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.


Part III Porto

My first Symposium workshop was one that I knew would blow my sketcher’s mind wide open, and gratefully it did! Inma Serrano‘s workshop titled Porto: Calm and Wild! She got us going right away by giving us India ink and sticks and accordian folded paper to do quick drawings which played with textures, open and dynamic lines and overlapping shapes.  You see the results here.inma serrano

Then looking out at the busy Ribeira area by the river we did a sketch making a clear pathway into the focal point and leaving out any other detail.


Here’s my exercise. It was so liberating to get to leave out so much of the colorful scene and just focus on a particular story with large shapes leading into smaller shapes in the background. And no watercolor here, because I had to use my water container to put the ink in. So this is the India ink, drawn with a stick and brush, marker, brush pen, and colored pencil.

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Here’s Inma pointing at the scene we walked to next. We were in the labyrinthine walkways leading up from the river near the bridge.

Inma is saying, “First paint only the shadow shapes (luckily there were some!) in black, and then finish the sketch with detail in any medium you want.”

When some of us winced she said, “Trust me. Just do it.”


Here’s mine. And I’m sure you can imagine what happened in my mind when I finished with just the back ink. . . but in the end I thought, “Hey this is so cool!”

When she looked at mine her comment was, “This is out of your comfort zone, right? (I nodded vigorously) Very good.”

Funny thing about that comfort zone. Hard to let go of it, but always a good idea if you want to move ahead. You’ll see some influence this workshop had on my later sketches!

In the afternoon, after lunch and more up and down climbing and a wee rest, I joined Jim Richards‘ workshop, Drawing as Discovery: Revealing Porto’s Rich Sense of Place. Jim invited us to first explore the area, walking around doing thumbnails or small sketches to find elements that conveyed the life and energy of the place. We were at the foot of the statue of Henry the explorer, in a garden ringed by a palace, cathedral with solid gold interior, another church with decorative tiled facade, openings with river views, hillside views of more cathedrals and battlements and on and on.


Here’s my “discovery tour”, and I would happily have sketched any of these scenes. The final exercise was to create a large composition to express this city’s energy and life, adding in many objects to enrich the concept. I chose the scene on the lower left.

But first, knowing that this endeavor would require more energy than I had, I bought myself a gelato!


There’s Henry the explorer reaching out to explore and conquer the world, and the angel with her foot on the planet and arm in the air holding a cross. Definitely a story right there. And always the lovebirds oblivious of all but each other. And me enjoying my gelato on a blue sky day.

The Drink and Draw followed. A time more for urban sketchers socializing than drawing. I made some interesting new friends and took a break from sketching!

My last workshop was the next day. Capturing People and Space in the Same Gesture with Marion Rivolier. Marion is a stage and set designer and fine artist living in Paris. The urban sketcher community is in awe of her ability to sketch big scenes with direct watercolor painting in vibrant color, often with figures that are moving and complex urban scenes.

She started out by getting us to practicing mixing our warm and cool dark mixes of color. porto9

To be able to emphasize light against dark and warm against cool colors, we needed to be ready to produce these quickly, because. . .the next part was to capture figures with a gestural brush mark, and then to negative paint the figure while simultaneously building the background scene in dark warm and cool brush strokes. Are you still following?


The “models” were the folks waiting for the tram or sitting at the restaurant tables, or each other.


The last exercise was to put it all together and do the big scene (no drawing first) and we had 40 minutes, the first 10 of which I sat freaking out and thinking this is impossible. (There it is again, no comfort zone here.) Then I plunged in and painted like crazy. And if you stand back far enough, it actually looks like a scene you might see in Porto! Warm and cool and dark and light. It’s all there, barely. Whew!

Next: Symposium finale and last days in Porto

Porto: Part II


And then the much anticipated Urban Sketchers Symposium 2018 began with registration at 11am. The event had somehow grown to 800 sketchers from around the world (500 the past two years I attended) and they all seemed to converge at once on the Alfondega or “hub”. Here’s what happened to me. . .



And so the Symposium started for me “taking shelter” on the littered steps across the street where some ebullient Brits were sketching and chatting. And I guess you can tell by the sketch that I was ready for some fun.


And later, while a long row of experienced sketchers from around the world were doing the entire skyline of colorful edifices on the hill, I picked out one spot on the hill to do a quick study. A rousing opening ceremony closed out the day.

Workshops started the next day and I had signed up for a full schedule of four workshops and a demonstration over the three days.


L.K. Bing, architect and master painter from Indonesia was teaching my first workshop Dramatic Atmosphere in Black and White. We climbed the hill to a spot with the street view he wanted to capture, waited until we could find a spot for 15 of us to congregate on the street without blocking any doors. Then the delivery trucks started arriving and we kept squeezing over to avoid toes getting run over. (Urban sketcher workshops are always great adventures!)

We started out with the little cards he gave us, sketching the shadow patterns of the scene with water soluble pencil and black watercolor and white, then moved on to a larger piece. The view was partially blocked by the trucks and the wall of tourists who were curious and wanting to take pictures of us. The day was overcast so we were mostly guessing at shadows, but I must say that getting to see this teacher paint with large expressive strokes that captured the drama of street life was worth every minute.

porto4 And here’s my clumsy efforts, with a huge serving of invention!

In the afternoon I attended a demonstration with U.K. teacher Lynda Gray

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This is Lynda’s signature style, gorgeous line work that thins out at the edges and delicate, restrained watercolor around the focal point. The result is serene and refined. Watching her slow build up of color was a relaxing break from the mad rush of activity in the city and symposium events.

Next: more workshops


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