uskporto2018: Lisbon Part 1

August 20, 2018 | 5 Comments


After my usual day of rest and worship on Sunday, I headed to Lisbon on the train on Monday morning with Suhita. As we were walking out of the station we ran into Lizette and Peter from South Africa who I hadn’t seen at all during the Symposium (another indication of how big the event was).

Lisbon is a very different city to Porto in many ways but for me the most important is the local stone. In Porto the granite is grey, in Lisbon the local stone is limestone which is white and very reflective. So there is an incredible light – a sparkle in Lisbon. I love it. The sky also seems bluer here – look at it in this photo with Suhita.

I sketched the view while we were waiting for our lunch but I didn’t feel attuned enough to the new city to attempt painting the glowing shadow colours of Lisbon.

We then headed for the main square and sat in one of the touristy cafes for a coffee and pastel de nata (I know, I know. not the best spot to order that) but we wanted a view of the impressive triumphal arch – Arco da rua Augusta. I suggested we attempt this direct watercolour but that was a touch ambitious so I added some ink lines to pull it together.

I was in Lisbon for the 2011 Symposium where I met a lot of USK correspondents for the first time. There was a very special magic about meeting everyone for the first time. In addition the beauty of Lisbon really made an impoact on me. So being there again, seven years later was amazing. For the first few days I drove my companions nuts, as I kept re-living (and recounting) memories from 2011 such as “This is where Nina and Jose taught a workshop, I sat there sketching with the Spanish gang, I took a photo of X and Y here, this is where the final sketchwalk was with 300 people” and on and on it went!

In addition there were the memories of my 2011 sketches and I wanted to revisit all the spots where I had previously sketched. So this cafe view of the arch was similar to one I did on the last afternoon of the 2011 Symposium sitting with Omar (Germany) and Karina (Brazil).

I was trying to remember all the good spots and how to get there and this view looking down a staircase – Calcada do Duque – was one of those highly sketchable places. I will refrain from sharing all the memories I have at this location, even though my fingers are itching to type about them. If you are interested, all my Lisbon blogposts from 2011 can be found here.

Here is my sketch of it. Despite planning to include the stairs I ran out of room.

And then we sat at Largo Do Carmo and sketched this view. The 2011 version of this view is one of my most used/published sketchbook pages so I had to do a 2018 version of it.

BTW I hope to share some comparisons of 2011 vs 2018 sketches a little later on.

Then it was time for dinner – a lively evening with six other USKers who were also in Lisbon.

It was great to have a good catch up with Pete Scully this year (and to have someone to share Lisbon 2011 memories with as well!) It was also good to see him sketching fire hydrants again! This was his favourite page – I think they were Porto hydrants.

My first night in Lisbon ended up being a late one – 12.30am back at the hotel. Oh! what a big first day.

Tuesday – Belem

We (Suhita, Angela (from Melbourne AUS) and I met for breakfast at 7am (I have no idea why so early!) and then headed to Belem. We arrived at the Jeronimos Monastery early – 30 minutes before opening and decide to stand in the line and wait. We managed to have a nice catch up while we were waiting.

Of course I also sketched the view too (on the left side of the spread). Once inside it was a little overwhelming, especially in my tired state! I started with a paint only version.

So much detail and the light on the stone was gorgeous.

Trying to capture the configuration of the whole in a loose way…

… and then we went upstairs and sketched the dome and inside the church.

Next it was time for the most famous Pastel de Nata in the Lisbon area. They were very nice but they were not my favourite (more about that later). And just for the record, I only ate two, not four of them.

Angela! It was so much fun to hang out with her for a few days.

The next stop was the Belem tower and this photo shows that it was hot and sunny with a lot of people around. This was the view I sketched last time, but I would have to find a different spot this time.

During the day I was reminiscing a lot about a wonderful day with Marc and Laurel Holmes at Belem on the Monday after the 2011 symposium. You might have noticed my ‘sad thoughts’ note on one of my sketchbook pages earlier. That was referring to feeling sad that Marc was unable to make it to Porto this year. I especially remembered our time sketching this tower.

We found a little shade and I did a first version which was a touch boring – just ink and then wash without any drama. I was feeling extremely tired and this always impacts my sketching.

But after getting that first version out of my system, I decided to have another go. I was happier with this one as I was playing with lots and found edges.

Time for one more sketch of the exterior of the Monastery.

It was the end of a big sketching day so we found a comfortable stone bench to sit on.

A great day followed up by a wonderful dinner with Nelson (head of the local team organising the symposium) and his lovely wife.

And guess what, it was even later than the night before. What??? Lisbon was shaping up to being more ‘full-on’ (in some ways) than Porto was!


Not surprisingly we had a bit of a slower start the next day and I had a 10.30 meeting with a photographer for a magazine article on USK in which I was included. So after that was completed I joined a gang of sketchers.

Mario (USK Education Director) and his wife Ketta (makes the gorgeous Laloran sketchbooks) had planned out an itinerary for the day. So I joined them at the first spot – the Elevator Santa Justa. A very ornate structure and the big dilemma was how to sketch it. I don’t normally like rotating my book and sketching vertically (as it disrupts the flow as you turn the pages), but this occasion called for it. But first I did a small ink sketch showing the elevator in context.

The context ink sketch was a really good way to warm up for the day, and I then rotated my book and for a big detailed paint-only version. I was happy that I broke my own rule to do this sketch.

On the right is a photo of us sketchers sitting in a row (including Mike Botton, Ketta and some of Mario’s students and Suhita). Also sketching with us at this spot were Angela, Rob Sketchman (Hong Kong), Shiho and John from LA.

It was then time for lunch and Ketta took us to a canteen run by nuns that we had frequented a lot in 2011 – cheap good quality local food with a great location. Oh ah! the tablecloths were the same and brought back lots of memories for me.

And this was the view from our table on the terrace.

The next stop was Igreja de Sao Domingos – a church which was damaged in the 1533 and 1755 earthquakes and then a fire in a 1959. The restoration left the fire damaged walls untouched creating a unique interior.

It is a nice challenge to sketch this place quickly and create the texture of the fire damage – I was sitting on a dark-ish bench, and looking at the sketch now, realise that I could have added a little more texture. But, hey, it’s always better to under-do than overwork, isn’t it?

Then a quick (very quick as in less than 5 minutes) sketch on the exterior.

The final destination was a 360 degree view of the city. Can you guess what that meant? Yes, climbing a huge staircase!

In general I was finding the slopes and staircases of Lisbon much easier than those in Porto, but this one was impressive. Even more impressive was the fact that I got to the top without totally running out of breath – ah! those Porto slopes had increased my fitness. Yay!

I had to leave early (to attend another Palladian Odyssey group dinner) so did a very simple sketch of the big view. Thanks Ketta and Mario for a great day, and I’m sad that I couldn’t have been in two places at once and have dinner with you all as well.

What a fantastic first three days in Lisbon!



  • Anne Marie Percival says:

    Great post Liz……thanks for sharing your memories…kicking myself that it didn’t occur to me to add a few days on and pop down to Lisbon…..but will justify a whole new trip! Reassuring to know that even YOU run out of space at the lower edge sometimes!

    • Liz Steel says:

      thanks Anne.Oh I run off the page all the time, I just start at the top so it normally doesn’t matter… but in this case I should have started at the bottom!

  • Jane Kirsch says:

    I am a novice urban sketcher going to Lisbon in November with family so I’m flagging these posts! I’ve gotten pretty good at more modern buildings but these ancient stone marvels are overwhelming in their detail. Going to study your sketches carefully for tricks to creating the effect without drawing perfect replicas. I’m also a former architectural artist but trying to get away from doing exact pictures with precise detail. Thanks for your wonderful blogs – the combo of photographs followed by sketches is great! I’ll go back to your 2011 Lisbon notes as well….

  • You packet a lot into your 3 days. Love your sketches!!

Leave a Reply