Thursday, July 25, 2013

Last Thoughts: Prepping for a Symposium

Gail, Tina and Jackie

OK, I’m sure these aren’t the last thoughts I’ll ever have about a three-day international urban sketching symposium in Barcelona, Spain, that I had been fantasizing about for a year.  But they’re thoughts I had after writing my last blog post about what I learned, and I thought I’d offer some practical suggestions if you are planning to attend a future symposium:

1. Your No. 1 priority – way ahead of art materials – is having shoes you can comfortably walk several miles in. I never travel without such shoes, so I didn’t think much about them, but I didn’t realize how important they would become. Each workshop required walking some distance, usually no more than 15 or 20 minutes, but in one case, we walked for 40 minutes before we reached our destination. (One symposium participant in a different workshop decided, after her class had been walking for more than an hour without yet reaching their destination, that she didn’t want to walk anymore and took the subway back to her hotel, bagging the workshop altogether.) I heard several participants complaining about blisters or bad knees because they hadn’t realized how much walking would be required.

Kay, Tina and Nina
2. Have realistic expectations about the workshops. I attended the 4th International Urban Sketching Symposium with the same expectations that I have when I attend any art class: A workshop is an opportunity to get an overview of an instructor’s particular approach and techniques, and it’s up to me to apply them to my own work so that I can eventually find my own style. Taking a three-hour workshop might change one’s attitude (as Inma’s did mine!) or approach, which may eventually lead to significant changes in one’s sketching style. But the only improvements that come from workshops are the result of continual sketching practice long after the symposium is over.

Sketchers at Arc de Triomf

3. Manage your art materials. Unless there’s a specific medium or tool that a workshop instructor is requiring, and it’s clear from the description that that medium or tool will be the main focus of the work, don’t bother buying something new unless you want to try it anyway. As you saw in my photo of the swag we were given, you can get away without bringing any of your own materials if you’re not picky about paper or your favorite pens. If, like me, you are picky, then feel free to bring your own favorites. But often an instructor will suggest a specific paint color or a pen by brand name because it’s his or her personal favorite, and anything you use instead will work just as well.

Joao and Omar's workshop
4. Get to know other sketchers. My most memorable moments in Barcelona are about meeting sketchers I’ve long admired online; chatting with fellow participants about our local sketching communities, exchanging cards and promising to stay in touch; and sharing a common passion even when we barely shared a common spoken language. After the paint has dried and the last sketchbook page has been scanned, the Urban Sketching Symposium is ultimately about people.

5. Carry protein bars and water at all times. You never know when a compelling sketch (or getting lost) will keep you from your next meal.

Liz and Tina

Inma's workshop


  1. These are really useful suggestions. Yes, good shoes and water.... absolutely essential.

    But, my husband said, as I read #1 to him, was, "why didn't they take the subway TO the location if she could take it BACK?". One would have thought local experts might have suggested better transport than walking for 1+ hours. At the workshop in Portland, the USK leaders had figured out routes to our location via bus and street car.

    re #4: I think the social aspects (despite having been told to the contrary) of this group are what makes it really work. It's so great to meet the people whose work we've admired and followed.

    1. Kate, re: walking an hour vs. the subway - I wondered that same thing myself! I have to assume they had their reasons.

    2. Tina, I like to think we (USk) have learned each year since Barcelona. We now work very hard to ensure all workshop locations are within 20 minutes walk of the main hub. See you at the next Symposium!

  2. Great suggestions! I'm sure many people don't come prepared to walk any distance and don't wear comfortable shoes. Those are a priority when I travel too. I usually bring water, but never thought about protein bars or something similar. I've usually got some ripe piece of fruit in my bag that gets all bruised and mushy. lol Meeting the other sketchers would be a highlight of the symposium for me too!

    I hope these aren't the last thoughts about the symposium that you post. You know I am living vicariously through you at the moment.

  3. Chicago will be my first USk symposium, so I read your suggestions with great interest. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. In previous visits to Chicago I have walked hours and hours---logging up to 9 miles one day, so the need for comfortable walking shoes is a given. Water---for drinking and watercolor painting---LOL. I am looking forward to sharing with other participants, especially artists I follow on Instagram and Facebook. I hope to meet you too.

    1. Glad the suggestions were helpful! Looking forward to meeting you, too!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...