10th Urban Sketchers Symposium: Amsterdam

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Just back from the annual Urban Sketchers extravaganza, aka sketching in extreme heat. Thought it would be a lovely 70F-80F in Amsterdam, but no such luck; temps hovered around 100F pretty much the entire week, making it very challenging to be outdoors in the afternoon.

Here are the highlights:

Tuesday, July 23.
Took the bus out to Volendam, a fishing village turned tourist magnet. I sketched the buildings facing the marina, and we had fun watching a demo on cheese-making.

190723 Volendam marina

That evening, after our Urban Sketchers Advisory Board dinner, I went out sketching with the lovely Uma Kelkar and Elizabeth Alley. The light on the Amstel river around 10 pm was absolutely gorgeous. I started with a line drawing, then added a first wash for the highlights before finishing with the darks.

190724 Amstel River at sunset - Amsterdam, Netherlands

Wednesday, July 24.
USK Symposium sponsor Royal Talens invited the faculty and board members to tour their factory and Experience Centre in Apeldoorn, about an hour and a half from Amsterdam.

It was fascinating to see how paints, pastels, and other art supplies are made. We walked quickly, so it was tough to capture even a little sampling of all the steps in the process. I'll never look at my tube colors the same way again!

190724 Royal Talens tour 1

190724 Royal Talens tour 2

190724 Royal Talens tour 3

190724 Royal Talens tour 4

190724 Royal Talens tour 5

190724 Royal Talens tour 6

190724 Royal Talens tour 7

Thursday, July 25.
My morning workshop was with Joerg Asselborn. It was called "Catching Windmills." We took the tram out to De Gooyer, to see one of the few windmills in the city.

We started out with semi-blind contour drawings and proceeded to capture small details like the windows. Finally, we put everything together in a sketch of the whole structure. It was a challenging subject, but it was very helpful to break it down and truly "see" each part before tackling the whole.

190725 De Gooyer windmill Amsterdam

In the afternoon, I escaped the soaring temps by visiting the Van Gogh Museum.

Friday, July 26.
The heat was relentless. This morning's workshop was with Karen Sung. It was called "Growing a Drawing." She challenged us to think outside the square/rectangular format of the paper and to add paper wherever it made sense, to extend focus areas. I liked the concept, though the scene before me wasn't very inspiring and the alternating smells of garbage and cleaning solution (from restaurants preparing to open) were distracting.

Still, I managed to crank out a sketch or two.

190726 Hotel Atlanta Growing your sketch Amsterdam

In the afternoon, M. met me and we rented a Bakfiets cargo bike.

It was very uncomfortable to sit in given the extreme heat, but we toured about in it for a while, visiting Jordaan and going past the Anne Frank House. It was nearly impossible to sketch from the bike, but I tried.

190726 Jordaan from cargo bike Amsterdam

190726 house from bike Amsterdam

We ended up at the book market, where I got out and did a quick drawing while M. went to get ice cream.

190727 Book market Amsterdam

In the late evening, we took a canal cruise. This was a better opportunity for sketching in motion, and I was able to do four mini sketches while waiting for the tram and also while on the boat.

190726 Amsterdam thumbnails

Saturday, July 27.

My last workshop was with Marina Grechanik. I've long been a fan of her colorful, layered sketches of people in context, so it was great to see how she worked.

We practiced doing portraits and capturing emotions before "hunting" people's faces at the local flea market. For our final sketch, we had to keep portraits as the main focus while telling a story, a narrative of the market. I founded a shaded spot at a cafe to draw some bored stallkeepers as they waited for customers in the searing heat. It was fun to let go of conventions and just play around with color!

190727 Flea market Amsterdam

All too soon, the symposium was at an end!

Next year we'll all meet up again in April ... at #uskHongKong2020!


A Lakeside Fourth

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Bunting? Check. Parade? Check. Kids waving flags? Check, check, check! M.'s family reunion on the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio gave me the perfect opportunity to teach a sketching workshop at Lakeside Chautauqua's Rhein Center, and the Fourth of July holiday timing just added to the fun.

Despite the heat and humidity -- and kits with Prang watercolors(!) -- the group did a great job capturing small-town Americana vignettes.

Here are some of my demo pieces from the workshop, plus some of the other sketches from the weekend.

190704 Demo sketch Lakeside Ohio

190703 Red white blud demo sketch Lakeside

190704 Parade Lakeside Ohio

190704 Parade Lakeside Ohio 2

Shuffleboard is more difficult than it looks!

190706 Shuffleboard Lakeside Ohio

190706 Shuffleboard Lakeside Ohio 2

Bikes and golf carts are everywhere at Lakeside.

190705 bicycle Lakeside Ohio

On our way to the airport in Cleveland, we stopped at Sherod Park in Vermilion. The lake was angry, and the waves lapped at my feet as I drew.

190707 Lake Erie Sherod Park Vermilion Ohio


City of Contrasts: Hyderabad

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Spent last week in Hyderabad, India, for work. The previous time I was there was ~15 years ago; most of the development northwest of the city didn't even exist at the time. It is truly a marriage of old and new. I arrived early on a Sunday, so I had the chance to tour about and sketch.

Near the office early Sunday morning, the main activities seemed to be security and street sweeping. The street sweepers still use whisk brooms.

190623 Hyderabad 1

I stopped to sketch an impromptu game of cricket in a courtyard. This was my first time attempting to capture the action. Clearly I need to study it more.

190623 Hyderabad 2

There were people out on their balconies speaking on their mobile phones surrounded by drying clothes. The clothes say lots about who's living there.

190623 Hyderabad 3

190623 Hyderabad 4

In the afternoon a few colleagues and I headed out to Charminar by Metro and rickshaw.

190623 From rickshaw Hyderabad

190623 Charminar 1

190623 Charminar 2


Off the Paseo: San Jose State

Sunday, June 30, 2019

South Bay Sketchers explored Paseo de San Antonio in downtown San Jose a few weeks ago. I played around with mixed media as I wandered the campus at San Jose State University. This building is Tower Hall, but somehow I chose to sit on the one bench from which you can't see the tower at all....



Touching the Sky

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton is a speck on a distant peak, a landmark we point at when visitors look up. Up close, we found not one but several domes on the terraced hillsides, a metropolis of glass eyes open in wonder at the universe.


Photography night brought a select few out midweek; they braved the serpentine roads at dusk with their tripods and lenses to capture the sunset and swap f-stop stories.



The docents that evening spun the telescope about and regaled us with stories of James Lick and the observatory's construction. Go, if you have the chance - it's a magical experience, to be a few thousand feet closer to the moon.

island time

Maui: Something for Everyone

Sunday, June 30, 2019

It's said that Maui strikes the Goldilocks balance: not just touristy kitsch, not just remote beaches. In our Memorial Day weekend trip to the island, we found that to be true. We stayed in Wailea, Hana, and Lahaina so as to sample the varied pleasures of the island.

Here's a sketch of Maluaka Beach, just south of our hotel in Wailea. Getting to beaches early was key -- in many cases only a handful of people were there with us. Bliss!


As we drove toward Hana, we saw vast sugarcane fields -- a reminder of what the island's trade used to be.


A highlight of our trip was seeing turtles on Kuau Beach.

190524 Kuau Beach turtles Maui

This was the scene at Haleakala National Park's Kipahulu District.

190525 Haleakala NP Kipahulu District Maui

Next year, perhaps we'll visit the Big Island.

plein air

Recap: Carmel Art Festival

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Rain, rain, go away. That's what we kept saying every day at this year's Carmel Art Festival, from May 15-19. Some days the skies listened, some days not.

On Wednesday, I checked in around 4, got my boards and papers stamped (verification in case there is any doubt that paintings were done over the course of the festival), and quickly started on a watercolor a block from my hotel as the clouds were gathering. Good thing, too -- the drops fell fast toward the end, and I had to hastily pack up and run for cover.

190516 Carmel Ride

The next morning I rose early and went to the beach to do a small oil before breakfast. The light was almost tropical.

190516 Driftwood - SOLD

Both of the above paintings sold.

Between showers that day and the next, I went to the church across the street from the Cypress Inn (co-owned by the recently departed Doris Day) and did a quick watercolor of the hotel.

190517 Cypress Inn - Carmel

Friday morning I went back to the beach and got in another small oil.

190517 All to Ourselves

Then there was nothing more to do but frame the paintings, put them on the wall, and talk to potential buyers.


In the middle of it, M. and I decided to take the tandem bike along the Carmel Scenic Drive -- wow, what a lovely loop to ride. Stopped for a quick sketch on the way.

190518 Scenic Drive - Carmel

All in all, it was great to be selected to participate in this event, and I was happy to sell two paintings -- but between the Uber to get down there and the hotel nights and the rain, it was a bit on the expensive side. Had the weather been better, I would have considered it more of a vacation with a painting festival on the side.