Snow in summer

So pleased to see the August/September issue of International Artist magazine with my step-by-step article about painting snow scenes. It was a lot of fun to break down my painting process into steps, and since this is a topic I never cover in workshops (can’t fit everyone in my car!), I was happy to have the opportunity to write an article about it. Available on newsstands now.


Line at the Rijksmuseum

Before leaving Amsterdam, I spent a rainy afternoon at the Rijksmuseum. I think everyone in the city had the same idea because it was pretty crowded, especially in front of key paintings like the tiny Vermeers or the Van Gogh self-portrait, and most evident in the room with Rembrandt’s glass-enclosed The Night Watch, which is being x-rayed in advance of its restoration.

Lately when I visit museums I bring along a sketchbook and a few drawing tools. I try to check if working with wet media is permitted, and if not I draw in pencil or black line, adding colour later. I couldn’t find the info for the Rijksmuseum, so just to be safe, I drew with a brush pen and threw some wash on the sketches on my long flight home.

Drawing my favourite paintings and objects is a way to take the time to study them and observe details. Of course this was impossible in the really crowded areas where people were lined up four or five deep to catch a glimpse of an iconic painting like Vermeer’s The Milkmaid. But if you move away from the superstars, you can find a bench or a quiet space from which to draw, and that is how I made my way through the museum. And even though I may have missed seeing a few treasures from this rich collection of Dutch art and objects, what I did see, I appreciated more fully because I took the time to observe, read, draw and discover. There were many more things I could have added to this museum spread but I ran out of time (and room on my page), but I’m pretty certain they will be there next time I visit.


Staying cool in Amsterdam

I’ve just returned from Amsterdam and a busy week of teaching at the 10th annual Urban Sketchers Symposium. Besides teaching three workshops and giving one demo, I spent time sketching with old friends, meeting new ones and trying to survive the record-breaking heat wave that descended on Europe for a few crazy days.

When I teach, I always try to arrive at the location a day or two early to look at locations, plan where demos will be and find sheltered spots in case of rain. But in my plans for Amsterdam, it never occurred to me to me that I might be teaching in 98°F weather. For three or four days Amsterdam was an oven, and that made teaching (and learning) difficult for everyone.

An urban sketchers symposium is an event that requires stamina. Lots of it. There are workshops every morning, sketchcrawls in the afternoon, and “drink and draw” events in the evening. Add a heat wave to that and energy soon runs out even for the hardiest of sketchers. After my first workshop I reduced the number of exercises for participants from three to two, because I found that people just did not have the energy required to move from place to place in the heat. In talking to other instructors, I found out many of them did this as well. Fortunately, all of our workshops were in the morning so we were able to get some good sketching in before the worst heat of the day.

Despite the tough conditions, people smiled their way through the three days. Witness the big smiles of the three groups I taught in the photos below. I have always said that urban sketchers are a hardy bunch. We are used to sitting on the sidewalk to draw, being outside in the rain, sketching in cold weather and dealing with curious onlookers, so why should this be any different? Just another sketching day in Amsterdam.

Workshop Day One
Workshop Day Two
Workshop Day Three

We sketched at Amsterdam’s Historic Harbour, where there is not much shade to be found. We hid in the shadiest spaces we could find.

In my three-hour workshop, I shared my love of drawing and painting boats and their reflections, first with a black brush pen and then with paint. As you can see, the skill level at a symposium is very high! Amazing work was produced all three days.

Capturing the personality of these historic boats with a brush pen.
This little yellow boat was our model on most days since we could see it from our sliver of shade.

During the symposium, three correspondents moved from workshop to workshop (there were over 30 in all), sketching what they saw and writing about it in blog posts each day. Orling Dominguez sat in on a bit of my workshop on the first day, sketching what she saw and using a brush pen just like we were doing. I just love the sketch she did, and you can read the full post here as well as other posts by Gwen Glotin and Mark Alan Anderson.

In Orling’s brush pen rendition of the workshop, I’m the conductor.

The final afternoon of the symposium is always a gathering in some central meeting spot where everyone sketches together and then makes their way to a spot for a group photo. Although there were about 500 registered participants in the event, many more came to Amsterdam to hang out and sketch. The photo is evidence of just how many were there. Can you spot me in there?

At the closing ceremonies, the big announcement is always the location of next year’s event. If you haven’t already heard, it’s Hong Kong!

For an event of this size to run smoothly (and it did!), it takes so many volunteers (you can see them in the photo in red t-shirts) to do all the planning, scout locations, accompany instructors to workshops, sell raffle tickets and solve problems. I send out a big thank you to all of them for the countless hours that they put in to make this happen. It was a spectacular event in the perfect city for sketching.


Quick Amsterdam sketches

In a few days I’ll be writing a longer post about the Urban Sketchers Symposium that ended last night. As it has been every year since I’ve been an instructor, it was an exhausting and chaotic three days, with so much collective creativity surrounding me that it will take days to process. In the meantime, while I collect my thoughts (which will probably end up being written down on my plane ride home) here are a few sketches from the past few days: one from an early morning walk on the way to our symposium venue and two from the quay at my workshop location.


Amsterdam sketching

The best thing about the days in Amsterdam is that they are long! In fact you lose your sense of time here because the sun sets so late in the day. That means lots of time to draw. I’ve been sketching with friends for the past few days, and preparing for my workshops and demos for the Urban Sketchers Symposium, which begins this evening.

On my first day here it rained so we sketched from the steps of the Maritime Museum.

With this crowd, sketchbooks come out during meals, so this one of the canal houses was done during dinner.

The flower market is a pretty crowded spot but we set up our stools against the wall and found a view of the stalls. It’s not tulip season, of course, but there’s still plenty of colour to be found.

My workshop location is in Amsterdam’s historic harbour, so I started by doing some small brush pen sketches in a little sketchbook.

More workshop prep, this time in full colour…

My workshop is titled “Barges, Schooners and Trawlers: Sketching Amsterdam’s Historic Harbour”. It’s about drawing and painting all the details on the boats and also capturing their reflections. I loved all the rusty details in this scene!

I sketched this last one from Rembrandtplein, looking up the street towards the Muntorren tower.

That’s about all the quiet sketching time I’ll get in before the symposium starts. I’ve heard there will be 500 registered for the event and at least that many more who have come to sketch in the city. And with the temperature going up to 35C this week, it going to be steamy sketching madness. More soon!


Amersfoort workshop photos

This teaching trip in the Netherlands has been so busy, especially since the Urban Sketchers Symposium is about to start, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t post a few photos from my workshop in Amersfoort before moving on to Symposium sketches.

It was an amazing three days in a very beautiful place with a very skilled group of urban sketchers. That makes it such a pleasure to teach. When the level is that high, I can cover so many topics in a short time. And although I don’t have time to write a long post, I selected some photos that illustrate pretty much everything we did, including a lesson in limited colour palettes, a morning of simplifying a complex scene at the flower market, and a line and wash demo at the city gates. Special thanks to my wonderful organizer Tylara for this special invitation to teach in Amersfoort. And to Govert Van Ginkel for being our workshop photographer.


Thumb’s up for Amersfoort

Hello from Amersfoort! I landed in the Netherlands yesterday and after catching up on some sleep I spent the day scouting out workshop locations with my wonderful organizer here.

The weather is perfect for sketching. Not too hot and no rain so far. This morning I had the quintessential European sketching experience: I sat in a café for hours, nursing a cappuccino and sketching a view of the square. Amersfoort is really a sketcher’s paradise (I know, I say that about many places) but it’s a small city with canals, a historic walled area with great old buildings, and it’s not at all crowded. It was hard to choose the best places because there were so many.

My three-day workshop starts tomorrow so I will be posting a few photos from that soon. And a warning about images — I have no scanner on this trip so expect my thumb in many photos.