NYC Urban Sketchers Portrait Party

I’m in New York City again! A spontaneous decision brought me to this bustling city for the long weekend (and away from freezing Boston and its -16F temperature…). Since I’ll be missing my weekly meet with fellow urban sketcher (USK) friends in Boston, I immediately check to see if there are any drawing sessions with the NYC group.


Boy, am I in luck! This weekend the USK meet up in New York City is holding a portrait party. To sum it up, everyone take turns being the live model for 10 minutes, and at the end of the session, we will each have created tons of portrait drawings of all the participants.


I’ve always been daunted by drawing portraits and people because I’m not very skilled with proportions. My biggest problem is to even get the ‘creatures’ to look ‘human-like’ LOL. However, this portrait party is just too big of an opportunity to miss, so I signed up for it anyway. The night before, I crash-coursed through online tutorials on the basics of figure drawing and how to get the nose and eyes right. Man, I don’t remember the last time I was this nervous for a sketch!

The event was held at the IBM Atrium on Madison Avenue. The airy and space-y atrium is a beautiful place, enclosed by glass walls and sporting green and lush bamboos. It is the coldest day of this winter and the wind is vicious outside. However, we are quite warm and cozy at the open square.


I arrived late with a Molten Hot Chocolate from Starbucks (those valentine’s day special drinks I can’t resist…), and I can already see a handful of people gathered in a circle around marble desks. As I went up to the group, I felt like the new exchange kid in class, nervous and terrified about meeting new people. Everyone has kind smiles and encouraging eyes, so I quickly settled myself in one of the chairs around the circle.

Battling my nerves, I look over to my right to observe one of the artists creating mind-blowing art on his sketchbook using the dry twig and Chinese ink method. I timidly asked him to show me some of his other pages in his sketchbook, and they are filled with gorgeous ink sketches of New York. It wasn’t until later that Mark Leibowitz introduced him as Mario Linhares, one of the amazing urban sketchers correspondents from the organization. I’m so awed and honor to be able to flip through his work!!


The party start when everyone has a stack of watercolor paper in their laps, and we’re in a big circle. There are 18 of us ‘official sketchers’ that registered for the event, but many people joined us throughout to be in the action. Mark kept track of time and we dive into the speedy process of 10 minute portraits.


My strategy is to do a quick sketch outline in pencil within 1 or 2 minutes. Then I draw an outline with my newly bought Sepia colored Micron pigment ink pen. With the remaining 5 to 6 minutes left, I’ll boldly splash around the page with watercolor.



My watercolor set up includes a Rembrandt artist grade pan that I customized and a Sakura water brush. It takes less effort to lay down a sheen of water on the page with the water brush, as a quick squeeze on the tube does the job quite efficiently. Then I’ll dab my brush into paint and ‘charge’ the colors into each puddle, allowing different colors to mix and combine on their own. Time is so precious that I don’t even take those extra seconds clean my brush between dabbing colors.

The result of my work is quite interesting. Instead of painting the portraits accurately color-wise, I decided to use contrasting and bold colors. The result is a myriad of shades across each person. In the end, I’m satisfied with my painting, but still not happy about the proportion and outlining of the characters. They say figure painting definitely requires some foundamental skills…I’ll have to practice more.

The best thing about this sketching experience is to see the variety of styles from everyone. Some uses acrylics, some use mere brush pens. It’s an honor to observe everyone’s technique. There are many moments when the synergy of everyone’s passion and concentration simmering in that space. We’re were all definitely in an artists’ high throughout the sketching session.



DSC05677DSC05667DSC05647DSC05645DSC05692(picture credits to Cindy Kung)

The portrait party lasted almost five hours. One may think drawing and sketching look effortless, but boy my arms are sore from this strenuous workout. Everyone’s exhausted. We lay our work in a grid at a corner of the atrium. Each row designating the artist, and each column portraying the subject. Did you see my row? DSC05696DSC05707

All of us beautiful sketcher people!


We wound down the party at The Bar Room a few streets down from the atrium. Warming our bodies with a few drinks, we talked about everyone’s work, urban sketching and much more.



Naturally, we are not called urban sketchers for nothing. The table settings are filled with random doodles as we chat. What a memorable experience, and I can’t wait to do similar exercises with my Boston urban sketcher friends! See you next time NYC USK, I’ll be back to join more parties!

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