Thursday, July 25, 2013

What I Learned at the Urban Sketching Symposium

7/12/13 USK symposium panelists. Diamine Chocolate Brown ink.
What can I say about my first International Urban Sketching Symposium? I’ve already mentioned what an exhilarating, vibrant and intense city Barcelona is, so the symposium location alone was enough to make my heart race. Combine that with being with 200 people from around the world who are equally passionate about sketching as I am, and the collective energy we produced was probably enough to light up the Sagrada Familia! I feel fortunate and grateful to the all-volunteer symposium committee that brought us together. And as much as I learned from the workshops that formed the meat of the symposium, I think what I’ll remember most is being part of that amazing collective passion and the individuals I met there who contributed their unique energy.

7/11/13 Lynne Chapman's workshop exercise.
Ink, colored pencil, markers.
Of the four blog posts I planned to write about my sketching experiences in Europe, I saved this one for last because I’ve needed time to digest three intensive days of learning in five distinct workshops. I admire all the instructors for their willingness to teach bilingually (even with an interpreter, it’s a demanding requirement) and for tolerating conditions not under their control (like rain! And a local soccer game taking place where a workshop was planned!).

Lynne Chapman’s “Sketches that Sing: Creating Sketches with a Life of their Own” was my first workshop of the symposium, and she set the tone with her lively, colorful and entertaining teaching style. Her exercises focused on three areas – composition, using color to direct attention, and using playful patterns and marks to create shading and energy. My sketch of Placa Vicenc Martorell, a relatively quiet plaza, was the last one I finished in her workshop, incorporating mark-making techniques, mixed media and the dynamic composition style she presented.

7/11/13 Marion Rivolier's workshop exercise. Watercolor.
Marion Rivolier’s “Capturing Space through Form and Color” was my most challenging workshop, for a variety of reasons. For one, it started raining as we walked to our workshop location more than a half-hour away on foot, and the rain continued through most of the three hours, which made watercolor painting outdoors an “interesting” experience. With the waterfront landscape of Palau de Mar as our focus, we studied value and color contrasts to express forms using paint only.

Marc Taro Holmes was a particularly organized instructor who posted a PDF of his workshop handout weeks in advance so that we could study the concepts before we arrived at La Rambla – Barcelona’s bustling pedestrian mall. I found it very helpful to preview the lessons he presented in “Drawing People in Motion.” The first part of the workshop involved
7/12/13 Marc Taro Holmes' workshop exercise.
Pencil, brush pen, watercolor
frenetically making gesture studies in pencil of people’s faces and figures, spending no more than a couple minutes on each (usually no more than a few seconds each for me). I filled an entire signature in my sketchbook with dozens of gestural sketches. Later we refined lines and added detail with a pen and used a dark brush pen to emphasize shadows. Finally Marc demo’d his dynamic watercolor techniques. My sketch shown here was the last exercise of the workshop in which we pulled together techniques learned previously to create a “story board” of a person in action, attempting to capture a variety of their stances and movements.

7/13/13 Catarino & Jamarillo's workshop exercise. Watercolor.
Joao Catarino and Omar Jamarillo joined forces to present “Negative Forms and First Structures and Minimal Storytelling.” Forming negative shapes using paint only (no preliminary lines) during the first half of the workshop proved to be so challenging for me that I couldn’t find any examples from my sketchbook that sufficiently show the concepts being taught. I did a little better in the second part of the workshop: My sketch is an exercise in using layers of watercolor to evoke a crowd of people and to indicate depth by varying the scale.

7/12/13 Inma Serrano's workshop exercise. Tombow markers.
I’ve saved my summary of Inma Serrano’s workshop, “Rhythm in the City,” for last because, of all the workshops and other symposium experiences, I think her approach to sketching will have the strongest impact on my sketches going forward. If you have a couple minutes, take a look at her video, which I viewed shortly before registration for the symposium began. I found her sketching style to be engaging and vibrant, and I hoped her teaching style would be, too. I wasn’t disappointed!

Inma’s workshop focused on three concepts: “People Are Alive” – quickly turning human figures into abstract, organic gestures and forms that describe their energy rather than their appearance; “Buildings Are Alive” – imagining that architectural structures are living, dynamic, organic “monsters” or creatures rather than static, serious descriptions of perspective. (A-HA! The magic words!); and “Color is Alive” – using mixed-media color to drive the focus, composition and rhythm of a sketch.

7/12/13 Inma Serrano's workshop exercise. Diamine Chocolate
Brown ink, watercolor.
This comment she made (paraphrased; she taught in Spanish translated by an interpreter) resonated strongly for me: At one time, she used to studiously sketch an entire building accurately, even though only one part of it interested her and even though perspective was a pain. It wasn’t fun. Now she only sketches the part of a building that engages her – the part that brings it alive for her – and no longer cares about the rules of perspective or accuracy in scale. Watching her sketch a building during the demo, it was clear to everyone that she was having nothing but fun!

The sketch I did for the “Buildings Are Alive” section – the floral-shaped frontispiece on a Placa del Pi building – was a liberation! Only that frontispiece engaged me – why struggle through the rest that I’m not interested in?

The next day at Arc de Triomf, I felt the full impact of the workshop as I sketched the Arc – something I probably wouldn’t have even attempted before Inma liberated me! Even more important – it was the most fun I ever had sketching an architectural structure!

See my blog post on the 4th International Urban Sketching Symposium blog for a little more about what I experienced.


  1. Great job reviewing the different workshops you took.

    I follow Stepahano's blog and he gave a link to Marc Taro Holmes and how he sketches people in motion. I thought it was great. It must have been wonderful to take a workshop with him.

    Inma has a lot of energy and I like her comment. It is true...why agonize over the perspective for the entire building when one section is what attracted you.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Heiio Your writting of your 3 day journey was wonderful to read. It felt like I was walking all those steps with you. What a wonderful journey your dreams must have. Thank you so ,
    Have a wonderful day,

    1. Thanks for reading, Joan and Linda! I reap the benefits of those workshops every day!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...