Europe19: USK Amsterdam Workshop: Dynamic Composition and Storytelling

August 16, 2019 | 8 Comments

This year my workshops – Dynamic Composition and Storytelling – were probably the most satisfying ones I have ever taught at an Urban Sketchers Symposium. And this is despite the extreme record-breaking heatwave (up to 40C) which we endured. It also has nothing to do with the bonus goodie bag from Caran d’Ache!

For starters, I wasn’t teaching an architecture based topic and it didn’t have the normal emphasis on drawing instruction. So this made it a new experience although it felt weird at times not to be helping people with their drawing skills. It was based on composition and most of the content for the workshop was generated as a result of what the participants chose to sketch.

The exercises included composition of the sketch and also of the sketchbook spread as a whole so it was fun to share some ideas about page layout with the groups – this is something I haven’t done before.

I absolutely loved my workshop location – the area around Buiten Bantammerstraat.

It was quiet and shady with an incredible range of subject matter.

I actually went back to it after the symposium to sketch some more as I didn’t get much chance before or during the big event.

The workshop schedule involved doing a warmup sketch to explore story, a lengthy review of everyone’s work, some ideas about composing sketchbook pages, a quick demo by me and then a final session for everyone to do a coloured sketch and design their page.

I was so incredibly inspired by the work done by everyone and also by the conversations we had about their stories. I really loved doing the lengthy reviews and having a discussion with everyone about their sketch and whether it explained their story. It was really fun to question them – “what is it about XYZ that you like?” – to get to the heart of their story.

This discussion session brought out so many common struggles which we all have and also gave me a chance to get to know the people in my groups better. One of the challenges of the symposium workshops is not having the time to get to know everyone – so advice is always a bit generic. Having a conversation with everyone during the review made me feel more connected with the group as a whole and as individuals.

The real heart of this workshop was not in my step by step instruction but in the sharing concepts and learning from everyone’s stories and ideas, so I’m just going to share the photos of the group.

It was also really cool to see people spending a little time designing their sketchbook pages and I think this is very apparent in the final throwdowns.

A huge thanks to my wonderful volunteers who helped me during the workshops – Mihaela, Erin and Rene. All the photos in this article were taken by them! thanks for everything!

A special thanks to Rene for all his work organising the workshops and locations for all the instructors. It was really wonderful for me to meet Rene after being friends online for many many years – since the really early days of Urban Sketchers.

And thank you to everyone who signed up for my workshops.

I was so inspired by you all and I hope that you were able to pick up some ideas that you’ve already incorporated into your work making sketching easier, and that you now have some tools for producing more designed sketchbook pages.

Have fun – hope to see you all again soon!



  • Alejandro says:

    So envious!

    I hope I get to go to an USK Symposium in the future and take one of your workshops! Thank you for sharing with us! Helped me live vicariously! 🙂

  • Susan says:

    Getting to the heart of the story is why I’m learning to become an urban sketcher. Phone photos just don’t convey that for me. Your workshop sounded fabulous! Hoping to get to a symposium someday. I too have lived vicariously through you this symposium. Thanks.

  • Dina Dajani says:

    Finally three years of attending USK symposiums was worth while to get into your workshop ?. The goodie bag was just icing on the top ! Might I add a VERY GENEROUS one. It was nice learning from you first hand Liz ! Doing online workshops is one thing, doing it first hand is another.

  • Shirley Joiner says:

    Liz, I am eager to hear you opinion of the portrait versus landscape sketchbook your used during the Urban Sketchers Symposium; i.e. pros and cons for each orientation.

  • Sounds like a great workshop and a satisfying one too!

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