uskporto2018: Part 4 - Symposium

August 13, 2018 | 7 Comments

I’ve been to every Symposium (all nine of them) and so I’ve seen the event grow dramatically over the years. I have found the last few (Chicago and Manchester) very different from the early ones, mainly because of the size and in some measure have struggled with the bigger numbers. I am ‘on’ all the time, saying hello to people all day (and into the night) and I have found it increasingly tiring and with little to no sketching time.

I have also found that I have been hanging out with my good friends nearly 100% of the time and as a result I haven’t been making as many new sketching buddies as I did in the early days. Hanging out with new sketchers is really important to me as I’m always craving inspiration, and while I have great art chats with my good friends, there is nothing like seeing a new way of working from someone you have just met. You can see from my quiet days that this year I did spend some quality time with some new friends this year and that really set the tone for how I approached the Symposium days.

This year the number of people registered was over 800 (plus a few hundred people who were in Porto just sketching) – so many people.  I decided to make talking to people my priority and I totally abandoned any expectation to sketch anything other than what I needed to do for my teaching. This approach made a huge difference – took off pressure and enabled me to really focus on people.

It’s just amazing that I know so many Urban Sketchers (from the previous 8 Symposiums and my own travels) and I really love meeting new people – especially if they have been following my blog for years and/or done one of my SketchingNow courses. I have often said that a Symposium is all about the people, and well, I lived this out fully this year – I felt as if I spoke to over 500 of the 800. And I had a ball!

I don’t have any amazing sketches to share with you from the symposium days, and I don’t even have that many photos (I used to take many more people shots), but I hope that you will enjoy this summary of what the Porto event was like for me.

Note: A huge thank you to everyone who worked non-stop before and during the symposium, the local team and volunteers, Symposium committee, Finance Committee etc etc. They are a big number of people who work while the rest of us are having fun.

So what did I get up to during the Symposium days?

Wednesday – First Sketchwalk

I didn’t actually get to sketch or even join the group photo (I took this just after the photo was taken) as I was interviewed twice (back to back) for local newspapers.

The first time it was because the journalist overheard a conversation between me and a participant of one of my SketchingNow courses. So she asked us if she could interview us.

Then I walked a few paces (stopping every third sketcher to say hello to someone I knew) and Nelson (one of the organisers) asked me to speak to another journalist.

It was fun – although slow going as we tried to walk along the road to get to the photographer as I was stopped every few steps by someone I know! Crazy, crazy, crazy, but I’m always happy to talk to people about Urban Sketchers!

After the group photo, I headed back to the venue. But decided at the last minute to attempt a sketch – so this was my minimalist sketch of The Bridge.

I was really slack taking photos this year, so this is the only photo I took at the opening night. A photo with USK President (and good friend) Amber Sausen who gave me a gold USK pin for attending all the USK symposiums.

Thursday morning – First Workshop

My workshop called “It’s all in the details” was based on the main facade of Clerigos church at the top of the hill. I really enjoyed teaching the first group and was extremely impressed by the results. I will share more about my workshop in a separate article.

I was so pleased to have all morning sessions this year (doesn’t normally happen for me) so I was able to have lunch with my group each day. Really special for me to get to know the sketchers in my workshops a little better.

Mid-way through my workshop, one of my USK heroes walked by. The incredible Gerard Michel from Belgium. While the group was happy sketching away, I was able to have a quick flip through his sketchbook. Sigh – so beautiful! He is the master of perfect perspective and his drawings in real life have an energy about them that does not translate to online versions. So lovely to see you again Gerard!

Thursday afternoon – Demo

This year all the instructors do a demo as well. It was a 30 minute demo with a large group of up to 25 people.

My demo was on the same subject as my workshop (but a different building) and in a way became a condensed workshop. I also did two quick demos so that more people could sit up close.

Here is the group crowding around me at my location – shielding me from the cars that drove past.

Here is my first very quick demo…

And in action for my second one.

Friday morning – Second Workshop

Another great group for the second workshop and a chance for me to refine my workshop a little more.

Here I am telling everyone to spend a little time looking at the building.

Crowding around for a mini demo.

Here they all are – a fantastic second group. And we had a nice local meal for lunch afterwards – amazingly on schedule so that everyone could get back to the venue in time for the afternoon workshops. Lunch is always a little tight on the double workshop day.

This morning we had Paulo, one of the Symposium Correspondents visit us and you can see his report here. Such amazing work.

Friday afternoon – Maru Godas Workshop: Gouache like a child

It was a lot of fun to do Maru’s workshop on my free afternoon. I have wanted to paint with gouache for a few years now but have always struggled to get the right consistency. As a watercolourist I use too much water.

Maru’s warmup exercise of working from dry to wet was great and it gave me a feel for the creamy consistency needed.

We then did an exercise with a limited palette.

And then one mixing line and colour and having fun – painting like a child. It was a fun afternoon! Thanks Maru for a great workshop.

So what about my work?

I was super tired – actually drawing the wrong number of windows – so I didn’t do the first exercise seriously. I also found it a challenge (in a good way) to be using someone else’s colours.

This is my final piece, mixing gouache and coloured pencils, having fun with shapes and lines.

I’m very keen to do a little more gouache now.

Friday morning – Third Workshop

Final time teaching my workshop and I was still having a lot of fun and very inspired by the work done.

Some years I get a little bored sketching the same subject over and over, but not this time. Clerigos was so complex that even on the last workshop I was still discovering new things about it! And I was happy to do another 15 minute demo for the group.

Another fantastic group. Thanks to everyone who was a part of my three workshops and especially to my three wonderful volunteers who helped out taking photos, buying pastries for everyone and just generally making my teaching job so much easier.

Saturday afternoon – final sketchwalk

I had a lovely leisurely lunch with a number of sketchers from my final workshop and then we went for a coffee. So my sketching time was rather reduced for the final sketchwalk. The location was a huge square, a little bit uphill from the main part of the old town where we were based. So it was nice that we were already at the top of the hill.

I didn’t take any photos until we got the call to assemble for the main group photo. You can see the grand large scale buildings that lined the square.

This is my half-sketch of one of them – the only bit of sketching I managed to do. I was still constantly meeting people for the first time.

The massive group photo

And some of the 23 Australians at the Symposium.

Saturday evening – Closing Ceremony

The silent auction just gets bigger and bigger – and hard to actually get close to the table to see the work. It was fun watching the bidding on a few favourites.

And then it was time for the big announcement – Amsterdam for 2019. Yay!

Here I am with the organisers Gail Anne and Ruud (photo-bombed by a Porto volunteer). I can’t wait!

And the final photo is with my new sketching buddy, Anne Rose from the Netherlands. I think it was a nice connection to bridge this year’s amazing event and next year’s.

Wow! Such a big four days. Thanks again to everyone who worked hard to make it such a success.



  • A BIG Thank you Liz for this overview of your days at the Symposium, your reflections and thoughts. You have seen so many changes and been involved in the evolution of this special group and event. I am happy to have vicariously lived it this year through lots of other people and their facebook and instagram posts.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Alissa – I’m glad you enjoy my posts. Its great for me to have a record. Porto was so amazing, wish you were there.. but I know that you have an incredible trip planned soon. BTW I thought of you a lot when I was in Lisbon.

  • Tina Koyama says:

    Although I’ve only attended five symposiums, I, too, have noticed them getting larger and larger, and for the first time, I felt this one was TOO large. I missed seeing numerous people I knew (from social media) were in Porto, yet I couldn’t find them because the venues were so large. At past symposiums, I could usually just wander around, and eventually I’d bump into everyone. I feel a little ambivalent . . . it’s wonderful that USk has grown so much, but it all feels too big now.

    – Tina

  • Agnes Bolley says:

    I am all with you on this feeling of being overwhelmed! Funnily I only attended 2 of them – both in Portugal by coincidence. They ‘ve grown very big in deed – but the organisation was impeccable and both locations stupending. Amsterdam might attract more people as it is more central in Europe …. if you wish less people , you might consider organising a future one in Australia! …. that would be great , Liz!

  • 800 persons is really too much I didn’t enjoy it and for the first time I have not take any workshop just the small pass. I enjoyed see friends and new ones; that is the most importante. but we were surrounded by so many people that it was impossible to speak a bit with someone. If this continue I think I want go to another symposium. Just my opinion.

  • Penny Henriksen says:

    It was so much fun to watch your IG posts throughout you entire trip. You hit a lot of places I would love to go. Your Portugal sketching/watercolors have been awesome. It was like being there again. I was always so in love with all of the tile work there and would love to have brought some home. I had friends that used to do the painting on the tiles.

  • Penny Henriksen says:

    PS I am looking forward to the watercolor course! (although I am taking an art-cation down to the Blue Ridge mountains in the middle of September).

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