Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Activities aplenty

This year's Usk Symposium in Paraty was particularly rich in activities other than the workshops. This is mainly due to the fact that it was possible to register for different tiers: a workshops pass (for all the whole symposium), an activities pass (for the activities and sketchcrawls outside the workshops) and a sketchcrawl pass (for the different sketchcrawls organised during the symposium).

The result for me was that I had tons of activities, besides the workshops, to choose from and it was pretty difficult for me to keep track and actually attend them. Not really a problem, though. I ended up going with the flow, as they say, and either follow others or just stop at an activity I encountered by accident. I did miss some very interesting ones, but at least I was not stressed out the whole time.

The first activity I attended was Delphine Priollaud-Stoclet's called Less is more. I had the good fortune to share a room with Delphine during the symposium, so I already had an idea of what she would be doing, but I wanted to go anyway.

I'm very glad I did for Delphine prepared a very detailed presentation on the tools she uses and made a demo showing how she works and commented each step of the process.

She stressed the importance of not worrying too much about every single detail or about perspective. She showed us how to work with negative spaces in order to build a sketch and how it naturally creates a good perspective in our drawings.

I feel she gave the attendants very useful insights on how to improve their sketches. For my part, I definitely have been applying her teachings since then.

Activity Less is more
Working with the negative spaces really helps to figure out perspective
I also attended Kumi Matsukawa's demonstration on how to sketch straight to watercolour. This demo was very different, all about observing how she works, applying layer after layer to build her sketch.

There were so many people around her that at some point I sat down and sketched her and her audience instead. This turned out to be one of my favourite drawings from the symposium. I'm happy to say that Kumi liked it as well and it was even featured in the Usk Paraty blog.

Kumi Matsukawa's demo
With her kimono and focused gaze Kumi reminded me of a samourai
I only attended one more activity called The Big Crit. The concept of this activity organised by Frend Lynch was that you could sit with four instructors for 5 minutes each and have them critique some of your drawings. A bit like speed dating but with sketching.

I hesitated at first because I was not sure my ego could take critique well, and I know that's what stopped many people from going. Attending Frend Lynch's workshop made me change my mind, though, for I got a glimpse of the type of constructive critique I might get and how beneficial it might be.

I'm very happy I went. I got a lot of interesting tips and insights from very good sketchers. Some tips I have applied since. I actually liked it so much that I did a second round with instructors I didn't get to talk to. I hope they will have this activity again at future symposiums.

There were so many more activities I didn't attend! I particularty regret not going on one of the tours around Paraty organised by some of the local sketchers. But hey, that's life!

Monday, 29 September 2014

Bounding boxes - with William Cordero Hidalgo

One aspect I would like to improve in my sketches is storytelling, which is one of the reasons why I chose William Cordero's workshop, Bounding boxes: Space and people as characters.

William is a professor and architect in Costa Rica, but I wouldn't have guessed he has an architecture background. Not because his urban sketches are not architecturally correct, but rather because they are much more full of life than the sketches of most architects I have seen.

His class was about telling what is happening in a place, what catches our attention, through smaller sketches (the boxes) nestled in a bigger drawing, combining everything to give an overview of what the sketcher experiences.

The first exercise William gave us was to look around Chafariz square, where we were based, and create thumbnails of the things that were appealing to us: people, objects, etc.

This is just one of the pages I filled with thumbnails
The square was very lively, there were a lot of things happening at once: a guy trying to hand out flyers, another one sitting on a bench, waiting for people to come buy his cotton candy, another one selling coconut water, etc. It was quite a challenge to try and capture these fleeting moments.

The second step was to combine several elements into just one sketch with the technique of bounding boxes, as William calls them.

These "boxes" don't need to be actual boxes at all. They can be different elements, placed on different planes of the drawing. The important thing was to create an overall impression of the place we were sketching, a flow guiding the eye through the drawing.

I have to admit that I still have to practice a lot! Learning to determine where to place what and how is quite a challenge. I do like my group of gossiping women, though.

I would say the most important concept to remember from this workshop is to FEEL THE PLACE before sketching it.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Capturing intangibles - with Fred Lynch

Choosing Fred Lynch's workshop was another no-brainer for me. His lecture at last year's symposium was so inspiring that I immediately started following his work and when I saw he was teaching a workshop this year I didn't want to miss it.

The complete title of the workshop was Capturing intangibles: Exercises in creating meaningful sketches. "Meaningful sketches" - that's what attracted me here. How to turn a simple depiction of reality into something more.

For our first exercise we were given one of three words: historic, romantic or strange. We were to head out in search of a subject that would express the word we were given.

This is the sketch I did for that exercise. Can you guess what word it was?*

Workshop with Fred Lynch
This house had many lovely balconies
At the end of the exercise, everyone had to leave their sketchbook for others to place in the right category (historic, romantic or strange). Fred would then comment on each of the sketches, pointing out what worked well and why some sketches didn't work out as planned.

I'm happy to say that mine was interpreted correctly.

For the second round, we could choose one of the two remaining words. I chose "strange" this time.

Workshop with Fred Lynch
The house was known as Pineapple House
Unfortunately, this one was not read correctly and people put it in the same pile as previously. I guess choosing the same subject was a risky move, but I had done it on purpose. Fred pointed out that it might have been interpreted differently had I left a bit of the door less defined.

I agree with that. In spite of the fact that I tried to sketch the subject in a "stranger way" and not to put too much detail in my sketch I ended up overworking it.

This workshop forced me to think about what message I wanted to convey in my work and how - something I never think about. It's a bit tricky to do for me, in particular because when I work for myself, without an assignment that is, I very rarely try to give a meaning to what I draw. I just go with the flow mostly or try to be as accurate as possible, if I'm in a mood to be more realistic.

So the main concept I will remember from his workshop is WHAT MESSAGE DO I WANT TO CONVEY IN MY SKETCH?

 *If you thought "romantic", yay for you! And for me for a job well done :)

Monday, 22 September 2014

The joy of the movement - with Behzad Bagheri

Actually, the whole title was The joy of the movement (of learning) from simplicity to complexity (in sketch). What a programme!

Anyway, it could have been called How to draw stick figures in three easy steps, I still would have wanted to take it. I absolutely love Behzad Bagheri's work and was very curious to learn his approach and see him in action.

The workshop started with a few exercises consisting in making some random lines on paper and then trying to find something in them and develop the drawing around that.

In my case, I kept seeing hills in the few drawings I made during this first exercise, like in this one, for example.

Little church in the hills
The second step was to take the three primary colours, apply them randomly on paper and pass it on to our neighbor, who would then develop it.

I collaborated with a Brazilian participant called Clarissa and we ended up with something that looks like people dancing.

Let's dance some samba!
The third exercise consisted in taking three colours we like, apply them randomly and then develop the shapes we were seeing, just like in the first exercise.

I actually liked how it looked from the start and didn't change it much. It reminds me of a scenery reflected in a river. Behzad actually told me he wouldn't change it either.

The mists of my mind
Finally, the last exercise, and that was when everything came together, consisted in choosing colours from our surroundings, applying them randomly on paper again and then looking around to see what subject could fit in. We were then to develop the sketch accordingly.

This drawing is of one of the churches by the river. The colours are not quite accurate, but the shapes fit beautifully to the subject. I think it looks more like an oasis or something similar, but I like the result.

Where's Aladdin?
The least you can say about this workshop is that you have to have faith that Behzad knows where he's going. Particularly because his English is not good enough to explain everything as people would want/need it. 

Unfortunately, some of the attendants didn't adhere much to the workshop. However, I think it had also a lot to do with it being a bit cold and wet and people were not feeling comfortable in the first place. Add to that the fact that they had no clue what the exercises were leading to and some actually abandoned midway through.

For my part, I think I was too starstruck to really mind in any negative way, haha. (Plus I was dressed warmly for this workshop.) Even if I was a bit puzzled in the beginning, I felt like a child again and had fun with the different exercises. I was sure that Behzad was getting at something interesting. 

As an added bonus, Behzad also demonstrated his approach for us, which was a real treat! It is amazing to see one of your favourite sketchers at work, see how he makes the wonderful art you've been admiring online. In particular because his style is so different from all the other sketchers' I've been following.

This workshop was the radical opposite from Matthew Brehm's very mathematical approach. There was no visualizing whatsoever before drawing at all, on the contrary.

What Behzad does is soak in the surroundings and atmosphere before letting his subconsious apply the first washes of paint. Only then does he analyze what he has and how to continue his sketch.

If I had to remember one concept from this course it would be to FREE YOUR MIND FROM ABSOLUTE REALISM.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Sketching fundamentals - with Matthew Brehm

The best part about a Usk Symposium is to meet old and new friends. This being my second participation, I had the great pleasure to see people again with whom I had sympathized the previous year, and was pleasantly surprised that quite a few people remembered me.

As I said before, Paraty being a small city, the streets were full of sketchers everywhere and participants were easy to spot, acquaintances easily formed.

The second best part are the workshops, of course. This year I chose very different subjects and, to make the selection a tiny bit easier, I decided not to take any of the workshops held by an instructor whose workshop I had attended in Barcelona.

I still ended up wishing I had done this and done that. On top of what I actually did, of course. I'm greedy like that.

Fortunately, another great thing about a symposium is sharing experiences and insights with other participants, so in the end you learn almost as much indirectly as during an actual workshop.

On the first day of workshops I got to see two very different approaches to sketching: Matthew Brehm's Sketching Fundamentals, and Behzad Bagheri's The Joy of the movement.

Matthew Brehm's workshop was about studying the subject before commiting it to paper. First composing the sketch, deciding what exactly to put on paper before starting to measure and lightly put some marks to gradually build your sketch.

It forced me to do something I don't usually do: visualize the sketch before drawing it.

To be honest, although I am happy with my sketch, I felt a little bit stifled by the process. But that's because I was doing something I don't usually do and that's the point of a symposium like this.

Matthew Brehm's workshop
Spot the sketcher!
It started raining fairly early on, so we had to find some shelter and poor Matthew had to improvise a Q&A session for the rest of the workshop. It gave me a lot of insights and tips for sketching, though, so good catch, Matthew!

The one concept I will keep in mind from this workshop is: VISUALIZE!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Paraty before the Symposium

Paraty! How do I describe Paraty?

It's this enchanting small town with a very unique historical centre with its windows and doors painted in bright colours and its streets paved with big rocks that prevent you from walking around admiring the beautiful scenery, unless you want to fall or sprain an ankle.

It's a place where the water floods certain streets at high tide and you either have to wait for it to retreat or get your feet wet to cross.

And during the 5th International Urban Sketching Symposium this year, it was a place invaded by sketchers from all over the world at every corner.

I spent the day exploring the city a little bit, sketching, meeting other sketchers. some of them I knew from last year's symposium. The city being so small, it gave me an even stronger sense of belonging to a community of like-minded people and friends.

As I sat making this drawing, at least four people came and introduced themselves as being participants to the Symposium. I even met, Nelson Paciencia, a Portuguese sketcher whose blog I follow.

Paraty - Praça da Matriz
The quiet before the symposium storm
It's a strange and wonderful feeling to casually meet people you sort of know through their online work and who sort of recognize you from a comment you left on their blog.

In a place like Paraty, you only need to turn your head to see a sketchworthy scene. Which is what happened with this next drawing.

I tried to channel my inner Inma Serrano. I love her work and, as a Brazilian sketcher I met used to say: "When I grow up I want to be like her".

Paraty - Praça da Matriz
Still a lot to learn, but this was fun!
Less is more, that's what my room mate, Delphine Priollaud-Stoclet, kept telling me. It was also the theme of the activity she prepared for the symposium. So I tried to apply this principle to this next drawing. I think it could benefit from a bit of colour, though.

Using negative space
We had lunch at a restaurant called O Arpeador, if I remember correctly. A very tasty dish called moqueca, with fish and shrimp. There was a singer practising her number, so we were able to enjoy some lovely music as well.

Lunch at o Arpeador, Paraty
Lovely Brazilian music
This was also the place where I met Zeta, a fellow sketcher from Luxembourg! Of all places for me to meet someone from Luxembourg, Paraty was probably the most unlikely and therefore the most likely place for that to happen.

It went something like this:

A woman walks into the restaurant, obviously a sketcher. She tentatively asks if we were also sketchers participating to the symposium.

Delphine and I go: "Why, yes, indeed, we are! Come join us!"

I ask her: "Where are you from?"

Zeta: "From Luxembourg."


And the rest is history.

Serendipity, my dears. Serendipity.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Goodbye jetlag! - a few days in Búzios

My first stop during my trip to Brazil was in Búzios, a peninsula north of Rio de Janeiro, apparently a very popular holiday destination.

The decision to go there was relatively random, to be honest. I was arriving in Brazil a few days before the symposium, just like another symposium attendant, Sue Pownall.

Sue is from the UK and was also looking for a travelling companion to go on a short trip before the big event. Búzios seemed like an interesting and relaxing place, so we went.

Drinks by the sea
Even in winter, cafés were pretty busy
I love the sea/ocean/any type of water and Búzios' main attraction is its beautiful beaches, so it was a great way to start my Brazilian adventure.

Little boats of Búzios
These cute colourful boats were everywhere.
Búzios became famous and fashionable after the French actress Brigitte Bardot turned it into a regular vacationing place. There is even a statue of her on a street with her name (Orla Bardot) by the beach.

Statue of Brigitte Bardot
"I'm here to stay!"
There was this fun statue of presidente Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira. I was told he was the one who turned Brasília into the country's new federal capital in the 1960s. I love this statue, it is so unusual to see a politician depicted in such a relaxed and human way.

Statue of Presidente Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira
"Olá gente! Welcome to Búzios!"
Travelling with another sketcher gives you a freedom to draw that you don't have when travelling with people who are not into sketching themselves. So this was a great way to warm up before the symposium.

It gave me full freedom to sketch the most random objects and subjects of interest, like this table boat full of condiments...

"Main dish ahead, capt'n!"
... or one of the beautiful coconut trees.

Watch out for falling coconuts!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Where to start?

I was on holiday these last few weeks. First in Portugal, to visit family, and then to Brazil for the 5th International Urban Sketching Symposium which took place in Paraty.

I know: I'm lucky like that.

I have sketched so much during these last few weeks that I don't know where to start sharing. So I guess the easiest way to proceed is chronologically, and so, with my week in Portugal.

I took the small Laloran sketchbook we received at last year's USk Symposium in Barcelona and dedicated it exclusively to my time in Portugal, before and after Brazil.

I have to say I loved that sketchbook! The paper is great, the book is beautiful and the pocket size, which I thought I would find limiting, was very handy.

Laloran is a small company from Sintra, Portugal. I highly recommend their products, which you can order online.

Here are some of my favourite sketches from that time.

At home with the family:

Casa Amieira
I loved the shadows of the laundry. Very peaceful scene.

One of my aunts has a new puppy. Cutest thing ever! 

It wouldn't be a holiday in Portugal without a trip to the beach.

15 Agosto
On August 15th there is always a celebration in honour of Nossa Senhora da Boa Morte (Our Lady of Good Death), with many folclore groups performing.

15 Agosto
I tried to capture the variety of the traditional costumes. There was even a guest group from Italy.

I spent a short time in Lisbon before heading to Brazil. I mainly went to the area of Belém, one of my favourite parts of the city.

Museu de arqueologia
There was an exhibition on treasures recovered from the ocean at the Museum of Archeology.

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
My first attempt at sketching the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. Such a complex building! 

Jardim botânico
I also spent some time at the botanical garden nearby. I spotted a dragon tree. I had never heard of it, so was very curious to see it.

Jardim botânico
I found this beautiful bust of an African woman. Couldn't help sketching it.

I made this last sketch after my trip to Brazil. I tried to apply some of the things I learned during one of the workshops at the symposium. More on that in a future post.

Unfortunately, this post would be far too long if I posted all the sketches. You can find the rest of my drawings from that time in Portugal in my Flickr stream under the link to the dedicated album.