This list was drafted up initially as part of a blog post about my time at the symposium, but it got a bit longer than I’d first anticipated and I figured I’d let it grow into a post on its own rather than prune it down. These are the signs I noted during my time at Amsterdam that indicated strangers I saw were a part of the many-hundreds of people who had Urban Sketchers who had descended onto the city. It became something of a game for me, being able to spot someone and try to discern, in a moment or two, if they were One Of Us in the strange cult-like sense that being at the Symposium could give us.
From most-apparent to least-apparent, here are the signs that the stranger you’re assessing may be a sketcher.
- They are sketching – This one should be obvious. For the entirety of my time in Amsterdam, I often caught sight of people sketching at cafes, on street corners, standing on bridges, and everywhere in-between. Before the symposium had even started, this was the sign that made me feel welcome to walk right up to Eduardo Bajzek and set my stool down, asking if I could sketch with him.
- They are carrying a stool. This tended to be a solid giveaway. Not all sketchers carried stools, but everyone who I saw with a stool had other signs indicating they were a sketcher. One evening, I was walking back to my hostel when a woman fell into step right beside me with a friendly smile, saying that “it’s not everyone who carries a stool like that” and proceeded to chat with me while I gave her directions to get back to the Zuiderkerk
- Visible art supplies – Pencils sticking out of vest pockets, cargo shorts bursting with watercolor palettes, custom slings with pen holsters, there was no end to the unique ways people carried their supplies. Even the more subtle sketchers might be wandering around with a closed sketchbook in one hand, or with one of the highly-recognizable usual sketcher bags, like the Etchr line, or the Darsie Beck Field Easel Art Bag. The combo option of the all-in-one camping stool backpack cropped up sometimes as well.
- Hats and sensible shoes – This one might be a bit unfair, or off-base, but generally speaking, the sketchers were not dressed for fashion. I saw few heels, many brimmed hats to keep off the sun, and practical (sometimes touristy) clothing. The fishing vests with art supplies sticking out of various pockets were a dead giveaway.
- The Look ™ – I’m currently reading a book called The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs by Tristan Gooley, and near the beginning of the book, he says that there are two groups of people who are able to read a landscape with a deeper level of detail than anyone else. The first group are people who grew up in an indigenous hunter-gatherer society. The second group are plein-air artists. Because it’s much harder to make yourself a member of the first group than the second, the author recommends (no matter your artistic skill) doing some basic landscape sketching to hone the ability to see. Because there’s something in how an artist looks at their environment that is substantially different. And I contend that this something is visible, sometimes, on the outside.
It’s the moment when someone, otherwise nicely dressed, with a regular looking bag and no visible stool, stops along a bridge and pauses, looking out. This person will survey their view with a studied expression while simultaneously becoming briefly unaware of the passersby around them. And a moment or two later, this obliviously focused person will whip out a pocket sketchbook and pen and start working on a sketch.
In daily, non-symposium life, the signs are less obvious, but I plan to take these signs with me going forward, to hopefully spot more artists in the world around me. Or maybe I’ll just start visibly carrying my stool with me everywhere and flag them down that way.
- On 11 August, 2019
- 0 Comment