Thursday, 31 August 2017

Last day in Chicago and train to Boston

Since this was my first trip to the US, I wasn't about to just go to the USk Symposium and leave straight away. I planned to leave Chicago on Sunday evening and head to Boston by train and later continue to New York.

I spent my last day in the Windy city with some of the sketchers who were still hanging around. In the morning I joined Lynne Chapman, Tina Koyama and Kumi Matsukawa at Buckingham fountain.

Kumi, always an interesting subject to sketch. I find she has an almost samurai-like thing about her when she's in the zone. Or maybe it's just fanciful thinking on my part.

I continued the day with Paul Wang, Rob Sketcherman, Nina Johansson and Lynne. We spent a few blissfully quiet hours at Goddess and the Baker. All too soon it was time to go to the train station to start my journey to Boston.

It was a long trip (around 20 hours), so I splurged and paid for a view liner roomette on the Lake Shore Limited. Once I got used to the size and layout of the cabin, it felt really cozy. As much as I enjoyed all the activity of the symposium, it did take a lot of energy and the prospect of spending almost a full day in this little nook looking out the window, reading and sketching felt like heaven.

It was my first time traveling such a long distance by train and at times it almost seemed like I was in a movie. The dining wagon in particular, where the waiters would seat you at a table with strangers with whom you would strike up a conversation, or not. 

I had my breakfast with this middle-aged couple who were not really interested in chatting with me, but I liked the implied intimacy they shared. I would later sit for lunch with a gentleman called Henry who loved trains and had a lot of knowledge to share about them.

That's one item crossed from my US bucket list.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Experiencing the USk Symposium as a correspondent

Working as a USk Symposium correspondent was one of the most enriching experiences I have had in recent years. I got to experience this event I love in a way that is entirely different from being a participant.

Every evening I came back to my hotel room with a pack of new sketches and memories to share on the international USk blog. I made so many drawings that I hardly know where to begin posting, so I will only share some of my favourite sketches and moments here. You can find all the posts I wrote during the symposium here:

Pre-Symposium meet-up at the Robie House
Day 1: Welcome to America and Happy birthday USk!
Day 2: Happy mistakes, cityscapes made easy, intimate sketches and more
Day 3: A view, protests and colorful shirts
Day 4: Goodbye and see you in...

On registration day, I spent the morning with my two fellow correspondents, Wes Douglas from Chicago and Vincent Desplanche from France. Wes wanted to show us around the city, so we would find our bearings more easily the following days and so we could see some places we might not have the opportunity to go to.

This sketch was made at the Bean, the two gentlemen were focused on the monument and I on them (and Elizabeth Alley in the background).

Registration took place at the Goodman Centre, or the Hub, which was also where we gathered every day for morning announcements. The very first sketch I did there was an attempt at capturing the whole room, which didn't come out anywhere near what I wanted to do. I had a moment of panic and doubt about my ability to fulfill my correspondent tasks momentarily.

I spent that afternoon getting to know some of the local volunteers and documenting what they were doing, which helped me to find my bearings and my correspondent "style". I had been trying to do what I thought was expected of me instead of what I would naturally have done otherwise. 

The Hub was usually pretty calm during the day, but became more lively again in the evenings when the lectures took place. People were sitting everywhere, on the benches, on the floor, on big balls.

I particularly liked to capture moments I find so typical in urban sketching events, like this one where Mike Daikubara was sketching Cal, one of the volunteers, while I was sketching them and I'm pretty sure I saw someone sketching me as well.

Being a correspondent also meant running around a lot to catch as many workshops as possible. Wes, Vincent and I had 36 worshops to document, which meant an average of one per hour for each of us. The challenging part was to get from one location to another, specially when instructors decided to change locations. However, it was always worth the effort, given that each one of them had something interesting to teach. I got to catch glimpses of more workshops that I would have otherwise, some of which I would probably not have chosen to attend in the first place.

I made this sketch during Asnee Tasna's workshop, which was about sketching the cityscape with flat pointed pencils. I didn't have any with me, so Asnee was kind enough to give me one of his, teasing me that I should be careful not to hurt myself with the sharp tip. Cheeky guy, I loved him!

Here's another sketch from one of the workshops, this time João Catarino's. I only arrived at the end of the session, so I didn't hear what it was about in detail, I only know it was about capturing reflections in windows. I loved João's enthusiasm during the show and tell. He had this huge smile on his face and kept gesturing with glee.

Being a correspondent also meant being on my own a lot. Nobody else had the same schedule and I was left pretty much to my own devices. Which also meant that I could take the time to capture some unexpected events, like this protest held by hot dog vendors on a double decker bus in front of ABC News TV station. I love the unexpected, specially when I get to see grown men dressed as mustard dispensers and hot dogs.

In the evenings I often had dinner with different people, usually the ones I had just been hanging out with. They were quiet moments around dinner or a few drinks, great after a whole day of running around. I like this sketch because it shows two people, Lapin and Josiah, who had been admiring each other's work online for years and finally got to meet in person. And how about the fact that they were both wearing flowery shirts? These guys were meant to be friends.

To finish this post, here are two of my very last symposium sketches. After the announcement of Porto as next year's symposium host, and the many goodbyes at the Hub, the Portuguese crowd and a bunch of other sketchers went to the 2Twenty2 bar to celebrate. We played Jenga and sketched (what else?) until the bar closed.

We laughed, made plans for next year which we are not sure we can keep, and said our last goodbyes, knowing we would meet again to sketch together somewhere else in the world.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

USk symposium in Chicago and first time travel to the US

This year I was selected to be one of three correspondents to cover the Urban Sketchers symposium taking place in Chicago. It was an adventure in many ways, first because I had never had such an intensive sketching experience before, and second because it was my first time traveling to the United States. Saying that I was excited about this opportunity is an understatement.

I sketched so much over the last three weeks that I hardly know where to start with my posts, so I'll start with the beginning: my travel there and the first days before the symposium.

There are no direct flights from Luxembourg to Chicago, so I took a flight leaving from Bruxelles with a layover in Reykjavik. The day started with an uneventful train ride to the Belgian capital...

...where I waited around for a while. There were a girl sleeping next to me, a foreshadowing of what I would feel like in a few hours. She was irresistible to sketch.

A short flight later and wait at Reykjavik airport and I could finally relax on the plane to Chicago, where I squeezed the obligatory plane sketch before settling in front of a movie and chatting with my friendly neighbour, an older gentleman from Texas.

I spent my first day in Chicago in a very relaxed way, in the Art Institute of Chicago and sketching some of the sights. I suspected I wouldn't have much time to do it later (and it turns out I was right).

Tackling the city's skyline was quite a challenge for me, as I was not used to this kind of subject at all. Everything is so big and fitting it all on paper was a bit daunting.

In contrast, Cloudgate, or the Bean as it is more commonly known, was one of the most fun monuments to sketch ever! I loved the mirror surface with its distortions and watching people goofing around it and taking funny pictures. 

Not far from the Bean, Crown fountain, another fun place to be. The fountain's surface displays a video of faces from which water spurts out regularly before changing again. I was amused by the different expressions on the faces, from amused to cheeky to almost relieved. People were enjoying the water in the heat, particularly children. I didn't get to finish this sketch, but I had fun with it.

The day before the symposium started I was invited with the instructors and other volunteers to visit Robie House, one of Frank Lloyd Wright's famous works. It was the occasion to meet old friends and make new ones, as usual my favourite part of any USk event.

After a short bus ride we were all sketching in front and inside the house. I admit I was not overly interested in the house, unlike some of my architect companions who were in awe of it, but it was a beautiful place to see and a very pleasant way to slowly enter the symposium spirit.

The serious stuff would start the following day for me and my companions. I think we were all glad to enjoy this calm before the storm.

Here is my account of that day in more detail on the Urban Sketchers international blog, with more sketches, all photographed on site.