USKPorto2018: Part 1 - Quiet Days

August 8, 2018 | 21 Comments

Arriving in Porto

I arrived in Porto late on Tuesday 10 July, a full week before the Urban Sketchers Symposium began. I always try to be one of the first sketchers to arrive in a symposium city, so that I get a chance to do my workshop preparation and explore the city in calmness before everyone starts turning up and the socialising begins. I have been to every USK symposium and know a lot of people – it’s therefore very hard for me to find some quiet time to sketch after the bulk of sketchers are in town. So, today I want to share my sketches and adventures during my first three days in Porto – what I am calling my “Quiet Days”.

Warning: this is a long article!


Wednesday 11 July

After breakfast on Wednesday morning I walked around the corner from my hotel and was greeted with the classic view of Porto – the Douro river and the Dom Luis I Bridge. Wow!

It was raining so I didn’t pull out my sketchbook.

Instead I made the big ascent to visit my workshop location – Clerigos (full name Igreja dos Clerigos). Porto contains main steep hills so it was good to have a few days of training before I had to do these climbs carrying all my extra teaching materials.

As the rain was still coming down, I went inside…

… and did a quick sketch. Not what I expected my first Porto sketch to be, but still good to be getting the hand moving and sketching something much more richly decorated than the buildings of West Wemyss.

I then spied a pastry shop where I could sit under cover and do a warmup sketch of the facade.

Oh ah! this is a lovely complex Baroque facade. I’m a happy girl!

It was too wet to do anymore serious workshop prep, so I decided just to walk the streets (up and down) and get a feel for the place.

But in the next block, I stumbled across a lovely art store – Papelaria Modelo – and made a new local friend who would be manning their stall at the symposium. I bought a few things too.

As I was walking the streets I was trying to absorb the shapes and colours of this place and thinking about how to sketch it.

Porto was a little grittier than I imagined and much grayer than my memories of Lisbon (the only other part of Portugal I have visited). Lisbon has lots of white limestone and reflected light, but the grey granite in Porto had a dulling effect of the colourful (often tiled) walls. As for the steep winding streets… they created incredible vistas with buildings at every angle. Another important distinctive of Porto was the large windows and balconies.

An incredible place, but not that easy to sketch, especially in my loose and free style.

Once the rain stopped, I decided that I would tackle some of these typical Porto buildings (in the Praca da Riberia) in a calm leisurely way from the comfort of a cafe table. And that is exactly what I did! However, I was sketching so leisurely, that I was bored by the time I had finishing the drawing part, and decided to leave it as a black and white ink sketch.

After that I ‘needed’ to do a colourful watercolour Porto sketch , so I did this one of some on the buildings overlooking the Douro river, alternating between line and colour.

I had a lovely solo dinner to finish a great first day and made friends with the couple at the next table and all the staff at the restaurant. Note: when you are sketching you are never truly alone. Towards the end of my meal I did this loose sketch of the view from my table.

My Green Sailor Fude pen (with the 55 degree bent nib) hasn’t been working perfectly for the last number of months, and even though I had fully cleaned it prior to this trip, it hadn’t been flowing well when I was in Italy. I had therefore abandoned it, but on this occasion, decided to give it another go. And it started working again – I can’t explain it, but I was very happy to be able to use it again.

The expressive lines from the Fude nib made it much easier for me to quickly capture all the rich details of the Porto buildings, so you will see a lot of Fude sketches coming up.



A nice sunny morning and back at Clerigos to do some serious preparation for my symposium workshop.

My workshop was called “It’s all in the details” and I spent a bit of time drawing some of the many details in this facade.

Note: I will do a full workshop report later.

When I was close to finishing up on my workshop work, two Porto-born sketchers (and architects) joined me. Humberto Marum (known as Marum and based in Australia) and Hugo Costa (yolahugo on Instagram and now living in Spain). I know both guys online but we have never sketched together.

So first, we sketched a street scene next to the Clerigos. Ah! the fude pen is working well for these Porto streets.

And then the boys took me to a less touristy area and I tackled a big scene on the corner of Praca de Carlos Alberto. Hugo likes these big vistas and I enjoy sitting next to other sketchers and comparing how we interpret a scene. You can see his version here.

Hugo works slower than Marum and me, so we went and had lunch and started another sketch – another Baroque facade. This time Igreja do Carmo.

I mentioned earlier (when in Scotland) that I was using some of the new SketchInk – colour Lilly. Well, at the local art store Papelaria Modelo I had purchased another bottle! This time is was a lighter grey – called Tina – and I used it for this sketch. I was still very much in a black ink mood, so I also added black fude lines..

I thought I was working big until Hugo came along and did his usual sketch across more than one sheet.

And then, as I was really getting into a non-stop sketching mood, I did a quick sketch of a building opposite me.

I then had a lovely dinner with Marum and his family – including his gorgeous 4 year old daughter who wrote her name and her brother’s name in my book.

This day was actually my birthday. I don’t make a big deal of the day and was expecting to be solo for all of it so it was a real treat to spend the day with these two great guys and have the most delightful time sketching together. Thanks guys for such a fun day!

I often say that my favourite days during a USK symposium trip are actually those either side of the official symposium days when I spend time in a relaxed way sketching with ‘random’ people from all over the world. This day was definitely one of those.



A solo morning. I headed up hill to the main cathedral. Oh! such a steep climb.

Not the most inspiring view from the spot where I sat down, so I considered this as a warmup and allowed myself the freedom to distort.

Using my two new grey inks Lilly and Tina for this.

There were great views from this area, so I had to sketch one of them didn’t I?

And then it was time for a coffee and pastel de nata – of course!

After that I met up with Hugo again and we sketched this view looking down to the river and the venue for the Symposium – the grand customs building Alfandega.

After my coffee earlier, I ran into Anne Rose from the Netherlands. (Ah! the city is coming alive with urban sketchers.) We had a lovely lunch and then spent the rest of the day sketching together. Anne Rose likes to sketch quickly so we hit it off immediately.

I think the steeping foreshortened buildings with balconies is one of the signature views of Porto and so after lunch it was time to tackle them.

I started with a big painted shape and then decided (with Anne Rose’s agreement) to leave it with only minimal lines as the first wash was doing beautiful things.

So, I then moved on to a second sketch of an abandoned building. There were lots of interesting building textures in Porto!

We meet up with Paul Wang and then walked around looking for a view to sketch. I particularly like this scene but there wasn’t a good spot to sit to sketch.

So Anne Rose and I sat down and sketched this narrow lane which went down and up – another distinctive scene of Porto.

I then joined Paul back at the riverside for a quick paint-only sketch before heading to dinner with a group from Hong Kong and Sydney.

Another fantastic pre-symposium day. A huge thanks to Anne Rose for making it such a good one.


And so ends my first three (quiet) days in Porto.

The following few days in the lead up to the symposium were much busier due to the fact that lots of urban sketchers were arriving. So I will share more about that tomorrow.



  • Anne Percival says:

    Thankyou for sharing such a richly illustrated and informative blog. So many different styles here …a lesson in each one. Particularly like the one of the steep foreshortened buildings…Anne Rose was right…..the minimalist approach works perfectly here.
    Look forward to your next ‘chapter’

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Anne!!! At the moment I feel as if I am just documenting what I did, but once I’m done with that I might do some analysis

  • Carmela Sunnyvale says:

    Hi Liz,
    I don’t often comment on your blog, but I do follow it faithfully. I read your blog first thing in the morning and it gives me a jolt of creativity–starting my day better than coffee! I love your sketches in Porto, and your experimentation with color, line and different inks. Like the effect of the new colors, too. I enjoyed being on the road with you and your friends.
    Thanks for sharing your creative life and journey with all of us.
    PS: Not sure if I will have the energy for your next workshop, but am seriously considering it.

  • Kevin Carter says:

    Great story of your day. Love your style.

  • Kate says:

    Liz I am interested in how you liked Sketchink… Reviews here in the states are very bad. I love DeADoc inks and Super5 inks, and none of these have caused clogging and so forth as the reviews noted in the Sketchinks. It has put me off trying them.

    • Liz Steel says:

      I haven’t had a chance to really work out what the Sketchink is like – ie. I used it in new pens so I don’t know if any flow issues are ink or pen related. It was usable. But I do think that it’s not as nice as De Artamentis! I will test them once life settles down.

  • pbass wil says:

    Great to have this juicy post – you took me on a welcome journey. :^)
    Great, also, to witness you in joyful creative ‘flow’ – you never broke stride from your lovely image-eruption in Scotland! Cheers from Montreal.

  • Janus says:

    So the Fude pen was used in the majority of these drawings, Liz?

  • sigrun hodne says:

    No need for warning, Liz – a long article such as this gives me a great feeling of place and topography, almost as if I am walking the streets of the city myself. As always your work is just beautiful – I love the variation from sketch to sketch.

  • Leah Stark says:

    I loved reading about your trip and seeing your sketches! All the photos were great too! Hope to make it to a symposium one day. Thanks for sharing I always learn so much from you!

  • Great sketches! I met Anne Rose before I left Porto. What a nice lady! I’ve been following her wonderful sketches since I’ve been home.

  • rosalee scriven says:

    Thanks Liz, we were in Porto late last year, so its been awesome to see you bring it to life. I can pick some of the locations,…

  • Penny Henriksen says:

    I love Porto. I lived there for a while. I was always told that the fancy, double-level bridge over the Rio Duro was designed by the same man who designed the Eifel Tower. Down where you were sketching, along the river, there always used to be lots of people selling stuff. I got some great, hand-knit Portuguese sweaters from down there that kept me really warm a couple of winters. I so enjoyed seeing your posts – and everyone else’s from the symposium. I would LOVE to go back there and do some art. Next time maybe they’ll head towards Coimbra you’ll get awesome Portuguese goodness and you can also hit some wonderful Roman ruins.

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