Alleviating All Anxiety of Amsterdam

Amsterdam Dancing Houses sm
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.
Amsterdam Montelbaanstoren sm

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.

IMG_4288

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:

656A08CA-1A5D-4FA8-9EEB-17238944DC7E

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.
Amsterdam Night Car Sketching sm

D60DF3F5-1FE9-4E07-8BB3-517B3FDB8025

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.
Amsterdam Hydrant sm

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

Amsterdam Shari Blaukopf Workshop sm
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.
Amsterdam Shari Blaukopf Workshop 2 smAmsterdam Shari Blaukopf Workshop Ship 1 sm

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.

Amsterdam Shari Blaukopf Workshop Ships 2 sm
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).

Amsterdam Shari Blaukopf Workshop Ship 4 sm
Amsterdam Shari Blaukopf Workshop Ship 3 sm
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).

Amsterdam Harbor sm

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.
Amsterdam Green Car sm

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.

Amsterdam Herengracht bridge sm

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

IMG_4228

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.

IMG_4242

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.
Amsterdam Keizersgracht street sm
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.

IMG_4251

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

Amstelhoek Drink n Draw sm
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.
IMG_4174
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!
Amsterdam Matt Mauro sm

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.
Amsterdam Donald Saluling sm
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.
Amsterdam Usk People 2 sm
Amsterdam Usk People 4 sm

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.
Amsterdam Etienne Legrand smAmsterdam Richard Briggs sm
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.
Amsterdam Usk People sm
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.

Above and Around Amsterdam

Amsterdam Waag
First workshop day of the Urban Sketching Symposium! We got a big bag of goodies this year, loads of paints and pens and sketchbooks. I still have goodies from the first symposium in my art cupboard. This year symposium attendees all got bright red bags to carry our gear, which also made it easy to spot the other symposium people. The first thing I drew in the morning was the castle-like building called ‘Waag’, in the Niewmaarkt. I think everyone sketched this. It sits there nice and sketchable. I drew it from the most obvious angle. Perhaps I should have sat closer and made more of an effort, but I was in a hurry, I needed to get to my first workshop: “Amsterdam Rooftops” with the very nice Hugo Costa. I met Hugo in Porto, so was eager to take one of his workshops, and he really had an advantage over the other workshops, in that we were going to be looking out over the top of the city, but also sketching in a cool air-conditioned rooftop restaurant, “Blue”. I drew him introducing the workshop below.
Amsterdam Hugo Costa Workshop Demo
For the class we had to bring large sketchpads, like A3 size, which of course is not my usual thing but I wanted to give it a go. Definitely enjoy attacking something so big and detailed on a large piece of paper. I decided against adding colour, but just added a bit of shade. I took this photo of it. I submitted this into the end-of-symposium auction, and it sold! Most of all, I enjoyed observing Amsterdam from above. There is something so peaceful about sitting above a city, counting the spires, watching it stretch to the horizon. The Netherlands is a very flat country. When I was a kid I had a map of Amsterdam on my wall, and I loved how the canal rings curved around the city centre. It’s amazing I have not spent that much time in Amsterdam in my life, but I have never really spent much time in many of the places I used to read all about when I was a kid (I had a map of Sydney too, never been to Australia, as well as those little Berlitz books about Hong Kong, New Zealand, Norway and the Rhine Valley, none of which I’ve been to. YET.).
Amsterdam Rooftops
This is one of my favourite photos from the symposium, the various workshop attendees from all over the world all huddled together in an elevator going up to Blue, all ready to sketch. I made some silly joke about “watch out for pickpockets!”. This was a really nice workshop experience, we had some nice conversations.
In elevator at Hugo Costa's workshop at USk Amsterdam 2019
Here is Hugo taking a look at some of the sketches.
Hugo Costa's workshop at USk Amsterdam 2019
Amsterdam from Blue
After the workshop many of us stayed for lunch. I caught up with Daniel Green, always nice to chat with him, and sketched the view looking down what I think is Regulierbreestraat. This is a city I would love to explore so much of, maybe in a slightly less busy time of year (whenever that is!).

After lunch I headed back to the hotel and then went out to see something I just had to see – the Ajax Arena. Well it’s called the Johan Cruijff arena now after the most famous footballing son of Holland. I wanted to go there because I love Dutch football (well, I like it) and have always admired Ajax, but maybe the real reason is that my team Tottenham knocked Ajax out of the Champions League semi-final in a most dramatic last-minute way in 2019, and I wanted to wear my emerald-green Spurs top there, just for a laugh. I got a few comments in the club shop, “oh you can’t wear that here.”

Amsterdam Ajax Stadium sm
I didn’t get to go inside the stadium but that is ok, I just sketched outside. I did meet one Ajax fan though who was not a fan of Tottenham, let’s say. I was standing outside a restaurant next to the stadium which was called “Burger Bitch” (one of the burgers was called “That’s a huge bitch”) and he came dashing out to tell me, no you cannot wear that Tottenham shirt here. Not so much for us beating them, which he blamed completely on Ajax, more for how he and other Ajax fans were treated by the police when they visited our new stadium in the first leg (he never got to see the game because some English hooligans attacked them, and so the police just took them away and sent them to Leicester Square, no game for them). I felt bad for the guy, we had a good chat about footy, but yeah at first I thought he might chase me away. He told me of his other stories about traveling with the Ajax, such as when they were in Turin and the Italian ultras of Juventus would attack them with knives, and a guy he knows got one of those infamous knives in the buttock that are popular with Italian calcio hooligans. I had heard of this being a thing. He told me that was the worst thing because they cannot sit. Actually he might have said “cannot shit”, it was hard to tell the way the Dutch sometimes say their “s”, but either way not a nice injury to have. I didn’t tell him about when my brother in law fought against Ajax fans in the early 80s on a canal boat in Amsterdam and he was attacked by a guy with a samurai sword and had to jump ship. I’ve always wondered about that story. Anyway after all this fun chat I went back into central Amsterdam, and decided I might not wear my Tottenham shirt out to the pub that evening.

A couple of photos. I was particularly proud of my quip when I saw the picture of Danny Blind holding hands with a young Daley Blind, two generations of Ajax player, when I said “D. Blind leading D. Blind”. But nobody was there to hear or care. And there it is, Burger Bitch, to prove it’s a real actual place.
Amsterdam Hertha Berlin Fan smAmsterdam passenger on Metro sm

I had to wait ages for the metro. The station at the Arena was absolutely packed, largely with people traveling home from work, but the heatwave was causing more delays I think. I sketched a little. When I got back, I rested for a while at the hotel before getting back to the sketching job. I drew the Zuiderkirk from the banks of the Zuiderkerk from Kloveniersburgwal canal…
Zuiderkerk from Kloveniersburgwal sm
…before drawing the sunset at the Amstelhoeck. I then spent the rest of the evening drinking beer and hanging out with sketching buddies, another very fun evening. A very hot but very productive day. The next day was even hotter…

Amstelhoek sunset sm

Arrival in Amsterdam

Amsterdam Klovenierburgswal
And so, on to Amsterdam. Due to the heat-related travel chaos I arrived later than I’d hoped (but still, I was lucky to make it), and so I missed the opening ceremony of the 10th Urban Sketching Symposium. This annual event started in Portland in 2010, and I’ve gone to many of them since. Boy how they’ve grown. I arrived in Amsterdam, waded through the crowds at Centraal (I’ve never been a fan of that station, and it’s just how I remember it), and checked in to my hotel, a spectacular historic building called the Scheepvaarthuis, now the Grand Amrâth Hotel. This might have been my favourite thing about Amsterdam, and in fact many other sketchers would come to draw the building. I didn’t stop too long though as I wanted to go and meet up with the other sketchers that I know. There were a LOT of sketchers milling around. I found many of my old Urban Sketchers pals who I met at the first symposium, and some went off to eat while I went off to sketch with Matt Brehm and Lapin, because you have to draw before you can eat. We drew the scene above. It was my first time in Amsterdam in 20 years, and I remember it as somewhere I always wanted to go back and sketch, but was not a fan of the crowds. These crooked buildings are just the thing to get me started though, and I like those girders that stick out at the top which are used as a pulley to bring things up to the higher floors of those narrow houses. After this, the three of us headed down to Amstelhoeck, which was where many urban sketchers would be gathering each night for a drink and draw, and we had much merriment, always nice to hang out with those lads. I’ll add in my people sketching in a later post.
Amsterdam Grand Hotel Amrath sm
So here is my hotel, the Grand Amrâth. I spent a lot of time online looking for the right hotel. Everything was pricey, and I knew that I could stay further out and save some money, because the public transport is so good in Amsterdam and well connected, and I could even ride a bike around (spoiler alert, I never ended up riding a bike in Amsterdam, despite being a cyclist in America’s self-styled ‘biking capital’ Davis, I wasn’t brave enough!). But I also wanted to be in short walking distance from the symposium, without having to pass through too many crowds. I wanted somewhere with character rather somewhere bland and corporate, or meagre and depressing. Having stayed at an ok place in Porto which ended up being up a really steep hill and was modern having little character, I wanted to choose a bit more wisely this time. I found a decently priced room at this place, the Grand Amrâth, about the same price as many of the other dingier looking places, and chose it because the building looked like a haunted castle. In fact some of the reviews said it actually was haunted. So when I showed up and saw that it was in fact a five star hotel I was surprised. The place is an architectural wonder. The Scheepvaarthuis (“Shipping House”) was built in the early part of the twentieth century, and was the ornate headquarters of several shipping comanies. Architecturally speaking it is perhaps the finest example of the ‘Amsterdam School’ (and I say this knowing full well I don’t know any other examples). I enjoyed the elaborate stained glass windows, as well as the decorative ironwork, but also the entertaining moustachioed statues, one of which looked a bit like my sketching friend Arnaud de Meyer (he pointed it out, that it was the most accurate drawing I have done of him). Have a butcher’s at all of this though. I would definitely stay here again, if only for the sketching opportunities.
Amsterdam Grand Hotel Amrath details sm
Other sketchers came out to sketch here too at various points, such as Lapin, Arnaud de Meyer, Martine Kervagoret and of course Gerard Michel (click on the links to see their sketches of the building). Plus many more. However I am really glad that I stayed here during the heatwave. My room (which was very nice, and always well-stocked with a free mini-bar, always lots of nice cold water and Diet Coke to come back to every night) had good air-conditioning, unlike a lot of the hotel rooms in the city. From stories other sketchers and tourists were telling me, apparently a lot of them were breaking down, meaning it was very difficult for people to sleep in their intensely hot rooms, to the point that people were sleeping in the cooler hallways. Thankfully I did not experience that here. There was also a nice indoor pool in the basement that I definitely took advantage of when the intense heat got too much for me (and boy did it, it melted my mind). I never ate at the restaurant, but I did eat an ‘Uitsmijter’ (a Dutch dish, three fried eggs with cheese on thick bread) at the small bar, also having a nice cocktail there. Look at the building at night, below, one side facing a quiet canal shrouded in total darkness. It’s one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever stayed in. I was looking for character, I found a whole Pirandelli. I would come back to Amsterdam just to stay here.

As I say, it was very hot. Below is an unrelated picture of a mn pressing a button at a crosswalk, which is a diagram you see on the pole, showing you how to press the button in case the ehat has melted your mind so you might forget. Next to that, a photo of a Mango flavoured Fanta. Mango Fanta is delicious. They do a whole spectrum of flavours of Fanta in the Netherlands (though what I drank most were the delicious fresh juices you get everywhere, so good), but the fancy flavors are expensive. I think this can was like 3.50 Euros, just for a can of soda. When the man in the shop opposite the hotel told me the price, my eyes popped out and I was like, no way dude, that’s a lot for a can of drink. I’m thinking, tourist shop, silly prices. So I went next door, where the price was exactly the same, and so I thought oh well, that’s what it costs, I’m thirsty. But as I walked past the other shop I hid my drink, the walk of shame. It was worth it though, best Fanta ever.
Amsterdam Traffic Button smIMG_4051
As always when I recount my stories from the sketching symposium it might take a few posts, but I’ll try to mix them up a bit. I sketched a lot in Amsterdam, but because of the heat destroying me I always felt like I could not sketch enough. The symposia always feel like a big competition to draw the most, when that’s never really the point of them, it’s about spending time with other sketching friends, learning from each other, seeing and experiencing the world. Matt Brehm said on this trip, “It’s ok not to draw.” All that said, I really did draw a lot…

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!

IMG_8459-smaller

porto practicum

Simo workshop, Porto
The second and final workshop I took was with Simonetta (Simo) Capecchi, from Naples. I met Simo at the 2010 Portland symposium, and took one of her workshops there (actually at that one I think I may have wandered off and lost track of time, if I recall), oops. I was super excited to take this one though, as I love Simo’s work and her ideas, and this workshop was called “One Page Says It All: A Reportage on Porto Wine”. Simo does a lot of reportage sketching for a travel magazine called “Dove” (it’s in Italian), so she has a lot of experience in commissions for travel reportages. The point of this workshop was to create a page about Porto wine – think of an angle, map out your page, and think up a catchy title. There wasn’t a lot of time to do a ton of research, so it was mostly looking through windows, mooching around the wineries (or their info stands and gift shops) at quick pace, browsing leaflets in the tourist office. Most of the time is spent sketching, but the text had to be important. I sketched Simo above, before we took the little ferryboat over the Douro to our location in Vila Nova de Gaia. I liked the phrase “drawing and writing together don’t make two, they make three.” It’s so true.
Simo workshop, Porto
Here, Simo shows us some of her own reportage work, offering advice on how we can construct our pages. Some of the results of the various sketchers were very good, some highly detailed and well thought out, others a little more carefree, I think I fell into the latter a little. My page is below. It’s drawn in the Clairefontaine sketchbook that came in our symposium goody bags. I focused on the old English names of all the Port wineries – many of them were founded by English vintners several hundred years ago (and Anglo-Portuguese relations do go back many centuries, to their alliance back in the middle ages, the longest standing alliance between nations). I rushed the title though, quickly adding it in just before the show and tell: “A Glass of Old England” (I then added “In Old Porto” and immediately regretted it). I didn’t like the title though. I should have called it “Going Out For An English” in reference to that classic Goodness Gracious Me sketch. I really enjoyed this workshop, Simo is a very interesting storyteller and has always been an inspiration to me, and going over the river and thinking about Porto wine was a very pleasant way to spend a morning.

IMG_9265
Below, sketched on the ferryboat back over the river, is my friend Rita Sabler, who was one of the official correspondents for the Porto symposium. She had been sketching and reporting on our workshop. You can read her daily reports, along with those of the other two correspondents Paulo Mendes and Marina Grechanik, on the Urban Sketchers website.
Rita Sabler

And finally, here is the sketch of Sandeman’s without all the writing and stuff around it. Those cable-cars above are part of the Teleferico de Gaia. I did not ride these but would have liked to, if I’d given myself the time.

Sandeman Porto

All this reportaging, you would have thought I’d have topped it off with a nice glass of tawny. Instead, I got myself something unusual: a gelato made from Port wine. It was actually delicious.

IMG_8610