8th Urban Sketchers Symposium - Chicago

Sunday, August 13, 2017

OK Chicago, you won me over this time. Sort of.

Previously I'd see it and think, meh. Yes, it has architecture with a capital A, and a lakefront that pretends to be a seafront. Somehow I didn't gel with it. Well, maybe it was the symposium magic, or because we stayed in a more interesting area, but I could actually see myself visiting again by choice.

25 July
We landed at Midway around lunchtime. My first sketch was on the CTA Orange Line train we took to get to the city. And I got my first glimpse of Willis Tower.

En route to Chicago - CTA

We dropped our bags at the Hotel Blake and had lunch.

From Hotel Blake, Chicago

Then it was time to meet Anna, my editor from Craftsy! (Yes, I'm doing a project with them -- more on that in a later post.) We headed to Navy Pier so I could practice talking about my techniques while drawing on demand. Note: It's hard!

Navy Pier, Chicago

That was followed by dinner and the highlight of the trip: seeing "Hamilton" at the PrivateBank Theatre. The show was amazing.

26 July

After breakfast and a wander around the hotel, Anna and I were off to Wicker Park, where I drew at a cafe and practiced talk-and-draw some more before lunch at Big Star (mmm, tacos de papas con rajas).

In Wicker Park, Chicago

The symposium began with a sketchwalk at the Art Institute gardens, where I did a few quick drawings.

In this one, I tried out the fat Lyra graphite crayons I had received in the goodie bag.

Sketchwalk, Art Institute Gardens, Chicago

Statue in Art Institute garden

I met M. at Metropolitan Barbershop and sketched him getting a shave. My god, if only I could have recorded the conversation! As M. would say, it would have been a YouTube sensation. It was all, "Here's why you should drop everything and watch Game of Thrones," interspersed with "here's why it's absolutely nauseating and like a trainwreck you can't tear your eyes away from" but "OMG you just. have. to. watch. it. is. so. good."

I just cannot do it justice. Watching the barber and his clients talk about it was probably better than anything on TV. And I really have no desire to watch GoT now.

At Metropolitan Barber Shop, Chicago

The day ended with the official start to the symposium: founder Gabi Campanario's keynote address for Urban Sketchers' 10th anniversary celebration.

Gabi Campanario keynote at Opening Reception of USk Chicago 2017

27 July

The first workshop I took was James Richards' "The Grand Illusion." He explained his approach to breaking down the depth of a scene by isolating the foreground, middleground, and background.

Near Art Institute, Chicago

Unfortunately I used a watersoluble pencil to draw this one, so it bled into the color.

View of the el from Art Institute, Chicago

After the workshop, I went to the Art Institute to look around and have lunch. I did some super fast sketches from the Nichols Bridgeway.

From the Art Institute's Nichols Bridgeway, Chicago

While waiting for people to assemble for the afternoon demo, I did a quick sketch of the view from Congress Plaza.

View from Congress Plaza N, Chicago

The demo I attended was Uma Kelkar's -- she's a brilliant watercolorist, and she wowed us with her sweeping, brooding rendering of a scene she'd photographed in Hawaii. I did a quick brush pen sketch of her as she painted.

Uma Kelkar demo at symposium

Dinner that evening was at Fat Rice near Logan Square. We waited for our table a few doors down at their cocktail lounge. Named "The Ladies Room," it has a Macau opium den vibe, so I just had to sketch it.

The Ladies' Room at Fat Rice, Chicago

Do you see the bit of collage I added? I'd brought along some vintage calendar pages, and they were perfect for this drawing.

28 July

My morning workshop was near the Chicago Board of Trade with L K Bing, who uses watersoluble marker and watercolor and other media to create light washed scenes.

I wasn't very happy with my attempt, so here's a crop of my sketch.

Chicago Board of Trade

The afternoon workshop with Pat Southern Pearce was a mix of lettering and roofline shapes. I enjoyed sketching on toned paper (why don't I do this more often?) and did some quick drawings from the window of the American Academy of Art building where the class was held.

View from American Academy of Art, Chicago

There happened to be a protest march on the street below, so I got that in too.

Protest march, Chicago

29 July

My last workshop was with Rob Sketcherman, a digital pro. He showed us tips and tricks for using Procreate on the iPad. So fun -- and, the iPad can go into museums where wet media are often forbidden. Nice! I practiced during the class and then used Procreate to sketch our final gathering in the afternoon, where all 500+ sketchers posed for a group photo!

Practice sketch with Procreate

Final USk group sketchwalk at Logan Monument, Chicago

Another year, another symposium. Next time in ... Porto, Portugal!


Prep for USk Chicago 2017

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Counting down to the start of this year's Urban Sketchers Symposium! This year it's in Chicago, and here's what I'm bringing along.

USk Chicago 2017 - symposium prep

This will be my seventh symposium - missed the first one but have been to every single one since. This year, I get to sketch in Chicago AND see "Hamilton" - squee!

I've gotten the symposium packing mostly down to a science. Basically, I copy the materials lists from all the workshops I'm taking into one document and then go through my studio pulling items. Then I edit. I add some of my own favorite supplies. Then I edit some more.

This year's haul includes:

  • Hahnemuehle sketchbook and watercolor block
  • Moleskine watercolor sketchbook
  • A few toned paper sketchbooks, for Pat Southern Pearce's workshop
  • Several palettes with watercolor half pans, mostly filled with tube paints
  • Neocolor II crayons
  • Brushes, waterbrushes
  • Nalgene bottles and empty Talenti gelato container for water
  • A tube of white gouache
  • Fountain pens, fineliners including white, silver & gold, and some watercolor pencils, pencil sharpener
  • Pastel sticks in gray, white, and cadmium orange, for LK Bing's workshop
  • An iPad Air 2 and Adonit Pixel stylus, for Rob Sketcherman's workshop
Of course, I'll also take along a waterproof tote/backpack, an ammo belt (for pens!) a folding stool, hat, water bottle, etc.

What are you packing?

Sunday drive

Escaping the Heat in SF

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Unlike in Connecticut, there's barely any highway traffic here on weekends. So when our part of the South Bay gets toasty, it's nice to know we're just an hour away from lovely cool temps in San Francisco.

Last weekend we explored Noe Valley and Bernal Heights. A comfy 70 degrees, with lovely architecture and boutiques and bookshops and no hordes of tourists in sight - heaven.

Noe Valley

Bernal Heights SF


Quick Captures

Sunday, July 23, 2017

I've been working on speedy sketches of all kinds of subjects for an upcoming project.

Here's one from a recent Content Magazine Lab where we built insect hotels (little habitats for insects in a garden) at Bay Maples, a company that installs sustainable residential greywater systems. Basically, they enable you to use your laundry water to keep your garden green.

Content Lab Wood Water

Here's one that I did while on the move, during California Walks' downtown San Jose art tour. I learned so much during the nearly two-mile walk! Had no idea there was so much art hidden in plain sight on the streets I pass nearly every day.

SJ Art Walk

I sketched M. putting insulation around our air conditioning in/out ducts.

M working on AC 2

M working on AC 1

And finally, a quick capture while M. was putting gas in the car near our house.

Parking lot sketch


Mystic Holiday

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Charles W Morgan Mystic

M. and I surprised my father-in-law for his birthday by showing up at the house in Mystic, CT, for the Fourth of July holiday. During our stay, we walked downtown, ate at some favorite restaurants, and got in a boat ride. I also got to sketch the whaleship Charles W. Morgan again (above) at Mystic Seaport.

One morning, we went out to breakfast at M Bar, a place that used to be an old gas station. The food was fantastic.

M Bar Mystic

I love the scenic roads around Mystic and Westerly, RI, especially the ones with old stone walls that suddenly appear and disappear.

Road in Mystic CT


Dual Model Life Drawing

Monday, July 17, 2017

On Monday nights, the School of Visual Philosophy in San Jose has an open life drawing session in the evenings. One night they featured two models instead of one.

The models took poses that were interactive and challenging and held them for just a few minutes each. I was impressed and intimidated, because I had to rely on observation -- I couldn't "cheat" by pulling from my memory any shortcuts for drawing people in those poses.





I was seated on a high stool, so I had to balance my drawing pad and tools on my lap. Next time I'll choose a drawing horse or a table.


USk 10x10: Putting the Urban in Urban Sketching

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The heat wave broke and the breeze was fine at San Pedro Square in San Jose for my Urban Sketchers 10x10 Workshop on June 24. The idea was to consider different ways of putting the city into a sketch. We talked about:


  • What colors are in the environment? Is there a dominant color?
  • Sunlight/clouds: Are there shadows, or is the color flat?
  • What are the textures in the scene (marble? concrete? cobblestone? wood?)
  • What are the marks we could use to express the different textures (stippling, hatching, wash, etc.)?
  • Can we use found materials to draw on? To draw with? To add to the scene via collage?
  • Are there right angles? Curves?
  • Is everything up close, or are there sweeping views?


Los Gatos Plein Air: A Recap

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Last week I had the honor of participating in Los Gatos Plein Air, a four-day paintout plus show/sale that had me going from hilltop to seaside, vineyard to trail. Here's the play-by-play, with photos by M. of me painting everywhere.

Tuesdsay, June 13

Weeks of prep had finally come to an end -- buying panels in San Diego, ordering frames in several sizes, getting extra paint just in case. I stacked my panels in a bag, gathered my gear in an IKEA rolling tote, and set off for Los Gatos, an upscale town about 20 minutes away that's probably most known for being home to Netflix.

First stop: Gallery 24, to get my canvas panels stamped (this is to deter cheaters -- everything must be painted within the week, so you can only paint on the stamped panels).

I looked at the list of suggested painting locations and decided to go to Mountain Winery in Saratoga, a vineyard/concert venue/event space with sweeping views.

I set up my easel between two rows of vines, looking out onto the valley below.

LGPA Mountain Winery oil

As I walked back to the car, I stepped on a branch and THWACK! The other end of it whipped up and struck my foot, hard. Ouch. (It's been more than a week now and it's *still* painful to wear closed shoes.)

After lunch, I elected to stay closer to home. We drove into Santa Teresa County Park so I could paint one of the trails. Several mountain bikers passed, so I did some quick captures of them in my sketchbook.

LGPA Mtn biker oil

Wednesday, June 14

Chasing cooler temperatures, I decided to head to Davenport and paint a seaside view. It was definitely jacket weather out by the rocks. I chose a slick panel surface and almost immediately regretted it. The paint simply slid around, and I had a hard time getting it to stay put. Still, I stuck it out and did what I could.

Toward the end, the wind really picked up; I was holding onto my umbrella with one hand and painting with the other. The umbrella kept flipping up and finally just detached itself and took off across the land. Not ideal conditions -- but that's plein air!

In the afternoon, I painted in the shade of a building on the beach in Santa Cruz. Bliss! This time I sketched out the scene with a Sharpie marker and then painted in acrylic.

LGPA Santa Cruz beach acrylic

Thursday, June 15

In the morning I went to Vasona Lake Park, where some kids were learning to fish. I got there pretty late so I only had time to put in one person fishing before lunch.

LGPA Vasona fishing oil

Lunch that day was at one of the organizers' homes in downtown Los Gatos. The heat was pretty intense in the afternoon, so I set up in the Town Plaza by the fountain and painted the kids splashing around in it.

It was a challenge to paint the water and the reflection of it on the wet pavement.

LGPA town plaza fountain oil

Friday, June 16

After a quick gouache sketch of people doing yoga in St. James Park in San Jose, it was time to name and frame!

M. had pre-drilled holes into the frames, so he was able to pop in the panels and secure them with little nails before wiring them for hanging.

I chose "One More Hill" (the painting of the mountain biker in Santa Teresa Park) to bring to the VIP reception/silent auction that evening at Dio Deka.

It was a relief to know that all the painting was over. M. and I went to Blue Line Pizza for dinner, and they kindly gave us pizza boxes for transporting the paintings the next day. We also got a few bigger ones at Mountain Mike's for a nominal fee. They were perfect for the framed wet paintings.

Saturday, June 17

Show day dawned hot and stayed hot. I was pleased with my spot in the park -- I was right near the shady trees, so it was great to put our chairs there all day. Between the heat and the highway lane closures, though, there definitely didn't seem to be as many people in the plaza as in the past.

I enjoyed walking around to look at everyone's paintings, and it was great to chat with Randy Sexton, the judge, whose workshop I'd attended last year. Some people did really well and sold multiple works over the course of the day. It was so nice of Laurie and Suhita and Srivani to come out to see the show.

At 5 o'clock it was all over. We packed up, headed home to shower, and then went off to Suhita's place for a drink and draw. Time to kick back and chat and doodle with friends over wine and a curry!