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

January 24, 2015

The sacred city

By Jenny Adam in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

I am in Sri Lanka for a couple of weeks, escaping the german winter and filling my sketchbooks.
One of my first stops was Anuradhapura, an ancient town in central Sri Lanka. It is famous for its many places of worship and ruins of buddhist monasteries, many of them around 2000 years old.

Abhayagiri is on the northern edge of the city, furthest from the center. It is my favourite part of the sacred city, with the jungle overgrowing the ruins and a quiet, melancholy atmosphere. 1500 years ago, it was a huge monastery housing 5000 monks, though only the sheer size of the area suggests that now.

Sri Maha Bodi is another sacred place, but a rather different place of pilgrimage. According to popular belief, this Bo Tree was grown from a cutting of the original indian Bo Tree, under which Buddha attained enlightenment. It is the oldest living human planted tree in the world, dating from 288 BC. Around the terrace on which it grows, many other saplings have been planted, so it feels more like garden than a temple.

I´m further south now, in the beautiful town of Galle, which reminds me a little of Paraty. I´ll be showing more sketches soon.

January 23, 2015


 This is believed to be New Zealand's first indoor shopping mall, built between 1905 and 1907 in Waimate.  The original owner was William Quinn, Makikihi landowner and businessman, came from Northern Ireland,  it was converted to Arcadia Theatre between 1918 to 1920. It is an amazing building and I wish I could have seen it on the inside.

Kitchens and Cats

Guest post by Karin Schliehe Mark, from Reutlingen, Germany and Rivert, Spain

I am a children's book illustrator. I love this profession because it gives me the possibility to tell stories with pictures. I like the details in a picture because they are the important parts, the parts that can surprise you. I also love to make sketches everywhere I am. Cats and people are one of my main themes. I want my sketches to tell daily stories. I want the viewer to go into the picture.

My friend Silvia has a wonderful and colourful kitchen in Reutlingen/ Gmindersdorf. She is living there in an old workers settlement.

My cat Tommi is very dominant. He always does what he wants. For example, here you can see him sitting on the countertop before he jumps onto the fridge.

I spend a lot of the year in Rivert, a beautiful and historical place in the Spanish Pyrenees.

A friend of mine has an old farmhouse. Cats, dogs and people can live there much more freely than in the cities of Germany.

Mio is a good natured cat and my friend Silvia makes him do his gymnastic exercises. I like to colour my quick sketches with aquarell, so I can give some parts of the picture more dominance.

For me a kitchen is the most friendly and busy room of a house. With a cat or a dog, the atmosphere is perfect. Here is a sketch of the kitchen of Casa Mestre. The cat, who normally lives at a neighbor's house, is now sitting on our table.

Karin Schliehe Mark is a children's book illustrator and lives in Reutlingen, Germany. You can see more of her work here on flickr.

Sketching in suburbia (Didsbury, Manchester)

I’ve not been out drawing much at all over the last few weeks due to deadlines on a book I’m writing about architectural sketching. I didn’t really know what I signed up to last year when I agreed to write the loose sequel to James Hobbs’ wonderful book ‘Sketch Your World’ (which was an extremely hard act to follow!) as well as balancing my full-time job. Anyway it’s very nearly complete and published July 28th by North Light in the US. It’s listed on Amazon too albeit under James’ name!

So last weekend I braved the Manchester weather with the threat of imminent snow in suburban
Didsbury where I live. I couldn’t find anything that appealed to me to draw from the comfort of a cafe or bar so spent a chilly hour outside The Crown pub, drawing very quickly. Two views, one towards the petrol station and one looking into the village - both reflective of the miserable, grey and cold weather. Not much colour, I just picked up on red shop signage and traffic light to contrast with all the drab greyness, oh and the 'Shell' garage yellow. I was so glad to get home and warm up. I'm sketching tomorrow with a 'Saturday Club' school group, but thankfully indoors!

What's in a drawing? The strength of a sketch

Guest post by Liz Ackerley

I have been starting to consider what it means to me to sketch. I believe that sketching has a huge amount to offer and really does change my perception and understanding of what’s around me. Here, in a nutshell, are some of the things I see as benefits:

The process of sketching helps calm my mind and focus my attention: I often have difficulty focussing on one thing. But through sketching, I am able to just focus on the drawing, nothing else. It calms my mind and enables me to relax. I become completely absorbed in the drawing and the process, giving me valuable ‘time out’.

It enables development of a better awareness of the world around me and a deeper understanding of the places I live in and visit: Since becoming a member of the Manchester Urban Sketchers, I have developed a greater awareness and interest in the city I live in. The same applies when I visit other places. Through drawing, I am able to unpeel some of the physical layers and develop a better understanding of the place.

It provides me with a record and therefore a clearer memory of an experience: Recording visits and trips as sketches provides sketchbooks to revisit and remember. To draw, I have to study the place/the person/the location so much more than I would usually do. My notes accompanying a sketch provide valuable clues and dimension. Here are a couple of sketches from last year’s trip to Wales. I remember it all the better for the sketches!

It enables me to see the extraordinary in the ordinary: Even the most simplistic of everyday scenes have a depth, substance and interest when looked at carefully.

Sketching enables connection with like-minded people: This Cooperative building in Pendleton, Manchester is a good example. The Manchester Tour Guides posted a picture on social media and it prompted dialogue about the building, its history and encouraged me to go out and draw it!

Sketching gives me a voice and allows me to express my views of the world through a visual diary: There are lots of ways of expressing yourself, but I find drawing to be a great way of self-expression. Through the recording in sketchbooks, adding notes and other memorabilia I have a record of that time and place and of my ‘take’ on the scene.

Through regular practice, sketching enables me to develop my drawing skills and improve my artwork: It is a slow and continuous process but also one where progress is clearly noticeable as time passes-a better sense of perspective, more astute textural detail, a greater awareness of colour and shadow etc. Over time, my ability to see, and to tap into ‘The Right side of the brain’, continues to improve!

Liz Ackerley is a landscape architect and Urban Sketcher based on Manchester UK. She blogs about her sketching adventures here.

January 22, 2015


"…the first quality that is needed is Audacity."

Those words are from Winston Churchill - a man certainly known to have had audacity. But in this case, he wasn't speaking of politics or war. He was speaking of making paintings. At the age of 40, Churchill took up landscape painting and wrote an essay in 1932 entitled "Painting as a Pastime" to express his enthusiasm for it. So, before he urged his country to courageously face Nazis, he urged them to bravely face blank canvases.

He goes on to say, "The truth and beauty of line and form which by the slightest touch or twist of the brush a real artist imparts to every feature of his design must be founded on long, hard, persevering apprenticeship and a practice so habitual that it becomes instinctive. We must not be too ambitious. We cannot aspire to masterpieces. We may content ourselves with a joy ride in a paintbox. And for this Audacity is the only ticket."

I'm no Churchill, but I do understand the value of courageously working day after day on my drawings and paintings making slow and steady progress. Certainly facing setbacks. Anything I've accomplished has been through hours and hours and decades of effort. Churchill speaks in his essay about how humbling making art is. How right he is.

Making this ink wash drawing, for instance, was certainly humbling, though not in a serious way. Huddled under a roof's overhang on rainy day in Italy, a pigeon from above, pooped on me and my drawing…splat, splat. There on the left edge, that ghosty stain, is the remnant of the bombing campaign.

Pigeons can have Audacity too.

My favorite line from the essay: "The painter wanders and loiters contentedly from place to place, always on the lookout for some brilliant butterfly of a picture which can be caught and set up and carried safely home."

street in Harbiye, Istanbul

Harbiye, Istanbul

These houses remind me of the bright Turkish sweets, squeezed into a box and adjusted its forms to each other. From my trip to Istanbul. 

Syrian refugees on a street of Istanbul
Syrian refugees on a street.

by Olga Prudnikova

Persistence: The Only Technique That Matters

By Marc Taro Holmes in Corning NY, USA

I don't usually show my 'bad' sketches. I often draw on loose sheets of paper, and tear up bad ones right on the spot. So there's no evidence.

These happen to be in a sketchbook, and this was such a classic incident, I figured I'd post it for you.

Here we have what I'd consider to be a pretty average drawing. Not very structurally sound. It's stiff. And it doesn't even show what's going on.

I ran into this fellow doing a lampworking demonstration at the Corning Museum of Glass. He's probably there 9-5, five days a week, doing his thing. But I only had 20 minutes before I had to be somewhere.

I'd found him just as he ignited his jet of flame and started to melt glass. I'm a sucker for a jet of flame. I'll watch anything on fire.

So I dive right in aaaand - - - terrible sketch right?

Despite the interesting subject - it just didn't turn out.

We had driven two hours out of the way to see the other demo I was heading to - so, I wasn't interested in missing that. But this drawing was really bugging me. I had already taken five steps away when I thought 'No. Actually - I can't live with it".

So - turned around, did another one.

But, wouldn't you know it!

Still a pretty weak drawing.

I've become a lot more demanding about capturing a likeness in recent months. It's never going to be perfect - but this isn't even close.

Plus - I don't mind a messy drawing - I'm fine with a sketchy feeling. But I want open, floating lines that have some elegance. This guy looks hunched over - his shoulder is a mess.

Even though the clock was ticking, there was nothing to be done but try again.

I had to slow down, ignore the possibility of losing a good seat for the show, take my time, and really look at the guy. Find what is distinctive about him.

His shoulder length hair rolls down the back of his skull, and flips up around his neck. It's not just a bunch of lines - it's a flowing shape with weight. Smoothly falling, only then dissolving to brush work.

He had a bit of a heavy jaw (a little chubby - after all, he's a desk worker like me). His goatee was very specifically trimmed. Almost a Fu Manchu mustache - not just a generic scruff of hair. A beard always follows the jaw line. It's not pasted on - it reveals the shape of the jaw. Solving that leads me to his somewhat fleshy lips, and prominent - yet pointy - nose.

Now I have an actual person, not a generic human.

As well, the strange device spitting flame - it's like a little cannon on spindly legs jetting blue fire. That's a unique prop that is important to get right.Add in the glass rods and sculpted vials he's crafting - and now I have a real description of an artist doing lampwork. A useful document of the day, not just a scribbled person.

Hope that helps you feel good about any bad drawings that happen. Use them as an opportunity. Flip the page and keep going. Getting a bit better each time. Persistence is everything in this game.

January 20, 2015

Old Drinking Spots of North Beach

By Pete Scully in San Francisco, California
SF Ferry Building Panorama
Shortly before Christmas, I took the train down to San Francisco for a day of sketching and...what more is there? Sometimes it is just nice to go to a different yet familiar environment and draw stuff. Above is the Ferry building, with its Farmers Market in full flow. The last time I was here it was too rainy to sketch this scene, and I had to sketch inside, but this time I was able to capture the skyline and all the hustle and bustle. There is a stand inside the building which sells amazing cannoli filled with chocolate and 'bombolini' little doughnuts, filled with lemon cream. They are the best. Once I had wiped the filthy mess and sugar from my face, I wandered off to North Beach.
savoy tivoli, san francisco
This is the Savoy Tivoli on Grant Street. it wasn't open, but I have been there before and sketched jazz musicians. This has been here for more than a century, opening after the 1906 earthquake. There are some nice little shops around here, and I did a little last minute Christmas shopping. I also witnessed a very-nearly-a-fight argument in the street. One of those shouting matches in which everyone in the street suddenly stops and looks towards it en masse. Nothing happened, but it probably added a bit of drama to the afternoon.
the saloon, san francisco
Further downhill is The Saloon, which has a sign outside claiming it to be the oldest saloon in the city. It was once Wagner’s Beer Hall, named for its owner Ferdinand Wagner, an immigrant from Alsace, back in 1860. It survived the 1906 earthquake, the prohibition era (when it was the “Poodle Dog Cafe”), and went through a few names before settling on “The Saloon” in 1984. It’s historically a rough-and-ready part of the city this, not far from the old Barbary Coast, and some day I may pop in for a beer and some history, but on this day I sketched outside. I had some more drawings to go, and I didn’t want to stand around for too long so I kept it quick.
Columbus St panorama, SF
This here is my favourite part of the city, I think. I stood for just over an hour sketching Vesuvio's and City Lights Bookstore on Columbus Avenue until my hands hurt (and it started raining). At that point, I had to go into Vesuvio to shade in the windows, have a couple of pints of Anchor Steam, and of course do a sketch of the bar. I'll come back and do a big interior sketch of Vesuvio's one day because it is awesome, and a great place to end a very tiring day. I love San Francisco. 
Vesuvio, San Francisco

Ahoy! Pirates and Ships at the Pointe

By Marc Taro Holmes in Montreal, QC, CA

Who doesn't love those rascally swashbuckling pirates?

They're the embodiment of the 99%. Romanticized history. Escaped slaves giving what-for to the Empire that shanghaied them. It's the Robin Hood thing. With more robbing, and less giving to the poor. Unless you use the classic rationalization: " Well, I'm poor, so I'm keeping this booty".

I wanted to escape the winter with an afternoon of museum sketching - so poked my head into the relatively new Pirates or Privateers exhibit at the Pointe a Calliere Museum of Archaeology. I was actually there for an entirely different show, but I got distracted.

I'm about 25% through the book The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down, by Colin Woodard. Speaking as an author of my own book bearing a long subtitle - I wonder if he regretted that choice. But then again, it was my publisher's idea not mine, so the dislike of typing that might go double for Woodard.

But I digress.

This is really an exhibit for kids. There's not a lot to see. And a great deal of imagination is required to enjoy it. If you've seen it, and compare your memory with these drawings, you'll already know what I mean.

There's a pair of wooden ship models (I can never resist drawing a model ship), a few historical costumes on manikins, (also a go-to sketching thing for me) and otherwise it's a few flintlocks and sextants in glass cases, and a lot of cut-out graphics and interpretive signage of the dreaded 'interactive' variety - where the kids can push a button to hear some recorded voice acting.

The only real attraction is that the room is filled to bursting with a full size pirate ship!

As if the building was somehow built around the thing. It's perfectly planned for kids to run around, playing pretend pirates, while parents in turn pretend their kids might be getting an education. But I can't criticize. If you have a 5 year old, they'll probably dig this place. It can be their reward after you drag them through the grown up exhibits.

January 19, 2015

sketching building cleaning service men

By Byung Hwa Yoo in Seoul City Hall, Korea

Yesterday I visited the newly built building of Seoul City Hall. O went up to 9th floor where a small cafe was there for citizen or visitors after seeing the photos in gallery on 8th floor. Walking inside and looking down the streets through the lattice of the building I could find guys bound with ropes cleaning the round object in the building. I began to draw them though I didn't know when they would finish their works. It was near 4 pm. At first I kept drawing them. 

Below the building I could see two ice rinks on Seoul plaza which opened in winter season. 

A guy was holding rope to keep the worker keep the balance while being suspended. 

It was very hard to capture the exact pose because they move so fast. I could be heard from the young guy that they could not stay long in same spots and they move fast to next after finishing the spot. They wore black masks for health to prevent dusts while cleaning and carried a bucket on her waist.

pencil, A 4

I talked with this young man about the hard work. I asked him to take a photo of him.Thankfully he posed for me. Seeing the drawings he asked me why I drew them. I introduced our websites. He let me know his company "TOMATO 7" pointing it on his clothing. 

After I washed the drawings I had to wait for them to be dried. 

I visited the new city hall building for the first time though I sketched it outside several times. I was lucky to meet them nearly. In most cases I could look up them far passing the streets or in bus. The young guy told me that the cleaning work in city hall kept during a month and it would be ended tomorrow. I hope him to visit our website and wish to encourage them by posting these drawings. Thank all of you, brave men!

Winter in Montreal : Sketching from the Car

By Marc Taro Holmes in Montreal, QC, CA

[Random street view in Westmount, watercolor, approx 12x16", about 45 mins]

Went out painting the other day with Shari. We practiced our Great White North version of plein air painting - sketching from the car.

It's not the ideal circumstance by any means :) A little cramped for space. I had a small bottle of water in the gearshift drink holder, and my clipped on palette-and-board combo leaning on the passenger side dash. It was worse for Shari behind the steering wheel. You have to alternate the heat from blowing on your feet to clearing the window. And your views are chosen for you, depending on where you can find snowplowed parking space.

But, this is what you do in winter to get a chance for good conversation and urban sketching. Have to keep the brush in play, even in the grey months.

There are beautiful days when it's blue sky and the snow looks crisp and clean. But a lot of the time, the dominant colors in Montreal are warm grey. Overcast sky, wet sandstone, leafless trees and greeny-black pines. Lucky for me, I love these colors!

[Westmount City Hall, watercolor, approx 12x16"]

Wintertime drawings

 by Ekaterina khozatskaya in Saint-Petersburg, Russia

Captured some new places:

Coffee 22
Coffee 22

Coffee place with beautifull carpet, fragrant wall made from moss and tasty cakes (quince, ricotta, feijoa jam, tarragon ice-cream etc).


Israeli street-food cafe and bar. Very tasty!

 Винный Шкаф
Wine Cupboard 

Wine bar as you can tell from the name of the place.

Бар 8
Bar 8 

Wine in a former antique shop. Such a great room for a bar - inside the round tower at the corner of the building with tall windows, Villeroy & Boch old tiles.


Italian restaraunt. Sitting on the second floor, trying to capture a tremendous chandelier made of bottles and cans.

Две Башни
Two Towers bar

Not so new, but I dreamt about going there for a year and it's absolutely stunning! A bar and a moto club inside of 19th century  gas-holder. Such an acoustics there!

In Orlando, the Round Building's brise-soleil was carefully preserved.

by Thomas Thorspecken

On September 18th, I went down to the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts construction site to watch as the Round Buildings brise-soleil was removed. The round building was designed in 1963 by Orlando architects Bob Murphy and Frank Sheehy. The design was an exciting futuristic change from the usual cement and stucco monoliths that litter downtown. It sort of reminds me of Disney's Carousel of Progress which first appeared at the 1964 New York World's Fair.

The precast cement brise-soleil was designed to help shade the windows from the harsh Florida sun. The upper floors were added at a much later date. Commissioner Patty Sheehan was instrumental in the effort to have the unique brise-soleil preserved.  Each individual vertical section had to be reinforced by a steel structure to be sure it didn't break apart when being transported. They could then be clipped free of the connecting bolts. I sketched for two hours and only one section was carefully removed in that time. Each section was then loaded onto a truck and transported to a city storage yard. Ironically the round building looked like it belonged next to the modern design of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

As of January 5th while forty plus same-sex couples got married at City Hall across the street, the round building looked like it had been hit by multiple bunker busting bombs. The cement shell had been removed and the rest of the building was collapsing in on itself. Someone stopped to admire my sketch in progress. He was the son of Jack Jennings, the local contractor who first built the Round Building. He asked to take a photo of my sketch to remember his fathers legacy. Niles M. Schweitzer Fellows held a design competition to find creative ways to reuse the preserved brise-soleil. There were some incredibly creative designs, but there are no funds to make any of them a reality. It is harder to create than to destroy. Who knows how long these cement sentinels will remain hidden in the city's storage facility. I remains to be seen what the Next Round for these panels will be.