Thursday, August 2, 2018

Porto Symposium, Part 1: Lapin Workshop, Lawlor Demo

7/18/18 Alfandega across the street from symposium headquarters.

Looking through all my sketches, photos and journal notes from my days in Porto, I realized I have way too much material I want to show and talk about to put into a single post. Part 1 will be about two symposium activities – my workshop with Lapin and a demo by Veronica Lawlor.

I can’t begin to talk about the symposium, though, without first trying to describe the feeling I get when a symposium is just beginning (I’ve felt this way at every one I’ve attended). The sketch above, which isn’t particularly interesting in other ways, evokes that feeling for me because I made it on the first morning just outside symposium headquarters, Alfandega Porto Congress Centre. The doors to the center would not yet open for registration for a couple of hours, but eager sketchers were already gathering to sketch nearby. When I began the sketch, only a few other sketchers were in view, but by the time I finished, dozens were there, and across the street, dozens more. I didn’t know most of these people (yet), but we all shared the common bond of our love for urban sketching.

 To be among one’s tribe is a powerful, moving moment. When I go out sketching regularly with my local group, I take this bond for granted; they are my tribe, too. At the symposium, I get to see and experience how much larger this worldwide tribe is (and that’s not even counting the tens of thousands of other sketchers who didn’t attend the symposium). The symposium’s first day is always a reminder of how special the Urban Sketchers community is.

Lapin Workshop: Urban Archaeology: A Documentary Approach of the City

Lapin's workshop location
With the “basic” pass I chose, I was allowed to take two workshops – a difficult choice to make from 36 tempting options. I’ve long been a fan and follower of Lapin, and when I saw that his workshop topic was related to reportage and documentation, a topic I’ve been wanting to explore more deeply, it was an easy choice after all. Instead of a technique or medium, the workshop focused on Lapin’s particular interest in urban sketching to document and preserve the rapidly changing urban landscape. He described and showed us pages from the book he is working on, which will contain a collection of sketches from his Barcelona neighborhoods where unique, historic buildings are being torn down (many he has sketched are already gone) and replaced by generic ones. It’s a familiar story that is being repeated worldwide.

Lapin during the final throwdown discussion
Hiking for quite a while (all uphill, of course!) through Porto’s maze of narrow alleys, Lapin led us to a street he had explored previously for its striking juxtaposition of old and new. Our first exercise was to appreciate vintage typography and signage – often hand-painted – as well as more current graffiti by sketching them as accurately as possible.

Next Lapin gave us a brief demo of how he makes thumbnails to explore compositions and themes. He likes to show parts of two adjacent buildings in a single sketch, especially if they show old and new together. He also gave us tips on developing strong compositions that include a foreground, middle ground and background. We followed suit by making several thumbnails ourselves using the tips he provided.
Signage and graffiti
Composition thumbnails

During the last half of the workshop, we chose one thumbnail to develop into a full sketch. I chose a narrow street view where a row of traditional buildings on the right contrasted with new construction on the left (and a favorite crane, of course) – all in the shadow of the Torre dos Clerigos, Porto’s icon.

While the sketch was in progress, Lapin suggested that I put a tuk-tuk in the foreground (several were parked on the street, coming and going rapidly as they picked up clients). The tuk-tuk not only improved the composition; it also represents tourism and the many ways the urban landscape changes to accommodate visitors.
7/20/18 sketch from Lapin's workshop
In my experience from previous symposium workshops (or any urban sketching workshop, for that matter), I often don’t care for the sketches I produce in them because they either seem like nothing more than exercises or they feel too prescribed by the instructor’s vision more than my own. This was not the case with the sketch I made in Lapin’s workshop. I was attracted to this scene and probably would have sketched it on my own if I’d happened upon this street. The composition was improved by his feedback, and his approach to “urban archeology” gave me a greater appreciation for signage, juxtaposition and storytelling as a way to preserve what is rapidly disappearing in our urban landscape.

Veronica Lawlor capturing the Ribeira crowd
Veronica Lawlor Demo: Drawing a Crowd

Veronica Lawlor is another urban sketcher I have followed for a long time, and one thing I admire most about her work is her ability to draw huge crowds of people in places like Times Square. Although I was somewhat miffed that we could choose only one demo from 37 possibilities (I think we got to have more in the past), my choice was actually easy.

For her 30-minute demo, Veronica chose the Ribeira area near the Ponte Luis I bridge, which is always teeming with tourists. After talking to us briefly about how she approaches a crowd, she plopped down on the ground with two bottles of India ink (one diluted, one full strength) and a dip pen with a highly flexible nib. Her style is closer to calligraphy than drawing, and I enjoyed simply watching the expressive, varying marks and lines she used to convey the people going by. Veronica is very much a designer with every drawing she makes. It’s fascinating to view her approach in action, which is much slower than I would have expected.

After the demo, I stayed a while in the Ribeira area to practice what I’d just observed. Following Veronica’s approach, I tried to see people as large shapes instead of individuals, included people at varying distances to convey depth in the composition, and tried to keep groups of people connected so that they would be seen as part of a whole rather than individuals.

7/19/18 Ribeira


  1. Both workshops were interesting, especially the urban archaeology. And yes, I will check your blog daily :)

  2. Lapin's workshop sounds interesting. Most of us are in areas where the old is so quickly being replaced with the new...and often so much of the character of a place is being lost. I like your sketch of the crowd. That is something that is hard to do. Maybe I'll have to track down Veronica in NYC and watch her.


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