9th Urban Sketchers Symposium: Porto

Friday, July 27, 2018

Porto! Seems like just yesterday that we were in Chicago. The anticipation has been building for months.

Day 1: Wednesday

I flew in from London Gatwick, got to the Symposium hub at Alfandega do Porto and checked in, passing dozens of sketchers already capturing Porto on the way. I got my goodie bag and promptly went back to the hotel (InPatio Guest House - highly recommended!) to look through it. Sketchbooks, watercolors, pens, pencils, and more spilled out as usual thanks to the generous sponsors. I returned to the hub in time for the welcome reception, and then did my first sketches of the city on my way out.

Opening day vignettes

Porto is cobblestones and steep hills, a lively riverfront and modern boutiques, azulejo-covered churches and narrow alleys, port wine houses and water taxis. In short, a sketcher's paradise.

Day 2: Thursday

My first workshop was with UK-based artist Lynda Gray. I loved her technique of delicate, layered washes on crisp lines. We drew three vignettes on hot press paper, letting the pale colors run and puddle over the drawings.

Two sides of the Douro River, Porto

I took the afternoon off to explore the city a bit and go shopping. Of course I stopped at the art supply stores; I loved the facade of this one.

I had to visit Livraria Lello, often held to be one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world (and reportedly a source of inspiration for J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series).

After I'd bought two(!) pairs of shoes and gotten myself a local cellphone SIM card, I stopped at the twin churches - Igreja do Carmo/Igreja dos Carmelitas -- for a quick sketch.

Igreja do Carmo Porto

After dinner, I wandered down to the Praca da Ribeira, by the River Douro, which was the venue for the nightly "drink'n'draw." I sketched and chatted w/ other artists as the light slowly faded.

Praca da Ribeira Porto

Day 3: Friday

This was a two-workshop day. In the morning, I had a pastel session with Daniel Green. He had stepped in to substitute for William Cordero, who wasn't feeling well. Daniel did a fantastic job leading us through the exercises. It was great fun to trot out my vintage pastel set and get my fingers dirty.

Pastel workshop 1

Pastel workshop 2 narrow alley Porto

Pastel workshop 3

After lunch, I took a workshop with Fred Lynch. Fred challenged us to think like an illustrator, considering what we were communicating in our sketch and what we were focusing on. Truth be told, my energy was flagging by this point in the day even though we were sitting in the shade. I could barely get my fingers to draw.

Miragaia Porto

Dinner that evening was at a restaurant on the river, Bacalhau. As we waited for our food, I took the opportunity to do a few more quick captures.

From Bacalhau Porto

Day 4: Saturday

I was really looking forward to the morning workshop: Maru Godas' "Gouache Like a Child." I'd heard great things about it last year, and it did not disappoint. After some exercises on mixing our paint and getting the right consistency, we were encouraged to go big with a panoramic sketch of Gaia, across the river from the Alfandega. Using gouache with colored pencils was delightful! I'll definitely experiment with these media more in the future.

Gaia gouache Porto

Had a lovely lunch with friends at a swank restaurant and somehow missed the final sketchwalk and photo (this is what happens when you wake up too late for the morning announcements). Since I'd walked up the hill to the Praca da Liberdade anyway, I decided to pause for a sketch.

Praca da Liberdade Porto

Then it was time for one more brief drawing, of the Old Convent of Nossa Senhora da Serra do Pilar as seen from our riverside restaurant, before heading to the closing reception.

Old Convent Gaia Porto

That's it from Porto; see you all next year in ... AMSTERDAM!!


UK Sketchbook: London, Lewes, Seaford

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Just got back from a weeklong jaunt in Europe. When I lived on the East Coast of the US, we'd go to Europe quite frequently, often multiple times a year. Now that we live in California, I feel compelled to maximize every trip there. So when we booked our travel for the 9th Urban Sketchers Symposium in Porto, it made sense to stop in the UK first, to see friends and visit places familiar and new.

We stayed with friends northwest of London the first night, and to warm up I sketched a few vignettes from the car as we were driving around the next day.

Around Chalfont

That night we were in for a treat. It's been a dream of mine to go to the BBC Proms, the legendary classical music concert series that takes place each summer in London. We were fortunate enough to have a friend apply for and snag tickets to Prom #3, featuring winners of the BBC Young Musician competition (including Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the cellist who played at Prince Harry & Meghan Markle's wedding!).

We made it to Royal Albert Hall just in time for the start of the concert. The venue was bathed in lights for dramatic effect. The space right in front of the stage was reserved for prommers, those who queue for hours to get inexpensive standing-room tickets.

BBC Proms 1

I especially liked sketching the percussionists. They were intense!

BBC Proms 2

The following day, I went museum hopping. First I stopped at the National Gallery to see the beautifully curated Monet & Architecture exhibition. It was amazing to see how Monet rendered the built environment in Antibes, Rouen, Venice, London, etc., with his trademark strokes of broken color. See information about the exhibit, and read Google Arts & Culture's interview with a curator.

I also went to the National Portrait Gallery next door, to see the BP Portrait Award 2018 show. Wow, wow, wow. I'd seen the winning painting previously in a magazine, but to see it and the other finalists up close was a revelation.

Of course, no trip to London would be complete without visits to art supply stores. I was able to hit three: Cass Art, at Charing Cross; the warehouse-like Atlantis Art Materials, which recently moved to London Fields; and Great Art in Shoreditch. Great Art was new to me, and I was impressed by the selection.

On Tuesday, we took the train south to Lewes, a Sussex market town that was our base for a hike along the coastal path. Its high street has a diverse selection of boutiques and retailers, including my new crush, Seasalt Cornwall.

Lewes 2

Lewes 1

In one of the charity shops along the road, I picked up a copy of Nubia: Sketches, Notes & Photographs by Margot Veillon, a reportage-like account of the author's experiences in a culture that was later displaced due to the building of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt.

Our base in this area was the lovely Blue Door Barns B&B, just outside of town.

As we waited for the taxi to take us to Seaford, I rapidly sketched the view from the patio.

from Blue Door Barns

We walked along the beach and the coastal path east from Seaford until the white chalk forms of the Seven Sisters came into view. I sat on the trail and sketched, dodging an incessant hail of chalk particles kicked up by the sea breeze.

Seven Sisters from Seaford Head

While at the Seaford train station, we happened to catch the filming of the upcoming movie "Hope Gap," starring actor Bill Nighy. It was odd to see the guy from "Love Actually" standing not 10 feet away from me on the platform!

Our coastal sojourn was very relaxing, and it was my first time walking along a seafront while in the UK.

Next stop: Porto!


Recap: Stop, Drop & Sketch!

Sunday, July 08, 2018

What a fantastic group we had for yesterday's workshop at ARCH Art & Drafting Supply in San Francisco!

We practiced techniques for using a minimal kit (sketchbook, fineliner, small watercolor set, and waterbrush, provided by ARCH) to make quick captures of the area around the shop.

Even though that area of Mission Bay is a bit industrial looking, there are still opportunities for interesting compositions.

180707 Mission Bay SF 2

180707 Mission Bay SF 1

180707 Mission Bay SF 3

180707 ARCH Supplies SF

The exercises were deliberately brief, to get people used to sketching rapidly and spontaneously. I was very impressed with how much everyone achieved given the constraints of time, place, and materials.

I hope it inspired some of the attendees to take up on-location sketching more regularly. Thanks to everyone for joining!


Packing for Porto!

Friday, July 06, 2018

Just one week to go before the journey to Portugal begins! Can't believe it's been a whole year since Chicago - wow!

Porto will be my 8th Urban Sketchers symposium, so I've mostly gotten my prep down to a science. I have a workshop pass, which means I'll need to take supplies for each of the 4 classes I'm taking. I've reviewed all the supply lists, eliminated overlaps, and added my fave sketching stuff.

So what's going in the bag this year?

-Gouache tubes and empty palette
-A pan of gold watercolor paint (why not?)
-My watercolor palette and go-to brushes (travel rounds, rigger, flat)
-Sketchbooks: one with hot press (smooth) paper, plus my usual ones; pastel papers
-Pastels (vintge, from various tag sales) & pastel pencils
-Set of colored pencils & pencil sharpener
-Binder clips
-Wet wipes, paper towels
-Old toothbrush
-Some ink
-Water container and a holder from the hardware store
-Various fineliners
-Small folding stool

I may yet add to the list, but this is where I am today. Can you guess from my materials which workshops I'm taking? :-)


Happy Fourth!

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Nothing says Independence like a day full of random adventures. Our Fourth of July was spent meandering along the California coast.

We began the day at Refuge in Carmel Valley, a day spa with saunas, steam rooms, and warm-and-cold plunge pools with little waterfalls. There are firepits and hammocks and gorgeous plantings all around. Silence is enforced, and no electronics are permitted. Books and magazines are encouraged, though, so I figured a discreet sketchbook wouldn't be out of place.

180704 Refuge Carmel

As the temperature was in the 60s, we spent most of our time in the warm and hot pools. The cool pool was too cold to stay in for more than a few seconds, and the cold pool was downright icy!

After a delicious lunch at r.g. Burgers, we continued down Rte. 1 toward Big Sur in search of a spot to hang our newly acquired Eno DoubleNest hammock.

We stopped at Garrapata State Park and hiked a little way inland on the Soberanes Canyon Trail.

180704 Soberanes Canyon Trail

It's amazing to see cacti covering the hillsides as you get further from the trailhead. I didn't have my folding stool with me, so I sketched standing up to avoid cactus needles and poison oak.

Apparently the trail soon enters the redwoods and passes some waterfalls on the way to the ridgeline. We'll have to go back another day. Parts of the trail are still officially closed after the devastating floods and mudslides of last spring, but hikers go anyway.

We kept driving south, looking for hammock-worthy trees about 12 to 15 feet apart. About 14 miles from Lucia, we found what we'd been looking for: a stand of trees overlooking the Pacific.

On went the straps, and ... ahhh. What a serene end to the day!

quick capture

On My Commute

Thursday, July 05, 2018

I see this building a lot (I wait for the light rail in front of it on the way to work), so I sketch this building a lot. I usually have about seven minutes before the train comes. City National Civic, San Jose.

180629 City National Civic, San Jose


Finish Line: 30x30DirectWatercolor2018

Sunday, July 01, 2018

OhMyGoodnessThisChallenge. At the beginning of June, I'd just come back from Hawaii, and the thought of doing 30 watercolors in 30 days seemed a fantastic way to get warmed up for the Urban Sketchers symposium in Porto.

So I started off strong -- *really* strong -- and then the doldrums set in. I found myself fishing for ways to make the challenge more interesting: using up random papers from my studio like Yupo...

180625 Rose on Yupo from photo

180625 Portland alley from photo - Yupo

...finding inspiration on television...

180626 portraits from tv

...even painting while riding in M.'s cargo bike.

180624 Santa Teresa from cargo bike

Let's be real: I was bored.

But I kept trying.

180628 beach scene from photo

And as the 30th drew near, I came up with lots of excuses not to paint. And then yesterday it all came pouring out. With a waterbrush, in the car:

180630 From car on 280N

At a cafe:

180630 SF cafe silhouettes

From photos:

180630 San Francisco streets from photo

180630 Kauai Poipu beach from photo

180630 Vineyard Morgan Hill from photo

180630 Na Pali coast Kauai from photo

180630 Kauai mountains from photo

Until I did, finally, make it to 30.

What I (re)learned through this challenge: (1) I get bored easily. Look! A bird! (2) I'm super competitive. (3) I procrastinate like a boss. (4) And when the deadline looms, I get it done.

Thank you Marc, Suhita, Liz, Uma, and Anne-Laure for putting me through this (excruciating) (awesome) month. I am truly grateful.