I left St. Louis with grand intentions to write a blog post about each day of the symposium in Amsterdam as it happened, posting in the evening. The reality was a bit less productive in the writerly sense, but artistically rich with regard to my sketching and visual art practices. So, I’ve decided to give myself a pass on falling a bit short of my blogging ambitions. Instead, I’ll take the time now, with some benefit of hindsight, to do a recap of my time at the 2019 Urban Sketchers Symposium in Amsterdam.
Symposium Day One – Opening Day
Registration, the vendors’ market, and the opening ceremony all took place in the afternoon and evening of the first day, so I’d given myself the morning for a bit more exploring.
I took my breakfast at Cafe de Jaren, which I’d noticed the previous day had a really lovely canal-side patio. I’d seen some lovely ink sketches of Amsterdam already on instagram and was feeling a bit inspired, so I decided to do that morning’s sketch in monotone.
In addition, if I’m honest, I felt hesitant about doing two ‘full’ watercolor sketches on one spread. I didn’t trust that I wouldn’t mess it up, and ink seemed like the safer option.
Fun story: The man in the boat came from under the bridge, turning toward the care. I’d just sketched out the chairs and had barely started on the bridge when he showed up, and I frantically added his boat to the composition. He subsequently parked his boat at the cafe and took a seat at the table next to mine for his breakfast. It was entirely delightful, and felt very Dutch, and very ‘Amsterdam-ish’ overall.
I also sketched my Dutch breakfast: a croissant with ham and Beemster cheese, which was quite tasty. I’m not one of those people who paints the whole dinner before eating; I opted for a quick pencil sketch and took a photo to reference the colors before tucking in.
After breakfast, I went wandering along the canals before noticing I was fairly close to P.W. Akkerman, a pen and stationary store. I’d been recommended to visit by one of the St. Louis Pen Show organizers, so I dropped in and used the opportunity to purchase one of the sailor fude de mannen nib pens (the cheap one, not the $600+ special nib collection one).
The pen would go on to be one of my favorite tools of the symposium. Though the ink turned out to be less waterproof than I would have preferred, the line quality was extremely dynamic and variable, and I used it for a variety of different pieces.
Further wandering brought me to a chocolate store where I picked up some pasalubong for my brother, and came across an interesting sculpture of a folded VW bug inside a mall. I ended up getting lunch at the same mall, at a restaurant called Blue Amsterdam, which had 360 degrees of rooftop views. At first, I found the amazing view almost overwhelming, then caught sight of a set of rather contemporary houses. I decided to draw them in lieu of any of the more traditional architecture, and this happened to be the first time I made use of the ‘drawing elements sticking out the edges of a frame’ aspect, which turned into something of a theme in my work for the remainder of the symposium.
After lunch I wandered around and went through a few places, including the Begijnhof, where I stopped to finish my drawings. And then I checked the time, realized that registration was open, and hiked over to the Zuiderkerk. By that point, it was about an hour or so after registration had opened and there was no wait to pick up my nametag and swag bag. There was, by contrast, nothing but lines and an absolute madhouse in the upstairs area, where the vendors were. I fought my way through the crowds to get my sketchbook stamps, then withdrew and tried to catch some fresh air outside, where I happened to meet Jen, another first-timer, who ended up being my first Symposium Friend.
We eventually made our ways back inside to save seats for the opening ceremony, and I sketched the venue interior while listening and enjoying the atmosphere and stories and the company of several hundred sketchers.
And there was just nothing like it. Truly nothing. The closest thing I could compare it to was the sense of deep belonging and community that I used to feel at certain community traditions at my alma mater. Even though I didn’t know anybody, (though by the end of the night I knew Jen) I had the sense, rooted in fact, that every single person I met had something important in common with me: were sketchers to whom sketching was important enough that we’d both chosen to attend the symposium.
For the rest of the symposium, I found myself consistently in conversation and community with other sketchers at random, including moments 100% outside of the Zuiderkerk grounds, away from any sanctioned sketching events.
It was a lovely, intoxicating experience. Days later, when someone complained about the heat, another sketcher replied to affirm the complaint (it was literally the hottest recorded day ever in The Netherlands) but followed up by saying, “But still, better to be at the Symposium than anywhere else.” And we all nodded. It was true.
- On 12 August, 2019
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