sketching to a close

pdx2010: the end

The final afternoon of the Urban Sketching Symposium… I for one was utterly exhausted, but still excited, and eager to keep sketching. I didn’t join the field sketching session I’d signed up for (mostly because I was messing about having fun taking photos of Gerard’s sketchbook laid out in the street), and stayed relatively close to the PNCA. I popped into Oblation Papers & Press, and bought myself an extremely nice sketchbook/notebook (because I needed yet another one), bound with a cover making it look like a French paperback. They are all produced on site, with top quality paper. And so, back to the sketching. I passed this one building, an old former warehouse, many times, and so decided to capture it in three drawings, vignette style, but without the borders I usually use. Because I was sat across the street, with trees in my way, I used those as my border. Ah, it was an experiment, sometimes I like it, sometimes I don’t. It was a lot of fun drawing the building itself though, with its faded paintwork and old empty water tower stand. There is a lot of character in buildings like these.

hoyt & 12th, pearl district

Right outside it, an object I know my two-year-old son would love. I presume it to be some sort of bike rack, or street art, or something I don’t know, but it is shaped like a car and has a steering wheel at two-year-old height. It was similar to the ones shaped like the Fremont Bridge that are also dotted about. I was told by some of the Portland sketchers that it’s city law for any new development to have part of their budget dedicated to placing public art around any new building. That, my friends, is immeasurably cool.

car bike rack

The clock was ticking. This was, in fact, Worldwide Sketchcrawl Day #28, so hundreds of people (probably more) around the world were also out drawing their cities. The Symposiums sketchers, however, were being magnetically drawn back to the source, the PNCA (Pacific Northwest College of Art), where the Symposium was being held. I think everybody was capturing the building as their last sketch of this experience. I joked to Mike Daikabura that this was like the red-light district of sketching, urban sketchers on every corner (and you had to get in early for the best spot!). My last drawing, of the PNCA, is the one at the top of this post.

Okay, time’s up, pen’s down! On to the closing reception, to have a look at everybody’s sketchbooks. In fact, you can see photos and drawings from the Symposium in the “Urban Sketchers PDX 2010” Flickr group.

Symposium blog:

saturday, what a day

portland saturday market

Day three of the Urban Sketching Symposium, and the morning session was studying Urban Architecture with Professor Frank Ching. I wasn’t very familiar with Frank and his work until the Symposium roster was announced, but he is an excellent teacher and has a long list of widely-read published work.  I was excited to take his field sketching session, and we all strolled down to the Portland Saturday Market.

frank ching explains architectural sketching

frank ching explains architectural sketching

It wasn’t too busy there yet,  we found a good sketching spot by the fountain, and the urban sketchers dispersed to find interesting vantage points. I actually liked the spot where I was standing, beside the fountain, though it was right in the middle of the people traffic. Now normally I hide, I slink off the walls and try to be invisible – but this time, I decided, no, I’m going to stay right here, and camped my little stool down on that very spot.  I even drew big, in the large Urban Sketchers Canson sketchbook we got free at the symposium, all in the spirit of trying something different. It was quite the experience; as more people added to the market’s throng, people would stop and see what I was doing, even take photos (that happened a fair few times, too), all while respecting my viewpoint. I liked this sketching in crowds thing – now I never thought I’d ever say that. The Symposium I think has given me a little more confidence to do such things.

at the portland saturday market

there were a lot of pirates out that day

I ate some lunch from one of the food carts (a delicious but messy East African chicken wrap, if you’re interested), and sketched the large ‘Made in Oregon’ sign that is perched up on top of a nearby building. they really love the shape of their state, Oregonians. I bought a number of postcards recently in Medfiord all shaped like the state, it fits perfectly into a mailbox (unlike California, which fits perfectly into a Christmas stocking). And then I ran back to the PNCA for Frank’s lecture on ‘perspective for sketchers’, and got quite lost on the way.

made in oregon

frank ching

i managed to sketch frank giving his lecture

I’m glad I didn’t miss it entirely – it was such a fun lecture. Frank gave us some great principles for sketching and constructing our urban drawings, including advice on what to focus on if you have limited time (such as leave details till last, quite the opposite of how I drew the Steel Bridge, for example, but very much how I drew the Saturday Market). This was one of the real values to coming to the Symposium: to learn new, or at least different, ways of approaching your sketches. I like to try different things, in order to incorporate them into my overall sketching voice, which I like to think is pretty distinct.

However, the most fun part (and possibly the best moment of the Symposium) was at the end, when Frank asked if we had any questions. I’ve been really interested in perspective lately, and have attempted to dabble in curvilinear perspective (partly inspired by the work of the man I was sitting next to, Gerard Michel), so I asked if he had any advice on that form. At this point, he passed the mantle over to Gerard, who as luck had it, had a flash drive with him full of his incredible curvilinear drawings, as well as diagrams explaining it. He gave an impromptu and highly animated talk (in French and some English) demonstrating the theory and how to approach it. I’m glad I asked! I’m eager to try it some more. You can see Gerard’s curvilinear work on his flickr site. Prepare to be utterly amazed.

Interview with Prof. Frank Ching on the Symposium website.

Symposium blog:

portland’s urban composition

portland nutters

Yes, I know; sometimes, taking the mick is just too easy.

The afternoon of Day Two was a sketching trip to colourful Pioneer Square, with Gabi’s Urban Composition group. The Sun was casting golden light across the city, as it lowered behind the downtown buildings. There were people out with signs, protesting this and decrying that, most of them against the various wars going on at this period in history. This peculiar pair, however, were slightly separate to most; make what you will of their placard. I can’t say that I agreed with the bearded boiler-suited sandal-wearer’s slightly dubious and sinister assertions. Everyone’s entitled to their views.  So I wrote the lettering with a different blue felt-tip pen, which has the appropriate (and highly amusing) name of ‘Le Pen’. I did show them the sketch though, and they liked it too, even asking for a photocopy. Sometimes, taking the mick is just too easy, so I’ll leave it up to you.

the girl in the red hat

I also sketched a fellow sketcher, Kalina (aka Geminica), one of the Portland urban sketchers, aka the ‘girl in the red hat’. She was sketching the action in Pioneer Square, as a huge screen ws erected to show a classic movie out in the open (I think it was like Three Amigos or Muppets Take Manhattan or something). Here’s a post by another Portland sketcher, Alanna, of me doing the sketching. Yes, I still wear that England shirt, even after that World Cup.

pdx10: gabi on lightrail

Hey, are you proud of me, sketching all these people?! I’m learning a few things. Prior to the field sketching session, I went to Gabi‘s very interesting lecture on the artist as reporter. Gabi Campanario is a staff sketcher-reporter for the Seattle Times – see his great column online at Seattle Sketcher. Here he is on the light rail – a load of us crowded into a train and started sketching each other like crazy – and you may notice his sketching stool, which is exactly the same one as mine (though his is blue).

I spent the evening meeting and conversing with some of the other Portland sketchers, a very nice bunch; you should check out the Urban Sketchers: Portland blog. The USk correspondent from Tokyo, Kumi Matsukawa, did a great sketch of me talking with local artist Bill Sharp, which you can see here. I hope one day to sketch with them all again, and perhaps capture more of the city’s colourful characters.

“in viaggio col taccuino”

simonetta cappecchi

I was pretty amazed and inspired by Simonetta Capecchi’s lecture about collaborative sketchbook projects in the city of Naples, Italy, where she lives and works. I had a pen-pal from Naples when I was a kid, and the city has always seemed so far away and unusual to me, yet still in my native Europe, so I was fascinated by her stories. Simo’s work and ideas promoted a real sense of a community expressing itself through art. It reminded me not only of other sketchbook projects that I’ve seen or been involved in, and also what we do in every worldwide sketchcrawl or even this symposium, the art of representing a city through different voices and personal styles, but it also reminded me of place-specific projects that I have had experience of back when I studied and practised interactive theatre. Local people expressing their locale, telling its story, its ‘everyday’. Here my mind exploded with ideas. I want to get Davis drawing! I also liked the project she promoted whereby a sketcher would take an old book about their city, and sketch scenes from their city inside it cover to cover, across the text. As I discussed with her afterwards, that would be a wonderful thing to do somewhere like London, I think, thought maybe not so much Davis (only because Davis-centric literature is slightly thin on the ground). It was inspiring stuff, and a reminder that there are so many angles from which you can approach art, and urban sketching.
pdx10 simo lecture headsliz steel and gerard michel

As did other people, I sketched the lecture room around me. There’s Liz from Australia, and Gerard from Belgium. I sat next to Suzanne from North Carolina, sketching the same subjects. Amazing how the internet has enabled us urban sketchers from around the world to come together and learn from each other. Simo showed me a sketch she made of Mount Shasta from the window of her plane, as she flew north from San Francisco, and I showed her my similar sketch of the same mountain from the window of the car as we drove south from Oregon last month. That was pretty cool.

san pellegrino

Continuing the Italian theme, for lunch before the lecture I drank a bottle of San Pellegrino orange soda from Italy; (you may recall I sketched a can of this recently). I didn’t know they came in Orangina bottles! While eating lunch, we noticed that there was a wedding party arriving, and the bride and groom themselves sat behind us at a tiny table eating over-the-counter pizza. It was a funny sight, but the quick sketch I did did it no justice, so all you’re getting is the bottle.

build it up with iron and steel

steel bridge, portland

Urban Sketching Symposium, Day 2. Lapin led the Urban Line field session down to the banks of the Willamette River, to sketch the Steel Bridge. Portland is famous for its bridges. Can’t leave town without drawing at least one.

I was pleased to sketch this, as I wanted something to really sink my teeth into, or at least my micron pens. I felt once it was done that I’d got it out of my system. The morning started out overcast, and the stark, industrial structure provided quite the drama against the blank sky. The bridge moved once or twice, it’s bottom level rising to allow ships to pass, gerard michellaughing at my previous assertion that I draw architecture because it stands still. Joggers and cyclists passed by as we sketched, freight trains rolled across the river, and the strange sculpture behind us made intermittent and unexplained noises not unlike a monkey smashing a cymbal. We all seemed to have our own approach; I watched how Lapin started from a detail and drew outwards, and how Gerard Michel (pictured right, drawing in the special Urban Sketchers Japanese style Moleskine) constructed it as an architect would, and I leapt in somewhere in between. I started in the middle, but had a rough outline of where I would be going (which I only marginally stuck to), but concentrated on small details as I went along rather than after finishing the outline. I purposely left it incomplete as I liked the effect.

portland convention center

The Sun came out, but I kept my bridge sketch colourless. I did add a little thumb sketch on the same page though of one of the spires of the Portland Convention Center across the Willamette, showing how the sky had turned blue, but the bridge lent itself to cold black and white.

At the end, we laid out our sketchbooks side by side and reviewed each others work. This is always one of my favourite parts of a group sketch, to see all of our different styles and interpretations laid out side by side.



steel bridge in different ways

sketching as the sun sets

view from the hotel

Oh, the sketching stops for no one. Day One of the Symposium was not over yet. Still, I had a chance to relax in the hotel with some noodles and a cup of tea. I looked out of the window and drew part of the view opposite while talking on the phone. Then, as the evening came, I copied the sunset onto some brown paper and pottered off to Powell’s Books. Wow! What a place! I didn’t sketch there, I was too busy looking at books. That place is huge, a bookshop lover’s dream. A little while before, I had visited Reading Frenzy, to catch up on some of Portland’s well-known zine culture. I bought one local zine, and I really enjoyed it. I’ve considered (because it’s been suggested) that I turn some of my series into zines, and that is on the table in the foreseeable future, so it was good to see what other people are doing out there.
portland sunset

And so on to Portland’s famous beer culture. I stopped into Deschutes Brewery, where several other Urban Sketchers were already camped out, and caught up on some great conversation and a few more attempts at people-sketching. Below are Lapin, Don Colley from Chicago, and Frank Ching.

lapindon colleyfrank ching

Don and I went on to Jake’s Crawfish for a beer and a last sketch of the day. It was an interesting looking place and we both sketched the same scene. His work is great, very dramatic and full of life, and he sketches in a huge old book filled with incredible drawings. It was a pleasure to watch him sketch and learn from him.

jake's crawfish

Exhausted, i got back to the hotel and posted a photo of the day one sketchbook. Phew! And there were still two more days of full-on sketching to come…

some of today's sketches

Symposium blog:

drawing in the dark

matthew brehmat matthew brehm's lecture

It was almost complete darkness when I was drawing these. The only light was from the projector, illustrating Matthew Brehm’s excellent lecture on the history of sketching as a social activity, and from the laptop of the guy changing the slides. Well, it wasn’t going to stop me from getting another couple of sketches in, and what a fun exercise. I had no idea what they actually looked like until I got outside into the light; I’m pleased with the results!!

It’s funny; normally, I would draw in a lecture or meeting if I was bored, but this is the Urban Sketcher’s Symposium, and the rules are on their head. Matthew’s lecture was very, very interesting. As an architectural teacher he takes students to Rome every year, and compared his own experiences alongside the grand tours of a couple of centuries ago, as well as looking at old drawing clubs and how the newer phenomenon of blogging and posting your art on flickr and such sites has created a new global community of artists, which has in turn given birth to Urban Sketchers and the Symposium itself. (Which he described as the ‘Woodstock of Sketching’) What I enjoyed was his focus on the connections that drawing has forged between us, not just right now but also to the sketchers of the past – those people walking around cities drawing things, just as we are now, having those same thought processes that compel them to do so. That’s what I was thinking about, anyhow, as I drew these people in the dark.

Symposium blog:

pearly afternoon

a portland fire hydrant

Day one of the Urban Sketching Symposium continued. After Lapin’s inspiring lecture about an sketchbook illustration project he recently did for the French wine town of St Emilion, we set forth once more to sketch some urban architecture with Simonetta Cappecchi, the Urban Sketcher from Naples. We were in Jameson Square, but I kind of wandered of on my own a little, looking for things around the Pearl District to get me into the sketching groove. Above is another fire hydrant, this time sketched in a group sketchbook that was being passed around from sketcher to sketcher to each add something. I have a thing about fire hydrants. Answers on a postcard.

I settled at the corner of the square for a sketch of an interesting corner, a building shell converted into some retail and arts space, with the Portland Union railway station in the background. I was going to add colour, but decided to keep it black and white.

jameson square

Portland is a cool place. I wandered about the Pearl district looking for a Portlandesque vista, and found a couple of views that jumped out on me. I don’t recall what that big building by the river with the water-tower on top is called. Answers on a postcard. A passer-by who stopped to chat did tell me, but I stupidly didn’t write it down.

pdx10 old water towerbroadway bridge

I know what that bridge is called though: Broadway Bridge. Bright red steel against a blue sky, you can’t go wrong with that. I liked hw I was looking upon it from what seemed to be riverside wasteland, and it reminded me a little of what parts of the south bank of the Thames looked like when I was a kid, undeveloped but on its way.

Symposium blog:

the streets and the thousands of colours

USK PDX 2010

And so, the 1st International Urban Sketching symposium officially began. I liked staying at the Mark Spencer hotel, because most of the non-Portland sketchers were staying there too, and it was nice to meet new people at breakfast. At the Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA), Gabi Campanario opened proceedings and we set off on our field sketching sessions. You could taste the level of excitement!

pdx10: gabi introducing symposium portland fire hydrant

My first session was Urban Colour with Jason Das. Our group walked a couple of blocks, and I drew the fire hydrant above (I love fire hydrants, and here they are orange).  I was surprised to find that Suzanne Cabrera was sketching with us; I hadn’t realised she’d be at the Symposium! I’ve followed her work for years so it was a pleasure to meet her in person. Jason’s session was quiteNW 11th and Hoyt interactive, which I liked, and made us focus on colour in different ways. It was a particularly grey morning though. While I was sketching, a lady came out of the store in front of which I was positioned and asked if I’d like some work. She wanted to know if I would be interested in painting the big rock she uses to kep the shop door open, in the style of a ladybird (and she said ‘ladybird’, not ladybug, becasue she was British, though she didn’t know I was). Paint a rock like a ladybird? In watercolours with a tiny brush? Not for any money, like, just in case I wanted something to do she said (because I didn’t look busy). I politely declined.

After the first quick sketch, we all did a drawing using a lighter coloured pen than we’d normally use – I used a fairly light blue – and then coloured it. I wasn’t much pleased with my results (partly because I didn’t finish the colour), but it’s all about trying stuff out. I do like drawing street corners though. There it is on the right.

The next exercise was to draw the same scene twice, once with normal colour, and the second with different colour. I liked the idea of this one, and it certainly allowed you to break out of the bounds a little, but I think it worked a little better for others than for me.

urban colour

The final exercise was a winner, and one which made some people understandably nervous. We were to draw a picture in our own sketchbooks of any scene, and then hand the sketchbook to a partner, who would then colour it in themselves. This was very interesting. First of all, the person I was partnered with, Robin Carlson, originally came from, of all places, Davis! Drawing the linework was a little nervy for me, as I knew it would then be scrutinised by someone else, but once the sketchbooks were swapped it was very liberating! I loved colouring in a different book, it was so liberating. Several people said the same – the hard work was already done! But I was so pleased with how robin had coloured my book – see below. The colours are so vibrant, and really leap out (mine are usually a little muted), and complement each other so well. I particularly like the values on the tree. Thanks Robin! This could be a fun exercise, like an online art exchange, you draw something and hand it over to other online sketchers to add their own colour or tints; this is something worth exploring.

drawn by pete, coloured by robin

urban sketching in portland

Thus ended session one. There wasn’t a massive amount of time for lunch, before the lectures began…

Symposium blog:

urban sketchers of the world

gabi sketches me

The Urban Sketchers Correspondents met up at Henry’s Tavern on the night before the Symposium kicked off, and it was an instant whirlwind of sketching minds. Everyone knew everyone, though for many it was the first time we’d met. Five continents were represented right there: Liz (and Borromini Bear) from Australia, Isabel from Mauritania (though she’s Portuguese), Lapin from Barcelona (though he’s French), Gerard from Belgium, Simonetta from Italy, Kumi from Tokyo, Tia from Singapore, and the US contingent of Jason (Brooklyn), Veronica (NYC), Shiho (LA), Matthew (Idaho), Laura (North Carolina), Frank (Seattle), Gabi (Seattle, though he’s Spanish) and me (Davis, though I’m from London).

And I sketched people! Well, I had promised myself that I would try more, and here I didn’t have to worry about it being ok. I wasn’t the only one who doesn’t normally sketch folk on the spot. I certainly need practice and to find a technique I’m comfortable with, so i gave it a try, mostly in my little brown paper book, and picked up a few pointers. Above are Gabi Campanario, the tireless Urban Sketchers founder, Gerard Michel, of whose Liege drawings I am a huge fan (they remind me of my year in Charleroi), and a group of urban sketchers (the one in the hat is Prof. Frank Ching, who told me I’d drawn him looking like a Columbian gangster). I was sketched a few times too; there is Lapin above, sketching me holding my pen in a funny way, “l’incroyable tenu de crayon de pete”, he called it. There’s a name for a new book!

The highlight was probably looking through Gerard Michel‘s jaw-dropping sketchbook. Seeing it online, it is unbelievable just how good it is, but in person right in front of you it is just incredible, and also surreal, work you know so well is right there, right in front of you. I can say that about pretty much all of the sketchbooks I saw that night, certainly. Sufficiently humbled and inspired in equal measure, I went back to the hotel, and spent midnight drawing from my bedroom window.

night view from mark spencer hotel