How to prepare for the Urban Sketchers Symposium

Janice K. Johnson

So you’ve decided that you want to go to the Urban Sketchers Symposium this year. What should you prepare? Let’s see…

First thing to do. Get the passes

The Urban Sketchers Symposium is a popular event. Workshop Passes can be sold out very fast. I’ve heard and read many stories of disappointed sketchers who were unable to get the passes because they were sold out the minute registration opened. Yes, it’s that crazy.

You can find out where the latest Urban Sketchers Symposium is held from the Urban Sketchers blog, Instagram page or Facebook page.

There’s usually two periods to register, during the early bird and the open registration period. If you can’t get the passes during the early bird period (where they are cheaper), you can still try during the open registration. If the Workshop Passes are sold out, you can check the registration site daily in case there are refunds or cancellation from others which will then release the passes back to the system.

If you are unable to get the Workshop Passes, you can get Sketch Passes that gives you access to the Opening & Closing reception, demo by instructors, guided sketchwalks, other activities and you also get an event goodie bag. The cost you pay goes towards funding the event.

Stay near the main venue

Find the address of the main venue or the headquarters, then book a hotel nearby that’s within your budget.

Attending the symposium is very tiring. You’ll sketch from morning to the evening, and some even sketch into the night. Having your hotel nearby means you can go back and rest early, get more sleep or wake later. And you don’t have to rush to the main gathering point in the morning or the sketchwalks.

Don’t bring too many supplies

Don’t bring too many supplies because it’s tiring to carry them the whole day. Sometimes you don’t even use all the supplies you bring. You can bring some backup supplies, like extra pens, paper, but put them at the hotel and bring them only when necessary.

To determine what to bring, just look at the tools that you use often and bring those. If you are attending workshops, ask the instructor what additional supplies are required.

You’ll want to spend your energy sketching, not carrying unnecessary weight.

And don’t worry if you have forgotten to bring any supplies because there sponsor booths from companies selling art supplies. You may want to have extra luggage space for the extra supplies that you may buy.

Test your tools and supplies

I’ve made the mistake once of bringing a sketchbook with lousy paper overseas only to find out it was terrible at handling watercolour. Bring good watercolour paper. I mean 100% cotton paper or sketchbooks with 100% cotton paper. You’ve already spent so much on the air fare and hotel, you can spend a bit more on good watercolour paper. You don’t want lousy paper to dampen your experience and believe me lousy paper will do just that.

It’s crucial to test your tools and supplies first. If you want to do pen, ink and watercolour sketches, test your ink and see if it’s waterproof. Test your watercolour paper or sketchbook to see if the colours are vibrant or, or if the paper is able handle water, as it the water should not soak through the paper.

If you’re using pencil, you’ll need to protect your paper because graphite will smudge against other paper. Note that it’s not possible to bring spray fixative cans on planes.

Can’t find the location of the sketchwalk, workshop or any place

Just keep asking people until you get to your location. With this method, you can still reach where you want to go even without a map or GPS.

Bring enough money in case you want to buy stuff at the sponsor booths

You may be able to find good deals for art products that are sold by the sponsors. Or you may be able to buy things that are too expensive or too difficult to find online.

Do some research on the things you want to buy online first, then you can have a reference to compare to when you’re at the sponsor booths.

Take photos while waiting for your paint to dry

Take some time to stretch, walk around to talk to people, make new friends, take photos. Urban sketching is a social event, mingle around. Even if you’re introvert, you can still check out other people’s art and get inspired.

You can take photos while you wait for your paint to dry. This will give you additional reference to refer to in the future.

Write notes beside your drawing

Attending workshops can be overwhelming. There’s so much to learn and absorb. You might want to take notes. Just write beside your art so that you can refer to them easily in the future. If you don’t want to write beside your art, you can write behind the paper.

You can also write notes to remember the experience. Sure you can draw to remember but writing will make your sketch and experience even more memorable.

What are some essential items to bring

A portable stool is essential and lets you sit wherever you want. It’s extra weight but it’s worth bringing one. Some sketchers would bring and use a mat instead.

A hat is extremely useful at blocking out the sun.

Bring backup supplies just in case. Bring an extra pen that’s new, but tested.

If you’re staying more days before or after the symposium and expect to paint a lot, bring more paint. Some colours get used up faster than others. Bring those. For example, I use up French Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna very quickly so sometimes I bring extra tubes with me.

There are sponsor booths that sell art products so chances are even if you run out of supplies, you can buy them from the booths. Or research the area for art shops first.

Be careful of your belongings

Keep your precious belongings close to you, secured and check once in a while. Keep your things zipped up so that they don’t fall out accidentally. Beware of traffic.

Don’t be stressed out

Just enjoy making art for what it is. There will be people from different background and skill levels. Comparing with other people does not serve any purpose. This is not a competition.

And don’t expect to produce great work especially when you’re a beginner. It’s unrealistic to expect yourself to produce great work within a few days or even hours. Some artists spend decades perfecting their craft. Having said that, it would be extremely beneficial to know the basics of observation sketching or urban sketching before you attend the symposium.

Watch my symposium videos

I’ve been to several symposiums over the years and made many videos. Watch these videos to get a sense of what it’s like to “be there”. The videos talk about things that I’ve missed out.

Amsterdam symposium

Manchester symposium

Singapore symposium

AsiaLink in Kuching

AsiaLink in Taichung

Make some namecards

You will meet a lot of people. It will be difficult for people to remember your name or your website because they meet a lot of people too. Make it easier for them by giving them name cards.

Find out what’s the weather like

Ask sketchers who live there. See if you need to bring a big hat, umbrella or a thick jacket. You can also ask on the USk Amsterdam Symposium Facebook page. While you’re at it, ask about local transport too, about how much it cost to take the trains, buses and cabs.

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