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

January 26, 2015

Tip Top Liquors, Time Delicatessen, Libby's, Western Appliance and the Motel Capri

Businesses don't come with quaint names like that anymore.

Tip Top Liquors, San Jose. A yelp review claims this: "Hidden behind a modest and grimy exterior is a treasure trove for craft beer lovers." Sketched in the evening light, when even the grimiest of storefronts has a golden glow.

The sign for Time Delicatessen, which has been around since 1950 is (what else?) a giant clock with "Time" written over it in a Brush-script style font. I hear they make a mean Tri-Tip sandwich. Next time I am around ( this neighborhood has ton of vintage signs I still need to go sketch) I must make time for a sandwich-break.

Water tower for Libby's, which in 1922 was the world largest cannery. Painted to resemble a giant fruit cocktail can, it now sits in a little patch of manicured lawn surrounded by high tech companies in Sunnyvale, California. A quiet reminder of the days when this land was all orchards.

A gigantic sign for Western Appliance . The top of the sign used to have three flashing lights but they had to be taken down because they confused pilots landing planes at the nearby San Jose airport.

And the forlorn-looking Motel Capri sign on historic El Camino Real.

I'm having way too much fun adding to my vintage sign collection.

You wait for one... then 60 come along at once

Last year as part of the ‘Year of the Bus’ celebrations, Transport for London commissioned some public art in the form of small versions of the New Routemaster, which were decorated by a variety of artists, then placed around different venues in  London to create walking trails for tourists and locals alike.  At the weekend all the bus sculptures were gathered together at the Olympic Park as part of a Family Fun event before being sent to a charity auction. 

Also on display were a full size New Routemaster and the ‘Battle Bus’, one of only 5 remaining from the First World War, taken from the streets of London, stripped of it’s red and cream livery  and used as a troop carrier.  Amazingly it is still in working condition!  
Despite the cold, it was great to sketch in the winter sunshine sitting amongst the great structures built for the Olympic Games, including the stunning Aquatics Centre designed by Dame Zaha Hadid.

Summer in the middle of January

by Marina Grechanik, in Herzliya, Israel

Last weekend we had one of those perfect winter weekends - blue skies with airy clouds and a gentle winter sun, that won't burn you, like in its cruel sister in summer would.
On Saturday I felt that the best place to sense this summer in the middle of the winter was on the beach, so we went there.
We bought ice cream and sat down on the grass, beside the path leading to the beach. People passed up and down, I was trying to capture them, passing in front of me, feeling that I'm looking at a very dynamic play, with extremely talented actors ;)

January 25, 2015

Punctuating my everyday with sketches

Guest post by Nina Khashchina

My story is very similar to many people around me: busy parent, employee, friend, runner... I sketch daily because it gives me a tiny pause in my life. I make sure to keep those sketches in chronological order and use them to savor that pause.

It is impossible to carry with me all the drawing materials I like to use and try. I LOVE good paper and quality watercolors and can tell you a lot about my love for gouache or color pencils but I rarely have the time for all of that. So I made a deal with myself: I put something to draw on and something to draw with in every single bag, backpack and waist pouch I carry. There is even a tiny "set" in my wallet (folded paper and pocket pen) and in my car. And I did the same around the house - every place where I might find myself - checking homework or watching a movie or waiting for someone to put shoes on. And then I draw with the first thing that I pull out of the bag. I draw anything that's in front of me.

I end up with a whole stack of sketches. Not all of them work. And it's a whole stack of the same things drawn ad nauseam: same homework, same karate class, same school pickup, same pool practice, library kids, running shoes, same rooftops, same dental chair, same parents at the same city park, same kids party etc. There is only one rule: I do my best to date things.

At the end of every day (sometimes at the end of the week) I go through all these sketches and pick those that I can say something about, those that I remember. I cut them out (of larger paper or out of the tiny sketchbook I made with folded piece of paper or just use whole card - this is my new tool - a stack of nice thick index cards in every pocket). Then I write a few additional notes if I remember more. Sometimes I might use a different color pen to add another line or correct a pose. Then I glue or tape all these in my normal sketchbook, the normal sketchbook being the one organized chronologically - the one I love and draw in when I have a bit of more "real sketching time".

This sketchbook is bulging and untidy and has many wavy pages - I can flip a few pages and travel in time. It's a bit repetitive as many things appear over and over - but I like to see these as a way to track my progress, a way to come back to working on the same thing many times. Catching poses quickly. Finding a way to draw a recognizable face with three lines. Finding new wrinkles on my hand or my shoe. I also get to try different materials (sooner or later I will be at the karate class with highlighters or at the airport with the water soluble graphite stick and will get to play with it).

Nina Khashchina is a Palo Alto, California based graphic designer. You can follow her daily adventures in sketching here on flickr

Amici Park, Little Italy, San Diego

By Lydia Velarde

Amici Park is located in Little Italy, it features Bocci ball courts, a small amphitheater and a large green playing field. My sketch subject was one of the nice little houses surrounding the park.

old staircase in Berlin

Old staircase, Berlin

Old staircase of the exhibition park ULAP, heavily overgrown, goes down from Alt-Moabit straße, right at the central railway station in Berlin (Hauptbahnhof).

by Olga Prudnikova

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