Archive for the ‘travels’ Category

Manchester workshop – From Macro to Micro

Sunday, September 4th, 2016


Teaching a workshop during an Urban sketchers symposium is a real privilege. The will and enthusiasm of the participants in the symposiums gives such a great learning environment, and everyone´s style, techniques and skill levels are all ingredients that enrich the experience.


I had the opportunity to spend three days, with three different workshop groups, at the John Rylands Library in Manchester this year. This building is a real challenge to draw, with it´s peculiar shapes and rich details. Also, since the weather was overcast (to say the least), the façade didn´t offer much differences in light and shade, which made it even more difficult to capture is volumes on paper.


Want to have a look at the handout? It´s available at the bottom of this post.

In my workshop, called from Macro to Micro, we made a collection of sorts of this library, presenting it from it´s entirety to it´s tiniest details, on the same page or spread. We discussed how to fit everything on the page, planning a page layout, and also how to simplify the shapes of the building, to manage to draw it all in the limited time of the workshop (3,5 hours). We also looked into how to include the context around the building (people, city streets, street furniture), and taking colour notes, for those times when you don´t have the opportunity to finish your sketch completely on the spot. We also walked up close to collect some of the more intricate details of this place.


As always with urban sketchers, the participants blew me away with their generosity toward each other, where everyone shares their work in progress in the group gatherings. For me, it´s these gatherings that generate the most food for learning. Seeing how everyone meet the challenges, what problems they encounter and how they solve them, is something that everyone can pick up advice from. Even when the work isn´t finished, or maybe BECAUSE the work isn´t finished, you get a unique look into the process of sketching, and you realise everyone is doing it a bit differently – and everyone is therefore contributing to the collective learning experience.


Of course, the workshop time is usually too short for getting a lot of practice, but you get to try things out, see how others tackle the challenges, and hopefully, you take some new thoughts and tricks with you that you can try out and practice more when you´re out on your usual drawing adventures at home.

The workshop participants in this year´s symposium were of the braver kind. Manchester is a rainy city, and we had some really bad rainfalls during the workshops.


Two of my workshop sessions worked out anyway, because we found shelter under awnings, scaffolding, umbrellas and such. In one session, we had to head indoors half the time, which brought on new challenges – we weren´t allowed to use colours in there! But since we started outdoors, most people had already got colour sketches done before going monochrome indoors.


The weather is the reason why I didn´t get group photos of all the groups, or photos of everyone´s work – sorry about that! It was just too wet!

A great big hug and a loud THANK YOU to all my participants, thanks for your hard work, your contributing to the workshop, and for being so patient with the Manchester weather! :)

If you want to take a look at the handout for the workshop, you can download it in the link below. Mind you, the handout doesn´t contain everything in the workshop. It is meant as a help for participants to remember the most important points from the workshop. I know from my own experience as a workshop participant, that during the sessions, you are so hard at work, that you don´t have time to take notes or remember everything that is said and done by the instructor. I hope this little leaflet helps a bit with that.

From Macro to Micro – workshop handout
(The pdf was originally printed on both sides of an A4 sheet of paper, then folded twice in the middle. This version is web optimized, so images may not look great in print.)


Saturday, August 27th, 2016


After Hastings, me and M took a train to Manchester and took a good look at the city for a few days. We loved it! Manchester is such a beautiful and interesting city, and the mix of old and new everywhere really blew us away.


When M headed home, I stayed on for the Urban sketchers symposium. On the 25th, I hooked up with old sketching friends and headed out drawing. Among other things, we stopped by at John Rylands library, which was to be both mine and Liz Steel´s workshop location for the symposium. Great to get a first look at this place. Such a crazy building (in a good way!) – beautiful, and so intricate, but much younger than you´d think from looking at it, and so unlike everything else built during the same period (around 1900).

Top drawing: 17 x 16 cm, bottom: 19,5 x 16 cm, fude nib fountain pen with De Atramentis document ink, and watercolours, in Stillman & Birn A4 alpha series sketchbook.


Friday, August 19th, 2016


Before the Urban Sketchers symposium in Manchester this summer, my dear M and I decided to take a look at Hastings on the South-Eastern coast of England. We had a great time revisiting places where M spent some time as a kid, and taking walks around the city center and the old town.


Cornwallis street was a really fun place to sit and sketch. So many nice people stopped by for a chat, and since a few of them lived in the street, I got a bit of inside information about the place, along with some history lessons about Hastings in general. Too bad the red little truck parked there before I had a chance to draw the green house behind it. The colour of that house was exactly the same as I had on the walls in my childhood room. I´ve never seen it on the façade of a building. (Actually not in any other kids´ rooms either.) The guy who owned the house came by, and told me that quakers built it back in the 1860´s.


I was a bit blown away by the Stade, the beach where the fishing boats are launching and landing directly from the beach, with the help of tractors and winches. I could have spent a week drawing only on this beach – so many interesting things there!

Top image: 19 x 8 cm, ballpoint pen. Middle: 19 x 13,5 cm, Namiki Falcon with De Atramentis black document ink, and watercolours. Bottom: 19 x 13 cm, fude nib fountain pen with De Atramentis black document ink. All in Stillman & Birn A4 alpha series sketchbook.

Workshops, traveling and such

Sunday, August 14th, 2016


It´s been a long hiatus on the blog, due to traveling, vacationing and giving a workshop (and generally having a great time) at the Urban sketchers symposium in Manchester this summer. Scanning is underway, and posts will appear soon, with drawings, workshop images and new sketchbook work. Meanwhile, I hope you do follow my instagram, @nina_sketching!

Image: handouts for my USk symposium workshop. Stay tuned for more on that!

Last day in Singapore

Sunday, September 6th, 2015


I spent my last day in Singapore in Chinatown, with Liz Steel from Australia. China town was a tricky place to sketch in, especially in the narrow market streets, where vendors opening up their shops made our view smaller and smaller, moving their merchandise out into the street, in front of where we were sitting. However, it was such a visual feast to draw there, with all the strong colours, old shop houses and people everywhere.


And then, in the evening, the moment had come to grab my luggage at the hotel, and head out to the airport to start the journey home. A full day in 31°C humid heat is not a nice preparation for a long night flight. Changi airport lived up to it´s good reputation when I found the showers in one of the lounges. :)


Tried out a new fude nib fountain pen waiting for the last leg of the trip in Frankfurt. I rarely use water soluble ink, but this is what came with the pen, and a waterbrush made it a quite nice experience to play around with.

All drawings: 21 x 15 cm, various ink pens and watercolours in Stillman & Birn alpha series sketchbook.

Gardens by the bay

Sunday, September 6th, 2015



Scroll above for more details!

Gardens by the bay is a must-see in Singapore. It´s a huge park area in the city, and hosts everything from themed kitchen gardens, to children´s garden to huge glass domes with fantastic amounts of flowers, to the grand super trees, with a fabulous light show every evening.

I was in awe of the Cloud Forest glass dome, a seven storey built up mountain (!) full of flowers and exhibitions of natural phenomena. I was drawing flowers in there for about three hours with Hong Kong sketcher Ben Luk.

42 x 15 cm, UniPin and Copic ink fineliners and watercolours on Stillman & Birn alpha series sketchbook spread.

Downtown Singapore

Monday, August 31st, 2015



Scroll above to see more details!

I had too little time to see everything that I wanted to see in Singapore (which is a good reason to come back some day!), but I did get a little sightseeing done after the Urban sketchers symposium ended. Among other things, I headed down to the water at Marina Bay, to enjoy the views. There is something special with skyscrapers – especially when you live in a city where there are very few. I had so much fun with Downtown Singapore and the watercolours!



Another must-sketch was of course the Marina Bay Sands hotel. I saw this building in every sketchbook I flipped through during the symposium, so I figured I had to draw it too. Found a place to sit in the shade underneath the ArtScience museum, happily sketching, when suddenly heavy rain surprised me – the only rain that I experienced in Singapore. Had to run inside for lunch together with that day´s sketching company,  Mark Leibowitz and his friend Alan from New York.


And the food in Singapore! One Singaporean sketcher told me that in Singapore, there are two national sports: eating and shopping. And I can totally understand the eating part! The food I had here was fantastic. There is everything in asian food to choose from in the hawker centres, and it´s cheap, fast and really good.

I also had a lot of kopi here, the local coffee where the beans are roasted with sugar and butter to give it that special flavor. It is brewed in big metal pitchers and come in a lot of varieties. It´s usually served with milk, or evaporated milk, and sugar. And as I am not a sugar-in-the-coffee person, I had to try all kinds, and learn all the words for it (there is a whole list!), to find my favorite: kopi-C Xiu Dai. Kopi with evaporated milk, no sugar. Perfect. :)

Top sketches: 42 x 15 cm, bottom 20 x 15 cm, various ink pens and watercolours on Stillman & Birn alpha series sketchbook paper.

The ordinary

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015


I love drawing the ordinary things in life, the stuff that you usually consider so everyday and banal that you don´t really notice them. In Singapore, I saw these high apartment buildings everywhere, with their ever repeating patterns of balconies. Also, these little Nissan and Toyota trucks were everywhere. So, during one of the early morning sketch sessions that I did with a few other instructors I couldn´t resist this view. And while we were sitting there, drawing, a waitor from the nearby Crossings Café brought us tea out in the street. An absolutely lovely gesture, putting a gold rim to an already good morning.

15 x 15 cm, ballpoint pen on Stillman & Birn alpha series sketchbook  paper.

180° Purvis street

Monday, August 24th, 2015



Scroll above to see some details of Purvis Street, Singapore!

During the Urban Sketchers symposium in Singapore, I had the chance to participate in one workshop from another instructor, and I chose Lapin´s “180° – all you can see”, where you work with a wide angle way of looking at the world.

I have tried wide angle drawing before, but in a more scientific way, almost in the area of technical drawing, which is not my preferred way of working. I just don´t have the patience to measure and make everything perfect! So I was curious to see Lapin´s take on this, since I know he works quite fast, and I don´t think I ever saw him holding up a pen to measure anything, which gave me hope that this could suit me fine if I could just wrap my brain around it.


We started off doing some quick sketches to understand the concept of the 180° drawing. One thing I discovered already at this stage, was that modern cars are easier to draw if you are allowed to twist them a little through a wide-angle filter. ;)

After this, we drew some small details from the street, and then we went on to do the whole view of Purvis street in one spread of a sketchbook.

I was great to see everyone else´s take on Purvis street! It´s so funny in these workshops, that even if everyone is trying to follow a concept or an idea of how to work, you are still going to see as many styles and temperaments in the sketches as there are participants in the group!


A great thing in this workshop was that we had quite a lot of time to do the final sketch. Usually, in a workshop, you are a bit short on time, and you have to see it as a learning opportunity and then keep trying out what you learned on your own, afterwards. But here, almost everyone got a complete view of the opposite side of the street at the end of the workshop. Not everyone got around to add colours (me included), but I headed back some days later to do that.


Purvis street sketch: 42 x 15 cm, ink fineliners and watercolours in Stillman & Birn alpha series sketchbook.

My workshop at the USk symposium, Singapore

Sunday, August 23rd, 2015


My workshop at the 6th Urban Sketchers symposium in Singapore was called Light in the space inbetween. The workshop location was in Princep Street, at the charming Selegie Arts Centre building. I had three sessions, with 15 fabulous participants in each.


Basically, we were dealing with two things in this workshop:


1. how light changes on it´s way down to street level in a city. Light gets reflected by facing buildings, weakened by tall buildings, “eaten” by trees – in short, there is a lot less light at street level than at the top of the buildings, and knowing/seeing this adds a lot more atmosphere to a location sketch. (The quick example sketch above is from Renstiernas gata in Stockholm.)


We also looked at how different kinds of shades usually take on different values. For example the shade side of a wall is darker than a sunlit wall, but the shadow that it casts onto another wall will usually be even darker, as in the example above (from Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona).


2. how to mix watercolours without making mud of everything, and then treating this changing light with colour in your sketches. Here I demonstrated how I work when I mix watercolours. In theory, I use this colour wheel as a guide, to add a bit of complementary colour to darken or dull down a colour. But of course in reality, pigments do not always behave the way you think they will. To get good at colour mixing you need to know your colour palette well! I also did a demo on how to do a relatively trouble-free gradient in watercolour, without too much blooming and brush strokes showing up. I use a lot of gradients in my sketches, when working with light and shade.

So, in the workshop, we started out with pencil sketches, to concentrate on seeing light and shade, without worrying about colour at this first stage. As usual, all the participants very generously shared their results with each other, and we had some good discussions about what happens with the light between the buildings. In one of the workshop sessions, the weather went from bright sunshine to overcast three times, which added some interest to these discussions. :)



Then we went on to sketching the absolutely charming Selegie Arts Centre in colour, to practice some watercolour mixing. I am sure some of my workshop participants now have a love-hate relationship with this building, since it offers a lot of tricky light/shade challenges, as well as difficult colour mixing, especially when the weather changes. Everyone did a great job, and found pigments in their palettes to work on the shadows in the façade.


In the last workshop sketch, the participants put all this stuff together, and drew a subject of their own choice, and worked with both light and colour mixing at the same time. I am always in awe of this stage of a workshop, when everything comes together and sketches of all shapes and styles are created! It is so much fun when everyone returns at the end, laying out their sketchbooks on the street for the end discussion. Everyone is looking, pointing, asking each other questions, and sharing their own experiences with the group. This is such a great learning opportunity, and everyone is welcome with their input/questions/tips and tricks.


It is an absolute luxury to teach in these symposiums, because you have students that are super dedicated and interested, from all skill levels and from all walks of life. Everyone is willing to try anything you suggest – and share their results with everybody else in the group. And the cool thing is that I often see very experienced sketchers learning something from the beginners, as well as the other way around, which of course will encourage the beginners to keep up the good work.


A big thank you to all the participants in my workshop this year! You worked so hard and were so dedicated, in spite of 31°C and blazing sun! I am still full of energy and inspiration from seeing your efforts and fabulous sketches! And a big thank you to my assigned assistant, Siew Huan Kok, who took a lot of the photos in this post.

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