Virtual Travel

dip pen and ink and watercolor in Travelogue watercolor sketchbook

Virtual travel at your computer/iPad. It’s become a real thing in the Urban Sketcher world as we are less able to gather to on location spots because of Covid, and for some of us, because of winter weather. So when Cathy McAuliff and Bettina Armstrong and I got a peek at Patti Grogan Richards Facebook posts of New Orleans we made a date.

You see we were in NOLA for a week at the very beginning of the pandemic – last chance for travel for a while! – and we were thoroughly enchanted. So what a treat to spend an evening with each other reminiscing while sketching from Patti’s pictures.

I find that when I’m chatting/listening, my left brain is quite off line with the drawing, so lines and perspective are felt rather than measured. The marlin hanging over the entrance grew large as I showed it interest! After a few minutes I believe I started to feel the texture and scents on the humid air and a flood of memories came back.

I wholeheartedly recommend this form of virtual travel, even as the news tells us we are soon in for a lifting of restrictions. Comforting to know it’s possible and even without some virtual reality headset!

To see more NOLA sketches and get ideas for your own either virtual or real travel to New Orleans, you can visit some of my on location blog posts from March 2020 here and here.


Porto: Last days

Saturday July 21st was the last day of the whirlwind Urban Sketchers Symposium 2018. After the morning workshop with Marion Rivolier (yesterday’s post) the 800 attendees were invited to the “Big Sketch” final sketchwalk and group photo in a long central promenade area up on the hill which ended in the grand city hall.


This young woman with her sketch board and symposium pass was perfect to tell the story.

But first I started with a warm up sketch in direct watercolor to overcome my nervousness about the busy open space with so many curious onlookers and experienced artists. I was happy with the girl with no face, painted in only shadow shapes, before I got all involved with the cherub statue and decided I better move on!

It was time then for the group photo on the steps of the City Hall. Can you see me waving? Ha ha!

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Next we walked back to the river to the Alfondega or symposium Hub for the Silent Auction of the spectacular work done by Urban Sketchers in Porto. This was followed by the raffle drawing of prizes from generous sponsors. Then the buildup to the big announcement that next year’s Symposium (drum roll here) in Amsterdam!

With all the socializing activities and workshops during the event I was starved to just wander and sketch with no time limit. So the following morning I set off alone.


The tourists don’t get up early, so it was possible for a while to wander without the crowds and sip coffee with the excellent views of the river.


Walking to the other side of the bridge on the lower level I found a spot in the shade with my back to the bridge wall. It was midday and the day’s activity was beginning in earnest. A young man was donning a wet suit, and later returned to strip it off with an appreciative audience of girls. So I wrote this tidbit on my sketch (never write until later!) He and his friends then expressed some interest in what I was doing and I was able to ask

Q: Why the wetsuit?

A: To jump off the lower bridge span into the river! (the upper span is for suicides I learned)

When the group came over to look closer, I covered my writing with my hand and had to keep it there while one of the girls, an art student sat beside me to watch me paint!

Then a street musician/artist stopped by and chatted with me for a while and explained that the deafening roar of motorcycles which was increasing with each moment was related to another kind of symposium happening that weekend, a motorcycle rally!


Back across the bridge again I caught sight of this edifice sheltered in the armpit of the upper bridge span.

Oh how I will miss the urban character of Porto! I heard that someone suggested we have the annual symposium in Porto every year!

On the last Porto day exhaustion finally took over. But we agreed we couldn’t go home without seeing the Atlantic ocean beach. A short cab ride got us there and exhaustion lifted as we breathed the sea air and found a lovely resort to dine and enjoy sun and cool breezes.


I got out my Inktense pencils, pens and marker for the top sketch, though I always end up wondering why I didn’t use watercolor.


The young wait staff were not so busy they couldn’t visit with us and answer questions and enjoy being sketched.


And that’s about it.Well, that’s not quite it. I’m still doing a bit of sketching from my pictures of scenes I had no time to do while there.


The Porto sign was right around the corner from our Yellow House and perfect to stage our farewell (along with a line of tourists from other countries.

Thanks for joining me on the trip! If you came in late, you can scroll down for more sketches of two weeks in Portugal.

Porto Part I

Porto is a visual feast. Like Lisbon it climbs a steep hill with views from every narrow, cobblestoned street, each of which is decorated with bright flags and colorful laundry in drooping strings across painted balconies. You can wear yourself out trying to capture even a thimbleful of the kaleidoscopic images that greet you with every turn.

So it really helped to just sit down and compose whatever sketch time allowed.


And then there’s the Douro River at the base and not so wide across that you can’t enjoy the other side as well. And six glorious bridges, each an architectural marvel.


We took a river cruise to get oriented. The Ponte de D. Luis I bridge here with a lower and upper span dominated our view for the duration of our stay.


Here’s the view from the river of the “boardwalk” area, which was a favorite of the urban sketchers.

portoriver Even the river boats had a unique style.


We settled into the Yellow House on the hill, a three story house we rented through AirBnb and it became home for a week. . .a home we shared with the raucous gulls whose wingspan was that of an Albatross I think, because they seemed to span the width of the narrow street down which they soared in noisy drafts. Then they perched on the roofs and commenced heated discourse which ended in brawls (or that’s what it sounded like).


The view from my bedroom window balcony on the third floor in the morning. . .That’s the river down there and the monastery across the river.  .


And the view lit up at night. . .and yes, that’s a cathedral next door.


Stay tuned for Porto: Part II


Lisbon Cont.

Next morning it was time to wander the city and tackle sketching one of those iconic narrow cobblestone streets on the hill. Everything is on a hill in Lisbon and Porto. And just as you are lulled into thinking it must be a pedestrian only street, a car comes along and you must plaster yourself against the wall to avoid blocking them.


Here I am trying to figure out how to do this scene. A tourist came along and figured I needed a picture of my efforts.


So here you see me in the gutter where I moved after the car came by practically nicking my shoulder. Those of you who are gear-heads like me can also see my set up.


Before this trip I decided I wanted “good” watercolor paper in my sketchbooks but they had to be light weight. So I made corroplast sketchbook “bodies” to clip my paper, sewed into signatures. The signatures will then be made into permanent bound sketchbooks by my talented husband who is good at that sort of thing.

There are two sizes, 7.5″X9.5″ and 5.5″X7.5″. The paper is Fluid 100 made by Global Arts, 100% cotton rag 140 lb CP paper which I like because it is relatively smooth and so more receptive to ink pens than other brands, and so friendly to wet watercolor.


I open up the book and clip it onto another piece of corroplast which has magnets to hold my palette and a sponge and water holder. I got the general idea for this from another urban sketcher, Anne-Laure Jacquart, who has lots of video on youtube to get you started making your own sketchbooks.


Back to the story of the day, we took the tram and then climbed up to the Miradouro de Santa Luzia which affords the most enchanting view of the city from a brilliantly bougainvillea-d overlook where musicians were playing and people were sitting on the white walls basking in the sun. Somewhere along the way the tourist hoards descended and soon my tranquil spot was invaded. Big time. The sketch (on the left) got very forced and I stopped enjoying myself.

Lisbon12 Later I found a calmer spot on the wall and thought I’d try a very modest direct watercolor sketch of one of the myriad of buildings below. An eight year old Polish girl sat beside me, watching every brushstroke with total absorption. Amazingly I calmed down and the joy of the day returned!


There was a lot going on in the plaza next to the Miradoura as well. Live music and an African dancer/performer and crowds and the omnipresent stone statue overseeing it all.


Next day we took a one hour train ride to Sintra, a town with such visual appeal that it is on every must-see tour guide list. Our late start meant that we had to start with lunch, and we found a restaurant that made us forget all other reasons for the trip. We were at one of four tables occupied, enjoying a meal that was as much high art as high cuisine.


I think people should go to Portugal just to have the experience of eating at this restaurant, A Reposa Sintra. And we met the chef of course, who had kitchen utensils tatooed on his forearms.


But back to the sights in Sintra. We walked to the Palacio Nacional de Sintra and toured the interior. From the garden there I sketched the Castle of the Moors and another grand estate on the hillside.


Wandering down one of those vertiginous narrow streets I positioned myself behind a potted plant by the roadside to feel safe enough to do this one. While sitting there I was suddenly mobbed by a group of day campers who were on their way back from an outing. Like a flock of hungry birds they surrounded me, ogling my sketch and paints. When I encouraged them, they tried their English out on me, and were happy to pose for a picture taken by their counselor.


That big grin stayed on my face all the rest of the day.

Travel Sketching Workshop

I just scheduled a new on-location sketching workshop for this summer. Hope you can come!


Leave your cell phone in your pocket and record memories in a pen and watercolor sketch that tells your own story. In this on-location workshop you will have a day of instruction and practice with drawing exercises, strategies for designing your sketches and adding watercolor, all in a charming town nestled in the redwoods in Sonoma County.

For more info and to register, visit my website.