Some people at UC Davis. I was sat at the Silo eating lunch and sketched some of the people passing by. I painted in a few lines behind for no other reason than I felt like it (it’s not for any perspective reason, though you could retcon it to say it was a guide, but it wasn’t). Totally unrelated but someone said in conversation the other day about the super power everyone wants to have is to teleport, and it got me thinking. I would love to be able to teleport, it would save me so much hassle with airports and jetlag (well, I presume, nobody knows the physical jetlag effects of intercontinental teleportation). It would save a lot if time and money as well. But then there’s the fact you would still have to go through customs, if you want to do it legally, and fill out that landing form they give you on the plane, and it’s not like you could prove where you teleported from. Then there’s the issue of your baggage, does that teleport with you, can you teleport anything you are carrying (like Nightcrawler from the X-Men), or even touching, such as other people whose hand you might be holding? And if it is anything you are touching, does that include the ground? Would you have to jump into the air to teleport? I mean it would make sense. That means everyone else you are teleporting, along with all of tour baggage, would also have to jump into the air as well. Imagine holding three people’s hands, with all of their heavy suitcases and hand-luggage and snacks and iPads, jumping into the air all at once? I suppose you could come back one at a time, assuming teleportation is instantaneous. Then there is the problem of where you land. You would really need to know exactly where you are teleporting, and that is nigh impossible. Nightcrawler of the X-Men for example usually needs to be able to see where he is going. Safety first. You could end up teleporting into a brick wall or fifty foot above a lake, if you aren’t absolutely exact. Even getting the height wrong by a few feet could result in broken bones in a distant country where you don’t have health insurance. And speaking of travel insurance, who is going to insure you for teleportation-related injuries? No, it’s a nice idea, teleportation, but not really well thought through. I have similar feelings about a lot of super powers. Flying – great, but carrying your bags as well? Also what if you could fly but it turns out only really really slowly. Healing factor – awesome, but you’d get really sloppy (Wolverine is not actually the best at what he does he gets cut and tabbed all the time, he just heals, it’s called cheating). Telekinesis? Moving things with your mind you’d never want to get off the sofa, you’d get so lazy. Control of metal? I have that now, I just use my hands, controlling it with my magnetic mind doesn’t mean I’ll be able to lift it. Climbing walls, that would get old. Still easier going inside the building and using the elevator. Weather control would be nice, but you would have no idea the effects your small change to your local weather system will have on a more global scale – you make it a bit sunnier here, a bit rainier there, you get the butterfly effect. Walking through walls though, the ability to phase, I would like that, because then I’d never have to remember my keys. Unbreakable skin, useful in combat but in every day situations not all that helpful; oh my cat can’t scratch me? Wow. Good luck getting your flu shots. Super speed would be great, but like Quicksilver everything would seem too slow after a while. Look how impatient we all are these days when our browser takes an extra second or two to load. No I think the best super power would really be the one that Batman has, intelligence, determination and vast humungous wads of inherited cash. Anyway, this is what I think about when sketching sometimes.
On my final night in Portugal, after a day of easy sketching and peaceful wandering, I met up with Lisbon-based sketchers Pedro Loureiro and Silvio Menendez, along with Genine Carvalehiro and her girlfriend Sara, at Rossio in the heart of town. The locals took us over to a place called Eduardino, (“Ginjinha Sem Rival”) which was a tiny little hole in the wall that serves little plastic glasses of a drink called ‘ginjinha’. Now I think I had seen Rick Steves drink a ginjinha maybe, but I had no idea what it was. It’s a Lisbon specialty, a cherry-based liqueur that people will often have on their way out somewhere, good for the health, and comes in two ways – “with” or “without”. That is, with a cherry or without a cherry. I had it with; it was delicious. I drew the little ginjinha bar below, but not on site, I did this from a photo I took, as we were on our way out to explore another part of central Lisbon. We found a little café in a courtyard overlooking part of the city, and had some beers and cheeses. I sketched my very nice company, we talked about the various symposia we had been to (I had forgotten Genine also went to Lisbon 2011, she was in one of the workshops I took; such a long time ago now!). This was up at Largo dos Trigueras (above).
After drinks we went looking for a place for dinner, and bumped into Matt Brehm, who was waiting for Liz Steel and Suhita Shirodkar, so we combined our urban sketching parties and went to a little traditional Lisbon restaurant for food and wine and more fun conversations. I sketched Matt (whose workshop called “the Light of Lisbon” I had taken in 2011 in that very neighbourhood), and also the restaurant owner who served us. We ate until late, talked past and future symposia, about how much Urban Sketchers has grown, about all the new people we’ve all met in that time. I must say, I have been a little bit of a reculse of late, as far as the sketching community goes – I didn’t even tell people I was going to Porto, just in case I couldn’t make it – so it was nice to catch up with old friends from around the world. Now next year, Amsterdam, I do need to promise myself that I will let other people know and actually try to make connections ahead of time; I might go first to Belgium and finally sketch with some of the Belge sketchers I know. Being social can actually be quite a good thing.
Anyway we all said adeus and then I went back to the hotel, for I had an early start the next day. A cab to the airport, then a plane to Atlanta, and another plane to Sacramento. I sketched a plane at Atlanta airport while I had my layover. It was a long, long, long day, and I was exhausted. Three weeks away, and it takes more than getting over jetlag to recover. My mind itself was still over in Europe for at least a week or two afterwards. I think I just have permanent wanderlust. Until the next time!
And so here are some sketches from the final evening of the Porto Symposium. On these final get-togethers we usually spend a lot of time chatting and sketching, often speaking to people we may have not had a chance to see yet (easily done in this 800-large event), before going to dinner very late and generally feeling exhausted. Some wine was also drunk. Above, I sketched Marina Grechanik, from Israel, who this year was one of the symposium correspondents and another old urban sketchers friend whose work I’ve admired for years. She has a very creative and playful style (she appeared in my last book, on people sketching) so we drew each other in a portrait duel. I do love portrait duels and wish I could do more of them, I didn’t do enough of them in Porto. Also on this page are Paul Heaston (who of course I know and have followed for years, but didn’t meet until 2016) and Hugo Costa, from Porto, who I’d not met before but whose work is awesome.
Below are Arnaud De Meyer, from Luxembourg, who I met in Manchester 2016. I really like his sketching work (especially his two page spreads), and really hope to sketch with the Luxembourg group some day; two sketchers I do not know but were from Germany, Jonatan and Alexandra; and Joe Bean, who I had the pleasure of meeting at a London sketchcrawl in 2016 and whose work I also really admire (in particular his in-construction sketches of Headingley Stadium in Leeds).
Below are a couple of sketchers I also met in Manchester 2016, Peter Dutka (UK) and Tine Klein (Switzerland), and though they both had colourful outfits I had didn’t have time to add paint while I stood with them. They both had amazing sketchbooks though, I spent some time looking through them, very productive and creative.
And below, the only other sketch I did, of a very tried and hungry group of urban sketchers – Liz Steel (Australia), Elizabeth Alley (USA), Fernanda Vaz de Campo (Brazil), and once more Paul Heaston (USA). Behind us were several more who I did not sketch. We had tried in vain to get dinner but it was late – late night dinner is less of a thing in Porto, this isn’t Madrid – but we found one place willing to serve us cheese pizza. The waitresses were for some reason very interested in my sketchbook. It was a fun evening, and I can’t wait to see evertyone again in Amsterdam! (Though I did see both Liz and Genine (unseen, at the table behind) in Lisbon a couple of days later).
Oh yes, Amsterdam – I didn’t mention, but that is the location of the next Urban Sketching Symposium. Far fewer hilly streets there than Porto! I really hope to go to that one. Next time, I will actually tell people I am going, make connections ahead of time, and I’d also like to spend a bit of time in Belgium first, catching up with old places, meeting sketching friends, before the craziness of the Symposium.
Oh, and one last thing – this is Super Bock. It’s one of two beers you see everywhere in Portugal (the other being Sagres). This is one of the most Portuguese things to sketch. I hope you have enjoyed this trip through Porto with me, I hope I have managed to show some of my enjoyment of this city, but I didn’t see it all and would love to come back some day. I know some friends in England who would love it there. Adeus, Porto!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Below, fellow workshop participant Mary talks about the object she sketched. I can’t remember what it was because I drew her page blank.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stay tuned for more Porto sketches!!!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Not far from where we were staying in Madrid was the Mercado San Miguel. This covered market – well, more like a food hall – was chock full of fresh food and drink to buy and enjoy in a very Madrid atmosphere. We came here a few times for tapas, churros, sangria, but I decided it needed sketching so late one evening when the family went to bed I came across the street, got a sangria and some olives stuffed with mussels, and sketched the bustling gourmet mercado before going home at midnight. The red sangria was delicious. There were lots of tourists there, Americans dragging their sleepy teenaged kids around to experience late-night Spanish culture, some groups of English men on more sensible weekenders than the ones down at the Costa Brava, young ladies sampling Spanish wine and desserts, and occasionally a few locals too, I guess, or maybe visitors from other parts of Spain. I wasn’t really paying much attention to all the people and their conversations, I was looking at the ironwork on the ceiling. I did really enjoy this place, though it is very self-contained and not as large or diverse as the big market in Barcelona that I sketched in 2003. However it was a nice taste of Madrid, literally.
Above is the Palacio Cristal, located in the Parque Dell Buen Retiro, the expansive green space in the heart of the city. We spent an afternoon wandering about here, among the trees and lawns, and we sat for a while by this lovely old building. This might have been my favourite part of Madrid. I sometimes forget in my rush to see big exciting urban wonders that I actually love great urban parks more than anything. I always loved Hyde Park, Regents Park, Central Park in New York of course. Buen Retiro (“Pleasant Retreat”) is exactly that, and dotted with great structures such as this, the Palacio Cristal. This was built in 1887 by Ricardo Velázquez Bosco, possibly inspired by Paxton’s great Crystal Palace in London. Unlike that one, this palace was never relocated to a southern suburb to become the name of a football team and then burn down, and it still sits pretty among the greenery today. I sketched it while we took a break from all the walking. There was a pretty steep street to enter the park, Calle Claudio Moyano, lined with second-hand book stalls and the occasional cold drinks spot, so by the time we reached the middle of the park our feet needed a rest. Well my son’s didn’t, he wanted to kick a ball around but had left it at the apartment. So, we drew this.
Speaking of greenery, this is the Atocha train station, in Madrid. We went there to catch a train to Toledo, and were then delayed by the fact you need to wait in a long line to buy a ticket to Toledo. More like Delayed-oh. Sorry, that was a bad pun, even for me. So, it gave me time to do a sketch of the incredible botanical garden they have inside the main atrium. This was also one of the stations where the awful terrorist attacks of 2004 took place, killing 193 people. The legacy of that atrocity is still visible in the fact that to board a train in Spain, or at least the ones we boarded, you need to go through security and have bags x-rayed.
Here are some Madrid people, sketched while we lunched on pizza outside the Museo Reina Sofía. We spent all morning in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, yet barely scratched the surface of this large art gallery. I was there first and foremost to see Guernica, Picasso’s huge classic, which paints the horrors of an aerial bombardment of a small Basque city by German planes late in the Spanish Civil War. It’s been one of my favourite paintings since I was at school, so to finally see it for real in all its vast, immersive terror was quite an experience. It was accompanied by lots of Picasso’s preparatory sketches, and other paintings by him and by other artists around the time that led up to and influenced this masterpiece. There was a whole section on the art of the Spanish Civil War. That is one conflict I feel I have never really understood properly. It’s always been talked about, written about, painted about, but its legacy lived on right through the end of Franco and probably beyond. Being in Madrid for the first time, I felt a sense of urgency that I need to educate myself about this civil war and about the people of Spain, which I think is a much more complicated country historically than many non-Spanish people know. So, I need to start doing some reading. If our trip to the Reina Sofía has done anything it has made me resolve to learn more. The other thing I enjoyed about the Reina Sofía was the abundance of works by that other great cubist, Juan Gris. I used to love Juan Gris when I was an A-Level art student, I did a project on him and we all went to see an exhibition of his work at Whitechapel. My favourite thing about him though was all the jokes I could use with his name, all really based on either being Hungry or Angry. As I repeated quite often, “Don’t make me Juan Gris, you won’t like me when I’m Juan Gris.” I bet Picasso and Braques used to say that to him all the time.