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: