International Urban Sketching Symposium, Manchester, 2016

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to go to #uskmanchester2016 (July 27th – 30th) and since then I’ve been planning to write a blog post about it – I can see that lots of others have been more efficient than I have and done it already. I’m going to try and note what I’ve learned in an attempt to remember for the future.

Going early and / or staying late

I hadn’t been to a symposium before and I was thrilled to get a workshop pass when booking opened. I hadn’t realised though that the fun would start some days before registration day and continue on after. From as early as the weekend before I could see tweets and posts on Facebook and by the time I arrived on Wednesday I felt that I was almost late! Likewise at the end Sketchcrawls and impromptu gatherings continued both in Manchester and elsewhere in the UK as Urbansketchers made the most of being in the UK. There was so much activity during the days of the symposium that it would have been good to have had a breathing space to sketch freely around the city perhaps.

Experimenting with colour

It’s only since starting urban sketching that I’ve regularly used my watercolours in the last few years. Refilling my Winsor and Newton travelling box with Artists’ quality paint made a big difference, as did seeing how others have used watercolour in urban sketching. At the symposium I went to two workshops that focused on watercolours and use of colour. The first one (Thursday morning) was led by Jane Blundell. Jane talked us through some theory and helped organise and explore a range of colours. Working systematically like this is going to be useful in the future and something to return to. The second one was led by Shari Blaukopf (Saturday morning) and in this she encouraged us to explore various combinations of three colours including more unusual ones. Along the way she also helped us apply this to composition, observation and creating a sense of place.

img_5445When I got home I refilled my Winsor and Newton travelling palette with a combination of the colours recommended in the two workshops. Its notable that there is only one green present and this in itself might lead me to mixing more interesting greens, instead of relying on sap green and vermilion as I had been before.

I also intend to try mixing different combinations outside of painting in the way that we did with Jane, in order to learn more about what these colours will do and explore the qualities of the paint, so I might be more likely to apply this in my painting.

Exploring space and composition

Two of the workshops that I went to encouraged me to think about how to explore space in drawing.

The first was Swasky‘s ‘Bending the Floor’ (Thursday afternoon) workshop where we tried to forget about the traditional expectations of perspective and use multiple viewpoints on the same sketch. I’ve seen the results others have produced on similar workshops and I found this much harder than I imagined. Even though I don’t consider myself a skilled user of perspective abandoning it was also a challenge. This approach is something I’d like to continue to explore – what was needed was lots of spare paper and masking tape for when our drawing escaped our sketchbook pages.

The second was Richard Alomar‘s ‘Sketching Urban Green Space’ (Friday morning) workshop. This introduced lots of great ideas about composition, place and space in public spaces, of particular interest to me as I often draw in parks. It was full of opportunities to draw thumbnails to plan out and focus on different aspects as well as thinking about the relationship between the natural and man made environment often apparent in urban sketching.

Approaching the scene

I also attended a demonstration and an activity. The demonstration ‘from splashes to lines’ given by Delphine Priollaud-Stoclet in the Chinese District of the city. It was interesting to see how Delphine simultaneously used line and colour allowing her to avoid the feeling I often get of drawing, then almost colouring in. The activity was led by Robyn Bauer and was called ‘the language of trees’ – perfect for me as I often draw trees. Robyn gave us lots of ways in to see the individuality of trees and allowing the tree to tell its story.

Trying out new sketchbooks

Although I use and get through a lot of sketchbooks I tend to revolve around A5 portrait, A5 landscape and medium sized square, usually black hardback with sea white paper. I also have a box of sketchbooks that I keep promising myself I will use before ever buying another one. This collection has been boosted by sketchbooks that I was given in the #uskmanchester2016 bag, those I won in the raffle and those I saw others use to great effect.

uskm1I plan to use the Leuchttrum and the Stillman and Birn sketchbooks over the next few months. Up to now I have always ‘saved’ the best sketchbooks until a time when my work is good enough to go in them! I also plan to try out concertina a sketchbook, inspired by seeing how they were used at Lynne Chapman’s exhibition ‘Unfolding Stories‘ to record life in a university research department.

Working with others

uskm2One of the best things about #uskmanchester2016 was experiencing on a vast scale being surrounded by other sketchers. Everywhere we looked there were people drawing and therefore people to learn from and talk with. Making art can often be a solitary occupation and urban sketching has given me the opportunity to connect or others, but even in the large London or Birmingham groups have not been on quite this scale! I came across across other urban sketchers everywhere. My first encounter was on MK station before I even got to Manchester and my last was on Stoke on Trent station on the way home.

When I returned home I used the enthusiasm for urban sketching to update the Urban Sketching UK events page on Facebook. If you are urban sketching in the UK and want to find an event to join you can browse this page. If you are organising an urban sketching event let us know and we’ll post it on the page to help you reach a larger audience.

Joining up work and art

So far my work (as a university lecturer) and my art have largely remained separate. Seeing Lynne Chapman’s exhibition made me consider the possible connections. Lynne was Leverhulme artist-in-residence at the Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives, part of the University of Manchester. One aspect that particularly caught my attention was how she recorded office space and how it is used. We are about to move from settled team office spaces to a completely different organisation of working space. We’re also moving from two campuses to one new one. Both of these changes have the potential to be recorded through sketching – something to think about at the University of Northampton.

img_5374Absorbing it all!

As with any huge influx of learning and inspiration it will take time to absorb all the ideas and apply them to my own art and life. It was great to meet so many new artists and also meet in real life some people I have up to know only met through this blog, or through Twitter. It became clear that many urban sketchers use Instagram so I now have an Instagram account – I am @70jeanne.

I hope to meet you all again some time in the digital or in the real world.


About jeandrawingaday

I am a printmaker and artist, a teacher and author, a senior lecturer in the School of Education at The University of Northampton.
This entry was posted in art, artist, drawings, every day, landscape, line, observation, Uncategorized, Urban sketching, Urbansketching, Watercolour and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to International Urban Sketching Symposium, Manchester, 2016

  1. Nicola says:

    A really nice round up of the week. It’s interesting what you say about saving nice sketchbooks for good work – I think I’m just starting to get away from this but it’s so hard! I’m now happy sketching away in all my sketchbooks but I do still have some watercolour blocks that I’m “saving”. For what I couldn’t really tell you…

  2. It sounds like an inspirational week Jean, I will look out for it next year. Thanks for sharing!

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