Monday, 29 September 2014

Urban Sketchers Do Battle with Sugarloaf Mountain!


I was telling you about my trip to Rio...

The weather forecast for my first full day in the city was really good, so we decided to go up Sugarloaf Mountain and spend the day sketching the views (and goodness gracious - there were views!): 


I worked mostly in the watercolour Moleskin I'd started in Paraty, but thought it might also be fun to record a narrative of the day on the other side of the little A6, Laloran concertina book we were given at the symposium (I used the other side for Richard Alomar's sketch-walk). 

I began as our little group were waiting for the taxi outside our hotel - as you can see, my friend and fellow correspondent Suhita Shirodkar was already sketching. On the way, I recorded the taxi driver and some of the things I saw on the journey, including our first sight of the mountain:


The couple I've sketched far left are correspondent Marc Holmes and his wife Laurel, who we met the cable car, ready to embark on another adventure. Liz Steel is taking the photo here and that's see Shiho Nakaza, another correspondent, next to me and Esther Semmens, a fellow Brit ,far right:


I did my best to draw the unfolding view through with my trusty Sailor fountain pen, as we were travelling up in the cable car. I had to be speedy! Once we had disembarked at the first level, I was able to finish it off, by drawing the bay and adding some quick colour. Then an obliging helicopter took off from right below me:


We all wandered around trying to take in the view and work out what on earth to do with such a lot of information! I found it very challenging: how could I squeeze all those mountains into a tiny Moleskin? Then there was the even trickier issue of how you ‘code’ so many shoulder-to-shoulder high-rises and the sprawling mass of favellas, trailing towards infinity along every valley. One of our group summed it up: ‘It’s like someone spilled their Lego out over everything’.


I did the sketch at the top first, but was unhappy with the way the format flattened out the view, so I experimented with using my book at different angles, to better capture the drama, first diagonally (you're going to have to tilt your head to one side for the one above, I'm afraid), to get in the section of mountain we still had to climb, then turning it vertically, to try and capture the view down to Guanabara Bay, full of little boats. 


The turquoise splatter is deliberate by the way: I was trying to add perspective and pull the front forwards. I'm not sure if it works - I rather like it but John's not keen.

It was truly exhilarating, painting alongside the others, all of us focussed so intensely on this one, very challenging task. It created a shared dynamism, a kind of urgency to get it all down, again and again. Such a buzz!


I recorded us sketching in the concertina book of course. We had been joined by yet another correspondent, Omar Jaramillo. In my sketch below, he's the one in the middle between Shiho and Esther (but you can also spot him in the photo above):


After all that work, we figured we deserved a spot of lunch and I ordered a big glass of gorgeous, fresh watermelon juice to cool down. As we were getting the bill, a little group of marmosets climbed out of the trees and started foraging for scraps at the tables:


Then it was time to take the next cable car, up to the very top. Yahoo! Again, I sketched through the window, this time with my Super5 fountain pen (another lovely freebie from the symposium). As before, when we arrived, I carried the vista on across the book. It was an extraordinary view...


...and again, so vast that I could only capture one small section:


We had time for one more sketch before the weather began to turn. I did the one below. I had been really inspired, watching Liz Steel painting beside me, so did my best in watercolour alone:


Then we took a group photo. That's Omar on far right, Liz Steel below Marc and also Brazilian sketcher, Claudia Jarjoura, far left:


By this point, having sketched in the same place together all day, we felt really bonded as a group: a band of sketchers! 

As you can see, a cloud descended on us shortly after that photo, completely obscuring the view, so it was time to take the cable car back down (love the bag-lady look, don't you?):


We were so lucky to have such a long clear spell to do our sketching. During the next two day that I was in Rio, the weather was never clear and bright like that again. 

It had been a wonderful day. Working with such a close-knit group was truly something special. Thank you guys - you're the best and I miss you all terribly!

Saturday, 27 September 2014

A Favour To Ask...


I have just finished my first week of International School visits. I've been in a different Barcelona school every day, with early starts and long signing sessions afterwards, so I will have been working really hard, but I have today to relax in the sunshine, before we transfer to Valencia tomorrow. 

I wrote this post before I left though, because I have a favour to ask...

Almost a year ago, I lost my dad. He was a gentle, modest man with a wicked sense of humour and a sharp intellect. It's from him that I get my love of words - apparently, when he was conscripted at the end of WW2, he carried a pocket dictionary everywhere and he read it from cover to cover. No wonder he had a fantastic vocabulary and was so good at crosswords!

He was also a great boogie-woogie pianist. He taught me to play Cow Cow Boogie when I was just a tiny thing and had to climb to get up onto the piano stool. It was a fantastic party-trick. Dad never learned to read music, playing by ear. He taught me various boogie-woogie songs over the years. I later took piano lessons and, though all that has mostly blown to the wind by now, I can still play Basin St Blues to this day.

Anyway, to the point. During the last 4 years of his life, Alzheimers gradually took my Dad from us and all these precious aspects of his personality slowly slipped through his fingers.


I am doing the Alzheimers Memory Walk in two weeks, on Saturday October 11th, in Dad's memory. It would be lovely if you could sponsor me, so I can help raise money to try and stop this horrible disease from taking the people we love from us, in such a very sad way.

This is Dad and I together, on one of the last social occasions when he was more or less himself, at the 60th wedding anniversary party we threw for him and Mum:


Anything you can give would be really welcome. Just go to this link. Thank you so much!

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

One Adventure Ends, as Another Begins...


Sadly, the 5th Usk symposium had to come to an end eventually (sigh), but we went out with a bang. After Saturday afternoon's sketchcrawl...


...I had a wash and brush up, ready for the evening's party. It was another really late one for those of us who just didn't want it to end, as well as for the Brazilian organisers, like Eduardo and Fernanda, who were just so relieved that it had all gone so well and could finally relax. We danced the night away!


And then people began drifting off home. So many goodbyes! On Sunday, I felt quite melancholy as I sat alone, painting this picture:


But, I needn't have worried: it was only a pause in the action. 

The next morning, I packed up my gear and left Paraty (although those stones did their level best to stop me):


But I wasn't headed home just yet. I got a bus (an extremely comfortable bus, as it happens) bound for Rio, with my sketch-buddies Liz, Esther and Suhita. It took over 4 hours, but we chatted the time away to nothing.


When we got there, we quickly checked into our hotel and then immediately got ourselves back out, on a mission to meet up with a few more sketches who'd arrived the day before.


The others were already set up and sketching, right in the city centre. There was just enough light left for one street sketch, surrounded by bustle and noise and cars and buses and traffic police... and mosquitoes, who immediately set about my exposed ankles. You can just spot me in the photo below, doing the drawing above, if you look carefully:


Then we hit a very posh cafe lined with MASSIVE mirrors. I copped out a little, by not attempting to capture the reflections of reflections of reflections:


We ate and sketched, until finally even I began to wilt.


But after a night's sleep, we were ready to start all over again. We met up with even more sketchers and embarked on an extraordinary day of sketching high up in the air, on Sugarloaf Mountain. But that's another story...

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Afraid of Colour? - Afraid of Water?!


So, I thought I'd tell you a bit about the Afraid of Colour? sketching workshops I ran for the Urban Sketchers Symposium, in beautiful Paraty. Things were rather more dramatic than I'd anticipated... 


Even before I left the UK, the weather forecasters were saying that my first and main teaching day was going to be dreadful weather. They predicted heavy rain and they weren't wrong. I had one 3.5 hour workshop first thing and another all afternoon. My allocated spot was lovely -a grassy area by the harbour, with colourful boats...



...and the lovely houses we found all over the historic area, with brightly coloured windows and doors. I guided my group there on Thursday morning and found a nice shady spot under a tree, where we sat on the grass. 

I briefed them in and did a very quick demo of using colour before line (you can read more about the specific exercises of the workshop in my post about the dry-run I did in Sheffield): 



People had just got settled and begun painting when it started - huge raindrops. One, two... then, all at once, a deluge!  

We were SO lucky. I was one of the few instructors whose workshop spot had a rain bolt-hole. There was a lot of flapping and squealing and scrabbling around, gathering up gear, but we all made it under the cover of the empty fish-market before any damage was done.

It was a bit grubby, but housed us all easily and we had views out, so that was fine. 




All around us the rain came down and thunder boomed above our heads. It all added a certain drama and we had a great time. It was a lovely group. The 3 exercises went well and I briefed in the last one with a slightly longer demo piece:



I had been slightly concerned about having enough time, because of wanting to do 3 different exercises, but my spot was so close to the Casa da Cultura (the symposium's base-camp) that we got there in a couple of minutes, so I even had a little time left over at the end of the workshop and squeezed in an impromptu demo of how to use the watercolour pencils, by drawing one of the group Ievgen:



He was one of the symposium's sponsors, from PenUp:





At the end, we took this lovely group shot. Big smiles all round. Excellent.


After lunch, I met group number 2 back at the Casa de Cultura. But as soon as we got outside, we realised we had a problem. Though my spot was just around the corner, there was no crossing the road - it was like Venice!


Now, we had already noticed that Paraty has an unusual relationship with the tides. The streets are all created from huge stones and dip in the middle, enabling the sea to flow in and out. This would originally have been a great way to clean the streets twice daily.

This is more how it usually looks at high tide, an easy paddle, with crossing places at high points:





But that day there was a freak, extra-high tide and things went a bit crazy. All the instructors were in the same boat, trailing crocodiles of sketchers down the narrow pavements, trying to find a way to get to where they needed to be:


It took my group about 15 minutes and in the end involved us walking along the top of a narrow harbour wall, an inch under-water in places, with sea either side! The sky was about to burst again, so we headed back to the fish market. I did my quickie demo again, then people got painting. A few worked out on the grass, but we suddenly realised: the water was still rising and they were now cut off from the rest of us!


They paddled through to join us before things got worse but, 5 minutes later, we saw it was STILL rising and was about to inundate the floor of the fish market. So the whole group had to paddle back out onto the grass again, where we finished the workshop on our own island. 
Some people were fretting about ever getting back to civilisatiion! It was all a bit distracting, but I soldiered on, knowing the tide would go back out eventually. Luckily it wasn't raining, but it was now really windy and we were all freezing (dressed for Brazil, not Sheffield!!).

As soon as we were able, we got ourselves into a cafe to warm up. It was a slightly ragged end to the workshop, but quite an experience all round. Luckily my Saturday morning slot was normal - nice, sunny, Brazil weather, no floods:


Thank goodness. It was so lovely to sit out on the grass to brief everyone in and do my quickie-demo:


I had some really lovely feedback from people about the workshop and the handouts I'd created so, despite a certain amount of interesting adversity, in the end I think it was all a big success. Phew. 

Here I am with my 'sunshine' group: 




Thanks to everyone who opted for my workshop (you always fret that nobody will...). I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did and picked up at least something from my package of colour tips. I miss you all!