urban sketchers of the world

gabi sketches me

The Urban Sketchers Correspondents met up at Henry’s Tavern on the night before the Symposium kicked off, and it was an instant whirlwind of sketching minds. Everyone knew everyone, though for many it was the first time we’d met. Five continents were represented right there: Liz (and Borromini Bear) from Australia, Isabel from Mauritania (though she’s Portuguese), Lapin from Barcelona (though he’s French), Gerard from Belgium, Simonetta from Italy, Kumi from Tokyo, Tia from Singapore, and the US contingent of Jason (Brooklyn), Veronica (NYC), Shiho (LA), Matthew (Idaho), Laura (North Carolina), Frank (Seattle), Gabi (Seattle, though he’s Spanish) and me (Davis, though I’m from London).

And I sketched people! Well, I had promised myself that I would try more, and here I didn’t have to worry about it being ok. I wasn’t the only one who doesn’t normally sketch folk on the spot. I certainly need practice and to find a technique I’m comfortable with, so i gave it a try, mostly in my little brown paper book, and picked up a few pointers. Above are Gabi Campanario, the tireless Urban Sketchers founder, Gerard Michel, of whose Liege drawings I am a huge fan (they remind me of my year in Charleroi), and a group of urban sketchers (the one in the hat is Prof. Frank Ching, who told me I’d drawn him looking like a Columbian gangster). I was sketched a few times too; there is Lapin above, sketching me holding my pen in a funny way, “l’incroyable tenu de crayon de pete”, he called it. There’s a name for a new book!

The highlight was probably looking through Gerard Michel‘s jaw-dropping sketchbook. Seeing it online, it is unbelievable just how good it is, but in person right in front of you it is just incredible, and also surreal, work you know so well is right there, right in front of you. I can say that about pretty much all of the sketchbooks I saw that night, certainly. Sufficiently humbled and inspired in equal measure, I went back to the hotel, and spent midnight drawing from my bedroom window.

night view from mark spencer hotel

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fly away, pete

It’s going to take me some time to add all the pictures and tell all the stories about the 1st International Sketching Symposium in Portland. I am still ringing with excitement about all the things I learned and all the people I met, rubbing shoulders with 80 other people who ‘get it’, and all the creative ideas that started to explode from my head as soon as got on the plane back to Sacramento. I’ve not been this excited aboout creativity in many years, and am eager to charge headlong into exploring more ideas. However, it’s time to start scanning those drawings and documenting for those of you who weren’t able to be there. Matthew Brehm, in his excellent lecture on the history of sketching as a social activity, called it the “Woodstock of Sketching”, and I agree, it probably was (apart from the drugs, sex and nakedness aspect of course).

Anyway, in linear fashion, I’m going to start at the beginning, Sacramento Airport.

sacramento airport
sacramento airport

I’m not a huge fan of airports, or flying in general. I was when I was younger, but nowadays I struggle a bit with them. Have you seen that film ‘Up in the Air’? Yeah, that guy’s not me. (Apart from the good looks of course; only joking).

On the plane, I sat by the window for the obligatory ‘view from the plane’ sketch. The stewardess brought round sodas and juices to the passengers. I forgot to ask for one without ice (they come in plastic cups rather than little cans, like on Virgin and other flights). When my diet coke came, fully iced, and i asked if it were possible to have it without ice, the stewardess gave me a look like i had asked her to tell the pilot to fly the plane upside down. Still, five minutes later she brought me a diet coke without ice.

“Where are you from?” the older guy next to me said suddenly, his wife looking on.
“Britain,” I said.
“People in Britain like their drinks warm?”
“No,” I sighed, “it’s because when I’m done with this drink I don’t want a cup of ice just sitting there.” Well, I don’t, I have nowhere to put it, and I really don’t like swallowing the ice. There’s no drain on the plane. It could get knocked over, onto my sketchbook, or my laptop. No explanation needed.

Apparently there was. “Well, in America,” he announced, his wife nodding, “people drink their sodas with ice in it.”
“No, mate,” I said, “it’s nothing to do with that. I don’t like ice.”
The man and his wife raised their eyebrows. I imagined they would be talking about this over dinner later with their friends, all drinking fully iced sodas, that crazy British guy who just doesn’t understand American customs.

I brought my own bottle of diet coke on the flight back. Some things are just too complicated to explain.

Symposium blog: http://pdx2010.urbansketchers.org/