On Friday of the Urban Sketchers Symposium I took Richard Briggs' workshop Play and Rhythm: How to Capture Character with Limited Content because I'm very interested in the way he captures information with a very minimal line. We walked over to Amsterdam's "Love Bridge" and had just the most perfect, quiet, shady spot.
Richard started us out by having us wander around to find things that most interested us about the area and to make a list of words describing what we found. He was interested in having us focus on the relationships between these things that made Amsterdam Amsterdam. I found this part very helpful as it pushed my looking - I kept seeing more and more that interested me and that I wouldn't have seen otherwise. He also said, "If it was up to me I'd have us looking for 90% of the time and drawing for 10%," which says a lot about his methods.
The sketch above is one of my favorite spreads from the whole trip. It's in a Stillman & Birn Alpha 8x10, with a Lamy Safari & Noodlers 54th Massachusetts ink.
Our instructions from Richard were to draw things from the list we made. I'll admit, I was not 100% paying attention when he was giving instructions, so I didn't know if we were supposed to do this in his style, which is very distinct, or just draw like we normally draw. I opted to draw like I normally draw, and when we looked at everyone's sketches, I saw that everyone else's sketches were made with a very minimal line, like Richard's. Oh well - I gotta be me!
I made sure I had the correct instructions for the final drawing, which shows my interest in Amsterdams' "public spaces" - the tiny walkway and not-well-kept tree on the left - versus Amsterdams' "private space" - the lush trees and plants around doorways and stoops. And also the relationship of houses to street to water. It was an interesting exercise, but not my favorite sketch.
Oh and I intentionally left out the bike because I figured we didn't need another Amsterdam bike sketch - ha!
After the workshop I had an absolutely lovely lunch at Droog with Shawne, Liz, Maria and Peggy. Sharing a meal with old friends and new is one of my favorite parts of the Symposium.
I attended Rita Sabler's demo Unfolding Stories: Recipes and Ingredients for Visual Storytelling in the afternoon. Rita is an amazing sketcher/storyteller so I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about her process. We had a great spot near a market in a shady and breezy area, so as I listened to her I started sketching this interesting structure in the background. Later I realized that this interesting structure is the Zuiderkerk, the impressive building hosting the Symposium, and one of the most-sketched buildings at the Symposium. It made me realize that what I had been saying and teaching since the 2018 Symposium in Porto was true: sketching your everyday world prepares you for bigger sketching opportunities. Because I've been purposeful for the past year in finding and taking advantage of opportunities to sketch and filling up many a two-page spread, I approached this big moment with confidence and ease, not even thinking about it as a big moment.
At the Drink & Draw I drew without an agenda, just layering people and buildings to give a sense of the setting.
Later that night, after cooling off in my hotel room for a bit, I ate dinner at a little Spanish place down the street from my hotel and ended up sketching the ubiquitous Amsterdam bike.
The Urban Sketchers Symposium workshops started on the Thursday of my trip to Amsterdam, and I was so excited! My first workshop with was Karen Jiyun Sung, who I have been following on Instagram since first meeting her at the Manchester Symposium in 2016. She has a playful take on drawing from life and an economy of line that I was interested in learning more about.
The Workshop, Growing a Drawing: Making Sketches Beyond the Dimensions of the Paper, was about starting a drawing and adding paper to extend the drawing, but it was about more than that. It was about composing as you go, and made me think a bit about the mixed water media classes I've been teaching, where we start a painting and then make adjustments to the composition as we go. I also felt like Karen gave me permission to start wherever and see what happens, though I did spend a lot of time just looking first to get a sense of the area I wanted to focus on. That feels so natural to me and took away the pressure to start out with a composition in my mind.
Below are the sketch as it looked at the end of the workshop, and later after I added more darks to differentiate some areas and to make it look more like a finished drawing. I don't normally do that, but since it was a stand-alone work (as opposed to in a sketchbook), I felt compelled to.
(Also note the lovely old bedspread in my hotel room. It was too heavy for the very hot days I was there, but it sure was pretty.)
The exercise sort of liberated me, and I made several more sketches throughout the day that I was really happy with.
I also participated in the Skit Sketch - quick Pecha Kucha-like presentations about different sketching-related topics. My talk, How Is Sketching Like Technical Communication, was a shortened version of the talk I gave in May at the STC Summit in Denver. I was happy to share my ideas about practical sketching applications, and my fellow sketchers seemed interested in the idea of using sketching in practical ways.
In the sketch on the right I was sketching other presenters to calm my nerves before giving my talk. Sketching always makes me feel better, even when I'm nervous about giving a talk about sketching!
The pink sketch at the top is of the buildings across the canal again - such great subjects just right there out my window! I was testing a Derwent Paint Pen that came in our goodie bags and of course I was thrilled with the color.
Below the pink sketch is the view of my hotel room from my bed. I was on the top floor so the ceiling was slanted and had these lovely beams and lots of windows. I just kept sketching them until I started making mistakes and then I knew it was time to go to sleep.
I am teaching several workshops and classes starting next weekend!
On September 7 and 14 I'm teaching a two-part workshop at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens: Your Day in Sketches/The World in Sketches
In the first class we'll learn about using our sketchbooks to tell the stories of our days, finding easy ways to draw throughout our daily tasks and to keep up with the practice of sketching.
The second class will build on Your Day in Sketches - we will learn about telling the stories of big places and moments (travel, iconic buildings, local landmarks) in sketches, looking at composition, proportions, focal points, and planning. With these two classes you'll be ready for whatever subject you can find!
Sketching Class with Elizabeth Alley
Dixon Gallery & Gardens
4339 Park Ave, Memphis, TN
Saturday September 7, 10:30am – 1:30pm
Saturday, September 14, 10:30am – 1:30pm
Click here to sign up on the Dixon website.
I heard somewhere that Amsterdam has the highest number of museums per capita in Europe? The world? It is the reason I've always wanted to go there. I had a few days to myself before the Symposium started, so I spent a lot of time at the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum.
On my first day there, after my nap, I went to the Rijksmuseum and saw Rembrandt's Night Watch, which is in the process of being scanned while on view! They are starting a big research and conservation effort called Operation Night Watch, which makes it sound really exciting! It's kind of a spectacle with a big glass box built out around the painting and the scanner operating on sort of a conveyor belt thing (Google it - it's neat). It was pretty interesting to see the mechanics of it. But it was also great to see the painting itself! My eyes were drawn to the shadow on the main figure on the right - it's a very strong shadow cast by the hand of the main figure on the left. That's why I like to look at art in person.
This is another view of the top of the building across the canal. After my trip to the Rijksmuseum I met my dear friend Orling for dinner, but I was SO TIRED from traveling! After dinner I stopped at a market and got wine and (terrible) paprika chips, then back to my room where I sat at the window sketching this and waiting for the sun to go down so I could go to sleep. My room was west-facing and with the window open the sun was shining right on my pillow!
The next morning I stopped in a cafe for a lovely cup of coffee to plan my route for the day.
The Van Gogh Museum was amazing! I started on the first floor where they have dozens of his self-portraits on display, then went to the 3rd floor because I like starting at the top at museums. And I'm glad I did, because that meant I started with his final paintings. The wall text with the self-portraits had already reminded me that his career was only about a decade long, from 1880 to 1890 (and in that time he created about 2,100 artworks, per Wikipedia). The wall text in the room with his final paintings said that in the 70 days before his death he painted 75 paintings. And while we are the beneficiaries of that manic period, that is not healthy. It made it even clearer to me how ill he was.
So I was already pretty teary-eyed at the start. I looked at what is thought to be his last painting, Wheatfield with Crows, a slightly dark, slightly ominous painting of crows ascending from a wheat field into the night sky. But the museum had several other paintings on view that he painted after Wheatfield - lighter, cheerier paintings. And it was like a visual representation of something that I've heard before but that I don't have the documentation to back up - that people sometimes commit suicide not when they hit rock bottom but when they come back out of it a bit. So by then the tears were starting in earnest.
Then I saw what the museum considers his last painting - Tree Roots, which was unfinished on his easel when he died. In all of these last paintings everything is covered in his signature marks/visible paint strokes. But in Tree Roots there are areas that are painted with a flat color but without the build-up of paint strokes on top of them. And, I don't know... I felt like I saw him in those spaces. They were all of the things he had not done yet and would never get to do. So then I just sat down and cried really hard for several minutes.
But there was plenty more to see so I blew my nose and went to the next gallery. The museum is set up beautifully with different areas of focus - Van Gogh's contemporaries, the peasants he painted, his time in Paris. It's really one of the best museums I've been to.
I went to find lunch but only found heat and a relentless sun, so I stopped in the American Book Center for a bathroom break, some AC and some water. I found a spot in the cafe on the 2nd floor overlooking a plaza and a church and had a lovely time sketching it. The man working there suggested a seafood place across the plaza, and once I cooled down I walked over and sat in the shade and drank vinho verde and ate fish and chips but the fish was calamari! And I sketched.
After lunch I went back to the Rijksmuseum and discovered the landscapes of Weissenbruch.
I like sketching in museums with my Mitsubishi Prussian Blue/Vermillion colored pencil. I noticed a lot of Symposium goers posting their ink and watercolor sketches from the museums, but I just can't bring myself to use anything other than pencil most of the time! Such a rule-follower!
The sketch on the right is a thumbnail sketch for the sketch below.
After a lovely dinner with the Urban Sketchers board, my friends Uma and Suma and I sketched on the Blauwbrug, or Blue Bridge, over the Amstel River. The sun was setting beautifully, and we all captured it in different ways while chatting and listening to some young people talking sh*t.
On Wednesday the Symposium registration started in the late afternoon, so I had another almost full day for museums. First stop, Van Gogh museum to spend more time with the painting Almond Blossoms, which I decided is one of the most beautiful paintings I've ever seen in person. While I was spending time with it and sketching it (top right), I heard a woman behind me sobbing. I turned around and said, "I get it." She had someone with her to hold her as she wept. Then I heard her talking about something - it sounded like memories of a particular person. So this painting must have had a lot of meaning for her and that person. This is why I love art.
I popped back over to the Rijksmuseum for a bit to see the other floors, as I'd only visited two on my first two visits.
I mentioned the heat that drove me into the American Book Center the day before, but now it was getting even stronger. From where I was at the Museumplein, I knew I would have to walk through full sun in some spots to get to the Zuiderkerk where the Symposium was being held. So... I bought an umbrella! Instant shade! Very good decision.
The opening reception for the Symposium was lovely - representatives for the previous nine Symposiums (of which I attended seven!) were on hand to say a little bit about their turn hosting. Plus, it is always amazing to see all of my sketching buddies again!
The night ended with another nighttime sketching session with Suma and Uma. I wish I had put this sketch on its own page, but I also kind of like how this layout turned out.
(In case you're wondering, I bought museum memberships to both museums. I was glad I did because I could go to the Van Gogh museum at any time without having to buy a timed ticket. I could have gotten away with not buying one for the Rijksmuseum, but I didn't want to leave to chance having to wait in line. I needed to make the most of my three days of museums!)
Before I leave for the Symposium, wherever it is, I like to draw a map of where I'm going. These aren't so much maps as indications of canals. I drew these not knowing what to actually expect when I got there!
(All Symposium sketches are in a Stillman & Birn Alpha 8.5x5.5, unless I say otherwise. This sketch was made with my Hi-Tec-C Coleto multi-pens that I left out of my Symposium Supplies post!)
I got to the Memphis airport early because I get anxious about the getting-to-the-airport-and-going-through-security part. But then I'm fine. So I called my Mom, and my friend Andrea whose birthday was coming up. And then I sketched! I like how all of the black pen sketches here kind of merge into each other. And it kind of foreshadows some Symposium sketching!
(The black pen is the Sakura Pigma Graphic 1, aka my fat pen.)
First flew to Chicago, then on to Amsterdam! I watched Crazy Rich Asians and then slept pretty well as I had a row of three (small) seats to myself!
Two other sketchers - Mary Jo from Chicago and Kathy from Asheville - were on my flight, so when we landed we met up with Suzala from New York to take the train to Amsterdam Centraal. But after longer than seemed necessary, we realized we were going north instead of north-east. So we had to get off at the next stop, get on another train, and THEN we were on our way!
We split up at the station (but met up several times through the week!) and I walked to my hotel - about a 20 minute walk. I ran into another sketcher - Richard from Sydney - who sadly had lost a sketchbook.
And I saw fatsia on my way - a little piece of home!
I got to my very adorable room, took a shower, tried to nap but was too excited about being there, but then fell asleep for a bit. At some point - maybe after my nap - I made the drawing of the top of building across the canal from my hotel.
It's that time of year again! Time to frantically spend an afternoon making sure I've got all the right supplies for the Symposium even though I already thought I had it covered!
All of the supplies above are in my yellow striped sketch bag. It's almost what I carry every day anyway. The watercolor kit is from Expeditionary Art and I love it! It came with nine colors selected by Uma Kelkar, which I really enjoyed working with. Most of those colors are still here, though I made the yellow and ultramarine options larger. The only color I removed was cerulean, but I kept lavender as a new, unusual but fun addition to my kit. Two of the colors, black and Prussian blue, were requested by Santi Salles for a workshop I'm taking from him. The rest are my standard colors that I both carry and use in the studio, so I really didn't want to be without them on a big trip like this.
The only unusual thing in my kit is the tube of white gouache. I think I got the idea from Suhita Shirokdar and I haven't used it much yet, but I like the idea of having it. So we'll see - maybe I'll do something fun with it on this trip.
Here's a tiny bag of stuff that I'm also taking. Some of it - scissors and masking tape - are for workshops. The rest is just very useful!
And here is everything together. I tried to keep it VERY minimal this year because I'm traveling light - that's just what you gotta do when you book the cheapest of the expensive summertime tickets and book a hotel with steep and narrow stairs!
I'm excited about being in Amsterdam with all of the other sketchers, and I'm looking forward to sharing my sketches! Posting on here while traveling is hard, so follow me on Instagram at @elizabethalley to see more frequent updates.
Last weekend I led the Saturday Sketching at the Dixon Gallery & Gardens. It wasn't *too* hot so we went to the garden and I gave them a brief demo for planning out their sketches so as not to be overwhelmed by all of the choice we had of what to draw.
This is the demo I did (above) while talking to them about setting boundaries for what you are going to draw. In this case, the sketch was only going to be as wide as the bush at the bottom, and as tall as the far group of trees. Then I talked about judging measurements and distance based on the thing you've already drawn. So, we knew how wide the bush was, and we used that to see where to put the planter.
Then everybody went and sketched while no one used the ideas I had given them - ha!
I sketched with just colored pencils, which is kind of unusual for me. I enjoyed working on it but wasn't that crazy with the result (top sketch). I didn't really know why I wasn't crazy about it, so I went home and redrew it - based on the original sketch - using watercolor this time (below).
Of course this one is much neater because I was sitting in my air-conditioned house, and maybe for that reason the color selections were a little more thoughtful. I guess I like this one better, but I think maybe the composition just wasn't that great to begin with. I was trying to get both the sculpture in the foreground (center) and the structures in the background, which made the whole thing a little too horizontal. It could've used a big tree along the side or something. Of course to get that I would have had to move out of the shade!
Because I teach sketching I think about these things a lot - what's the best angle? What's the best place to "enter" or start a sketch? What are the best materials for right here, right now? But I don't think about these for every sketch - mostly I just want to draw something.
I have a show opening at the Dixon Gallery & Gardens this Sunday! The work is a year in the making - 14 oil on paper and oil on canvas paintings of Iceland (go figure!), Newfoundland, and Portugal. I'm so excited to share these paintings with everyone. It's a weird sensation to take work out of the comfort and safety of the studio and put them out in the world, but the folks at the Dixon have made it a fun and comfortable experience.
You can see a few of the paintings on my home page (click Home, above), and I'll post installation shots soon. I hope you'll go see the show!
These two sketches are from the Memphis Urban Sketchers' last outing at the Dixon. I love sketching there! I'll be leading a Saturday Sketch there this Saturday - come sketch with me!
The workshop I mentioned in my last post, Sketching Your Everyday World, at Flicker Street Studio earlier this month, was about discovering sketching opportunities in our daily lives, keeping our hands and eyes in the practice of sketching, keeping a record of our world, and preparing for "big" sketching opportunities like travel.
I had the students work with two-page layouts because I like the way the full spread can tell a story.
These are the sketches I did in the class.
We all had two Pigma Microns of different sizes, a Faber-Castell Pitt Pen in a light gray, and one colored pencil, to keep it simple. Here's a demo that I did (above), plus some scribbles showing them the differences in the pens.
I asked everyone to keep three things in mind:
1. Drawing to understand/to observe - Taking it slow, getting to know your subject, following contours and looking at shapes, paying attention to relationships.
2. Drawing to record - Drawing to record your world plus drawing to understand create a connection to the thing or person or scene or place you are sketching.
3. Finding/taking advantage of opportunities to sketch - Thinking about times when you can stop what you're doing and pick up your sketchbook - with your morning coffee? while running errands? - and taking advantage of those opportunities.
It was such a fun class! The students were eager and attentive and talked to each other a lot, comparing notes and asking questions. We got a lot out of our two evenings together.
Looking through sketches that I've scanned over the last few months, I couldn't help but notice that the ones I hadn't posted yet are all of these four subjects: plants, people, everyday things, and cars.
I just taught a workshop at Flicker Street Studio called Sketching Your Everyday World, and this is what my everyday world looked like this spring.
The sketch above and the sketch below are from when the cherry trees were blooming along the aptly named Cherry Road. First I wanted to do a warm-up sketch in my regular sketchbook (Stillman & Birn Alpha 8.5x5.5) but I got carried away! It was just too beautiful. But I still had time to do a bigger sketch in my 8x10 Stillman & Birn Alpha (I was on my lunchbreak), so I made a few thumbnails under my "warm-up sketch." I didn't have a whole lot of time for the bigger sketch (below), which I think helped me to keep it simple.
Sketchwork is sketches and work about sketching - teaching, making art, art supplies, books, sketchers, artists, Urban Sketchers, Memphis Urban Sketchers, and traveling.