Europe19: Amsterdam Urban Sketchers Symposium 2019

August 19, 2019 | 1 Comment

Today I’m going to attempt to write an article on the Amsterdam Urban Sketchers Symposium but it’s hard to put into words the feeling that one gets from the creative energy of so many passionate sketchers in a city at the one time. It’s incredible!

This year there were about 500 people registered for the workshop programme and a LOT of sketchers in the city – maybe a thousand or more. There were a series of sketchwalks organised in various parts of Amsterdam and each of these were attended by sizable groups of sketchers. Sadly, I didn’t make it to any of these so I didn’t get much sense of how big the event was until the final sketchwalk.

The USK symposium gets bigger every year and my experience has changed a lot from the first few (you can read a series of articles about the early symposiums here). I no longer expect to sketch during the symposium days and even though the programme was lighter this year I still felt as if I was busy the whole time. And we had a record-breaking heatwave to cope with as well!

For me the symposiums these days are all about people – catching up with friends, meeting new people, talking with sponsors and finding out about new products. It is a different event than it was in the early days, but I still love it and would be very sad to miss it.

As mentioned above, a big component of an Urban Sketchers Symposium for me is meeting people who follow me online and/or have done my online classes. I love these brief meetings a lot and really wish I had more time to have a proper conversation with everyone. But of course that is impossible!

It’s been a learning curve to find the best ways to cope with the non-stop hellos, introductions and interruptions especially when I had some important coordination work to do. Going upstairs to the Art supplies Market was the hardest place of all to get from A to B!! Having a quiet lunch in my hotel room to recharge was a necessity after teaching in the extreme heat.

I loved meeting everyone and I especially appreciated when people came up and introduced themselves, immediately telling me how they know me (following on IG, online course, face to face workshop etc). I’m generally really good at remembering faces (and often names too) but giving me some context made it so much easier. So thanks to everyone who said hello to me this year.

Ok, enough of the general thoughts….

Here is a brief summary of my symposium experience. I didn’t take a lot of photos this year as my main form of recording these days is short videos for my Instagram stories, but I think I have enough imagery to tell the story.


A quick morning sketch before the instructors registration and briefing meeting.

This is the sketch I did on this occasion.

The instructors had a special outing organised to visit Royal Talens in Apeldoorn- a 1.5 hour drive out of Amsterdam.

The day was split into two halves:

  • a session in their ‘Experience Center’ with a little time at various different stations – testing pencils, ink pens, Ecoline inks, watercolour
  • a tour of their factory


Here are my rough testing/scribble pages from the first half of the visit

And a few sketches from the factory tour. It was the first of the really hot days so I was in ‘energy preservation mode’ and therefore I abandoned my sketching!

We were not allowed to take photos inside the factory but I did manage to get this group photo taken before we entered. A fun group – especially because of the two Alvins!

Opening ceremony for the symposium… and an important photo with Orling Dominguez from the Dominican Republic. Orling and I are the only two people who have attended all 10 USK Symposiums.

That night we had a dinner for the Palladian Odyssey gang – so lovely to catch up with this very special group.


My morning started with going upstairs and collecting all the goodies for my workshops…

before heading down to the meeting spot to collect my group. Sketchers everywhere!
(Refer to this article for more about the Caran d’Ache sponsorship of my workshop)

Workshop 1 – refer to this article for a summary of my workshop: Dynamic Composition and Storytelling.

After lunch I briefly met up with this lovely bunch of sketchers who had become friends during the Group Run-Through of my Foundations course earlier in the year. They were off to join a sketchwalk…

… but I had an important chore I needed to do.

It was close to 40C and I had to walk through the crowded shopping precinct (via Dam Square- above) and visit five different phone stores before I had my communication crisis solved! Not quite the way I wanted to spend an afternoon of the symposium but I was happy for the lighter programme which meant I had free time to do this.

After a little time upstairs at the Art Supplies Market I sat outside the venue hoping for a bit of a breeze. I did manage to catch up with Mario and Keta from Lisbon and look through Mario’s incredible A3 size sketchbook – here held up by their son Mattias.

I then joined a few friends by the side of a canal sketching a house boat.

Here is my sketch. I’m always pleased to get a sketch done during a symposium so despite the extreme heat, I was happy!


There isn’t a lot of time to meet all of the new instructors, so I was pleased that I got a chance to chat with Jorg Asselborn from Germany. He shared his must-have colours for sketching windmills.

Time for Workshop 2.

After lunch I had a one-hour demo with large group. I was a little worried about doing this during the hottest part of the day 3-4pm but it turned out to be cooler than the day before and I had fun doing the demo and answering lots of questions.

Here is a group photo of the fun bunch.

And my crazy quick demo showing a few important techniques of the way I work. My watercolour was drying way too quickly.


Workshop 3 on a cooler day – but it was still warm!

A few stills from my video of the final sketchwalk.

I sat between Amber (current USK President) and Elizabeth (former President) looking at this view of boats and NEMO in the background.

I didn’t get to finish my sketch, but at least I captured the essence of the scene.

Soon it was time for the big group photo… the bottom image is what it looked like from my position.

After the big group photo it’s common practice to take group photos from different nations… this was all of the Australians we could find!

But nice to have these two very special friends there – Mike Botton and Chantal Vincent. It’s an absolute pleasure to work with these two amazing people.

Closing evening – the craziness of the silent auction and then the raffle with the big prize (a ticket to next year’s symposium) won by my friend Adrian from Romania (I met Adrian at my 2016 Lucca workshop and didn’t know he was in Amsterdam until this moment)

And then it was time to announce the location for 2020 – Hong Kong! So I had to take a photo with Alvin didn’t I? (sorry it’s blurry!)

Somehow I managed to be still at the venue late talking to a few people. One of the great art conversations I had was with Mark Anderson who was one of the symposium correspondents this year. He did an amazing job sketching the event. So it was nice to have a photo with him at the end (even if it’s another blurry photo!)

The rest of the evening was fun hanging out with sketchers and sponsors… even though I arrived back at the hotel 5minutes after the kitchen closed and I gave up waiting for our Uber Eats order to turn up. So even though I didn’t get a nice dinner, I finished the symposium with some great conversations and my brain was well and truly buzzing with new ideas.

I want to finish this article with a sketch I did on the following Wednesday – my last evening in Amsterdam. I went back to the spot of the final sketchwalk and did another calmer sketch. Not only did it feel funny to be there without the hundred (thousands?) of other sketchers but there were very few boats as well. Even though I wrote the word ‘deserted’ in my book, it wasn’t a negative feeling. In fact the calmness of the environment and my sketching gave me a time to process all the amazing things that had happened during my stay in Amsterdam. A perfect way to end my visit.

Final word: The Amsterdam symposium was an amazing event and so incredibly well organised. A huge huge thankyou to all the organisers and volunteers – all those people in red – who made it such a special time!


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