porto people

Porto Dinner

The Symposium always offers a chance to feel ok about drawing people. Everyone is doing it, nobody judges you about how unrealistic it looks, and nobody feels self-conscious about someone sketching them. Well, usually. I mixed up sketching the public with sketching the participants, and tried to keep it fast (far less than the ‘five minutes’ per person!) and tended to stick to pencil, with a bit of watercolour for effect. I used a Palomino pencil that a pal of mine sent me from Japan (cheers Tel), it does wear down fast though, I had to keep sharpening. Pencil moves fast though, so is good for those really quick people sketches. Above, dinner on the Thursday evening with several of my old sketching buddies. You can see Kumi Matsukawa (from Japan), Shiho Nakaza (from Santa Monica) and Rita Sabler (from Portland), all of whom wrote chapters in my 2015 book ‘Creative Sketching Workshop’ and all of whome I met in the 2010 symposium, which is also where I met┬áMike Daikabura (from Boston), at the end of the table. There’s also Tina Koyama (from Seattle) who of course I have met at other symposia, great to see her again with her partner Greg, and Corinna from Germany, who I did meet briefly in Manchester. Others at the table are Jane (from LA who was in Portland, but I’d never met), and Elaine and Alex, who I didn’t speak to. It was a nice gathering for the “Drink’n’Draw”. The Drink’n’Draw events were generally done at the Ribeira square next to the river, and were generally hundreds of sketchers messed all over the place, so the fact I actually found several sketchers that I already knew was nice. It was a nice evening.

Porto people
Porto people

Above, sketching the locals. And the tourists. I stood in a couple of spots and tried to capture people as they passed by. I liked the lads in the Porto kits kicking the ball about up the Alfandega, I kinda wanted to join in. The bizarre looking Chef with the big eyes is actually not a person, nor a Frank Sidebottom mask, but a large figure in the window of a restaurant. Below, some people I sketched while waiting for my Francesinha.

Porto people at lunch

Below, some other locals or maybe tourists, eating dinner at Ribeira. The woman on the right, I might have drawn her head slightly too small. The giveaway is that the person behind her has a larger head. As does the person sitting opposite, who is further away from my POV than she is. Now unless they are wearing Frank Sidebottom heads, I’ve got that wrong. Ah well.

People at dinner porto

And below, two fellow sketchers I enjoyed a beer with on Friday evening, Aglaia and Joel, both from the US. Joel I had met in the Manchester symposium, he was busy during this one with accounting and money stuff for Urban Sketchers. He’s wearing his red Chicago symposium shirt, from last year’s event (that I missed). Aglaia teaches history at a university, so we had a long discussion about history and what not. At one point they mentioned they had seen the Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night again recently, and asked about the Wilfred Bramble character and why they kept saying he looks ‘very clean’, which is a reference to steptoe and Son that many Americans these days would probably not get, so I got to do an Harry H Corbett impression and say “you dirty old man!” Also I think I may have done a Simon Schama impression or two. A fun evening.

Aglaia and Joel

Stay tuned for more Porto sketches!!!

porto performative

Amber Sausen, USk President
The reason we were all there in Porto was for the 9th Urban Sketching Symposium. “USk Porto 2018” as it is known (see the hashtag #USkPorto2018 on the various platforms) was the largest one yet – 800 registrants, with a similar number descending on Porto just for the ride. Urban Sketchers is quite big now. The first Symposium back in Portland in 2010 (check out my Flickr album, or look at my Portland 2010 blog posts) had less than 80 people, many of whom had only ever met each other online and never in person, and yet we all seemed to get to know each other. The ‘Woodstock of Sketching’ Matthew Brehm called it. With 800 people it was hard enough to find the people you knew! Yet I still managed to meet new people, though for sure, it was a really big crowd. Above, the current Urban Sketchers President, Amber Sausen, sings to the gathered Thursday morning crowd before they set off for their workshops. Below, Amber introduces the Symposium at the Wednesday evening reception. There was a show of hands; over 50% were first-time symposium participants!
USk Porto opening ceremony
One aspect of the symposium this year were the demos. There have been demos before, but this year we had to sign up upon registration and choose whose demo we wanted to attend. Most were held outside on the streets, in the urban setting, our little groups shepherded by friendly volunteers. I went to the demo of Gabi Campanario, Seattle-based journalist and the founder of Urban Sketchers. I’ve not seen Gabi in person since Lisbon 2011 so it was nice to see him again. He was the one who invited me to be a correspondent on the new blog ‘Urban Sketchers’ when it was first launched, back when it was tiny, so it is great to see a decade later just how big and popular it has become. Gabi’s style of sketching is very particular, he works fast but gets in a lot of information; he sketches for a newspaper after all. I’ve always been in particular impressed with his approach to perspective, and it was this that he helped to demonstrate first. He usually draws fairly small, but sketched on a large pad for the demo so that everyone could see. I drew the group watching and learning.
Gabi demo
We were on the Alfandega, which has a lot of very interesting vistas to sketch, so Gabi continued his demo by showing us a bit about how to go about composing such a sketch. I like the poses he gives. The demo is very much a performance, a piece of street theatre that is both instructive and interactive.
Gabi demo
Finally, here is another sketcher, called Paula. I will post more pictures of the other sketchers I drew, though to be honest I don’t feel like I drew enough of the other sketchers this time. There were 800 other participants after all, plus about that many who just joined in the crowds in Porto. I don’t think she minded me sketching her; it’s expected at the symposium, you will be sketched. I’m including this though because she was very much in the act of sketching (actually by this point I think she was checking her phone). I have always wondered about the line between sketching and performance.
USk Porto Paula

On one hand we are working in our private journals, they are our business and not really anybody else’s. You aren’t under any obligation to show anybody anything you have drawn. On the other hand, there is an unwitting performative element to the urban sketcher. I think it’s one that fascinates the public. This is something that I would love to explore further; years ago I used to do interactive theatre, and so many of the workshops and skills and ideas I picked up in those days have informed my attitude to urban sketching. I really want to explore this somehow. When we as sketchers are out in public, creating art, we are in fact engaging in two kinds of performance art. There is the result, the sketch that we share online (and we usually do, as part of Urban Sketchers). Then there is the act of sketching itself. Once I stopped finding a place to hide when I sketch, I started to lose my fear of being watched while I sketch. Why do people watch? They are fascinated that you are creating something. So many times people will come up and say, oh wow that is beautiful, and I have literally drawn five pencil lines and spent ten minutes squinting up at a building. Is that really the thing that is beautiful, or is it the act of going out and actually trying to draw something that is beautiful? I think it’s more often than not the latter. “Wow, did you draw that?” I know artists who get very upset with that statement; in the early days, I would often imagine sarcastic responses too, and mumble them under my breath, but that’s not what the person is asking. They aren’t asking if you drew that. They are making an exclamation of wonder, often not even of the drawing but of the act of drawing, of the bravery that it takes to attempt the drawing in public, the performance. Honestly I could write a long article on this, and go back to my old drama degree theory stuff, Eric Bentley (A plays B watched by C). It is worth thinking about though, when you are next out sketching, how much of it is personal and how much is public performance, albeit of a quiet kind. If that is the case, USk Porto 2018 was one of the largest pieces of public theatre I’ve been to in ages.