porto potty

Pedro Loureiro
Now we move on to the workshops I took in Porto. I registered for a ‘Basic Pass’, which meant I could take two workshops (the Workshop Pass was for four, while the Sketching Pass was for zero). I do like to just sketch, but at a symposium it’s fun to do at least some workshop stuff, to learn a few things, see sketching from a different angle, and also meet new people. For my schedule, I decided on workshops on Thursday and Saturday morning, leaving all of Friday for just free sketching. On Thursday morning I took a workshop taught by Pedro Loureiro, whom I had met in the Manchester Symposium. There he is above, giving his introduction.
Pedro's workshop
It was called “Public Realm Objects”, and was about focusing on those parts of a scene that are often overlooked – lamp-posts, bins, bollards, street signs; “fire hydrants” I chipped in, “yes thanks Pete, fire hydrants”; things that are typically there as part of the city’s functionality. For the first exercise we had to draw a street scene but leave out absolutely everything except those ‘public realm’ objects. There was an additional point – we had to add a verb to each public realm object, one that might describe its function. In this way, we are starting to think about its purpose.
USk Porto Pedro workshop exercise 1
For the next exercise we had to pick one of the objects we drew, and then study it in greater detail. What’s it made of? Are there finer details? Who made it, and when? Why is it there? How big is it? I selected the green metallic object that was slightly up the hill, the one that I had marked ‘inform’ because it had an advertisement on the side. It turns out that it was a toilet, and an out-of-order one at that. A ‘Porto Potty’ if you will (right, I have found a blog post title!). So I studied it, as best I could; see below. While drawing it, some people did come by and try to use it but quickly moved on. One fellow didn’t though. He stood outside patiently, then maybe a little less patiently, then he was banging on the door asking whoever was inside to hurry up. He wasn’t Portuguese, so maybe didn’t know what “Indisponivel” meant. It’s ok, I didn’t even know this was a toilet at first. Anyway after we did this exercise, we had a little show-and-tell gathering where we had to talk about our objects.
USk Porto Pedro workshop exercise 2
The final exercise was a longer one, where we had to show how the the object interacts with the world at large. People walking by, using it (glad it was indisponivel, I wouldn’t have drawn that!), that sort of thing. I stood on the other side of the street and sketched it, adding in people walking past or trying to use it. Nobody really banging on the door this time. I felt like a tabloid celebrity journalist, staked out in front of a pop star’s house, watching for a story, any story, anything will do. I tried to make a story about the fact that the sidewalk is very narrow there because the loo is in the way, and people have to be in much closer quarters as they pass, which can be awkward. One woman gave another purple-haired woman a glance as she passed; right there’s a story. It was a fun thing to explore the world around this broken-down bog.
USk Porto Pedro workshop exercise 3
Below, fellow workshop participant Mary talks about the object she sketched. I can’t remember what it was because I drew her page blank.
USk Porto Mary

Oh, and later on that day, I was passing by this area and of course, predictably, I needed to use the toilet. And couldn’t, because this was indisponivel. I had to find a restaurant, who charged me a whopping 50c to use their for-customers-only bathroom. Now there’s a story.

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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 Mike 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.

porto parochial

Santo Ildefonso, Porto

It was a bit of a race for me: will I draw more fire hydrants or more churches? Fire hydrants was always going to win because of the ease/speed factor, but by day two it was neck and neck and if I hadn’t spent so much time schlepping up and down hills I might have spent that drawing even more Porto churches. There are so many beautiful ecclesiastical buildings in Porto, with accompanying dizzying views, sculpted masonry and often those very Porto-esque blue and white tiles. Above is the church of Igreja Paroquial de Santo Ildefonso, at Praça Batalha, which was right outside my hotel (I drew a map, below) and on the other side of a deep valley facing the iconic Torre Clerigos. A lot of sketchers drew this church. I never went inside, but I loved all of the tiles outside. This was the first sketch I did in Porto, sat outside my hotel eating a couple of ‘Natas’ and drinking a Fanta Orange.
Porto Map Batalha

Below is the Cathedral of Porto, the Sé, another magnet for sketchers, not least for its incredible views over the city. I do wish I had drawn it more than once from another angle, as I really liked the views approaching the cathedral from behind. I wanted that view of the front with the sun shining down on it. I stood outside some houses in the shade, looking up, a group of older Portuguese men stood to my left just chatting and smoking, and shaking hands with the occasional local passer-by, while an old lady sat outside her house to my right yelling at pigeons while another one (or maybe the same one, I wasn’t paying much attention) threw things at pigeons from an upstairs window while hanging out laundry. Ok, why am I drawing cathedrals? I should be drawing that. The Sé building dates from 1737.

Se do Porto

Now below is the one that, if you were an urban sketcher and didn’t sketch this at the symposium, you weren’t really there. Ok that’s how it seemed anyway. The Torre Clérigos was used as the symbol of the Symposium and was that one tall tower visible from everywhere. I sketched this one (below) on the last Saturday of the Symposium, making sure I managed to get it in before I left the city, forgetting I had actually drawn it three or four times already from a distance. It’s on a very, very steep slope which is great for the perspective sketching, and I sat in the afternoon sunshine with a wide-brimmed hat on to draw this. The Clérigos was built by renowned baroque architect Nicolau Nasoni, who designed many other grand buildings in Porto.

Clerigos Porto

Below was one of the more spectacular churches I saw. The building shape itself was not inspiring, but you don’t look at a painting and say, yeah but it’s just a rectangle of canvas. It was the amazing decoration, covered completely in smooth blue and white tiles, covered in beautiful ornate paintings. It was like the Sao Bento train station but inside out. I didn’t have time to go inside. I came across this church, while walking around late at night looking for an easier way back to the hotel that involved no mountaineering. By the way it is called the ‘Capela das Almas’ and is located on Rua Santa Catarina, opposite the Bolhao Metro station (Santa Catarina is actually one of the few I walked down that was actually a flat surface). This church dates from the 18th century but the tiles were added in 1929 by Eduardo Leite. At night it was lit from outside and so it shone like a beacon, with all those smooth tiles, but I was tired so drew it in the daytime, my last sketch in Porto before leaving. In fact I only had time to draw the lines, I added the paint afterwards. This would be an amazing one to do a huge drawing of, spending a long time with intricate details, but I would need (a) better glasses, (b) loads more time and (c) loads more natas.

Capela Das Almas, Porto

 

Here it is in the flesh, at night:

IMG_8406

There were so many other church buildings I did not get to sketch, such as this one below. Actually it is two, right next to each other, located near Porto University. Perhaps next time I’ll draw all the ones I missed this time.

IMG_8638

Stay tuned for more Porto sketches!

 

porto perspectives

São Lourenço (Grilos), Porto

It is time to post my Porto sketches, and I have decided against the linear storytelling method of posting, rather I will loosely theme my blogs, and when I say loose, I probably mean barely connected at all. I will tell the story of the symposium from my own point of view, the people I met, the places I visited, the panoramas, the perspectives, the perambulations, and other words that will inevitably all begin with ‘p’. In fact the letter ‘p’ will probably be the prominent/predominant theme. Photos will be presented along with pen, pencil and paint pictures. So without further pause, let’s proceed.

I arrived in Porto from Madrid and took a cheap shuttle from the airport to a downtown bus station that was unfortunately just outside the range of my map. Being the navigator I am, I decided to follow my nose. My nose however had other ideas and led me and my small rolling suitcase in the complete opposite direction, into a neighbourhood of steeply sloping streets, brightly coloured tiled houses, and old women standing around yelling at each other, while old men stood around shrugging at each other. My initial encounter with Porto is still how I would describe the city, even after almost a week there. I was looking for my hotel, but did not mind being lost; I wasn’t in a hurry, though I wanted to start sketching. Eventually I found my way to within the boundaries of my small Lonely Planet guidebook map (note to self, the nose can smell pastries from a hundred feet but has no sense of direction whatsoever) and made it to my hotel, on Praça Batalha.

Igreja São Lourenço

The photo in this golden early evening light brings out the colours in the sketch more than the cold scanner

 

So it looks like I am starting out by telling this story chronologically after all. Well let’s move on from that, and go with the theme of exploring. Hang on, that doesn’t begin with a ‘p’. ‘Perspiration’, perhaps, from all the steep hill-climbing this city forces you to do. Ok then, let’s start with ‘perspectives’. The sketch at the top of this post is São Lourenço, aka ‘Grilos’, and was in fact the fourth sketch I did on my first day in Porto. I left the hotel and explored, sketching churches and fire hydrants, and found that it was hard to get very far because everywhere is so sketchable. Everywhere you turned, an impossible view. Already several sketches in by this point, and having come across many other sketchers dotted around the city already – my people! – I felt it was time to go and eat dinner somewhere, try some local cuisine. The sun was lowering and the light was golden, and I turned around a corner and saw this view, looking over the city with the tall ornate façade of São Lourenço sweeping down a cliff like an opera in stone. There was the river Douro, there were all the orange-red rooftops, showing me that all two-dimensional maps of this city were woefully inadequate; what I had though may be short cuts turned out to be like hiking up and down impenetrable mountain paths. The perspective was exciting. I stood on a bench for a slightly better view. You can see from my eye-line how high up this was, as high as the peaks of the hills across the river. The street down below in the distance is roughly parallel to this building so followed through to the same vanishing point, but other streets twisted and followed their own paths. I was pleased when I was done as it was the first Porto sketch I did that I felt encompassed how I saw the city (I hadn’t even drawn the bridge yet…). As I sketched I overheard young travelers from other countries talking the way young travelers do, the way I might have done twenty years ago when I was a young backpacker. I spoke to a few other sketchers, all of whom had the same ‘I must stop and sketch this now!’ moment I did. This view was one of many epic views over the city I would encounter, and you can’t draw them all but at certain times of day the light demands it. Dinner can wait. I ended up having a cheap kebab on Aliados if you must know, followed by a Nata. Well, there was another view I wanted to draw, the rooftops with the iconic Clerigos towering above them. All I had time for was the outline, and the glowing dusk.

Porto skyline

I think I will stop here for now. Please join me for the next chapter, which will either be “Porto People”, “Porto Parrochial”, or “Porto Postcards”. Or perhaps none of those?

st james church

st james church, davis

Taking a momentary break from posting my holidays snaps (travel sketches), here is one I did here in Davis this weekend past, St. James Church across from Community Park. This is one of the pieces I am submitting for the Pence Gallery’s annual Art Auction. The Art Auction exhibit will be between Sept 1-15, with the Gala event itself on Saturday Sept 15. Find out more at http://www.pencegallery.org/events.html. Anyway, this building is not far from our house and I have drawn it before, but always wanted to go back and do it again. It’s a tricky one to draw, because it’s mostly roof, an interesting design but tricky to fit in a satisfactory way onto a sketchbook page, it’s longer than you expect and I could never find a view I liked. Then as I was cycling past I realized the view which includes the sign is pretty nice and encompassing, so I chose that. It’s funny that this is St James, because I was just in Portugal where many of the churches were on the route of the Camino Portugués, the Portuguese pilgrimage route to the famous Santiago (that is, St James) de Compostela in Galicia. You can tell this because of the abundance of signs of the scallop shell, which is the symbol of the Camino Santiago. I have been fascinated with the Camino since I was a kid, the main one that is, across northern Spain. I’m not religious or follower of Christianity or anything, but I do love all the old churches and buildings (I like sketching cathedrals), and I love the idea of taking a walking journey across a long distance to reach a faraway place, knowing that many others are doing the same or have done the same in centuries past. Also I just like exploring. One thing I didn’t know though was that travellers on the Camino will wear those scallop shells on their backpacks as markers that they are on the pilgrimage. That was very interesting to spot, but I also started to see the scallop shell symbol everywhere. Now you probably won’t see that shell in this building here in Davis, because firstly this is not on the traditional Camino routes to Santiago de Compostela, and secondly the scallop shell is the symbol of St James the Great, while this church (according to their website) is dedicated to St James the Young, a different James. They were both Apostles I guess, but one of them really liked shells and the other really didn’t. My sister used to go to a St James Catholic High School in Grahame Park in north London (originally it was in Burnt Oak), though I don’t know whether that was shell James or non-shell James. Anyway this building here in Davis was built around 1975, actually it looks a little bit like another building from my old neighbourhood, Burnt Oak Library, with that large pyramid-like roof. You can find out more about St James Church in Davis on their website, https://www.stjamesdavis.org/about-us, and you’ll notice that they have a sketch on there by a local artist called Pete Cully, I must check that guy out. There’s also a history, which includes a photo from the 1970s of the very same view above, with the sign, but without all those big shady trees. Really cool to see the difference.

holy toledo!

Toledo Puente de San Martin

I expected Toledo to be full of holes. Or I expected it to be completely and utterly Toledo. I don’t know exactly where the phrase originates from but ‘Holy Toledo!’ is one of those American exclamations you don’t hear very often now, and is often confused with all the various ‘Holy’ exclamations used by Robin in the Batman TV series of the 1960s. Those I think were derived from ‘Holy Toledo’. Oh hold on, this just in, Toledo was a very holy city historically in Spain. There is a big cathedral there after all. There is a Toledo in Ohio, and if you say ‘Ohio Toledo’ quickly it sounds a bit like ‘Holy Toledo’ but no, no it doesn’t really. I think it has some relevance to baseball announcers, “Holy Toledo, what a hit!” or similar. So with all that on my mind, we got on a train from Madrid, and we went to Toledo.

I think ‘Hilly Toledo’ is a more accurate phrase. That place was full of steep streets and winding narrow alleys. We arrived and jumped onto one of those open top tour buses outside the station, not a cheap ride, but it went all around the edge of the town for all the amazing views over this well-contained citadel perched on a hill in a bend of the Tagus river. It is a beautiful sight, a medieval city preserved in all its old Castilian glory. The droning voice on the headphones told us about the Moors, and the old Visigothic Kings, and how Toledo was the ‘City of the Three Cultures’ for its blend of Muslim, Jewish and Christian populations, and lots of other interesting facts presented in a dull, sleepy way. I mimicked it which was not too hard as I too am dull and sleepy. Well, in real life perhaps, but when I was an open-top-bus tour guide in London I was much more animated about presenting history. One of the spots I liked most was the Puente de San Martin, above, a 14th century stone bridge. I sketched it from a bus stop on the other side of the river while waiting for the tour bus to pick us up again after I had literally flown across the Tagus…more on that later. Not too far from here is a church where the great El Greco painting ‘The Burial of the Count of Orgaz‘ is displayed. El Greco, the great painter of the Spanish Renaissance, lived in Toledo. El Greco wasn’t of course his real name, he was just called that because he was Greek. A bit like Nick The Greek from Lock Stock, I suppose. Anyway it was very impressive.

Toledo Don Quixote

Also associated with Toledo are two things – steel, and Don Quixote. You see him everywhere. You also see shops selling knives and swords everywhere, often with a figure of don Quixote outside, or maybe a knight in armour. I mean, a LOT of knife shops. They must love cutting things there. We were waiting for a tour of the cathedral, and while I was waiting I decided to do a quick sketch of the Don Quixote at the knife store next to us. He looked like a surprised Count Dooku, like when Dooku had his hands cut off by Anakin Skywalker and Chancellor Palpatine said “Kill him, Anakin. Kill him now.” After about 30 seconds of sketching a woman who worked in the store came out and looked at me quickly before going back inside. She came back out a minute later and said I couldn’t sketch there because people wouldn’t be able to see the knives in the window. There was a massive window next to me full of knives. She said I could come in and draw the other Dooku – I mean, Don Quixote – inside the shop, but I was like, I will be sketching for maybe another 30 seconds and can also just step back one step if standing here is bothering you. Bear in mind there were lots of other people standing there waiting for the tour to start as well, none of them were holding a sketchbook so none of them got asked to move. And before you knew it, I was done. It’s almost like I have written a book about drawing people quickly or something.

Toledo cathedral interior sm

Next, we took a tour of Toledo Cathedral. That place was amazing! So many ornate details inside. Our tour guide was giving us a lot of the history, but he was speaking in English and Spanish simultaneously, switching language several times in the same sentence, which was starting to get a little distracting. My son was getting a bit antsy as well, so we left my wife on the tour and went off to do a bit of sketching. Just in pencil, I wanted to sketch fast and I had intended on adding paint, but never got around to it. My son drew the same scene below. Not every day we get to sketch a massive historic cathedral together!

IMG_8086 There was no way I was going to tackle sketching all the ornate sculpture of this place. Look at the shot below, with the light coming in from the ceiling. This place was amazing.

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I did draw outside though. We had a little bit of time before we needed to get back to the train so we took that time to grab a Pepsi Max and sit in the shade, resting our legs, while I drew the cathedral. I couldn’t get too far though, so drew the outline and about half of the details, the important ones – I added the rest along with the colour later.
Toledo cathedral sm

This is the Toledo train station, which I sketched while waiting for our Madrid-bound train.

Toledo train station sm

And below, here am I ‘flying’ over the river. I ziplined across thanks to a company called ‘Fly Toledo‘ which operates a zipline near the San Martin bridge. That was exciting. I had to walk the equipment back over the bridge afterwards but I got a photo of me posing at the end as if in mid flight. I suppose at that point I could have, like all the other photos, appeared to be more of a daredevil and had my hands free but I’m not a daredevil am I. It was the first time I had ziplined since I was 17, so yeah, not really a daredevil. It was exciting though. (Photo by Fly Toledo)

IMG_9928

We didn’t have time to go to Segovia on our Madrid trip, but that is the other day excursion I would have liked to do. Not only because it is another beautiful historic and of course Roman town, but also because it sounds like that place in Avengers that Ultron lifted into the sky and threw back to the ground. Next time perhaps!