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Friday, April 19: U Village

Monday, August 19, 2019

Amsterdam: A Sizzling Symposium

As soon as I arrived, I could see immediately why Amsterdam had been an easy win as a symposium host. Its extraordinary architecture, well-designed urban spaces, geographic compactness and humanely flat terrain all made it an extremely appealing city for sketchers.

Amsterdam skyline sketched from inside NEMO cafe

Arriving a couple of days ahead of the symposium, I awaited the event with excitement and much anticipation (as I’m sure my 600-plus fellow participants were also feeling). In retrospect, I’m very happy that I had the days before and after the event to sketch, because we were all in for unexpectedly harsh conditions.

Sketches made at dusk and dawn to beat the heat.

A record-breaking heatwave broiled the region for four long days – precisely the four days of the 10th international Urban Sketchers Symposium. When I started hearing reports from locals that the temperature was expected to hit 40 C, it didn’t mean much to me (I couldn’t make the conversion to Fahrenheit in my mind). But when I saw the triple digits in Fahrenheit on my phone’s weather app, I fully comprehended the meaning: Lots of sweat and difficult sketching! To make matters worse, Amsterdam typically does not suffer such high temperatures, so many homes, hotels and businesses are not air conditioned. Relief wasn’t easy to find.

Montelbaanstoren, one of the most-often-sketched towers in Amsterdam

Fortunately, workshops were scheduled for the mornings while temperatures were still in the 80s and lower 90s, and shade made conditions bearable. However, I forfeited most of the afternoon sketchwalks, demos and other outdoor activities and instead retreated to whatever air-conditioned venues I could find. A favorite was the NEMO Science Museum’s large upper-floor cafĂ©, which offered a nearly 360-degree view of the city. (I explored the sketchwalk neighborhoods on my own after the symposium was over and the heatwave subsided, so at least I was able to sketch in those areas – though it wasn’t the same without other sketchers everywhere.)

I missed the Jordaan and Spui neighborhood sketchwalks, but I caught them later on my own. 

Despite the unexpected hardship of high heat, I enjoyed reuniting with old friends, seeing in person those whom I’ve otherwise known only through social media, and meeting new sketchers from around the world. While I value the inspirational opportunity of workshops, the main reason I attend symposiums is to join the camaraderie of my international tribe. For a few days each year, I am fully immersed in this worldwide community that I cherish. And I’m always grateful to the many volunteers who worked hard for well over a year to make this symposium possible.

Statue of Rembrandt sketched from inside an air-conditioned hotel bar

For a report on the excellent workshops I took from Norberto Dorantes and Nina Johansson, please see my personal blog. My last sketch made in Amsterdam, shown at the top of this post, is one of my favorite sketches from my trip to Holland (which also included Haarlem and Delft). I incorporated compositional ideas and methods that I learned from both Nina and Norberto as I planned this sketch.

A canal street near my apartment.
Westerkerk's spire


  1. Thanks for the sketches Tina, enjoyed them more than photo's. Good job in spite of the heat.

    1. Thanks so much, Blanche! Glad you enjoyed them.

  2. I like the simplicity of your sketches. Especially those bikes. And as always your stories are so refreshing and informative. Nice work.