From July 25 to July 30, I was in Chicago to attend the 8th International Urban Sketchers Symposium. I met a lot of old familiar faces and great new people, sketched some, made some low-key fangirl squeals at my favorite artists and sketchers, and got a fun glimpse of Chicago.
(Click on the thumbnails to see larger versions.)
Because it was my first time in the Windy City (not quite named so for just the natural wind), I chose to register for a basic pass, which meant participation in all of the sketchwalks the Symposium organizers planned around the Goodman Center of Roosevelt University — also referred to as the Hub, a central location where sketchers could meet, have a bit of rest, and ask various volunteers for help about nearby neighborhoods and the Symposium in general.
A workshop pass would not only be slightly out of my budget for the year, but I’ve long ago discovered that I don’t do well in workshops that last for a day or less; I like having evaluation on my progress, because while I think I understand concepts in class, implementing them is quite another matter. And I’m sad to admit, I burn a rather slow flame. Only my temper seems quick to flare.
What I underestimated most was the amount of energy these sketchwalks required! I’m part of the NYC regional chapter, and we have sketchwalks twice a week: one on a weekday and another on a weekend day. I work full-time, so I participate as often as I can on weekends, which isn’t very often (I do get scolded regularly by fellow urban sketchers for this…). So a day of sketchwalking ain’t so bad and may wear you out pleasantly if you’re used to it, but the Symposium, she multiplies that tenfold.
For those who’ve yet to experience a Symposium, gear up, work out, and bring candy with you for energy. Y’all will need it. (The Chicago organizers gave us free Chicago-based candy for rejuvenation; pity I couldn’t have any of it because of my diabetes, but it was really great to see). I had a hangry moment the first humid night of the Symposium, as my fellow sketchers can tell you, and I was not proud of that moment. Feed thyselves properly, people. Coming out of the left side of your face ain’t frickin’ pretty. Let’s at least try to be pretty — and by pretty I do mean well-behaved. Others shouldn’t be subjected to your damn ugly outside of your own damn head.
I’ve also learned I don’t need very many things for sketching. I usually bring my house, and while I don’t mind bringing the house, I really don’t use more than half of it. The most utilized items were my travel brushes, my one box (! yes, I only brought one box!) of watercolors, and both my Pentalic Aqua Journal sketchbooks — though I wound up buying a Stillman & Birn Zeta softcover sketchbook, as I found I really missed a smooth surface. So next time, one cold- and hot-pressed book; I’ll get both of my favorite surfaces to work with for watercolor, pen, and ink.
Speaking of ink, I also used my Platinum Century 3776 Black Diamond fountain pen with a Platinum Carbon ink cartridge, though far less than I anticipated. There was also my ever-trusty and beloved Pentel Pocket Brushpen, which is a permanent sketchkit item and had a good run during the Symposium. I also tried using different media that came in a goodie bag from the Symposium sponsors — and they gave so much I had to completely repack my suitcase!
I also found I hate the weight of my Coleman stool, which felt like seven pounds in my knapsack, though the compact size and unfolded height were ideal. I’ve tried others, but they were too much of one thing or another: too low to the ground that my knees complained, too cumbersome to carry on public transportation, too…too. So the search continues, but for now, I’ve got a seven-pound gorilla on my back (it’s supposed to weigh 2.5lbs, but I think they lie).
My sunhat was great to deflect all the glorious sunshine the volunteers arranged for us — and my neck and face were the only things that didn’t get burned. I managed to arrive home on the last day with a farmer’s tan, so sunblock yourselves.
I purchased a new board from fellow NYC Urban Sketcher and our chapter’s social media manager, Katie of Woodward and Father, which was useful and light and came with a two-ounce Nalgene jar. I’ve yet to tweak my setup, but the board was a great addition to my supply stash. I’ve not had it long enough to see if it will become a permanent part of my sketchkit, but it worked well for the Symposium.
I discovered I needed to set up my gear faster. The last sketchwalk of the day coincided with the 56th Worldwide Sketchcrawl, which was one of the events that got me back up and into my sketchbooks after many years of neglect. Our sketchwalk headed towards the southern edge of Michigan Avenue and the General Logan Memorial, where the final group photo of the Symposium organizers, volunteers, and attendees was to take place. But each sketch stop of the sketchwalk/crawl was allocated twenty minutes — I found it took me at least five minutes to set up if I haven’t already unfolded the chair, set up the sketchbook on the board with clamps, and filled the little Nalgene jar with water. Oy. And all that gear was a pain in the butt to carry unpacked, so oy oy. Sigh.
And in case you were wondering, yes, I did pack a waterbrush. But I like working with regular brushes because the water flow is far more difficult to manage with a waterbrush, and nothing I painted had nuance — everything just flattened, and not in a good way. Not that I’m making great art in my sketchbooks, but I like trying to get decent sketches, and I’ve had better luck with regular brushes.
So kit-wise, there were many things I want to change and adjust. And the Symposium really helped narrow those for me.
But most importantly, it was a great experience just for being around people of my nerddom, easily spotted by a black lanyard and a little Symposium badge, carrying similar gear and smiling back at you wherever we all happened to be. We swarmed Chicago with our presence, sketching from morning to night, taking time to see and record this vibrant, musical city and its people, its structures, its culture. I loved seeing so many NYC Urban Sketchers there, and meeting so many others from all over the world. There were over 500 of us working happily in our sketchbooks: seeing the world, one drawing at a time. A truly international event that made my heart giddy, happy, and hopeful.
My thanks to the Symposium volunteers and organizers for making my very first Symposium fantastic, one I hope to replicate in many other places in many more years to come.
Below are some more sketches made during that glorious week.