November 25, 2015

Slim pickings

I’ve been following the progress of the pop-up saffron farm in the centre of Croydon over the last couple of months.  This is the scene recently when the volunteer pickers were harvesting the crop.  

November 24, 2015

Traveler in Tindouf. Local terminology

By Javier de Blas in Tindouf, Algeria
Between February and March 2015 I spent a month living with a Sahrawi family in their "haima" in the refugee camps of Tindouf. Every Tuesday, I'm posting here the notes and sketches I made about daily life in the camps.

Daira: City hall, municipality. Each wilaya consists of several daira that mark their boundaries, preserving spaces between each of them with a less density of construction.

Haima: home. In the nomadic Sahara, the tents are made with camel's hair and are covered
with cloth inside. In the camps today the "haimas" include daar and gaitun.

Darr: Adobe buildings intended for living rooms-bedrooms and kitchen. In a small annexed
building the bathroom and toilet are situated.

Gaitun/gaitoon: In English, reads "guytoon". A fabric tent, usually in front of the main gate of the daar. They replaced the traditional "haimas" used in the dessert. The gaitoon are made of canvas and they are accompanied by auxiliary adobe buildings, giving the whole group a new "haima"concept.

Melhfaa: Traditional female dress composed of a very long cloth that wraps around the body ending at the head, veil and headscarf. They come in many colors and combinations delighting the sight.

Daraa: Male attire like a cape with a bluish colour almost white with ochre ornaments. Sleeves covering the hands, but usually they roll them up, decorating the shoulders with graceful folds.

Taxi: Taxis here are private cars. They charge you 400DA  to take you to another wilaya. If the taxi is full, you pay 100DA. They are a source of income in a population where jobs are scarce and unstable.

Tzagait: A shrill sound that the women make moving the tongue.

Tindouf: An Algerian city that has grown with the development of refugee camps. At first it
was a military base without access to civilians. The increasing demand for goods within the
camps, has made it the capital of the region. The airport receives aid workers and visitors to the camps.

Wilaya: In Arabic, means city. The Sahrawi refugees have been putting names to their camps of the cities they had left when Morocco occupied Western Sahara.
The six wilaya of Tindouf camps are: L'Aaiun, Aussert, Rabouni, Budjour, Smara and Dakhla.
The wilayas have the appearance of immense villages, the houses are made of  adobe with one floor and generally with a patio and gaitun.

November 23, 2015

Baffled then Inspired at Tulca Contemporary Art Festival, Galway

by Róisín Curé in Galway

The Tulca Festival of Visual Arts takes place in Galway every November. it consists of two weeks of contemporary art exhibited in lots of venues throughout the city, from galleries to public buildings. You can find exhibits in University College Hospital and in the James Mitchell Geology Museum, as well as in more well-known gallery spaces around town like the Galway Arts Centre, Nuns' Island Theatre and more. The old Connacht Tribune print works on Market Street is the main gallery of the festival and was where the opening was held. On opening night I braved the cold, wind and and rain to attend, with the intention of sketching what I saw and soaking up the atmosphere.

The exhibition is called Seachange and aims to draw attention to climate change - and the concomitant disappearance of islands - using the mythology of Hy-Brasil as a motif. The exhibits all referred in some way to the fragility of our existence here on Earth. It's a sort of make-believe sunken island off the south-west coast of Ireland...but any more than that and I'm in unknown territory.

At first the crowd was quiet and well-behaved but the volume rose as the wine and beer began to flow. The dress code was Arty: floor-length black leather coats on some of the gentlemen, opaque black tights for the ladies, black trousers and jackets for nearly everyone. Scarves were worn with aplomb. A man lay down and did some impromptu yoga - you can just about make him out behind the group on the left. Another man struck a funny pose and asked me to draw him, which I did. I recruited a very pretty young lady with huge blue eyes and blonde curls to Urban Sketchers Galway: all she did, poor creature, was admire my sketching bag (plus she had had one or two by then) and I wasted no time in telling her how she should join us. 
Over the course of two days and in two of the venues I drew some of the exhibits. I must ask for tolerance in my interpretation: I was inclined to cynicism, and I'm on the opposite end of the art spectrum (I interpret nothing, they interpret everything), but I did try to get help with interpretation, from no less a personage than the curator. Nonetheless, I wasn't always the wiser.

First I drew something that looked like an umbrella covered in symbols of the euro, by a duo called Culturstruction. This the curator's explanation:
"It's a sort of superhero cape," she said. "A place of shelter and protection. The euro symbols refer to the collective assumption that that currency would save us."
Further reading on the web suggested that the piece was supposed to appear to levitate, a bit like a distant island, and indeed the suspension lines were so fine as to be invisible.

The next piece was about a nuclear holocaust, or more accurately, about a government leaflet that was circulated in the 1960s. This was part of a series of pieces called How Will I Know When To Go Indoors? and it was by Dennis McNulty and Ros Kavanagh. I didn't find out exactly what it meant, although I did try. To give you an idea of scale, it's about head-height at the top.

The next day I called into the Galway Arts Centre on Domick Street to see what was on offer there. I was very taken by the piece I drew, for no reason other than I liked the way the microphone hung over the rock. I liked the vintage, shiny look of the microphone. Naturally, the rock was silent - now. There was a recording of just such a rock type being the bottom of the sea at the Mid-Ocean Ridge in the Atlantic Ocean. The rumbling noise it made was very soothing. The piece (and its companion, a short piece of film) referred to the demise of another imaginary island called Nuuk Island. I looked it up and Nuuk is still part of Greenland, so I'm confused. The artist was called Anaïs Tondeur and the soundtrack to her film had some lovely, very French piano music. I was there two days after the Paris atrocity and I welled up for all things French...I lived in Paris many years ago and was in love with the place from the moment I arrived until the moment I left a year later. 

The woman you can see reading in the background was manning the desk. I asked her if she could help me interpret the exhibition. She did her best, and then recommended a piece back in Market Street. 
"It's called The Water Glossary," she said. "It's a collection of archaic words for weather, and water, and the sea and that kind of thing. The idea is that language is intimately connected with climate and psyche."
She was speaking my language, so to speak, as I am a dilettante linguist and have strongly-held but ill-informed opinions on that sort of thing. It got better.
"It takes the form of a booklet. It's displayed in the gallery and there's abench next to it - you can sit and read it," she said, "at least I think you can, and you can buy a copy too."
I went back to Market Street to the main gallery space and bought a copy of The Water Glossary, by Carol-Anne Connolly. In the absence of a drawing of the booklet (which wouldn't tell you much), here are some of the terms I read:
fiachaire: raven-watcher, weather forecaster
lá idir dá shíon: a day of unseasonably dry, warm and bright weather. In the middle of the wet harsh days of Irish winter, meaning day in between two weathers.
salachar báistí: drizzling mist or rain
síor-uisce: constant rain
maidhm báistí: cliudburst
scim: veil of haze or mist
criathróir: animal surefooted on boggy ground
slograch: sink hole, or a wet boggy corner of a field

These descriptive words about weather and rain and clouds conjure up so many snippets of my life, from early childhood onwards. Our climate stamps us with an indelible mark and it's one of the things we long for when we're far from home - at least, I do. Once, I leaned out of the window in the Wicklow hills, on a September night, having returned from a few weeks in the desert of Los Angeles. I wonder is there a word for the gentle hiss of rain accompanied by the distant bleating of sheep, with honeysuckle on the air?

I had no idea what to expect from Tulca 2015. I think some of my prejudices about contemporary art have fallen away. All it took was one or two pieces to make me think afresh about art - and to remind myself that there's room for all of us. 

Tulca Festival of Visual Arts is on until 29th November. Details from

Watercolor Sketching in the Redpath Museum

By Marc Taro Holmes in Montreal, QC

15Nov23_Redpath_Water Silhouettes_01

Yesterday was fourth Sunday sketching with our drawing group Urban Sketchers Montreal.

With the fall chill in the air, we returned to the Redpath Museum. Blog readers will know, I love a chance to draw from taxidermy animals and mounted skeletons. So this was just a relaxing day for me.

Here we have a Cormorant, Puffin and Egret, along with a common farmyard Chicken skeleton. I didn't note what kind of bird skull that was - it was only about an inch long - the drawing is bigger than the real thing.

This outing I felt like some free-sketching in brush and watercolor. It's a lot of fun taking on these delicate subjects with a direct brush drawing. When I do silhouettes, I always feel a kinship with Japanese sumi brush painting. Each rapid brush stroke combining to make an image. It's fun, and fast, making these economical little drawings. I did more talking than drawing this afternoon and still came away with a nice collection of sketches. If you take the time to make a painstaking drawing - well I don't think the results are any more interesting - and you'd only get half a drawing done in a day :)

15Nov23_Redpath_Water Silhouettes_02

The key to these water-sketches is making the silhouette in a single wet shape - so the colored strokes fuse. But also knowing when to simplify. I haven't counted every rib and vertebra on this ostrich skeleton. It's just the impression of the animal - not really a scientific record. One day I'd like to try for that - a perfect rendering - but that's not the spirit of an urban sketchers meet up, chatting with friends and sketching for enjoyment.

With these 'casual' sketches, I sometimes take a few tries at it. So they look easier than they sometimes are. This is the second of two Ostriches I did that day. My first try is sometimes a bit off - a bit out of proportion or tentative in the brushwork. So I'll just do it again while it's fresh in my mind. It always gets a little better the second or third time.

15Nov23_Redpath_Water Silhouettes_03

The thing I love about the Redpath is the Cabinet of Curiosity feeling of the place. Where else will you see dinosaur bones, Samurai armor, Egyptian mummies, sea shells, taxidermy animals, African musical instruments - all this in one small exhibition hall. It feels more like visiting a crazy uncle's mansion than going to a museum.

We skip December, due to the holidays, but I hope to see some of you at next year's Fourth Sunday Sketching. Just watch the USK : MTL blog for the location announcement.

Two sides of the same neighborhood

These homes are located in Bela Vista. It is very interesting to note the contrast between the rich and the poor part of this neighborhood known by its inhabitants as Bixiga.

November 22, 2015

Jeon Tae-il Bridge

by Byung Hwa Yoo, Seoul, Korea

bust of Jeon Tae-il on the Jeon Taeil-il bridge over Cheonggyecheon

copper plates on the bridge honoring him

motor bikes of merchants parked for minutes because of 'No Parking' and deficient parking area around the big market

Jeon Tae-il was born on 1948 at Daegu city. 
He came to Seoul on 1954 with his family. 
He left elementary school on the 4th grade for family reasons. 
He worked at Dongdaemun, Pyeonghwa markets for living since then.
He realized that the terribly poor working environment was caused by ignoring the labor code for the owner's extreme interest and government's industrial development policy of the former president, Park Jeong-hee.
He insisted that the code should be kept rightly.
His resistance was ignored to unemployment. 
He chose to burn himself to death at the age of 22 shouting 'We are not machines, enforce the labor code!' on Nov. 1970 holding the labor code commentary worn by repeated reading.
His death ignited recognition of the laborer's rights.
Film 'A Single Spark' was made on 1995.
Jeon Tae-il Foundation erected bust on the bridge on 2005 and kept asking the bridge's name after him.
Seoul city accepted the request on 2012 adding his name additionally to the original 'Beodeuldari'. It was the first case to name a bridge after a person in Seoul.

After seeing his statue he was on my mind over months. I went there twice to feel his grim death even a little. I might have passed if I had not tried to seek subject to draw. Watching demonstrations on streets these days I recall him thinking how he would feel and say and hope them to remember his death. 

The Trees of Ta Prohm, Cambodia

By Stephanie Bower, Seattle

Sketch of Ta Prohm, near Angkor Wat in Cambodia from this's a really iconic spot, as these amazing octupus-like trees literally grow out of the temple stones.  I loved this view because I could see the hindu carvings as well as look straight through the building to the jungle beyond.

It was super hot and humid, and my pencil work was much fainter than normal-- I eventually figured out it was because the high humidity caused the paper to be so damp, it was almost wet!


2016 Symposium in Manchester - Call for Programming

Call for Submissions
The 7th Urban Sketchers Symposium is in Manchester July 27-30, 2016. We are seeking proposals for Workshops, Activities, Demonstrations, and Lectures by Monday, December 21, 2015. Selected proposals will be announced in January. (You can see programming for the 2015 Symposium here.)

Workshops are presented as a more formal educational experience with a smaller group (a maximum of 15 participants), allowing for personal interaction with students. Instructors are expected to do a demonstration, have one-on-one interaction with participants, and check on them during their exercises.
  • Duration and Frequency: All workshops will be 3.5 hours and will be taught three times over the course of the Symposium
  • Capacity: Workshops provide focused instruction for up to 15 participants in each session.
  • Compensation: If your proposal is selected, you receive free registration for the Symposium and Urban Sketchers will pay for airfare and five nights of accommodation, at an average estimated value of $1,000. Local instructors who will not need to travel will receive an honorarium of US$800.00.

We are also seeking sketchers to lead sketching activities, present demonstrations of sketching technique or materials, and present lectures relating to sketching.
Activities are more casual sketching experiences, with a bigger group and less time than workshops. While you are expected to lead the group in learning about your approach, one-on-one teaching is not expected.
Demonstrations give you the opportunity to share a particular technique or approach with a group, and can allow time for participants to try the demo subject themselves as they sketch. One-on-one teaching is also not expected for demonstrations.
Lectures allow for you to share your own work, the work of other sketchers, sketching history, or another topic of interest or concern to fellow sketchers. A projector will be provided.
  • Duration and Frequency: Activities are scheduled for two hours; Demos and Lectures are scheduled for one hour. Activities/Demos/Lectures will repeat at least twice throughout the Symposium.
  • Capacity: Activities/Demos/Lectures will be open to a minimum of 20 participants. Please let us know the maximum number of participants that you can support, but that number might be dictated by the space available.
  • Compensation: If your proposal is selected, you will receive free registration for the Symposium and an honorarium of US$250.00.

We are aiming to increase the number of new and local instructors.
If you have not previously taught at the Symposium, we want to hear from you! We are aiming to include 20% new workshop instructors (as a comparison, at the 2015 Symposium, 9% of workshop instructors had not taught previously.)
We already get a good mix of new and of local Activity/Demo/Lecture leaders, and aim to continue.

Some details to keep in mind while drafting your proposal:
  • You can propose a Workshop or Activity for a specific spot or a general location. We recommend you to get to know the possible locations before you create your proposal, in order to match your idea with the city’s environment.
  • Workshop locations are subject to change and the organizers reserve the right to make the best arrangements and combinations of Workshops/Activities and locations.
  • Keep in mind the weather: The average temperature in July is 16°C/61°F, with higher afternoon temperatures (up to 20°C/68°F), and lower evening temperatures (12°C/54°F). July is typically dry.
  • You may propose multiple Workshops and Activities/Demos/Lectures.
  • All instructors and leaders will receive a list of participants for their Workshops/Activities/Demos/Lectures.
  • The official language of the Symposium is English.

  • All proposals must be emailed to
  • If you are proposing a Workshop, you must use this form and include sample sketches inside the proposal document (not as separate attachments).
  • If you are proposing an Activity, Demo, or Lecture, you must use this form and include sample sketches inside the proposal document (not as separate attachments).

All proposals are due by Monday, December 21, 2015 (11:59 p.m. GMT).

Paris, to be still standing...

by Marion Rivolier in Paris, France,

Place de la République, Paris, France.
Sorry, I have no words for now... Just think and meditate.

November 21, 2015

Summer Past Farms, Flinn Springs, San Diego, California

By Lydia Velarde
Summer Past Farms is a nursery, with a herb garden, fairy garden and gift shop. I sketched out back today where I found an old truck sitting on the lawn.

Night and day in Cádiz. From Calle Calderón de la Barca to the Alameda.

Drawings by Sharon Frost
Cádiz seems particularly timeless at night: the glow of the street lights and the various patterns of the balconies.

The beautiful Alameda, along the Bahia de Cádiz melds light and water.

The Alameda offers many spots to sit and read, or draw, or simply think about this city, almost surrounded by water.

Blog: Day Books

November 20, 2015

Eat local: Scavenge

By Marcia Milner-Brage from Cedar Falls, Iowa, USA

OK. I’m letting the secret out: the best apples that you can get anywhere are from the boulevard tree on 2nd Street. The car wash is on 1st on the same block. McDonald’s drive-thru exit is one block down 2nd.
Apple Tree on 2nd Street
Apple Tree on 2nd Street
Every year this tree is filled with apples. Rarely wormy. Oddly shaped. Very hard—they store along time. Nobody bothers to pick them, except us, even though they’re on public land. Remarkably, the fruit hangs on the tree into January. Only a few drop to the ground. When we walk by, we stand on tippy-toes to snitch a few and stuff our pockets. We’re like squirrels scavenging for winter.

Scavenged apples inside
Scavenged Apples Inside
This year we succumbed to their goodness: With a stepladder, my husband  hauled in over 20 pounds. They’re piled on platters all over the house. We’ll store some in our unheated garage. We cook them in our morning oatmeal and they don’t get mushy. I’ll make a pie or two for the holidays. We have no idea what kind of apple they are—Prairie Spy? Courtland? Haralson? Chieftain? Who knows? Some old-timey variety? The City planted many trees in this neighborhood in the 1980s. All we know is we’ve never tasted anything quite like them. And besides, nine blocks from our house, this is the ultimate of the movement to Eat Local.

See the lead-up sketch to the Apple Tree on 2nd (above) on Urban Sketchers Midwest. Because I couldn't find parking in the optimal spot, this was not the composition I really wanted.

November 19, 2015

Sketching beautiful bodies in Strasbourg

Guest post by Lolo Wagner in Strasbourg, France.
For about 15 years, I've been sketching the workshop of a vintage and classic car restorer. I discovered this amazing place by chance, making music in a studio located next door.

There is a wide variety of subjects to draw in Strasbourg but the climate is not always pleasant to sketch outdoors. It's quite convenient to go to this place, it's heated a little and sheltered from the weather during winter. The welcome has been very cordial and I'm a part of the team now.
Panoramic view
I always like sketching in the back shops, and discovering things rarely seen by the public. I also love old cars, so the combination is perfect!

The place has been remodeled several times since I've started to frequent it, and even though the cars remain for several years, they evolve slowly, the subjects changing each time.

Paint laboratory
Lister Jaguar
MG spéciale
Bugatti Type 37
I discovered USk about three years ago when a friend was published in Gabi's book, The Art of Urban Sketching. Since then I've organised sketchcrawls every three months and last year I became one of the director team members of USk France. I've also had the pleasure of organising this year's national meeting USk France, in Strasbourg, which was a great success with 200 participants. I could put faces on virtual friends!

Visit Urban Sketchers France or Flickr for more of Lolo's work.

Places: Fútbol, tapas, and all that jazz, in Cádiz.

Drawings by Sharon Frost.

Watching fútbol with the neighborhood in a bar on the beautiful Plaza Mina, donde las cervezas grandes son un litro! (where the large beers are a liter!)

Bodeguita de Plocia. Bar de tapas.
Pablo Martinez Flamenco Jazz Band a Aires de Cadiz.  Noche de lluvia (rainy night)  Música picante (hot music).

A Aires de Cádiz otra vez para jazz nordica, Cuarteto Scram.  (Jazz scene in Cádiz is quite varied, the audience dedicated.)

Blog:  Day Books

November 18, 2015


By Jenny Adam in Ischia, Italy

The IV° Naples Urban Sketching Workshop took place on Ischia Island, in and around Castello Aragonese. The tourist season was mostly over by mid October and the setting was superb- picturesque, peaceful but not too smooth. The family owned castle was a treasure, with its own garden, labyrinthic paths and beautiful views. Simo organized the event, did a lovely workshop,as did Caroline Peyron and Kelly Medford.

The castle still houses the studio of Gabriele Mattera, the castle owner/painter. It has been left in its original condition since Mattera´s death ten years ago. Caroline Peyron encouraged us to do collage in her workshop and we tried to recreate the shapes and colours in the oil paintings standing in his atelier.
 I was fascinated by the huge pile of brushes that was left behind. Nowadays his children continue to manage the Castle, which is a tourist attraction and houses cafés, a restaurant and a hotel.