Tuesday, July 31, 2018


7/14/18 Praca Rossio, Lisbon
Although I’ve been interested in Lisbon as a city to visit in its own right, it has also represented a source of longing: It was the site of the second annual Urban Sketchers Symposium – one that I obviously missed because I wasn’t even sketching yet in the summer of 2011. Since becoming an urban sketcher, I’d seen many sketches of Lisbon made by lucky symposium participants, and I envied them – what a vibrant, inspiring city Lisbon must be! When I learned last year that the 2018 symposium would be in Porto, Portugal, I was excited both for the next symposium itself as well as for the opportunity to finally scratch my Lisbon itch.

Indeed, Lisbon is a vibrant, inspiring city. Although the architecture might be similar to styles I’ve seen in Italy and other parts of Europe, details like the decorative tiles on walls and pavement patterns are unique and distinctive. Brightly colored streetcars jam-packed with commuters and tourists constantly criss-cross the busy, noisy streets.

Lots and lots of stairs and hills
Some of the best meals I ate in Portugal were in Lisbon – lots of fresh fish and shellfish – and I scarfed down many, many pastéis de nata (custard tarts), even for breakfast! But I burned off every one of those pastries by walking nearly 20,000 steps and stairs a day (according to Greg’s Fitbit) – all steeply uphill! OK, I suppose some were downhill. (I always tell people who are prepping for their first symposium that the single most important item they must pack is good walking shoes. Now I have to add to that list: strong legs, especially knees!)

One of my favorite Lisbon experiences was going to the enormous Campo de Santa Clara flea market in the shadow of the Panteao Nacional building. Hundreds of merchants spread their colorful (and sometimes strange) wares on tables or directly on the ground. Clothing, both new and used, were sold neatly on racks or simply piled in heaps. Some products looked the same as in stores; others looked like they may have been sourced from trash or recycle bins. It was eBay in the flesh!
7/14/18 Campo de Santa Clara flea market
This market presented an especially fun sketching experience: First I sketched the majestically domed Panteao building from a narrow street at the edge of the market. Then we climbed to the observation deck of the Panteao, and as I circled its perimeter, I spotted the same street where I had just sketched the dome, so of course I had to sketch that, too.

7/14/18 Panteao Nacional

7/14/18 Sketched from the Panteao
building; see the spot where I stood to sketch
the one at left!

Flea market vendors

Another Lisbon highlight was riding one of the many motorized tuk-tuks, which are really nothing more than golf carts, to a popular pastel de nata bakery. (I have video capturing Mr. Toad’s wild ride from the backseat of the tuk-tuk as it negotiated with buses and streetcars on steep, narrow streets and alleys. I won’t post it here, though, because viewing it makes me carsick!) Once we arrived at Manteigaria, I had more fun sketching the bakers who were busily making each pastry by hand. A few days later, we ran into our tuk-tuk driver in a different part of town, so I had the opportunity to sketch him and his colorful vehicle.

7/14/18 Pastry chefs making pasteis de nata by hand.


7/16/18 Tuk-tuks all lined up. . . 
 . . . and here's our driver!

Our few days in Lisbon were a wonderful warm-up to Portugal. Although I didn’t sketch any particularly iconic views, I think I absorbed some of the intensity and flavor of what it must have been like to experience being there for the Lisbon symposium. Although I scratched that itch, the brief visit created a new one: I want to visit Lisbon again!

7/15/18 A few days later, a different busker was
in the same spot.
7/11/18 My very first sketch in Lisbon was this busker
outside Castelo de S. Jorge.

7/15/18 Castelo de S. Jorge
7/15/18 Peacock wandering the castle grounds

7/15/18 The view from Castelo de S. Jorge, including the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge that looks remarkably similar to San Francisco's Golden Gate.

St. Jorge castle

7/12/18 Arco de Jesus 
7/12/18 Largo de Sao Miguel

7/12/18 An iconic Lisbon streetcar
7/12/18 Praca do Comercio
7/14/18 ice cream vendor
7/15/18 Two towers I saw every day from our hotel room terrace.

The spectacular pavements of Lisbon.

Colorfully patterned tiles cover exterior walls of
many Lisbon buildings.

The view from Hotel Olissippo Castelo

7/13/18 Lisbon from our hotel terrace

Sunday, July 29, 2018

There’s No Place Like Home

7/2/18 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Familiarity breeds contempt.

Maybe contempt isn’t the right term – it’s certainly not how I feel about this house – but ever since I started my series on Maple Leaf neighborhood architecture, I knew that I would eventually get around to sketching my own house, yet I procrastinated quite a while. I’m too familiar with all of its details – flaws as well as favorable features – so the thrill of exploration and discovery wasn’t there as it is with other subject matter. Still, it was always in the back of my mind.

One day the week before we left for Portugal, I came home from an errand and looked up at our house as I pulled into the garage. Although the sun was darting in and out of clouds, making capturing shadows tricky, I liked the light in front. The sketching temperature was comfortable. Before I could make excuses, I grabbed my bag and marched across the street.

I had decided that I would try to be as objective as possible and approach it the same way I approach any house. Although I expected it to be challenging – it has the kind of dormer and column-flanked porch that I avoid – drawing it was more difficult than I thought. When I got to the siding’s color, I started obsessing about getting the shade of blue right (and suddenly I recalled all the many paint chips we shuffled before settling on this particular blue), and in doing so, it got too dark. I would normally apply water to the colored pencil to give siding a smoother look, but I knew that would make it look even darker, so I left it mottled like stucco.

And then there’s the landscaping in front. It’s nothing special, but if it had been any other house in the ‘hood, I probably would have scribbled some green and been done with it. Somehow, though, I felt compelled to include details like our lavender (which I had just sketched a few days prior) and our little red Japanese maple (which the landscape gardener we had hired to design our plantings incorrectly spec’d, and I’m still annoyed that we didn’t get the type of maple we really wanted). None of these details is important to the sketch, but I found myself obsessively including them.

I ended up spending maybe 50 percent longer on this sketch than on an average house sketch; including all that baggage takes time.

In any case, I’m glad it’s done and no longer hanging over my head. I thought it was an appropriate sketch for today, now that I’m back from Portugal – filled with rich memories but happy to be home.

(See that roof window on the left? I’m sitting right there as I type this.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


6/18/18 Map and flag of Portugal

By the time you read this, we’ll be in Lisbon, where we’ll be for several days before heading off to the primary purpose of this trip: the 9th international Urban Sketchers Symposium in Porto! After the symposium, we’re spending time in the college town of Coimbra before returning home.

I won’t be blogging while I’m gone, but please follow my adventures on Instagram! I’ll have a full report on Portugal when I return. Até logo!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


7/5/18 Lake City Farmers Market

Despite the heat (my phone said it was 84 degrees), Joel was dressed in a wool beanie, a long-sleeved shirt with another shirt underneath, and a long, decorative scarf. When I showed him the sketch, we chatted for a moment, and he told me all about his daughter who had just graduated with a double major and was on her way abroad to teach. He can’t understand why people go around taking photos to put on Facebook; he’d rather read scriptures and commune with God and nature. He was very pleased with the sketch.

Afterwards, I went back to wandering around Lake City Farmers Market, the sound of his voice and guitar in the background, my bag heavy with fresh strawberries.

Monday, July 9, 2018


7/3/18 Maple Leaf neighborhood

A nearby house is one that I admire as much for it’s beautiful landscaping as for the house itself. A classic Tudor, it’s partially obscured by lots of trees and bushes on two sides – a dense, well-tended forest.

I got a bit over-zealous with my spray bottle on the foliage, and some of the color started floating away. At the same time, some of my details got blurry from the spray, and I had to go back in to crisp up the lines. As is always the case with water media, there’s a fine line between just enough water and too much or too little.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Hungry and Fast

6/29/18 raclette maker

Unlike many urban sketchers, I rarely sketch my food. I may be a fast sketcher, but when I’m hungry, I eat. I do, however, enjoy sketching whoever is making my meal – or even someone else’s meal.

Farmers market season is in full swing, and we’ve been trying to take advantage of the neighborhood markets whenever we can, especially around meal time. Last week at the Phinney market, we spotted a vendor that was new to us, Fire & Scrape, making raclettes. Apparently raclette comes from the Swiss French term meaning “to scrape.” A chunk of cheese is heated slowly, and the melted layer on top is scraped onto a pile of potatoes or veggies. This vendor was so fast that I had to put my speediest sketching skills to work!

A few days later at the Ballard market, another new vendor caught my attention with a surprising food combo: Brothers Famous Ramen & Tacos. It was a tough decision – I love both ramen and tacos – but I opted for ramen, which fortunately took a little while to prep. But notice how one of the three condiment bottles doesn’t have a top? That’s because he called my name – and when my food is ready, the sketch is done.

7/1/18 Grilling veggies for my ramen

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Stringing Fiber

7/5/18 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Comcast is back in the ‘hood. I got excited when I saw a truck pull up towing this large spool of cable. No sooner did I start to draw it (you can see a few ghost lines at right) when workers unhitched the spool, and the truck drove away. It’s OK, though . . . an urban sketcher is always prepared to stop.

When I went back the next day, I caught the team in action. It took two men and a lot of grunting to push that heavy spool. 


A couple of hours later, I heard some commotion outside, and the Comcast team was at the pole right outside our bedroom window! I started to draw the guy in the cherry picker (you can see his ghost at the top of the page), but he was too fast for me. I ran out onto the deck as the truck moved down the street, and I was barely able to capture this much before it was out of sight. They’re busy stringing lots of fiber in the Maple Leaf neighborhood.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Portugal Palette

New colors in my Portugal palette

In a few days I’ll be on my way to Portugal for the 9th international Urban Sketchers Symposium and general discovery of a country new to us. As I always do before traveling to an unfamiliar place, I’ve been Googling images of Lisbon, Porto (the symposium location) and Coimbra – the three cities we’ll be visiting – to a get a sense of Portugal’s color palette. The rich red tile rooftops and tightly packed, pastel-tinted buildings remind me of Italy, especially on the Amalfi Coast.

I pulled a few pencils out of my daily-carry palette – I don’t think I’ll be using much pine green or construction zone neon orange there – as well as the Prussian blue I’ve been carrying since Yosemite, where the deep blue came in handy for late-afternoon shadows on granite. I replaced that hue with a warmer raw umber (049) for shadows, and added russet (065) for tile rooftops and Cornelian (850) to warm up the palette further. I’m not sure if I’ll need cobalt green (182), but I bring it to Europe as a matter of course (it came in handy in both France and Italy for verdigris details on statues and buildings). I kept the periwinkle blue (131) that I’ve been using for lavender season and tossed in the middle purple-pink (125) because I’ve lately been wishing I had something brighter for summer flowers. (All colors are Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle except 125, which is Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer.) The full palette is shown below.

The full palette

Youll notice that most of the pencils look long and new-ish. Several from my everyday palette were getting so short that they were falling below the elastic bands that hold them in place in the Tran Portfolio, so I replaced them. I still keep the stubs for use at home, though, where I can pop them into a pencil extender.

The rest of my daily-carry materials
So that takes care of my travel prep – the rest of my kit (at left) is the same as my usual daily-carry. How easy it is these days compared to when I was prepping for my very first symposium in 2013. Back then, I even made a dry run with a new bag to see how everything would work. Ironically, most of the sketch materials turned out to be good choices, but the bag itself was a major fail! Live and learn.

And learned I have, at least about how to pack my sketch kit: The more my kit stays the same as it is during my ordinary daily life at home, the easier it is to prep, and the happier I am.

That said, I did have to make special preparations for the materials I’ll need for the two workshops I’m taking in Porto. (Since I was a correspondent in Manchester and opted for a sketchwalk-only pass in Chicago, I haven’t taken workshops at a symposium since 2014 in Paraty. I’m looking forward to having the workshop experience again.) In general, I scrutinize the supply lists that instructors provide and avoid bringing materials that I think aren’t essential. Unless a workshop is focused on a specific medium or tool, I always assume that items recommended are simply the instructor’s personal preferences that can be substituted with supplies I already use.

With that in mind, shown below are the additional items I’m bringing specifically for workshops. The pile on the left is for Lapin’s workshop, “Urban Archeology: A documentary approach of the city.” The workshop description made it clear that it was about an approach, not a technique or medium, and his supply list suggested that students bring their “normally used” materials, which made prepping easy. However, I happen to have “waterproof ink pens” in a variety of colors as he recommended, so I am tossing in a few of those because they sound fun. I’ve rarely used them, and it would be an opportunity to try something new. Watercolors, something else he recommended, haven’t been in my sketch kit for nearly two years. I’m not taking a paint palette, but I remembered that I got a compact booklet of Viviva colorsheets from a crowdfunding campaign a while back. I decided to toss that in, too. At the last packing moment when I start jettisoning nonessentials, these items might not make the cut, but for now, I’m planning to take them.

Supplies for two workshops

The pile on the right is for Eduardo Bajzek’s workshop, “Graphite is the Matter.” In this case, the workshop is focused on a specific medium, so I am packing everything he recommends, which includes several grades of graphite pencils, three types of erasers (Three? That seems excessive, but I’m curious about how he uses each) and a blending stump. He also recommends an A4 sketchbook with smooth paper. I learned from the graphite drawing class I took last fall how important paper surface is, so I can’t get away with using my usual Canson XL watercolor paper, which is very toothy. I still have some Strathmore 300 Bristol Smooth left over from the previous graphite class, so I simply stitched together a few sheets. A4 is larger than I comfortably carry, so I am fudging on that part by using my favorite 9-by-6-inch size instead (which opens to a 9-by-12 spread – close enough to A4).

My teeny Daiso folding stool!
Of note: I already have such a plentiful supply of everything that I didn’t have to buy a single item for the symposium or the rest of the trip! (It’s a dubious distinction, but still worth noting.)

One more item I’m sure I’ll be happy to have during workshops and possibly at other times, too, is my teeny-weeny folding stool. Finally, there’s one additional essential item that I bring when I travel: a landscape-format sketchbook (not shown) – Stillman & Birn softcover Beta.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Happy Bees

6/29/18 Our lavender

Whenever I walk down our front steps, I see our small lavender plant splaying out toward the sidewalk, heavy with blossoms. Lavender season is only just getting started around here (4 on a Whidbey Island farm’s Purple Alert scale, with 10 being “purple madness”), but the bees are already bizzy with happiness.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

St. Spiridon Revisited

6/27/18 St. Spiridon Orthodox Cathedral,
South Lake Union

St. Spiridon Orthodox Cathedral is probably one of those subjects that will always be challenging, no matter how many times I attempt it. Those onion domes are beautiful but daunting. It had been a good three years since the last time I gave them a try, so when Greg said he had some shopping to do at nearby REI, I tagged along and sketched while he shopped.

I knew I had less than an hour (REI customers get one hour of free parking, so we always try not to take longer than that), so I had to bite off a manageable composition. Last time I stood across the street for the widest view, but construction was going on there this time, so I moved closer to the front entrance. I still had plenty of onions to dazzle and boggle me.

Have a fun 4th, everyone! The weather man says ours is going to be sunny for a change!


Tuesday, July 3, 2018

P.K.’s Groupie

6/21/18 P.K. Dwyer performing at Queen Anne Farmers Market

If there’s one person I’ve sketched more than any other, it’s without doubt P.K. Dwyer. According to my blog, I’ve sketched the blues singer and songwriter at least six times. I don’t mean to be his groupie, but we obviously follow the same farmers market circuit.

On this recent evening at Queen Anne Farmers Market, I could hardly hear his autoharp from where I sat, but from the looks of the kids who were dancing nearby, his music kept the picnic crowd happy.

We love summer and farmers markets!

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