8th Urban sketchers symposium: the symposium

What an amazing week! I learned so much from fellow urban sketchers! Just by sketching near them, as if by osmosis! You cannot imagine how much I learned just by talking to someone or flipping the pages of their sketchbooks. For example, I learned how to suggest elements of a building rather than trying to get every-single-detail in them. Fellow sketcher and new friend Victor Beltran compared it to a performance. He told me to always leave something out, to suggest the building, to avoid including every single window and balcony. That way, he said, the audience gets truly engaged and can fill the gaps.

A super duper clear example of this common mistake of mine can be seen on this first sketch I drew before the symposium started! See the building with the pointy hat on the left? See how much energy I spent trying to include every-single detail and window? By comparison, see the other buildings? I ran out of time to I had to leave them like that. However, the “incomplete” are way more interesting than the “completed”.

You cannot imagine how it felt looking around during our first sketch walk under those trees behind the Chicago Art Institute, seeing so many people sketching together. People from everywhere in the world, of every age and experience, all drawn together (no pun intended!). I was also able to reunite with fellow urban sketcher, mentor and friend Nina Johansson.

The following often happened during that week in Chicago. I would wake up earlier and plan to sketch somewhere before the whole thingy started. But on my way there, I would end discovering something else. One morning I had planed to sketch one of those beautiful clocks at the corner of Marshall Field and Company. But wait! What is that music? That rhythm! Let me put it this way…

When I hear that happy beat
I feel like dancin’ down the street

(Just switch “dancing” to “sketching”…) Right below my drawing target, there were three local amazeballs musicians making my feet follow the rhythm… and my pen moving! And I cannot confirm nor deny whether Nicolas the drummer gave me his phone number 🙂

During another sketch walk, we ended near Crown Fountain (which came quite handy because it was extremely hot). I wasn’t as interested in the fountain per se, but on the very friendly people like the mother and daughter on the left and the colorful environment. And I was trying my new sketchbook, Stillman and Birn alpha-series and my new DaVinci brush. I am not going to deny I was scared! The fear dissapeared quickly… what a nice paper! And the brush! After years with cheap (not the cheapest but you know what I mean) material… I cannot describe how important was to invest in a forgiving paper and friendly brush! Also, Daniel Smith watercolor samples by Liz Steel and Jane Blundell seemed to contain all the colors of Chicago! Yay!

And you might ask, why oh why do I come all the way to Chicago to sketch people and not just the city? That is silly, Bea! Well… let me respectfully disagree… I wouldn’t be telling the same story had I left my fellow urban sketchers out. Including them adds context and story to my urban sketches, in my opinion. Besides I love sketching people that are passionate and devoted to an activity. I also noticed how as days passed, my lines became looser (maybe too loose)…

That been said… on occasion I decided to focus on just buildings to study how they integrated and related to one another: I am after all learning perspective and how to draw buildings.  I observed fellow sketchers and noticed how experienced urban sketchers used grey markers for buildings in the background, so I wanted to experiment too. Some of the following sketches I made solo, because a couple of times I lost my way during a sketch walk or couldn’t find my demo location… but getting lost in downtown Chicago can be quite an interesting adventure – I highly recommend it! (Note to self: get a water-resistant grey marker and be mindful to draw doors wide enough to let people walk through them!)

Someone from the sketch walk suggested to go rogue and sketch at the of rooftop of the London House. I was struggling with a sculpture of what I later learned was a flamingo. I love rooftops so I didn’t think it twice. In the excitement of the moment, I didn’t even remember that I wasn’t carrying sun cream. As a result of this spirit for adventure and skincare neglect, I enjoyed an amazeballs view and got a beautiful lobster coloration in the back of my arms and neck. In the lower right, there was a gigantic sculpture of President Lincoln saluting someone I couldn’t recognize.

Often I would get inside buildings or fancy hotels, attracted by their design and their air conditioning.

On my way to downtown Chicago, I coincided with daily commuters on the Brown line.

One evening, my Chicagoan friend Maggie took me to Millennium Park to attend the recording of NPR ‘Wait Wait‘ with guest Ryan Dempster. It was so entertaining! It reminded me of CBC radio ‘The Debaters‘ with Steve Patterson. This was my first attempt at panoramic sketching. I started with Maggie on the left (she is way prettier than what I ended drawing) and continued sketching towards the right. The pavilion is simply stunning, and as light changed, so did the reflections on its surface. It was tons of fun, and we even tweeted my quick sketch of the radio hosts!


The last sketching session took place under General Logan’s supervision. General Logan, riding a huge horse that was a challenge to draw. It could have been a turtle. C’mon, general Logan, we wouldnt think less of you had you been riding a turtle! It was an open sketching event, so I brought Maggie… in a way, you can totally say that I brought my friend to my cult! We could not have been in better company: fellow sketcher Heather and super dog Becca.

My last night in Chicago couldn’t have been better. We visited the Northerly Island, I tried elotes and devoured the best tacos ever, saw The Roots in concert and had the most amazing view of the city.

Finally, a morning sketch of Maggie’s beautiful, cozy and disney-esque apartment, with a couple of details referencing two edibles I discovered thanks to her: oatcakes and tea. And avocado toast!

Oh, Chicago… I simply love you. Thank you, thanks Maggie and thanks urban sketchers for the adventure!