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July 31, 2015

Rencontre à Strasbourg!

By Pete Scully in Strasbourg, France

Rue Merciere and Strasbourg Cathedral

Last month, I had the great pleasure of visiting the city of Strasbourg, in Alsace, north-eastern France, for the third annual Urban Sketchers France 'Rencontre Nationale'. This was a weekend of pure sketching, wandering, meeting other urban sketchers, soaking in an amazing city. I had first visited Strasbourg twenty years ago on an exchange trip, and have been back a few times, but not in the past ten years, and not since I've been sketching like I do now. As someone obsessed with the magnificent and massive cathedral, and with timber-framed houses and riverside scenes, Strasbourg is the perfect city to sketch. Above, the famous view down the Rue Merciere towards the Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Strasbourg, which is a thousand years old this year (the first stone was laid in 1015 by Bishop Werner von Habsburg).

Petite France, Strasbourg

One of the most picturesque parts of the city is the area called Petite France, located where the river Ill breaks off to form the Grand Ile (the main island upon which old Strasbourg is built), splitting into several canals spanned by narrow footbridges and locks. I sat for a couple of hours and sketched the scene above, which shows the 16th century Maison des Tanneurs next to the timber-framed loveliness of Place Benjamin Zix, named for an artist from this area who worked during the Napoleonic era.

Petite France, Strasbourg

Petite France actually gets its name from a nickname for the disease syphilis, as this was the area where French soldiers who had fallen ill with the disease while fighting in Naples were housed and treated. Strasbourg (and Alsace in general) has a long history of going between France and Germany (or being part of the Holy Roman Empire), and syphilis was nicknamed the 'French disease' by the German-speaking population. Much of the architecture in Strasbourg feels very reminiscent of towns in Germany, but it's wrong to tie Strasbourg historically to one 'realm' or the other - it is historically as much French as German. The city literally lies at the crossroads of Europe - while the Romans called it Argentoratum, the name 'Strasbourg' meant the settlement at the roads (Strassburg in German, Strossburi in the local Alsatian language, a dialect of low Alemannic-German which is still widely spoken in the city today). In fact the historic Oaths of Strasbourg signed in the city in 842 provide possibly the earliest written evidence of the French language as distinct from the Latin found elsewhere in the former Roman empire. These oaths were written in Old French (or 'Romance' as they preferred), Old High German and Medieval Latin, and effectively formed a pact between two of the grandsons of Charlemagne, Charles the Bald (ruler of West Francia, roughly the western portion of modern France) and Louis the German (ruler of East Francia, roughly where most of modern Germany is today), against their elder brother Lothair (current Holy Roman Empire and ruler of middle Francia, roughly analogous to the modern Netherlands, Belgium, Burgundy, down to Provence and Northern Italy). Strasbourg is in the dead centre of the Carolingian empire, and being at the geographic centre of the original pre-expansion European Union, it was chosen as one of the capitals and the European Parliament was place here (and also in Brussels). Strasbourg has been a big deal for a long time.

Sketching by the Ill river, Strasbourg

Yet despite that strategic importance and its historic role as a European crossroads, it doesn't feel like a big, self-important overcrowded metropolis - quite the opposite. I've always liked the relative calmness of Strasbourg compared to the other European cities I've spent time in, even Aix. That tranquility is never more noticeable than down by the river. Strasbourg has a lot of access to waterways, located around several branches of the river Ill, and its eastern edge borders the banks of the Rhine, marking the modern frontier with Germany. I like it by the river Ill though, circling the Grand Ile, and down on the riverbank there are lots of spots to sit and read, or of course sketch. Above is the Pont St. Thomas, sketched from the Quai Finkwiller, while below is the Pont du Corbeau.

Pont du Corbeau

Also located on the river is the late nineteenth century Eglise St.Paul, where the river Ill is joined by the river Aar. I sketched this from the tram stop on one of the other bridges. While not as spectacular and old as the Cathedral, its location is beautiful. It was built during a period when Strasbourg was part of Imperial Germany, and was constructed for the Lutheran German soldiers garrisoned here.

Cafe Atlantico, Strasbourg

I was here for the Urban Sketchers France Rencontre, of course, the third annual meet-up of sketchers from all over France (and other neighbouring countries). There was a strong Belgian contingent, and it was great to see old sketching friend Gerard Michel and his nephew Fabien Denoel here, as well as meeting Dutch urban sketcher Rene Fijten for the first time. I also met some sketchers who I knew from previous Symposia such as Corinne Raes and AMrtine Kervagoret. Each evening the sketchers would congregate at the Cafe Atlantico, on the banks of the River Ill, to share each others sketchbooks and enjoy a beer. I don't know how many sketchers attended the Rencontre in total, but it was more than 150 I believe. I sketched part of the crowd above. On the Saturday evening, a large crowd of us went to the Brasserie de la Bourse to speak French (very badly in my case), swap sketchbooks and eat plentiful amounts of the local specialty, Tarte Flambée. I saw some amazing sketchbooks, notably those of Nicolas Doucedame, Vincent Desplanche, Sophie Navas, Caroline Manceau and of course Gerard Michel. Now I did try to sketch people, but after a day of architecture and rivers I was a bit rusty on the portraits, so I gave up using ink and made a portrait of Gerard using a more local material...

USk France rencontre 2015Gérard flambé!

I spent three days in total exploring and sketching Strasbourg at my own leisure, before heading back to London. It was great to reconnect with other sketchers, and also with a city I used to love but had almost forgotten. I spent time in old bookstores, eating delicious food, getting lost in narrow streets. I was even pleased to find that they had fire hydrants.

Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Strasbourg, and Maison KammerzellStrasbourg Hydrant

If you want to read even more about my visit, you can visit those posts on my sketchblog. For more information about Urban Sketchers France, visit their website (it is in French). The Rencontre was organized superbly by Lolo Wagner, and he has posted many photos from the event on Flickr.
Oh, and here is a map showing all the places I sketched...

July 30, 2015

Alvin Wong talks about a new instructional urban sketching book

Alvin Wong from Urban Sketchers Hong Kong talks about a new instructional urban sketching book that his team is coming up with. They are still developing it so there are going to be changes. But you can get a preview of what it looks and feels like in this video below

What's inside the Urban Sketchers Symposium Singapore Goodie Bag

One week after the Urban Sketchers Symposium has ended, I finally have the time to check out what's inside the goodie bag.

The list of sponsors are as follows:

- Parka

July 27, 2015

Homeless in Oxford: a reportage project

Interview with Jack Wheatley, by Marcia Milner-Brage

During the summer of 2014, having recently graduated with a degree in Illustration from Camberwell College of the Arts in London, Jack Wheatley did a three month Topolski Residency at the Topolski Studio in London. The focus was to “produce, distribute and exhibit” a set of reportage drawings “chronicling contemporary issues of the twenty-first century”. The inspiration for these residencies is the twentieth century reportage drawings of Feliks Topolski.

How did you chose the subject for your residency?

I had a free place to stay in Oxford in my sister’s student house so I commuted back and forth to London twice a week over the summer to attend the classes for the residency. So I spent most of my time in Oxford, which I explored on my bike. One thing that struck me was the large number of homeless people living in Oxford, many who looked like they had an interesting story to tell. I decided to make drawings and interviews of some homeless people the subject of my final drawings for the residency show.

.Reportage project - Homeless Oxford

How did you get started? What did you do to gain access and trust from these individuals? Was it difficult for them to agree to being drawn?

Reportage project - Homeless Oxford
The first person I drew.
It was hard to approach the first man to ask if I could draw and record him, as I had nothing to show him. He agreed to be drawn begrudgingly and asked if he could have some money for his effort which I agreed to. Once I had got so far he had a look at the drawing and immediately brightened up when he saw I had captured a good likeness of him. By the end of the drawing he was very pleased with how it looked and did not want any money. He told me where I could go to meet other homeless people. It was by a monument situated by one of the Oxford colleges. The monument is where some of Oxford’s homeless spend their evenings. I made all my drawings here in the evenings. After I had a number of drawings which I could show people, word got around that there was someone drawing their friends. After that, it was much easier to approach people and draw them.

Tell me how the words came about on the page.

I recorded the conversations I was having on my iPhone and later transcribed the recording onto the drawing. I had to pick and choose sections of the interview to write down.

Reportage project - Homeless Oxford

Some of the drawings are without words.

I had transcribed down more conversations but on separate pieces of paper, which have been lost whilst moving around. Even without words, this is one of my favorite drawings. I like the unusual angle I have drawn from, as I was sitting further up some steps. The man on the left I had met and drawn before. He told me how his friend on the right had tried to kill himself numerous times by overdosing and he had saved him every time.

Reportage project - Homeless Oxford

This lady was very friendly and we talked for a couple of hours about many things. Her dog, that helped her if she had an epileptic fit, had died recently, so she was in Oxford where she knew people on the street who could look out for her. When I was talking to someone else later they rolled their eyes and mentioned that she talked a great deal.

Reportage project - Homeless Oxford

Over what period of time did you do the drawings? How much time did you spend on a drawing? What size are they? Materials?

I spent about three weeks on all the drawings. I can’t say how long I spent on each drawing exactly but around the twenty minute mark. I drew in an A3 sketchpad with a solid graphite pencil, which was great for using on its side to put down large areas of tone quickly.

Reportage project - Homeless Oxford 14
The man on the left had a dog called Freddie who was a great shaggy hound and was well known in Oxford.
What did you hope to gain for them in doing these drawings?

I did not go into this project with the idea of helping anyone but more just to record stories and give people a voice that may not always be listened to through a form that was engaging: drawing. If the project resulted in someone being better off from it I would be delighted but I thought I would let that come naturally.

Reportage project - Homeless Oxford

This drawing is intriguing to me. What are the numbers at the top of the page? What’s SNOWY? What is a code man?

Reportage project - Homeless Oxford

I don’t really know the full story as he didn’t talk, but some of the others told me that he was a code breaker in the war and enjoyed code puzzles. He gave me the number so I could work out his name. Each number represents the position of a letter in the alphabet. His name was Snowy.

What is the takeaway that you have from this experience? What was most compelling for you about this project?

I found everything about the drawing and interviewing process very interesting as I had insight into a different world which most people don’t get to see. I was able to do this through drawing which broke down barriers which may have existed if I had been simply interviewing people or photographing people.

Reportage project - Homeless Oxford

Is there anything that you’d do differently?

I was limited for time so couldn’t create a really in depth investigation. Next time I do a project like this I will do more drawings of the same person so I have more pages to put text and get a more rounded story. There was a lot more I could have done, like put on a show in Oxford, but I was tight on time as I had to go back to Wales.

What came after your Topolski Residency and the Homeless in Oxford project? What are your plans for the future?

I am currently in my home county of Pembrokeshire (St. Davids, Wales), which is as far west as you can go. It is an extremely beautiful place and is steeped in history. It is a most incredible location perched on top of a cliff and is full of art. I draw regularly, though I have not made any new reportage work. I find my drawings from direct observation have more energy and vibrancy, you can’t dither and this shows in the energy of the marks made.

Gouache painting of the cliffs of Pembrokeshire in Wales

I am working in a hotel to save money for travelling. I plan on travelling for a long period of time; though I do not know exactly where I am going, I will start off in Nepal in September. I plan to make a blog specifically for my travel drawings. I hope to interview people as best I can.

I don't have a photograph of myself. Here's a self-portrait.

Scan 12
Jack Wheatley

Together we sketched Singapore - USk 6th Symposium

By Paul Wang, Singapore

Waterloo StreetPrincep Street Marina Bay Sands USKSingapore2015 feast 1
Last two weeks were just simply wonderful to reunite with many international sketching friends here in Singapore. So glad that they all came to support the 6th USk Symposium held here in Singapore. Together we spent many hours sketching, feasting on local food and sharing our lives. I also had the privilege to conduct the 'Wet & Wild Texture' activity for the symposium participants. Looking forward to the next symposium in Manchester.
  UntitledAwesome participants in my Wet & Wild with Texture class during our USK symposium. UntitledUntitled

Sketching with Virginia Hein

Today, I went sketching with Don Low, James Tan, Tony Chua and Virginia Hein.

The Urban Sketchers Symposium may be over but we are still sketching. Virginia Hein is still in Singapore and we went to Marina Bay, Gardens by the Bay and Chinatown for a whole day of sketching. Yes, it's tiring.

The huge white building is actually Fullerton Hotel. It's a five-star luxury hotel that used to be a General Post Office Building. The more popular area would be the Merlion Park that's just right in front across the street.


While the Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay felt rather artificial, they do look pretty spectacular.

The digital sketch is by me. The right is by Tony. Sketches in the bottom row are from Virginia Hein, Don Low and James Tan respectively.

Here's the video of what we did.

- Parka

48th World Wide SketchCrawl at Seoul City Hall

By Lee Yong-hwan in Seoul, Korea

 Seoul City Hall, pen and watercolor

Seoul Metropolitan Council across the road, pen and watercolor

entrance to the Seoul Citizens' Hall, pen and watercolor

Seoul Bookstore at Citizens' Hall, pen and watercolor

a moving performance at Citizens' Hall, pen and watercolor

Jazz Harmonica player, Jeon Jae Deok Band, pen and watercolor

Base player Jeong Yong Joon of Jeon Jae Deok Band, pen and watercolor

African dance player of FONIKE, sepia conte and watercolor
( 21 x 29.6cm  sketchbook )
Seoul City Hall is one of the most favorite place to sketch in downtown Seoul, so I posted some sketches on usk blog several times. The old city hall building and newly built city hall show not only combination of the architectural style, but historical change of the modern Seoul.
Last Saturday, for the 48th World Wide SketchCrawl, Seoul usk members met at the Seoul Citizens' Hall that is located on the basement floor of Seoul City Hall. The Citizens' Hall serves as a courtyard where Seoulites share their creativity and individuality while participating in various programs such as discussion meetings, workshops, seminars, concerts, exhibitions, special events, and wedding ceremonies.
The day was wet weather with the rainy season, so at first I sketched city hall buildings and streetscape outdoors between rains in the morning. After lunch, enjoying various kinds of performances at Citizens' Hall, I drew some colorful and fantastic sceneries with excitement.

July 26, 2015

Street Corner at Mission Beach, San Diego, California

By Lydia Velarde

This is a street corner across the street from the Big Dipper Roller Coaster in Mission Beach. The San Diego Urban Sketchers met to draw the roller coaster from the park but I chose this street corner because it was so colorful.

48° Sketchcrawl in Rome

48° Sketchcrawl

indoor view of the winebar

wine bar outdoor

lunching time

relaxing time..

The summer is hot in Rome, we decide to move into a little town (very little, there are only a square and a winebar) to take some fresh air.
We spent all the day sketching, talking and eating good food at Pratica di Mare, 50 minutes by car to Rome. A lovely day with the group!

From the eyes of a USK Symposium helper in Singapore

My friend James Tan has added a page of comics on his experience as a helper at the Urban Sketchers Symposium. Check it out at