Urban Sketchers are an all-volunteer nonprofit dedicated to fostering a global community of artists who practice on-location drawing. Our mission is to raise the artistic, storytelling and educational value of on-location drawing, promoting its practice and connecting people around the world who draw on location where they live and travel.
Dry paddocks, empty creeks, dust storms, stock losses: the worst drought on record is taking its toll on the Central West of NSW. The irony is that in 2016 many of its farmers were facing floods. As one of our favourite poets said, Australia is truly the land of ‘drought and flooding rains’.
In fact, 99.8% of NSW is in drought this month, so I decided a few weeks ago to go and see for myself the effect it is having on Forbes, one of our larger country towns in the Central West of the state. I was able to visit two farms, and it was an eye-opener for a city girl.
My first visit was to Oak Plains, the 2200 acre farm of Don and Elisabeth Ranger and their daughter Sarah, 60km west of Forbes at Bogan Gate, and as I drove there over creeks that had run dry, I got some feel for what I was about to see. The creek pictured above is called Billabong Creek, but it’s a good while since it’s seen any water! The roots of the Red River Gums go down deep in their search for moisture, dropping leaves and limbs during drought to conserve water.
The Rangers usually run 1200 sheep and grow wheat, barley and oats but are experiencing their third winter without rain, their worst drought ever, despite the fact that winter usually brings their best rain. Last year was very tough, especially during lambing season when there were too many to feed, so they kept their breeding ewes but sold off a lot of older ewes and wethers, and now run only 500. They are feeding their stock with oats they've stored, but have had to buy hay from Western Australia, which as you can imagine is a very expensive business due to high freight costs and rising prices when supplies are in such high demand.
Their water comes from their own dams (some of which are now dry) and a bore, although town water has to be bought for use in the home. Two days after I left Forbes, showers brought them 9.5ml, enough to settle the dust and bring a green tinge to the paddocks, although they need follow-up rain in three weeks to make it useful, and the drought itself isn’t expected to break for some months yet, perhaps November. At a school not far away, shower and washing facilities are provided for the students because it costs around $700 to get a load of water out to some of their farms. It’s hard to fathom that just a few years ago, students were being evacuated from the school's back oval because of flooding!
When I left in the late afternoon and looked back through the gates at the dry paddocks, I thought about how easily we in the city turn on our taps. Even the water restrictions that have recently been put in place in Sydney are really just a minor inconvenience, rather than life changing like they are in the bush. Elisabeth told me that drought usually breaks with a flood, and I marvel at our farmers who meet the challenges of living on the land in Australia with such resilience! (In the next post I’ll write about my day on the second farm.)
[by Javier de Blas in La Rioja, Spain] The river enters, polished and tame, skirting the floodable shore of the Ebro Park. Only the light of the afternoon seems to change, while this beautiful Hesse´s story comes to my mind.
[Stephanie Bower, Seattle] I love sketching arches, and I love teaching how to sketch arches! In Amsterdam, I'll be doing a demo on ALL THINGS ARCHES, so this is a post filled with Roman arches. We'll cover the anatomy of an arch, how to keep arches from looking like horseshoes ;), and how to draw them correctly in perspective. I can't wait!
Well, Rome is amazing. I had forgotten how amazing it is. I could walk this city for weeks and sketch every twenty feet. It is so beautiful! Here are a few more sketches from my few days in Rome after teaching.
Above, is the Castel Sant'Angelo late in the day, everything was backlit. It was hot (therefore the ochre sky), and I was with the neice of my very best friend, who passed away suddenly 12 years ago. She was half Italian and loved this city, I can't help but walk these streets and think of her. It was wonderful to get to spend a chunk of a day with her neice, Kellie, who watched as I quickly sketched and painted.
More arches!! I spent this afternoon with another Kelly, Kelly Medford, a wonderful painter who hauls an easel, paints, and everything out to paint in OILS on location. Her paintings are beautiful. We sat in the entry to catch the breeze (and not pay the admission) and chatted and drew as we Urban Sketchers do. Such elegant architecture, attributed to famous architect Bramante.
And more arches...again it was hot outside, so wonderful to sit inside a cool church and sketch! This is Sant'Andrea della Valle, only a few steps from my hotel. Everything inside was gold, so I basically used that one color...yellow ochre. Got a little carried away, and overpainted this one. Darn! The line drawing is above, which I like better. Which do you like?
And even more arches! This is a super quick sketch, really unfinished with only a bit of color added later, done while waiting for my friend Francesca Caruso to arrive. Francesca is an incredible guide who shepherds groups from National Geographic, universities, and Rick Steves (you've seen her on his TV shows!) through the city she loves. I met her years ago in Seattle when she took my workshop!!!!! She said that she would see people sketch on her tours and wanted to learn how as well. I love that!
I had no idea about San Clemente. Of all the places in Rome, this is what she wanted me to see. This beautiful church is built over multiple levels of other buildings, so as we walk down and down and down, we are descending back and back in time... at the bottom, we find ourselves lounging on an ancient Roman bench, listening to an underground stream rushing by. And maybe there is more below? Utterly amazing. Next year I will come back here for a full day to sketch!
And last, I had finished teaching my annual workshop in Civita di Bagnoregio, and as part of the workshop, the group spent a day sketching at the amazing Renaissance Garden, the Villa Lante. Here is my demo on layering paint, underpainting, arches, and trees...
Click on the image to see it larger! I love Italia!!!!
[By Gwen Glotin, 2019 symposium correspondent, in Amsterdam] The countdown continues! So, let's have another walk through Amsterdam.
I suppose most of you will arrive by plane in Schiphol, but if you come by train, you will get out at Amsterdam Centraal Station. If you take the exit leading to the IJ River, you will have a view on "Amsterdam Noord", the neighbourhood north of Amsterdam, on the other side of the IJ. The modern building shaped like a weird bird or plane (and quite tricky to sketch!) is the EYE Film Museum, well worth a visit! Next to it, the A'DAM Lookout deck at the top of the A'DAM tower offers a great panoramic view on Amsterdam (and if you need an adrenaline shot, they also have a swing situated at 100 m above the ground). A free ferry will take you there.
View on Amsterdam North from the tiny pancake café "Pancake Amsterdam"
If you take the other exit though, towards the city centre, one of the first things you will see is the massive St Nicholas church. And because you are sketchers, you will also notice the cute pink house next to it!
St Nicholas Church (and cute pink house!), seen from café Loetje. I had to "finish" in a hurry as the table where I sat was booked and I was asked (very politely: "please take your time to finish your drawing!") to leave.
Another thing which will jump out when you arrive in Amsterdam is the "sea of bicycles", for example on the far left of the station, behind the tramway stops. Which gives me another opportunity to warn you again: watch out for the cyclists! I know, I know, I mentioned that already, but really, it's difficult, when you come from a country with no cycling culture, to remember not to walk on the cycle paths. Moreover, it has to be said that Amsterdam cyclists lack patience... and good manners, very often! So before crossing any street or even putting one foot (or one toe!) beside the sidewalk, check out both directions - twice!
It's not a legend: there are more bicycles than there are people in Amsterdam. If you rent one, always always use a lock when you stop somewhere. And be aware that nowadays, using your phone while on the bike can get you a EUR 95 fine!
Let's go further. The Nieuwmarkt square is worth a visit too - and convenient as it's very near to the Zuiderkerk (the central location). It has countless cafés and restaurants with terraces and in the middle, the beautiful monument called De Waag, which was a city gate in the 15th and 16th century and was later used as a weighing house.
De Waag on Nieuwmarkt square.
A little further, you'll find the Montelbaanstoren (Montelban Tower), on the bank of a quiet canal. It used to be a defence tower. One of the things I love in Amsterdam is that you can draw by the water in many places, which is particularly relaxing (ok, sometimes it can also mean "particularly freezing" too!). The seagulls, the ducks, the swans and the very bossy coots keep you company - I just love that. And the herons are here too, of course! They are present throughout the city, but especially in parks, by the water - and also in the city markets, at closing time. You will undoubtedly have many opportunities to spot Adam, the mascot of the symposium!
The Montelban Tower, sketched last year after the workshop of Anne Rose Oosterbaan.
Another spot which is enjoyable (but therefore also very busy!) is the small and narrow street Langebrugsteeg, extended by the Grimburgwal. Very Amsterdam! With many "ding, ding, ding" from the cyclists, as there are no separate cycle paths here.
A spot I would enjoy sketching again! I made a mistake though, it's Grimburgwal - the Langebrugsteeg is just behind.
I don't know whether you will have time to visit museums too. But if you do, the Rijksmuseum is not to be missed! I regularly sketch there in the winter, it's "my" zen place. The art is wonderful, the building is stunning (aaah, those stained-glass windows next to the Gallery of Honour!), there are countless people to be sketched, fascinating dancing lamps - and the brownies in the espresso bars inside the museum are delicious! Moreover, they strongly encourage sketching: on Saturdays, they even give out free small sketchbooks and pencils for visitors who would want to give it a try. The official policy is "pencil only", so it's wise to at least have a pencil and/or coloured pencils, but pen is very often tolerated too. Even watercolours, although it's pushing it a bit. For the drawing below, done while sitting opposite to the Vermeer paintings, I had started with coloured pencils but couldn't resist adding watercolours (with a tiny box and a water brush), wondering what the reaction of the guards would be. Well, they actually were very supportive! That being said, I was also asked a couple of times to put my fountain pen away and use a pencil, so, you never know.
Vermeer attracts many admirers at the Rijksmuseum. If you can, go early in the morning, it's a bit quieter!
When the weather is nice, the gardens of the Rijksmuseum are also worth a visit. Especially now: they are inhabited by the giant spiders of Louise Bourgeois, which are very fun to draw (and awesome to look at!). You can catch them there until November.
Thinking of Frodo while drawing in the Rijksmuseum gardens!
Finally, if the city life gets too hectic, don't hesitate to look for the closest park. The Vondelpark is the most famous one, but there are many others. It's actually another thing I love about Amsterdam, there are plenty of large parks throughout the city, so that you are never far from a green place where you can find quietness - and herons :)
Flevopark, my "local" park, in Amsterdam East.
View from above in the famous Blue Tea House, in the Vondelpark
We were invited to join a event called 'Glamping' last weekend. It was organised by a group of young people who really loves the great outdoor and started to invite others to get out of their home and enjoy some fresh air. It was a wonderful weekend , hardly anyone uses their cell phone, no ipad or laptop, only friends and families bonding. It was difficult to find suitable site within beijing however this place that we went was 123km from downtown beijing, situated at the border along the FangShan district. A whole range of mountains in the background separating FangShan Distict and ZhangJiaKou District, beautiful sunset.
[Stephanie Bower, Seattle] Usually I'm running in and out of Rome on my way to someplace else, but this year, I rewarded myself a few days of exploring and sketching. I had been teaching workshops for the better part of 4 weeks in Spain and Italy, so I was pooped but excited to have some time to myself to sketch at my own pace.
It was hot, I was exhausted and feeling sick, but I got out the door early and dragged myself to this amazing spot that I have walked by many times.
From the overblown Altare de la Patria (in architecture school we called this "the Wedding Cake") on the far left, to Trajan's forum and amazing column, to the two churches on the right.
Look closely, you can see the diagonal lines I drew to center the entrance door!
Below are more ruins at the Largo di Argentina. It is believed to be the spot where Julius Caesar was assassinated. I love how you can see centuries of life layered in Rome everywhere you look. Originally, the streets were much lower, closer to the level at the floor of this largo.
Sitting in the shade in the Jewish Quarter, this is the Portico d'Ottavia... listening to the tour guides who came by to tell its history made me sad...
The Palazzo Farnese is probably something only an architect would sketch. It is an important High Renaissance building, and it was VERY hard to get the proportions and window details right.
And the full image of the detail at the top of this post, the Piazza Navona...the light in late afternoon is so beautiful. I listened to the street musicians as I worked, called my mom on Facetime so she could see where I was. Pretty amazing.
Bricks, a bicycle, a typical lamp post: welcome in Amsterdam!
[By Gwen Glotin, 2019 symposium correspondent, in Amsterdam] I cannot believe that in just 3 weeks (three little weeks!), there will be hundreds of people arriving in Amsterdam from all over the world or the best reason of all: to sketch! We (the Dutch urban sketchers) have been talking about the Symposium for a loooong time now, and it has seemed to be an event set in the future for so long that it's difficult to realize that yes, the big day is approaching (just three little weeks, guys!).
Approaching so fast, in fact, that it might be time to introduce myself and to give you a foretaste of the location where we will spend several days together - in real life or through this blog. My name is Gwen, I'm French but have been living in Amsterdam for 20 years now - and I'm a drawing addict. My "thing" (hmmmm, yes, I do mean "obsession" actually!) is drawing people, but throughout the last 3-4 years, I've been enjoying drawing buildings too more and more. During the coming symposium, I will act as the local correspondent and try to report everything which is happening, together with my two "colleagues": Mark from the United States and Orling from the Dominican Republic. The three of us are looking forward to this. A LOT!
As you might now, the central location where we will meet every day is the Zuiderkerk, so I thought that to begin with, I would take you there and show you around.
The Zuiderkerk ("Southern Church") is a Protestant church from the 17th century (the date 1614 is clearly written in golden numbers on the church tower, so you might want to add a golden pen in your sketching kit - just saying!) that was used for church services until 1929. It had different uses since then and now serves as a municipal information centre.
The beautiful church tower is visible above the other surrounding buildings, you cannot miss it - which is convenient if you're not sure which way to walk to the central location! In the drawing below, it is seen from the Jodenbreestraat. I sketched it while sitting on the terrace of Café Orff, opposite to Rembrandt's house - if you want to draw it (Rembrandt's house I mean), it's also a good place to go to (but be prepared to have to draw a LOT of windows then!).
The church tower of the Zuiderkerk.
From there, you just have to walk a few meters further away to reach the Zuiderkerk. While doing so, you will walk in front of another beauty, the café Sluyswacht, which stands alone above the water and is just begging to be sketched. It also has a terrace which should be very much appreciated by the urban sketchers.
Café "de Sluyswacht" - I'm quite sure it will be sketched a lot during the symposium!
But as I was saying, if you continue walking and cross the Sint Antoniesbreestraat ("St. Anthony's Broad Street"), you arrive on the Zuiderkerkhof where the church is situated. It's a quiet square generally, even though it is regularly visited by groups of tourists with their guide. There are several benches on the square, which I expect will be rather convenient for the sketchers who want to take a break or draw the church or the surrounding buildings, like I did a few months ago:
The buildings and the metro exit next to the Zuiderkerk.
But the most famous view is without any doubt the one from the Groenburgwal, which was also painted by Monet. That view is also to be admired from the Staalmeestersbrug bridge, from where the Zuiderkerk is photographed every day by many many tourists.
If you go there, be aware though that this bridge is not just for pedestrians: ok, there are no cars there, but there are a lot of cyclists who use this bridge and who are not amused to have to slow down just because someone is standing in the middle of the street (well, of the bridge) in order to take a picture. As a rule, Amsterdam cyclists do not slow down when they can avoid it - they do "ding, ding, ding" and hope you will get the message in time - don't say I didn't warn you! So, be especially careful on that bridge! Actually, be careful everywhere and check out both directions twice before crossing any street. And do NOT walk on the cycle paths! (In many cases, you can recognize them through their pinkish colour - quite similar to Daniel Smith Potter's Pink actually).
The Staalmeestersbrug (also knows as the Bridge of Love).
Speaking of bicycles, you will of course see a lot of them in Amsterdam. In every form and in every state - including bicycles that had a tragic ending, or the frequently seen "bakfiets", the cargo bikes used to transport mainly children, but also dogs, plants, groceries, lamps - ok, everything!
Sad sight: a dead bicycle on the Groenburgwal.
A cargo bike in front of the "plants and earth globes" place (Amstel 43)
I cannot resist adding a few words about that mysterious "plants and earth globes" place, because you might want to check it out, as it's near the Waterlooplein (which is where café Amstelhoeck is, where the Drink and Draw evening meet-ups will take place): I have no idea what it is, it doesn't seem inhabited, it doesn't seem to be a shop, I've never seen anyone inside - although you actually don't see much, just plants (below) and dozens and dozens of earth globes (at the top). It's been there, like this, ever since I can remember - so at least 20 years. If you find out what it is during your stay in Amsterdam, please don't tell me, I kind of enjoy the mystery!
So, that's it for now, I'm going to check that countdown again!
[by Shari Blaukopf in Montreal, Canada] Happy Canada Day! The weather is perfect for plein air painting and since I had an errand to run in the same neighbourhood, I went to Carré St. Louis today to paint the famous kiosk.
I’ve been trying to incorporate more people in my work, and the hardest thing, I find, is to not overwork them. I try to make them look like they fit into the scene. When I might previously have avoided this, I also included the guy sleeping on the bench. He’s part of the scene, after all, and part of what makes the park interesting. Although the Victorian houses surrounding the park are very beautiful and very expensive, there are a fair number of homeless people who sleep on the benches and on the grass, and on hot days cool off in the fountain too.
My aim when adding people is to draw the shapes to scale, to paint them simply without going over the details again and again, and then to avoid touching them again. When they’re not successful it’s because I went back into them too often with a small brush. When they work, it’s because I haven’t added more paint than in any other part of the sketch.