Friday, August 19, 2016

UK, Part 6: Learnings and Other Thoughts

Making a very fast sketch like this of
Nina Johanssen's workshop students . . . 
In addition to my travel sketch-kit follow-up post, in which I review the items I used most and which could have stayed home, there’s one more post I like to follow every major travel opportunity with, especially when it includes a symposium: Things I learned. After Barcelona I divided my learnings into two posts: things I gleaned from the symposium itself, and insights about how to prep for symposiums in general (I just reread that one for the first time since I wrote it, and I’m pleased that my advice then still holds up). After Paraty I also talked about the symposium activities as well as workshops.

Although it’s been a week since I’ve returned from the UK and had time to think about my experiences there, I still haven’t fully processed what I’ve learned. I’m not sure I can articulate all my thoughts and feelings, but I’ll just begin and see where this post lands me.

Some things I learned were about my own process, tools and materials. While taking workshops at previous symposiums taught me specific techniques and approaches that I could then apply to my sketching practice when I returned home, my experience in Manchester was entirely different, of course. As a correspondent, whatever I learned had to come from myself on the fly. Because speed was so important, I had to abandon all temptation of detail, and the best way I knew to do that was to rely on brush pens. I brought several, and the two I used most were my favorite Kuretake (No. 13) hairy brush pen filled with Platinum Carbon Black ink and a waterproof Deleter Neopiko Line 3 non-hairy brush pen. Both served me well in different ways – the non-hairy Deleter providing a harder, marker-like line, and the hairy Kuretake providing a more freeform, organic line. With these types of brush pens in hand, I can’t really hesitate or waffle, and I finish quickly, whether I’m ready to or not.

. . . added to my agility and confidence in using the
same brush pen to make this sketch in Bath.
I found that using brush pens so often in the course of three-and-a-half days gave me the confidence to use them the rest of my time in the UK, too. I started learning last November in Japan that I enjoy making challenging architectural sketches more when I used a brush pen instead of a fine point. I’m still finding that to be true, and I’m gaining more agility as I use brush pens more frequently.

Other learnings were more about the symposium experience itself. As was the case at previous symposiums, I learned that many attendees did not have a local Urban Sketchers group at home. In many cases, participating in the international symposium was their first experience sketching with other people. Once again, I felt grateful for my own Urban Sketchers Seattle group and how easy it is for me to sketch with like-minded friends whenever I want to; we have outings nearly every week. If I drive a bit further south and include opportunities with USk Tacoma, I can sketch with a group more than weekly! Some attendees I talked to were amazed to hear that, and I don’t take my USk friends and our outings for granted.

I am immensely grateful to Urban Sketchers for having given me the opportunity to be a correspondent this year. While in Barcelona and Paraty I had the benefit of my specific workshop exercises and the instructors’ particular approaches, this year I had a much greater appreciation for the larger symposium experience. Every time I visited a workshop or other activity to report on it, I saw so much energy and commitment – from the instructors as well as the students. That level of passion is inspiring and invigorating to witness. I felt a greater commitment to my own task because I wanted to share what I saw.
The whole Urban Sketchers "tribe," 500+ strong, in Manchester!
Can you find me? 

It was incredibly rewarding to “be among my tribe,” so to speak, in Manchester. There’s something very special about walking down a street and seeing sketchers literally everywhere you turn. In an international setting, even when language might be a barrier in other circumstances, carrying a sketchbook makes language mostly unnecessary. You just open your book and share. Time and time again, I was moved by this experience.

Meeting sketchers whose work I have long admired online is always special. So is becoming reacquainted with people I met at previous symposiums. I can’t say this with enough emphasis: While workshops and activities may be the attraction of symposiums, the real value is the face-to-face experience with people.

In Paraty I participated in the annual silent auction at the closing reception by placing a winning bid for Joao Catarino’s gorgeous watercolor sketch (you can see it in this post). I decided early on that I would give back a little to Urban Sketchers this time by donating a sketch to the auction in Manchester myself.

I was concerned that none of my necessarily hastily made sketches would be worthy of the auction, and ultimately none of my results were the kind of sketches anyone (not even I!) would frame and hang on a wall. But as I flipped through my sketchbook looking for potential donation candidates, I was surprised by how difficult it was to consider giving them away. Even sketches that were not in any way beautiful still meant something to me – and I knew they meant much more to me than they ever would to someone else.

My winning bid bought this fantastic sketch by Suhita
Ultimately I decided to donate a sketch I made of President Elizabeth Alley addressing the crowd during the opening reception. But I admit I influenced its purchase before making the commitment! I showed Elizabeth the sketch, still in my sketchbook, and said, “If I donate this to the auction, will you bid on it?” She said of course she would, so I finally tore it out!

What I’m leading up to is that at the silent auction, after some rather competitive bidding, I made the successful bid for a sketch by Suhita Shirodkar. Because of my own experience donating a sketch, I appreciate even more that I was able to take home Suhita’s lively, beautiful work and that she was willing to part with it. Even if I make a sketch with the full intention of selling or giving it away, it’s not easy, because it’s so full of my energy and spirit of the moment.

Finally, this isn’t a learning, but I forgot to include it in my first post about the symposium. It’s a link to Parka’s video in which he interviews me about being a correspondent. (I love having my 90 seconds of fame! ) In fact, if you want a glimpse of the symposium experience, Parkas daily video coverage is a great way to get it!

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