Post Porto bluesPosted: August 1, 2018
If you’ve ever been to an Urban Sketchers Symposium, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that for a sketcher it is the most wonderful, the most chaotic, and often the most unforgettable event that you’ll ever experience. Imagine what it’s like to see more than 800 sketchers gathered in one city! Someone described it as an annual pilgrimage, and that seems like a pretty apt description to me.
This year’s event took place in Porto, Portugal. It was my sixth symposium, fifth as a workshop instructor, and it was by far the largest event to date. From morning ’til night, no matter where you walked in the city, there were sketchers. Sprawled out on the sidewalk drawing the most incredible sketches of the colourful houses that faced the main symposium venue, in the bars and restaurants at night, sketching their food, their drinks and each other, down alleyways, in churches, and of course in the famous tiled Sao Bento Railway Station.
Of course an event like this doesn’t just happen. It takes a small army of volunteers to organize it and make sure it runs smoothly, and the planning for that starts a full year ahead of time. From the USK board of directors, to the local organizers in Porto, to the education team who read and selected all the instructors, to the volunteers who accompanied each instructor to their teaching location, I am grateful to everyone who put time and effort into making this a truly memorable few days.
Partway through the symposium, someone suggested that the event should be in Porto every year because there’s so much to sketch. So true! It’s a small enough city that you get to know your way around rather quickly. And with the Douro river running through it and colourful buildings clinging to both sides of the riverfront, there’s no end of stuff to sketch. The steep hills and pedestrian bridges provide panoramic viewpoints, and as one of Portugal’s main tourist destinations, there’s no shortage of people to draw.
I always try to arrive a few days early to sketch in my workshop location, and this year it was especially important since my subject was sketching light, colour and shadow in Porto’s narrow spaces. I spent several days in the area around the Rua dos Armazens, even returning to my spot at different times of the day to find places where the light would be just right for both morning and afternoon sessions. The extra planning was worth it, but it also meant that I left Porto feeling like there was so much I hadn’t seen or sketched!
As always, the artistic ability of participants at a symposium is very high and it was a true honour to have been selected as an instructor. For once I managed to take lots of photos during my three workshops. Please take note of my favourite: the one of the chef from a restaurant next to my workshop location who watched us every day and then emerged from his tiny kitchen at the end of our last session with a basket of hot Bolinhos de bacalhau (cod fritters) to offer to the whole (hungry) group. That pretty much summarizes the warmth of all the Portuguese people I met both in Porto and later in Lisbon.
If you are interested in seeing all the stunning work that was done at the event, both by workshop participants or by people who were in the city to sketch on their own or with friends, have a look on Facebook or Instagram using the hashtag #uskporto2018. You’ll see what I mean.