London Times

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After a couple of weeks city-hopping the low countries of Europe, we Eurostarred it under the channel to fellow-EU-country-at-the-time UK for a week of family time before flying back to America. Seems like a Golden Age Of Travel now. That week was interesting, in an Interesting Times kind of way, but there were some highlights, like going to the new Spurs stadium to watch Tottenham v Inter (sure we lost on penalties, but I got that beer that pours from the bottom of the plastic glass). I did manage a few sketches that week though. Above, this is the York Water Gate found down in Victoria Embankment Gardens, by the Thames. This gateway dates from 1626 and if you turn your head sideways, you can read what I wrote about it, copied from a plaque. I used to like coming to these gardens to read and study when I was doing my master’s many years ago. There were a few dodgy characters lurking around, on the prowl for picking pockets. I social distanced myself from everyone even back then. Still it was nice to be back in London, on a warm early evening, down by the river. I like it by the river.

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Earlier that day we had been to Brick Lane to visit the Classic Football Shirts shop, one of my favourite places of course. My son picked up a youth size 1994 navy Spurs away kit, quite a find. I actually bought that same shirt (adult size) on the day it was released, I was only 18, and it still fits. I wore it when I met Jurgen Klinsmann at his first training Spurs session in Mill Hill, where our old training ground used to be, near Copthall Swimming Pool. I met a few other legends that day, Sheringham, Barmby, Mabbutt, Anderton, Ian Walker, even Rony Rosenthal. But best of all of course was my long time hero Ossie Ardiles. What a gent. He even waved to me from his car when he drove past me and my sister walking down Bunns Lane. Look when I was six I used to want to BE Ossie Ardiles, that was my ambition when I grew up, to somehow be him. Anyway I digress. We ate at some food trucks (I got some tasty fried chicken and chips at a little truck called Mother Clucker), and I drew this ice-cream van above, Dappa.

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Let’s call this one “Before Social Distancing”. We’ve never been social on the tube anyway. I drew these quickly with different pens while on a packed Northern Line carriage back to Burnt Oak. I always get very sleepy on the tube.

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Here is Sophie the Stegosaurus. We like to go to the Natural History Museum, one of my favourite places in the entire galaxy, but my son mostly likes all the rocks and geology. I love the dinosaurs. This was a very quick one. Stegosaurus is my favourite of the dinosaurs.

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We went to St Albans with my mum, and had a look at the cathedral there. I also joined one evening the London Urban Sketchers for a sketchcrawl down the banks of the Thames. After a busy day, I ended up down near London Bridge, I called my uncle Billy on his birthday. And then I met with the sketchers and drew them. There were great amazing vistas to behold, but this was a shirt summer evening sketchcrawl and I was done with architecture for now. It’ll be different next time I am back. So, I just sketched the sketchers. Here they are…
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And then they laid out the sketchbooks as they do, and looked at them. They get large groups in London, I remember the very first Urban Sketchers London sketchcrawl in 2012, which I organized, called “Let’s Draw London”, we had a whopping number of over 50 participants, but that seems about average these days. I think the 2016 Wren crawl had around 70 or 80. It’s nice to come back and see familiar faces.
After that I met up with my friend Roshan (who I’ve been mates with since late teenage years) and we hung out on the South Bank for the rest of the evening, I sketched some singers who were performing at a pop-up bar by the river.
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And that is that. At the end of the trip we flew back home to America (see the in-flight sketch below) and got back to work, and the credit card bill. That was a long trip. I’m still not completely recovered! But I have been back to London since then.
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Alleviating All Anxiety of Amsterdam

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Moving on to the next day and the final day of the Symposium, I woke up Saturday morning definitely feeling the heat exhaustion. I decided to skip my final workshop (I did go and let them know so they wouldn’t be waiting for me) and find a spot to sketch peacefully. I hadn’t yet drawn the dancing houses along the banks of the Amstel from Groenburgwal, so I found a nice bench and drew away. I met another sketcher doing the same. It was quiet, the weekend heat had not yet started cranking up, and my stress-headache was clearing up immediately. I didn’t need to be in a class, stopping and starting and rushing, being “on”, I needed to be in “breathe-in, breathe-out, sketch” mode. It worked. I had met Lapin earlier the morning, and I was going to go and sketch with them (as it turns out he and Gerard and co went to sketch my hotel), but I decided to draw the Dancing Houses. They are impressive. Many houses seem to ‘dance’ in Amsterdam, leaning this way or that – my perspective tip of following the windows to find the vanishing point on the horizon doesn’t work as well here, where the windows follow lines more suited to more Marty Feldman’s binoculars (Young Frankenstein reference). Crooked buildings are fun to draw. By the way I did overhear one sketch instructor scoff at counting the windows on houses in Amsterdam, but counting the windows really helped the composition of each element, and also helps get the scale right. Besides, in Amsterdam they are usually three windows across as a rule. The patchwork nature of the architecture breaks up the monotony you find in many cities, it’s just so fun to draw. Looking back I probably could have had the energy to do some more group sketching and plough on, be a bit more sociable and awake, but mental health came first and I look at this sketch and immediately I feel more relaxed. Breathe in, breathe out, sketch.
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I wandered about a bit more, bumping into the occasional sketching friend, I met Nina Johansson (long term urban sketch idol of mine since the beginning) teaching a class nearby here, the tall Montelbaanstoren. It was pretty peaceful over here too, a couple of blocks from my hotel, in fact the workshop I had skipped was being taught close by, but I decided not to join late. I sat by the canal and drew the tower as best I could, with a bike in the foreground. I was going to add full colour, but stopped at the blues, it just felt right for the relaxed mood.

After doing a few sketches of the hotel (I posted those already), I wandered over to Niewmaarkt to enjoy one of my favourite discoveries in Amsterdam – poffertjes. Little mini pancakes, from a friendly guy called Tony Benson. I spoke with Tony and a woman who was with him, we talked about Belgian footballers (maybe because I was wearing my Belgian shirt again), she was really inot Eden Hazard and asked who my favourite Belgian player was (Super Jan Vertonghen obviously!). The poffertjes were small but delicious. I could eat some of those now.

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In the afternoon, there would be another sketchwalk, over near the NEMO center, culminating in a huge group photo (the ones I usually miss at every symposium), and then the final reception over at the Muziekgebouw. I was going to meet up with everyone there, but at the hotel I realized I really needed more rest, not more rushing around in the heat. Here’s how I rested:

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I also rested by spending an hour or so in the amazing blue-tiled pool in the hotel’s basement, and relaxing in the hot-tub. Best decision I ever made. Matt Brehm was right, you don’t have to draw.
The sketchwalk was nice, and although I turned up too late for any sketching, I did meet up with a lot people I had not seen during the symposium. Many of the local groups got together for their local group photos – I am one of the Californians, but I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo with them. I did at least make the final group photo, but there are so many people in the picture that I obviously can’t be spotted, even with my bright red Belgium 1984 shirt. Actually though, in this photo of the whole group (by Belgian friend and photographer Marc Van Liefferinge) I can be spotted near the middle of the back. Proof I made it there.

You know what, there are loads of sketches you can find from other symposium attendees, if you go to Flickr and search through the tag “amsterdam symposium“. Of course most people now just bounce them out on Instagram and so on too. There are a LOT of Amsterdam sketches to be found. I went over to the final reception (a very very long walk, I went with Mauro and Fabien, though Fabien stopped on the way for a beer and to wait for Gerard, they were not coming to the reception but actually driving back to Liège that night). At the reception I caught up with all the people I had not spoken to as much so far, such as Gabi, and Liz (we snuck up on Paul Wang and got our annual symposium pic of the three of us, guerilla-style), Elizabeth, James, and of course Rita, and did a little people sketching, but mostly chatting. I also got to meet Danny Gregory for the first time, he was there with all the Sketchbook Skool lot, that’s a big thing now. I had been a chapter in one of his books years ago, the one with my drawing of Vipins ont he cover, and we’d tried to arrange a video interview to go on his website but it was always dinnertime in my house and we never did it, so it was nice to finally meet. (Though I suspect I he didn’t remember who I was). I also met a number of people who I’ve since started following on Instagram, it’s what these whole events are about really. And then in the end, it was the gathering off for dinner, I went off with a big group of the usual sketchers, and we had a great evening. The best bit though was finishing off with some late night or early morning) car sketching. A bunch of us led by Lapin sat in a narrow street by a canal and drew a couple of classic Citroens. This is apparently a tradition at the Clermont Ferrand festival. My habit of sketching fire hydrants at 3am when I travel does not seem so odd now; these are my people. One of though people though, Hugo Costa, nearly fell in the canal when his stool broke – lucky escape! Here’s what I drew, and a photo of some of us sketching in the darkness of Amsterdam.
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Now this little fire hydrant I actually drew at night on the first night in Amsterdam, but I’ve saved until now because why not. As for the blog post title, “Alleviating All Anxiety of Amsterdam”, I mean it says it all but seriously I might come back and change all these titles some day.
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And that was it for another Symposium. I have more Amsterdam sketches to share here, plus a bit more Belgium, a bit of Disneyland Paris, a few from London, and then loads more of Davis, then some from Santa Monica, and Portland again, and Hawaii. But after this long day of relaxful sketching Citroens by lamplight, I had a well-earned lie-in on Sunday. After all the heat, there was a little rain coming, but so were my family.

Alive Actually, Amsterdam

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When I posted my sketches from Porto in 2018 every post had an alliterative “p” title, and I am doing something similar for Amsterdam, but making far less sense. I could put more thought into it, but that would not be indicative of how my mind was completely melted by the heat there. I was all over the place. Some people go to Amsterdam and do that on purpose of course, through other means, but for me it was just the heat making me feel continuously confused. Also the streets – I love bikes and am a cyclist myself, but wow they are everywhere in Amsterdam, and sidewalks are super narrow. When it is busy it feels stressful. On the second morning of the symposium though I felt quite good, raring to go, I had even got up and had a run around the emptier morning streets, before I marched along to the Zuiderkerk to meet up with my workshop group, chatting away to people I hadn’t seen in a year, today was going to be great. However I had mixed up which workshop I was supposed to be doing, thinking that I was in Ian Fennely’s class. When it came time for roll call though he made it very clear my name was not on the list for the workshop, “no, you are not on the list.” Ok, I’m not trying to sneak in, maybe I wrote it down wrong. Turns out I had got my days mixed up (first sign my mind was not functioning at capacity), and that I was going to Shari Blaukopf’s workshop. That cheered me up as I was really looking forward to her class on sketching boats, which is why I thought I had selected it to save for last. She is an exceptional watercolour painter and I of course am not a painter, though I use watercolours to colour in my drawings, I am all about the lines so I really wanted to learn from her, and while my results weren’t where I wanted them to be, I came away with lots of new knowledge and wanting to try some new things – such as drawing with brush pens.
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Shari encouraged us to bring along brush pens and do some quick sketches of the boats with those. Of course I also drew her talking about the boats. Drawing in brush pen is not something I do a lot of – I realized that drawing people is super fun, especially adding a little watercolour – but those dark shapes and thick lines of the black and white boat drawings really helped to focus in on the values.

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Drawing boats is good practice for perspective, and really good for shading and value. I don’t get much opportunity to draw boats in Davis, only when I go down to the City. Amsterdam harbour is the perfect place for boat sketching. Oh, except when it is very sunny, pushing midday and there is little shade. I was getting thirsty, so I walked over to NEMO (a huge building, very easy to find), which is a big science museum, to get a drink. I had to go to a cafe on the actual roof, climbing up these huge steps, and when I got to the cafe I couldn’t decide in my overheated mind what to get, so I think I got two types of fresh juice, one might have been a smoothie, and some fruit, and some water as well, and it still didn’t feel like enough. I think I was getting a bit of heat exhaustion. I carried on with the workshop, drawing the scene below, first with the brush pen (which I liked) and then just with watercolours (which I liked less).

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My colours seemed dull. Shari suggested that perhaps my paints were a bit too dry, and that dulls the colours I would get. I didn’t quite understand, because they were wet, I was using water (I’m so thick), but I learned that if I had ‘wet’ paints, that is, paints from a tube and not dry in the pan, my colours would be a lot brighter. I got to experience that later in the day when Donald Saluling let me use his paints, and I could instantly tell the difference. I don’t really try a lot of different paints out, so that got me thinking maybe now is the time to invest in a bunch of tubed paints, maybe some nice Daniel Smiths or something. I’m so scared of that, but I think now’s the time to start being a bit bolder. (Fast forward to March 2020, I still haven’t bought new paints but I am using an iPad now and I can get way bolder! In a funny way this class really helped me think about digital sketching). Shari also showed us some very interesting travel paintbrushes too, and I have since got some of those, but of course haven’t yet tried them out (because as I have said before I like to let paintbrushes sit there for half a year before I pluck up the courage to actually use them for anything).

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When the workshop was over, I decided I needed to draw a couple more boats before I had lunch. My hotel was only across the street, so I found some shade under a tree, and cooled off. This was a nice way to end the first part of the day. But it just kept getting hotter. After a rest, I grabbed some more nice juice and a sandwich from the Albert Hein supermarket, and headed out to the sketchwalk taking place at Spui. Clearly my forgetfulness was taking control because I totally forgot to attend Rita Sabler’s sketch demo. When I got to Spui I found the sketchers, and was meeting up with another Portland sketching friend Kalina. The heat was hitting me hard now, I was sweating and sluggish. And then I realized I had forgotten my paints. I wanted to spend the rest of the day painting watery scenes, putting into practice what I learned in the morning, but my watercolors were sitting on my bed at the hotel. Aargh! I saw Gerard Michel sketching on Herengracht and joined him for a bit. I then found a green Citroen and sat in a small gap next to a bike and tried to draw it. I spoke to a guy from Ohio and a woman from Germany who were also sketching it. There were so many sketchers everywhere. That’s how it should be. The heat was getting to everyone, but still we soldiered on, filling our sketchbooks. I added some colour later to this, if you are wondering.
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I also added the colour later to this, but this was a scene I was determined to sketch, but in no real state to do so. This was the moment in the Symposium when I think the heat battered me the most. I really should have just been doing something else, maybe sitting inside a dark cafe with a cold cold beer. Beer did not sound that good to me right then though, my head was already a barrel filled with porridge. This by the way is at Herengracht and Leidsegracht. I should like to come back here when it is cloudy. Again, I added in the wash later, to reflect some of my mood.

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This is what it looks like when you look through that bridge, and through a whole load of other bridges.

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But my head could not handle such views. The bridges could have gone on for ever and ever. I needed some water, but then I found a cafe called Joe and the Juice. It was cool inside, and I liked the names of the drinks. I decided I needed a refreshing smoothie called “Stress Down”, that name just stood out to me. It was made with Aardbei, Gember and Framboos, which I determined was Strawberry, Ginger and Raspberry.

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Honestly I have no idea why that combination worked so well, but it felt like a complete power-up. Like in a computer game when you find a floating heart and it restores your health. My sluggish mind and drained body suddenly felt much more energized, and I went outside, pulled out the brush pen, and immediately drew the sketch below, which I really enjoyed.
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Finally feeling a bit better about my sketching, I went back to Spui and was finally ready for a beer, I met up with Kalina and we met Donald Saluling (first time I had met him in person), and we sat outside a bar filling the early evening with chat and good times. Even on hot days like this, it’s good to all be alive.

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Long post this, could have been two. But it’s all one story. The next posts will be really much shorter. Or maybe longer. That day’s sketching was not over, and I did manage another brush pen sketch at a brown cafe, but I’ll save that for another day.

Amity and Ambience in Amsterdam

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The Urban Sketching Symposium is all about spending time with your fellow sketchers, many of whom are now old friends, especially those who were there at the very start, but it’s also about meeting new people. Often what happens is that you meet people, you are cordial, then you follow each other online and by the next time you see them, they’re like old pals. And of course we sketch each other. Above was a sketch from the first evening in Amsterdam, pay no attention to the parade of massive beers. The light was red, Lapin was sketching me, Matt was talking Italian to Mauro (I’d never met Mauro before, he is Italian living in Luxembourg), Arnaud (on this very hot evening there was no need for us to share a blanket as we had at an outside restaurant in Manchester, 2016) and Ludovina, who I did not know but was also sketching. Amstelhoeck was the place to meet everyone every evening.
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Above is Lapin’s sketch of Matt and me, and you can really see the red light we were drenched in. This was not the red light district by the way. Lapin by the way likes to write down things that you say, just anything from the conversations, and they might be random, such as when I was talking about being “better than him at Mario Kart: (I was probably talking about my brother), while Matt said “there is not a middle in 4”. We joked that we would need to save any conversation not for the public for when Lapin went to the toilet!
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This post will be of the sketches I did of my fellow sketchers, outside of the workshops. Below on the right is Donald Saluling from Indonesia, who I had not met in person but had conversed with (usually about football) over the years, so it was nice to finally meet him. I cannot recall the name of the guy on the left but he was also from Indonesia, nice guy. I was there at a cafe with my Portland friend Kalina after one of the sketchwalks, it was that super hot day where my head had been totally melted by the heat, when I had even left my paints at home. So Donald graciously lent me his (very nice) paints to colour in the sketch. That was a really enjoyable early evening, one of the nicest moments in Amsterdam, utterly exhausted but lots of fun hanging out.
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On the final night of the Symposium there was a large final reception, where Amber Sausen (Urban Sketchers president) announced the 2020 Symposium would be…Hong Kong! I had guessed it, and hoped for it, but that it would be in April rather than summertime, due to the heat. Now as I write in March 2020, sadly the symposium has been cancelled, because of the social disruption that was taking place over the second half of last year. Now of course with the ongoing drama of the Coronavirus outbreak, it would probably have been cancelled anyway,  but it’s a shame. So, there will be no Symposium for 2020. Amsterdam however was a big success, despite all the heat, and although I feel quite hugely overwhelmed by the sheer mass of people – when you are knocking closer to a thousand including those that come along just for the sketching, it feels a long way from the more intimate 75 or so of us that were in Portland – I say that every year – I still really enjoyed meeting new people. Below many of us are sat at a table late at night after wandering about Amsterdam looking for a restaurant that would stay open for us, and we found this one Italian place that put a bunch of tables together in the street for us. I love Europe. I tried to sketch all my neighbours, such as several amazing artists whose work I had not really seen before such as Johanna Krimmel, Eleanor Doughty and Jorg Asselborn. Also at the table are Jenny Adam, my Portland friend Rita Sabler, Matt, Arnaud, Mauro, Lapin, Marina, and a few others I can’t quite see.
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Below are a few sketches from the final reception, the red-hatted Belgian man is Etienne Legrand, who I sketched while waiting in line for a drink. I always enjoy speaking French at these events, I feel like I’m a little bit part of the Francophone sketching world, though as we’ve established my French cannot be understood except in Charleroi, where nobody ever goes. The wild-haired fellow on the right is Richard Briggs, who I had met in Porto, one of the most creative artists I’ve met at these symposia.
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Here he is again with Aurore from Israel, Marina also from Israel (I’m a big fan of hers since the start of Urban Sketchers), and Hugo Costa.
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More Amsterdam sketches to come, but these were all the random people sketches I did this time, fewer than usual, but I’m always glad for capturing these moments.

looking over liège

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I took the train across the linguistic divide that cuts Belgium in two and landed in Liège, a city I had last visited in the final months of the twentieth century. I was going there for exactly 24 hours, to visit my long-time urban sketching friend and art hero, Gerard Michel, and also sketch with some other Belgian sketching friends. Liège is a fairly big city, larger than I remember, and the architecture is very Walloon, lots of brick houses and steep hills. Gerard and I went for a morning walk around his neighbourhood, up steep paths and down long stairs, overlooking rooftops and spires and trees and the great river Meuse. Liège is a lively city, with a lot of atmosphere, a university city, and a very sketchable one, but in a different way to Ghent. We met up with Fabien Denoel, who I’ve known and followed since Barcelona 2013, and Chris Damaskis, as well as Danni Hoedamkers whom I had sketched with in Ghent, and Martine Kervagoret, visiting from Paris on the way to the Symposium, whom I first met back in Lisbon 2011 I think. We sketched up at the Terrasses des Minimes, overlooking the city, and it was very peaceful. I have seen many of gerard’s skethces from up there, as well as Fabiens, but also Lapin’s Florian Afflerbach’s, Nina Johansson’s, all the great sketchers who have visited there before, so I knew this scene well already, and I’m glad to have sketched it myself.
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I liked this picture of an apple that I took too.

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We walked into town for lunch, going to an old Liègeois cafe called Chez Stockis / Cafe Lequet, near the banks of the Meuse. We sat and chatted in French (I am very rusty), looked through sketchbooks, had cold beer and ate very local food. Most people had these things called ‘boulots’, which are these large meatballs (I don’t eat the meat so I didn’t have those), but I had Tomates Crevettes, which were these little shrimp sat on a big tomato, with frites. The cafe is old and a local favourite, but I heard that it would be closing. In fact I think by now, M. Stockis has closed up for the last time, though the cafe may still be going on (there’s a FB page). The patron, Guillaume Stockis, is there in the background of the sketch below (which is of Fabien Denoel). On the ceiling is hanging the marionette of Tchantchès, a local Walloons character dating back to the 19th century, dressed in his traditional miners’ clothes. You can learn about him here, if you can speak Walloons. This here is the heart of Liège.

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After lunch we walked across the Meuse to the Outremeuse neighbourhood and sketched at the roundabout of the Rue Pont St Nicolas. It was getting hot, the heatwave was coming in, and regular cold drinks were necessary. I sat next to a Friterie – the Friterie Tchantches of course – and drew as best I could. I also wandered about a little, as I had learned (from one of Gerard’s sketches) that the best waffles in Liège were at a place just across the street. Sadly it was closed, so I had one from a chain nearby, which was not as good. The waffles of Liège are a bit different from the waffles of Brussels, usually smaller and rounder, and they remind me of that Belgian film Rosetta, which I saw back in 1999 when I was in Charleroi, a story about a young woman in Liège who at one point works in a waffle truck.

Liege Outremeuse

Going back a few hours, the sketch below was the view from the guest room at Gerard’s house, I had woken up early (jetlag), and needed to practice the sketching. The bells at the local church were playing Bob Dylan, Blowin’ in the Wind, which always reminds me of when I lived in Belgium, when I listened to Bob Dylan a lot, and that was the first song on the CD I had bought. I would listen to that when looking out over the rooftops from my 13th floor room, so perhaps this was the universe welcoming me back to Wallonia.
Liege view from window
And as you know, I like to draw fire hydrants, so I drew three of them in Liège. And here also is Gerard, on the steep Montagne de Beuren, showing me the spot where he had once drawn a spectacular 360 degree picture of the whole scene – he gave me a print of it a decade ago, I do love it. It was funny seeing the real place in real life.
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Here is Gerard’s sketchbook, and as you can see I show up in it twice! A huge honour. I’m wearing my 1984 classic Belgium shirt, crouching over my book as always.

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After sketching the roundabout, I walked down to the shade beneath the bridges crossing the Meuse. There was a smell of wee. The footbridge is the Passarelle Saucy, and I think I remember this bridge from that one time I came here twenty years ago, but I don’t remember it being called Saucy. What a brilliant name for a bridge. And no, I won’t be doing any sauce or saucy based jokes here.
Liege Passarelle Saucy
We crossed back over the river, walked about the city-centre a bit, before stopping off at the Place St Denis to draw the side of the church there. The weather was really getting hot by now. Gerard’s son Antoine joined us, I’ve met him a number of times. It was nice having dinner with Gerard’s family at his home the evening before, he made a really delicious chicken meal. I was delighted to take a look at his sketchbook room, his inventions, and we looked through a large map book of 17th or 18th century Belgium with Fabien, scouring it for every village; a small country with a big and detailed history. Belgium has only been the country of Belgium since 1830, but every area has a long hisroty, often of being ruled by some foreign power like the Habsburgs, or the French, or the Dutch, or the Spanish; Liège for many years was ruled by the Prince-Bishops of Liège, the princes-évêques, and the next time I am here I will draw the magnificent palace that still dominates the skyline. This is also, possibly, the city of Charlemagne’s birth, though nobody knows for sure. It might be Aachen, which isn’t far away, and was his capital. The city I was in the day before, Ghent, was the birthplace of another great Holy Roman Emperor called Charles, whose name lives on in one of my favourite beers, Charles Quint (Kaizer Karel).
Liege Sketchers
The Church of St.Denis dates back to the late 900s AD, founded by someone called Notker of Liège. I added the colour later on the train out of town. I spent exactly 24 hours in Liège. We all went for a cold beer in the city square, before Gerard took me to the station, the phenonemally futuristic cathedral of Guillemins, and I just made it onto a train to go back in time to Charleroi. A la prochaine fois, Liège!
Liege St Denis

gandering around ghent

Ghent Train Station
Despite living in Belgium for a year twenty years ago, I had never been to Ghent before. Well, I did go there once, on the morning train from Charleroi, but I had not really slept the night before and was so ridiculously tired that I decided to call it quits and head back home to bed, so I don’t remember a great deal. I think part of that is that Ghent is quite big, and the city centre is a good long walk from the train station, and in the year 2000 I may not have been as good at reading maps as I always believed (“flight of the navigator” my friends used to call me). I’m a lot better at that now. I have an Apple Watch that tells me where to go, making little vibrations to tell me to turn left. This time however I did one better, and met up with a local (well, local to Flanders), fellow urban sketcher and USk-symposium-goer Danni, who showed me around, and we met with another local Ghent sketcher. I took the train from Brussels Central up to Ghent (known as Gent in the Flemish), locked my stuff away in the luggage lockers, and sketched the station Gent Sint Pieters, which is a pretty nice building. The weather was nice, it was warm but not yet hot – it was going to get ridiculous in the next couple of days. It was also, I learned, the Belgian National Day, which seemed like a big surprise to most Belgians I met. I was wearing my Belgian national team football shirt, but I was the only one wearing it. I learned a bit more about Flanders from Danni, and listened out for the Flemish language – it’s Dutch, of course, but it definitely has a softer sound to it than Dutch. I can only speak a very little and I can read more than I can listen to, but I like the accent. When I was in Belgium I only really encountered Flemish when visiting Brussels, or on the labels of drink cans, so my attempts to learn it fell a bit flat. Everyone I met who spoke Flemish spoke English, unlike in solidly Francophone Wallonia. I had been to Bruges, Antwerp, Ostend, Leuven, but Ghent eluded me, and after visiting it I realized what I had been missing. Ghent is amazing, and so sketchable. Now as I say, it was the Belgian National Day, because the calendar said it was, but Ghent was bustling for another reason – it was the week of the annual Gentse Feesten, a huge city-wide festival with music and food and drink, and of course loads of people. I was sketching in the earlier part of the day so was likely to miss the big crowds, but as it turned out it was not so bad, and pretty fun. I knew where I wanted to sketch first – the view from the St.Michielsbrug, which probably needed to be a two-page panorama, but I would perhaps have needed a seat for that, and a couple more hours.
Ghent St Michielsbrug

I mean, have a look at that, what a spectacular view to draw. You should see left and right of this view, it continues to be dramatic. Another one to eventually go back and draw even more of when I have, you know, all the time in the world, and the money to pay for that time. I’m happy for what I have. To be right there, in my favourite little country, in a part of it I had never explored (except when sleepwalking twenty years ago), with a sketchbook in my hand, pretty much the meaning of life. Knowing that good food and drink is nearby, and people to meet, stories to learn, it’s a good feeling. I think people – British people certainly – have always shrugged at Belgium as some boring country of bureaucrats with nothing there but grey skies and trenches, and that’s fine, keep thinking that, I know there’s a country of endless character and history, always something to explore, in a very small area. If I had the time I would just go town to town with a sketchbook and document the whole country. If I did I would be so full of frites and chocolate and beer that I’d need to spend a month in the gym afterwards. Alternatively, I could cycle – that is Belgium’s national sport after all. Oh they love the sport of cycling here. Then again, I remember what the drivers were like in Charleroi, so I would need quite a lot of health insurance.
Ghent Building

Ghent Sketchers Ghent Sketchers

Here are my fellow sketchers, sketching away outside the Gravensteen castle, a little further down the riverbank. That’s the castle below. Very much a castle. the ‘Castle of the Counts’. As per usual with sketching days, I didn’t go inside the historic building, but sketched the exterior from across the street. Count Philip of Alsace built it back in the twelfth century. According to the Ghent tourist website he ‘wanted everyone to know that he was the boss’. Ok Count. More and more people were coming into Ghent at that point for the Gentse Feesten. I was going to catch a train to Liege that evening, so I could not stick around to party like it was 2019 with the locals.
Ghent Gravensteen

I did go and try the local specialty though – Waterzooi. Again, something I had never eaten in the whole year in Belgium. Look when I lived in Charleroi I had no money so I ate cheaply, which meant frites in sauce and brochettes de dinde. Lots of them. I didn’t do anything fancy, I only had mussels a couple of times. So I was looking forward to proper Gentse Waterzooi. It’s a kind of stew, and I had it with chicken. It was very nice, but it was nothing fancy, and that’s how I like it. Belgium is all about nothing fancy. Belgium can do ‘fancy’ – look at the chocolate! – but really they are quite a down to earth bunch, and Waterzooi felt like that, a big stew to warm you up when it gets cold.

waterzooi

It wasn’t cold though, and there was one more old place I wanted to visit before hopping back on the train. The Cafe den Turk is Ghent’s oldest brown cafe, dating back to 1228 (AD not PM), so we popped in here and did a quick sketch over a nice cold Gruut Blond, a local beer. ‘Brown Cafe’, that is what they call these old pubs in the Dutch-speaking world. If I had a couple of hours, I’d have probably made a much browner and more detailed drawing, but I settled for this, and the experience. I listened out to the Flemish, tried to pick up a few words, but I have since forgotten them. And that was Ghent, a pretty nice city. Next stop, across the country to the east of Belgium, and the big French-speaking city of Liège…

Ghent Cafe Den Turk

nice propellers, fellas

RAF Hendon Kitty Hawk
The day after arriving in London I joined with the London Urban Sketchers for their latest sketchcrawl, which was at the RAF Museum Hendon (in Colindale), which is very close to my family’s home in Burnt Oak. Despite growing up nearby, I had never actually been inside, not once. It was a lot larger than I expected. There was a very good turnout for the sketchcrawl, and I met a few familiar faces. I actually organized USk London’s first sketchcrawl back in 2012 when that chapter was founded, calling it “Let’s Draw London” after the Let’s Draw Davis sketchcrawl series I had started, and they have been going ever since, still monthly, in a whole variety of very interesting and diverse locations. There are so many sketchers in London who go out rain or shine. Of course this sketchcrawl was mostly indoors, and I was joined this time by my young sketching apprentice, my 9-year-old nephew Sonny. I had expected him to get bored at some point, as it was a long day of sketching, but not a bit of it – he could have kept drawing for many hours longer than the rest of us. He loved it, and he kept himself very busy, sketching eight planes and chatting away to the other urban sketchers. And he was very proud to get his Urban Sketchers London badge!
RAF Hendon Sonny sketching

The first plane we both sketched was the Curtiss KITTY HAWK III, at the top of this post. With its painted mouth, this was an obvious favourite. We then moved on to draw a couple of others, the small red CHIPMUNK plane which is post-WWII, and had cool black and white striped propellers, which must have created a great effect while spinning. The sketchcrawl co-organizer John told me that he actually used to fly one of these, which was pretty impressive to me (I’m always impressed by pilots). Next to it was the golden yellow HARVARD, which I think was actually American but I didn’t read the label. Always read the label Pete, seriously! Someone did say to me, “well that’s the Harvard, which of course is American, because ‘Harvard’, see” and I kept thinking, well the university is American but John Harvard was from England, he went to school in Southwark, but I didn’t mention that because 17th century emigrants didn’t really have a lot to do with 20th century aviation and I’d sound like a twat. Also, I kept thinking about trying to use the word ‘mans-planing’ at some point that day, the situation where a man explains to a woman what aeroplanes do, but I didn’t have the imagination to seek that scenario out. Also, I have just realized that chipmunks have stripey backs, which totally planesplains the stripey propeller. See, who needs to read the labels?
RAF Hendon Chipmunk and Harvard
I liked working on the perspective sketching these, vehicles up close is good practice. Below is the TORNADO, which is one of my absolute favourite planes. When I was in primary school (not far from here, at Goldbeaters), pupils were divided into four houses, which were if memory serves ‘Phantoms’ (green), ‘Jaguars’ (blue), Harriers (red, I think?) and ‘Tornadoes’ (yellow). I was in the Tornadoes. We would get House Points for all sorts of things, sometimes for sporting achievements (we would be split into our houses on sports day), but also good behaviour, good academic work, and other such things. If I recall I got us a few House Points for drawing, but not as many for sporting prowess (I was good at chess though). Anyway, that’s why I like Tornadoes.
RAF Hendon Tornado
Quick five-minute sketch of the enormous Lancaster bomber, which I will definitely attempt again some time, it is an enormous flying fortress. It brought to mind the great flying battleships of Castle In The Sky, one of my favourite Miyazaki films. Also, the first part I drew was the round bit at the front, the one with the strange screaming emoji face on it.
RAF Hendon Lancaster
When I was a kid my older sister dated a guy named Neil Frogget for a while, and he worked at British Aerospace, as an engineer I think, he may have made the tea for all I know (I’m not very inquisitive, I never ask questions about what people do, I would have been a terrible journalist). When he came to visit once he brought me all these posters of modern British fighter planes, which I hung on my wall and tried to design new, faster, more weapon-filled versions. I was a little bit into jet fighter planes (yet ironically as a kid I was scared of flying, until I was 10 when I finally took a plane to Spain, and have been flying all over the world ever since). I loved those toy flying plane made out of cheap easily-breakable polystyrene with the little plastic propeller on the front, and they came in all models, the most sought after of course being the Spitfire. Yet I still didn’t visit RAF Hendon. The World War II flying machines were very much part of our local lore – RAF Hendon is at the site of the great Hendon Aerodrome, which spanned the area now covered by (the notorious) Grahame Park Estate, itself named after flying legend Claude Grahame-White. He had established a flying school here in 1911. Of course when we think of the RAF, you can’t help but think of its most famous hour, the Battle of Britain, and when you think of the Battle of Britain you of course think of the Hawker Hurricane, and the forever popular Spitfire. So my last two sketches are of those. By this point I started a new sketchbook, closing the Seawhite and starting another Stillman & Birn (“Sketchbook 32” in the new categorization).
RAF Hendon Hawker Hurricane
RAF Hendon Spitfire

And here are some of the sketches my nephew Sonny did. He was really good at reading the labels and getting all the names right. He also wrote down the names of the sketchers he met so he could remember them when talking to them at the end (smart lad). Newest urban sketcher!img_0870edited.jpg

A fun time was had by all. I can’t wait to get back there sketching the planes again. I won’t have time this summer to organize another ‘themed’ London sketchcrawl, so it was really enjoyable to take part in this one.
The next posts of my sketches will be mostly London-themed. I did manage to get quite a lot of drawing done while I was back there, some of which needs finishing off with a bit of colour, some I need to draw little maps for, but I will be posting Davis sketches in the meantime. The trip was tiring, but energizing, and I’m expecting to keep the sketch-momentum going. First though, I have to get over the jet-lag…

Also posted on Urban Sketchers London

ten years later

6th and D Davis Oct 2018
On a corner of Old North Davis is a house I drew at the end of a crisp sunny October day in 2008. I remember I left work early that day, and cycled up beyond 5th Street, still then a fairly unknown country for a South Davis-dweller such as me, to the Old North neighbourhood, looking to capture some of its old America charm with the autumnal leaves. That sketch is below. I then posted that sketch on the brand new website called ‘Urban Sketchers’, on day 1 of the blog, for which I was to be the ‘Davis’ correspondent. The header of Urban Sketchers upon its launch featured one of my sketchbooks with sketches of San Francisco. In those days Urban Sketchers, the brainchild of Seattle-based sketcher Gabi Campanario, online sketching friend back when our online sketching community still seemed pretty small, had a few correspondents from around the world but grew fast, issuing a Manifesto and encouraging communities of sketchers to get together and draw their world, or rather ‘see the world, one drawing at a time’. It launched on November 1st, 2008; a decade later Urban Sketchers (USk) is absolutely huge, with countless regional ‘chapters’ globally, many many workshops and gatherings, and the annual International Urban Sketching Symposium, which started in Portland in 2010 (with around 80 participants) and was most recently in Porto in 2018 (with around 800 participants!). So, to commemorate my first post on that first day, I went back to that corner of Old North Davis, a much more familiar district to me now, being on my way home, and sketched that same old house, above. The tree in front has gone, though another younger tree has sprouted up just behind the fence. Obviously in 2008 the leaves turned orange a little earlier than this year. My son was just a little baby. George W. Bush was still president; Barack Obama would be elected a week later. Spurs had just sacked their manager Juande Ramos (after our worst ever start to a league campaign, 1 point in 10 games; think about that, when we’re complaining now about having only 21 points from 10 games) and replaced him with Harry Redknapp. How times have changed. Me, I’m still drawing the rise and fall of trees.

D & 6th, davis

You can see the post I put on Urban Sketchers today at: http://www.urbansketchers.org/2018/11/a-decade-on.html

last night in lisbon

Lisbon Drinks sm
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).
Lisbon Ginjinha sm
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.
Lisbon Matt Brehm sm
Lisbon Restaurant Man SM
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!
Atlanta Airport

porto party

Symposium people
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).
Symposium People
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.
Symposium people
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).
Dinner after the Symposium
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.
Super Bock
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!

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