September 22, 2014

Afraid of Colour? (or should that be 'Afraid of Water'?)

I'd like to tell you a bit about the Afraid of Colour? sketching workshops I ran for the Symposium, especially for those who weren't in Paraty, as we had rather more drama than anticipated... 

Even before I left the UK, the weather forecasters were saying that my first and main teaching day was going to be dreadful weather. They predicted heavy rain. I had one 3.5 hour workshop first thing and another all afternoon. My allocated spot was lovely - a grassy area by the harbour, with colourful boats...

...and of course, the lovely houses we found everywhere, with brightly coloured windows and doors. I guided my group there on Thursday morning and found a nice shady spot under a tree, where I briefed them in and did a very quick demo of simple colour-before-line sketch (you can read more about the specific exercises of the workshop in my post about the dry-run I did in Sheffield): 

People had just got settled and begun painting when it started - huge raindrops. One, two... then, all at once, a deluge!  

We were SO lucky. I was one of the few instructors whose workshop spot had a rain bolt-hole. There was a lot of flapping and squealing and scrabbling around, gathering up gear, but we all made it under the cover of the empty fish-market before any damage was done.

It was a bit grubby, but housed us all easily and we had views out, so that was fine.

All around us the rain came down and thunder boomed above our heads. It all added a certain drama and we had a great time. It was a lovely group. The 3 different colour exercises went well and everyone one worked really hard. I briefed in the last one with a slightly longer demo piece:

I had been concerned about having enough time, but my spot was so close to the Casa da Cultura that I even had a little time left over at the end of the workshop and so did a quick demo of how to use the watercolour pencils, by drawing Ievgen:

Then we took this lovely group shot. Big smiles all round. Excellent.

After lunch, I met group number 2 back at the Casa de Cultura. But as soon as we got outside, we realised we had a problem. Though my spot was just around the corner, there was no crossing the road - it was like Venice!

Now, we had already noticed that Paraty has an unusual relationship with the tides. The streets are all created from huge stones and dip in the middle, enabling the sea to flow in and out. This would originally have been a great way to clean the streets twice daily.

This is more how it usually looks at high tide, an easy paddle, with crossing places at high points: 

But that day there was a freak, extra-high tide and things went a bit crazy. All the instructors were in the same boat, trailing crocodiles of sketchers down the narrow pavements, trying to find a way to get to where they needed to be:

It took my group about 15 minutes and in the end involved us walking along the top of a narrow harbour wall, an inch under-water in places, with sea either side! The sky was about to burst again, so we headed back to the fish market. I did my quickie demo again, then people got painting. A few worked out on the grass, but we suddenly realised: the water was still rising and they were now cut off from the rest of us!

They paddled through to join us before things got worse but, 5 minutes later, we saw it was STILL rising and was about to inundate the floor of the fish market. So the whole group had to paddle back out onto the grass again, where we finished the workshop on our own island. Some people were fretting about ever getting back to civilisation! It was all a bit distracting, but I soldiered on, knowing the tide would go back out eventually. Luckily it wasn't raining, but it was now really windy and we were all freezing (dressed for Brazil, not Sheffield!!).

We managed to do all the exercises, despite everything (although I completely forgot to take photos) but, as soon as we were able, we got ourselves into a cafe to warm up. It was a slightly ragged end to the workshop, but quite an experience all round. 

Luckily my Saturday morning slot was normal - nice, sunny, Brazil weather, no floods. 

It was so lovely to sit on the grass to do my demo:

I had some really lovely feedback from people about the workshop and the handouts I'd created so, despite a certain amount of interesting adversity, in the end I think it was all a big success. Phew. 

Here I am with my 'sunshine' group: 

Thanks to everyone who opted for my workshop (I always worry slightly that nobody will...). I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did and picked up at least something from my package of colour tips. I miss you all!

September 21, 2014

Liège, the last restaurant...

After for sketching days, after the opening of the the exhibition at the "Théâtre de Liège", the last restaurant together. Drawings by Emdé, Tazab, Joel Guevara and Rolf Schroeter.
With Lapin, Simonetta, Rolf Schroeter, Martine Kervagoret, Corinne Raes, Emdé, Joël, Rene Fijten, Fabien Denoël, Miguel Herranz, Roberta... and some others...

The Boats of Paraty, Rio de janeiro, Brazil

Historic Paraty  is a town of whitewashed homes and churches. Only the bright doors and windows and the terracotta roofs add spots of color. But the boats of Paraty are a different story. They are unabashedly colorful with equally colorful names. Painting those boats made me wish I had pepto bismol pink and bright baby blue in my palette. No amount of undiluted pigment could capture those colors. That doesn’t mean I didn’t try. Here are a few bright boats from my collection:

And some 'quieter' ones:

More from amazing Paraty, Brazil, coming soon. Or, all my sketches from my trip ( as I post them) here on flickr.

My Summer Location Drawing Class at AAU, San Francisco (Pt 9: the cable car museum)

Class starts at 8:30 and the museum doesn't open until ten, so we sketched the Nob Hill neighborhood outside for a while, and I set up across the street to draw this view of the San Francisco Cable Car Museum itself. Every so often, an actual cable car would come by and pause there for a few minutes before moving on, so what you see drawn here is actually a composite of three or four cars, taking details from each one as they went by. You can see some of my students in the view also sketching. Ink and brushpen drawn onsite with digital color added later.

Cable Cars are an iconic feature of San Francisco, often packed with tourists hanging out the sides as they go up and down the hilly streets. Of twenty-three cable lines established between 1873 and 1890, three remain today. The Cable Car Museum has historical exhibits and even whole cable cars on display, but its main feature and heart is the working floor of the Power House where these mighty spinning wheels drive the haulage cables that the cars grip as they wind their way through town. The names of the lines are written on the beam overhead: Hyde, California, and Mason. You can hear the underground cables rattle and hum with this energy as you cross the San Francisco streets all along these routes. Next: the Presidio.

D.C.'s Capitol Mall: The Ultimate Melting Pot

I was fortunate to be able to return to Washington D.C. this weekend for a brief but productive meeting at national headquarters of the American Society of Landscape Architects.  I timed my flight arrival to give me an hour or two of late afternoon sketching time before business began.  I was in awe of the number of people promenading on The Mall, where one could hear several languages at once as strollers passed my park bench.  Even with music from an antique carousel in front of the Smithsonian "Castle" filling the air, the majestic setting and the throngs of pilgrims to the site are awe-inspiring.

September 20, 2014

Old Cars and Surf Music at the Beach

The Wavecrest Woodie Fest was held at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas today. These are old cars from the 40s, 50's and on up. The cars are called Woodies because they have wood on the sides of them Many of the woodies were used to haul surfboards to the beach. This was the location of the San Diego Urban Sketchers Meetup and my sketching today.

We drew the cars while listening to surf tunes and oldies coming from the stage area.

Last ride in Buenos Aires and then, September: back to Brooklyn.

The 37 bus to Avellaneda, to go to the Cantina de Norbert
Flight 592, LANchile, Santiago to JFK.  Listening to Bill Evans, selecting movies.

My studio in Brooklyn: Through the windows: the end of summer. It's still September 11.

Sharon Frost. Blog: DayBooks

September 19, 2014

USK Flickr Digest 9/13- 9/19/2014

There is currently an unbridled intensity on USK Flickr that really requires attention. With a surge of impressive quality postings to the Flickr group, I would like to feature some of each weeks submissions. One of the interesting things about Flickr is the ability to scroll through the postings while comparing and contrasting hundreds of sketches all at once. The works can become great reminders of the potential for new formal explorations or technical ideas not being fully utilized. This week I was struck by the use of pattern in the images submitted, in particular the potential for patterns to activate the page and enhance the power of the image. Here are three of the many that stood out for their use of pattern.

Matt Wooding, Part of my commute, England  

Juan Maria, Vuelta al cole en Madrid, Spain

Take a few minutes and to look for that element or principle of art that can open new doors for your own work by checking in to USk Flickr here

Working with a Limited Color Palette at the 2014 Urban Sketchers Brazil Workshop

We are just back from the 2014 Urban Sketchers symposium in Paraty Brazil. I can’t begin to explain how great it was without waxing philosophical.

When you’re traveling, every view is fresh. The excitement of exploration gets into your sketches. Your work is tuned up by the heightened perception and the opportunity to sketch without interruption, working one day into the next, without life to get in the way.

Add to this, a group of like-minded artists, who are equally driven to be up early and out late, always on the move, sketching constantly. There's nothing more motivating, more fun, or more useful for an artist.


At the same time, the big challenge with travel sketching, is that it can't last. You're only there for a short time.  Every decision to stop and draw something is of course preventing you from seeing another view. You can only be in one place at a time. Eventually you’ve made all the choices time allowed, and in doing that given up infinite other possibilities.

This can drive you crazy if you let it. Can lead to a mentality of rushing around with your hair on fire, sketching madly. Trust me, this is only made worse if your wife is a great photographer. You see so many amazing things you wished you’d noticed at the time.

I did this running-around-like-mad thing last year in Barcelona, and came home with 200 pages of pencil drawings, but not a single painting to show for it. I had plans for what I’d do with all those drawings once I got home - but life being the way it is, I haven’t really gone back to revisit them.

My strategy this year was to pack light and work smaller than usual, so I’d be as flexible as possible - but to paint in color the whole time, even for the quickest of sketches.


The first few days in Sao Paulo were a high speed tour with correspondent Liz Steel of Australia and her friend Claudia, who is a Paulista currently living in Sydney. We took advantage of Claudia, having her drive us all over the city, from sketching spot to spot.

I’ve toured with Liz before, and I’m well aware that she’s much faster than I am. When you’re working with someone else, I find you naturally gravitate to a similar pace. Nobody wants to be holding up the others, or wandering around subtly pressuring them to wrap it up. So your either led by the fastest or the slowest person, depending on who’s more accommodating that day :)


I’d planned ahead, bringing a new watercolor travel set with a limited palette selected for Sao Paulo.

My colors consisted of a set of warm grayed darks (all from Daniel Smith) for the urban tropical setting (bloodstone genuine, piemonite genuine and hematite burnt scarlet).

These were tied into a powerful yellow orange pigment (quinacridone deep gold) that represented the sandstone color of the local architecture, and a minty blue-green (fuchsite genuine) the exact color of copper roofs.

Besides this, a cool-yet-strong sky blue (mayan blue) which I hardly used at all due to overcast winter skies, and my new favorite cold-green dark (perylene green) for the palms and tropical trees.


This very minimal set of 7 pigments, were all brand new to me (excepting the perylene green). I pulled them off the rack in a last minute impulse buy a few days before leaving. Colors turned out to be bang-on (to my eye). It was a bit of a gamble, might have ended up on the street with entirely the wrong shades, but my instincts turned out fine.


There’s one case where this palette let me down, this mission style church was in fact a coral pink.Well, to be less flattering I’d have to say pepto-bismol is what came to mind. Having only the limited palette actually improved things in this case.


The result of my experiment is this small sketchbook of Sao Paulo, with a consistent matching mood from page to page. It’s another example of less is more. Having fewer pigments to mix made for faster sketching, and the overall color scheme sets a shared tone for the sketchbook that I quite enjoy looking back on.

If you like, you can head on over to my personal blog for a photo set of Sao Paulo,

A Day in Paraty: Building up to the Symposium

Before the symposium, I had a full day to get my bearings in Paraty, so I decided to use one of the concertina sketchbooks I made recently to record my day and what I could see as I walked around.

I started with the Santa Rita (nicknamed 'Liz's Church', after Liz Steel of course, because it was her workshop spot). I was drawing alongside many fellow sketchers and one of them crept into shot - that's Flavio Ricardo, looking like an ant:

Then I went off to explore on my own. Round the corner was my own workshop spot, which included the fish market. Round the back was a view of the sea, but the tide was out and instead I watched these turkey vultures digging fish scraps from the mud:

At lunchtime, Murilo Romiero introduced a group of us to a brilliant little self-service place, where you paid by the weight of food eaten - a rather novel and very handy idea. We ate lunch there almost every day from then on, with more and more sketchers joining us each time until, on the last day, you couldn't move for urban sketchers and Murilo got his meal for free!

In the afternoon, I sat on a doorstep to draw this wonderful church across the Praca da Matriz, half-obscured by trees dripping with vines and covered in epiphytes. Unfortunately for me, the woman in the house behind me was doing her cleaning... 

I was suddenly enveloped in a cloud of dust and muck that she swept through a gap under her front door. Bits in my eyes, bits in my mouth... it also filled my paint palette. And then, just a few minutes later, I was sprayed with water from a passing van's windscreen washer. A rather eventful half hour! 

There were quite a few work-horses in Paraty. Some were pulling carts, but this one was for tourists, with a trap: 

In the evening we did our 'drink and draw' sessions, first in a little bar and then at a restaurant. I ended up doing more chatting than drawing, but managed these:

September 18, 2014

Soar Alba

Stall for Yes Scotland

It's been exciting times here, with the votes for Scotland's independence happening today and soon to close as I type this in the next hour or so. Recently our city, towns and villages have been busy with volunteers campaigning in an effort to sway people's opinions, apparantly 93% of the Scottish electorate have registered to vote so everyone is involved in this huge decision for the future.

Poll Station - Scotland's referendum

Here's a view of my local polling station in Gourock. The atmosphere was surprisingly quiet and respectful at the entrance - a few No Campaigners on the left and Yes on the right. As I was sitting there drawing, people would give a little nod to either side before going their way.

Feels great to contribute.

"Whatever the outcome of this exciting day,
we need to make this collection of islands a better one.

Peace & love to all the ayes & naws!"

- quote by illustrator Jen Collins