia, Nicola and Catherine for all the hard work and for making it possible! Thank you Emily for your help along the three workshop days.

And I want to thank also Swasky and Miguel for coming such a long way to help me with the workshop, it has been a great project! This is the beginning of loads more sketches, adventures and projects! I look forward to seeing you all soon.

The final act of the workshop, albeit in free format, as the 44th Sketchcrawl with the Urban Sketchers London held at Portobello Rd Market on a swelteringly hot day. Thank you to all of them and specially to James Hobbs. A very fun day FULL of people and we made an impression as Isabel got a request for helping the market celebrate their 150th anniversary next year!