CA18 Trip: Sketchkon Part 1

November 23, 2018 | 6 Comments


I arrived in Pasadena on Wednesday afternoon and was very happy with the view of City Hall from my room at The Westin (the venue for Sketchkon).

BTW Sketchkon was the first in-person convention for Sketchbook Skool (founders Danny Gregory and Koosje Koene) and was run in association with Artists Network. You can find out more about it here. But of course I’ll be sharing much more about it soon!


I immediately sketched City Hall from my room (the light was about to change so I had to do it straight away). This is the first of many Pasadena City Hall sketches which I did over my stay. I kinda got obsessed with it!


I then explored the area.

This is a weird-angled view of the lobby of the Westin. On the first floor (with views down) was the conference centre where Sketchkon would happen and so was soon going to be very crazy. But on this afternoon it was calm.


The Westin opened up onto a gorgeous outdoor plaza and I walked to the end of it to take this photo looking back to the hotel. And when I turned to my left…


… there was City Hall. Oh ah! I like this location.


After all the wonderful social times I had had in NorCal I needed some solo time in order to recharge my batteries for the big event just around the corner. So I found a small hipster coffee place – Home Brewed Bar – to hang out for a while. I asked for a recommendation and was given a coffee with peanut butter in it. Actually (looking up the menu) it was a Peanut Butter Chocolate latte – what? Did I really have that!?! I certainly wouldn’t rush to have another one but at the time it hit the spot.


I had been in touch with Andrea Joseph about catching up for dinner before the craziness started. But not surprisingly it turned into an event with a group of 15! Most of the group left the cafe early (either to have an early night or to attend the community Halloween bash – oh! I forgot it was Oct 31)

In the end, Andrea and I were the only ones left and so we did manage to have a good catch up!


This is a photo of our sketchbooks – proving that we did spend time together talking about art and work but that we didn’t actually get a chance to sketch that evening.

I went back to the Westin and got a bit swamped (in a fun way) by numerous Sketchbook Skoolers all dressed up in Halloween costumes. They all knew me, and although I knew many of their names from the Facebook group, it was a little hard to recognise them.

I wanted to hang around for a bit as I knew Lapin was arriving. He checked in around 9.30pm and we sat out on the terrace chatting for an hour or so. (Sorry about the poor quality photo – it’s a still from an Instagram Story. Note: I have a hard time remembering to take photos as my main focus these days when I travel is recording video!)

It was really great to sneak in these two quality catch-ups before the big event started.


THURSDAY NOV 01 – Sketchkon Workshop Day

Sketchkon was more like a conference than a workshop based symposium. The main days of the conference consisted of lectures and short activities (more about that later) and there was an optional add-on workshop day where participants could choose one all day workshop (10am-5pm). These workshops sold out very quickly and as I didn’t decide to attend Sketchkon until later I didn’t have a chance to sign up for one of them. So Thursday was a free day – a chance for me to explore Pasadena.

Note: I attended Sketchkon as a normal participant ie. I wasn’t a presenter. It was really great not to have a heavy workload (I ended up with two small task) and it was wonderful to be able to fully enjoy the event!


I started the day sketching City Hall from it’s courtyard.

But you might be wondering about this sketch and the title “Frenzy sketching to calm down” – what’s that all about?

If I felt a ‘bit swamped’ at the mildly screaming fans when I walked into the SBS Halloween Bash the night before, it was a little more intense on Thursday morning (at breakfast and at registration), and it affected my ability to be able to sketch freely afterwards.

To explain further…

Most of you will know that I travel a lot and have attended every Urban Sketchers Symposium. I also have a lot of strong online connections with people who regularly comment on my posts (here and on social media) and with the wonderful people who do my online courses. As such I know a LOT of sketchers and have met many of them in real life.

This year in Porto I realised how many sketchers I know and I found it difficult to sit down to sketch at the sketchcrawls as I was stopped every few steps to say hi to a friend. And I’m always meeting new people at events such as local sketchmeets, the USK symposium or the Sydney Pen show. My circle of sketching friends just keeps growing!

On most of these occasions I have a chance for a quick chat. This means either catching up with friends or, if it’s meeting someone for the first time, I like to discover where they live, how long they have been sketching, what their struggles are etc. I absolutely love meeting new sketchers and finding out a little about them and I especially like getting feedback as to what things people find helpful in my teaching and/or what they would like to learn next.

Sketchkon was a bit different for me as I hadn’t met the majority of the attendees and there is a culture in Sketchbook Skool (SBS) of referring to the faculty as ‘rockstars’. Because most people were staying in The Westin, I was constantly walking past people who said “Hi Liz” (correction: it was more like “Aaah! It’s Liz Steel!!!!!!!”)  I didn’t know who they were and there wasn’t a chance to find out their names let alone have a short chat. So it was a very different experience than what I am used to at an USK symposium where I am able to say “hi (insert name)” back. Over the years I have gotten used to a certain about of ‘sketching celebrity’ treatment, but this was a totally new level. (Note: Although I was only attending as a participant I’m well known within the community as I taught in the SBS Seeing and Urban Sketching courses.)

To be honest, I don’t like being made a fuss of – I’m just a girl with a sketchbook who wants to hang out and sketch with others. I don’t want to be treated like a rockstar, I want to have real conversations with people – I want to make friends not fans. So the ‘fan-dom’ of Thursday morning, whilst being a lot of fun, was a bit of a shock to the system and as a result I withdrew a little and it had an impact on my sketching. It is hard for me to do my best work when I am around a lot of people – and this certainly happens at USK symposiums too. It’s something that I’m always working on and I’m happy that I developed some new strategies during Sketchkon. It was a super fun event but crazy at times. I’m also sure that most of the presenters experienced something similar!

I was very happy to have the chance to have lovely chats with many Sketchbook Skoolers over the three days. But I’m sad that I didn’t get a chance to speak to more people. Although impossible, I do wish I could have met and have a nice chat with everyone attending.

Wow! that was a long tangent. I hope it made sense!

To get back to city hall… after this crazy sketch, I then did a second one which I was much happier with. But I’m holding off sharing this sketch with you until a special Pasadena City Hall Collection article.


Although most of the Sketchkon masses were in workshops, I decided to ‘hide out’ in another hip coffee place. Ha! that sounds a bit dramatic I know – it wasn’t really like that, truly! However it was very funny that as soon as I sat down and looked up, I could see Lapin’s workshop group sitting on the opposite side of the street, sketching the building I was in. Too funny! Not hiding for me!


I enjoyed the coffee at Intellegentsia Coffee and did two versions – the second one in the Hahnemuhle book we got in our Sketchkon Swag Bag.

I ended up having a lovely lengthy chat to Sasha – the girl at the table next to me – about startups, tech jobs, social media and photography.


I then went and did a quick sketch of the end of a grand building nearby – Castle Green.

Ah! that was fun, I was back on track!


In the afternoon, I got picked up by local sketcher (and USK LA admin) Phoebe Wilson who I know well thanks to the first ever Palladian Odyssey Tour.

She took me to the lovely Descanso Gardens, where I was excited to visit places where Virginia Hein (one of my favourite artists) sketches a lot. When I think of Virginia’s work, I think of her sketches from this Japanese Garden.


We didn’t have much time to actually sketch as closing time was just around the corner – this is how much I got done in 15 minutes.


Phoebe gave me a mini-driving tour on the way back to The Westin – including stopping outside a Frank Lloyd Wright ‘textile block’ house.

I didn’t get a chance to visit Hollyhock House (a famous FLW house in LA) this trip. I have to leave something for next visit, don’t I?


An incredible sunset! Wow!


The rest of that spread was finished with a little sketch of a small gift from an IG friend – @piggyme_1017 – thanks Jinhee! So sweet.


I was very happy that I got invited to the presenters dinner – what a treat! (Thanks Danny and Koosje.)

I didn’t take a single photo, but here is a collection of blurry stills from an Instagram Story I did of everyone talking after dinner. It was exciting to meet a few of my long-time early inspirations – such as Brenda Swenson and Roz Stendahl – at the dinner.

You can see the full presenters list here.


Wow! What a big 1.5 days and the main event hadn’t started yet.


 

6 Comments

  • Corinne McNamara says:

    What a great report of your Pasadena/SoCal experiences and great sketches! It was intense. I’m glad I got to see you (in an elevator!), even if I didn’t get to go on a sketch crawl.

  • Thank you for sharing your impressions with us, Liz! I remember so well meeting you in Porto and I was very conscious that there were so many people who wanted to talk to you, but still, I was so thrilled we had a chance to chat for a bit (plus a selfie!). I can behave like a crazy fan at times – I know I spooked Paul Heaston when I started talking to him on the street near the hub on the first day I got to Porto, asking how his flights had been (well, I knew, I follow him on Instagram too!), and he started answering, then stopped and asked “Sorry, do I know you?” To which I replied “No, but I know YOU!” Then I turned to my right and Veronica Lawlor was there, and I was star struck all over again, but at least I had done a SBS course with her, so I had something to talk about! And I still feel bad that I didn’t say anything to Lapin – who was probably glad that this crazy woman with the mad red hair didn’t notice him! I think that I will be more chilled in Amsterdam (got my flight and my accommodation, now just waiting for registration!)!! PS: You’ll have to come to Ireland some time – it’s not far from Scotland and there are lots of beautiful locations to sketch!!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Marie-Helene – I absolutely LOVED meeting you in Porto as I knew you so well from all your work and activity in the SKN classroom.

      But I know what being an over-excited fan-girl is like too 🙂 (I got that way when I saw simon Sinek https://www.lizsteel.com/art-gallery-of-nsw-dry-media-and-simon-sinek/ )

      I think it’s hard being both the fan and the celebrity 🙂 but being upfront with who you are as a fan (name, location and where you follow) and if you have met before is really nice and helps out the celeb. I love getting feedback on my content… so a brief sentence about what has helped you will totally make my day.
      And yes! I need to visit Ireland (was saying that to friends at church yesterday actually)

      • You’re so kind!! And very good advice about how to approach our idols! (I must remember that if I ever meet Neil Diamond!!!)
        Any time you come to Ireland, do let me know – I’m one of the Admins for Urban Sketchers Dublin – we normally meet on a Sunday, but we can change the day for you, as I’m sure a lot of sketchers in our group would be delighted to sketch with you!
        Take care
        Marie-Hélène

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