Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Two days in Amsterdam

Happy family events meant I could only get to the Urban Sketchers symposium in Amsterdam for a couple of days – neatly arriving shortly before the closing reception. The newly launched direct Eurostar service to Amsterdam from London's St Pancras terminates in the heart of the city, close to both where I'm booked to stay the night, and the location of the symposium's final sketchcrawl around NEMO Science Museum. Bags dropped off, I head off with the small sketchbook and a few pens in an effort to meet old friends and perhaps even get some drawing done.

Korte Prinsengracht/Haarlemmerdijk, Amsterdam

It's a little while since I've been in Amsterdam, and of course things have changed. But one of the joys of going to the symposium is being able to explore a place while continually bumping into friends and acquaintances. Some are tenuously known only online, some are regular mates I've known for years, some I have only met a handful of times at past symposiums but feel like old friends, but all have their sketchbooks out and are communally soaking up the place on paper.

From the NEMO ramp, Amsterdam

Around the NEMO Science Museum there are dense thickets of people engrossed in drawing everywhere you look, standing, sitting on every available spot, on walls, in cafes, legs dangling over the dock. There are familiar faces focused on the job in hand, drawings interrupted by happy reunions, conversations about how to endure the intense heat wave that coincides with the symposium. Later, there is the huge group photograph, of perhaps more than 700 people standing in the sun by the dock: at the back where we stand we become just pixels, but it is enough to be there.

Closed to traffic: Willemsburg, Amsterdam, drawn from the Juice Brothers cafe

The closing reception is big, full on, with a cast of hundreds, and snatched conversations, all too brief. There are too many people to mention by name, but I must mention Gabi Campanario, the founder of Urban Sketchers, who it was great to spend time with again. He launched a fantastic movement more than 10 years ago, one he could never have known would develop as it has. Respect too, to those many people who have joined the vast voluntary operation that it has now become.

Anne Frank's house, behind the tree on the right, Prinsengracht, Amsterdam

The final day was spent around the city, drawing with friends before the time came to board the Eurostar home. Next year's symposium is planned to be in Hong Kong, not such an easy place to visit from this side of the world. It was interesting to see a discussion on Swasky's Instagram about the environmental effects of the symposium through the vast numbers of people it now attracts and the flights inevitably made. In my experience, creative people are more alert to this kind of issue than many, and so perhaps some already take measures to offset their carbon footprint, but when even world leaders refuse to accept there is a problem, the sense of emergency we face on the climate issue can be all too easily dismissed.

From the London-bound Eurostar train window

There are more of my drawings on Instagram.