Barcelona: Family Travels in Spain and Portugal

And the last stop on our family trip: Barcelona. What a fantastically crazy city to end our travels with. We didn’t do any off-the-beaten path stuff, this was a Gaudi-all-the-way trip for us. Sketching Gaudi is a joy: you go for the feel of his lines and there’s no perspective to worry about, it all kinda looks right. This is the rooftop of La Padrera. Two quick sketches.barcelona2

I love sketching markets. And La Boqueria is pretty special, not only because of the amazing energy of the place, but also because it’s where I covered my first workshop as correspondent for Urban Sketchers at the Symposium 5 years ago. (You can see some sketches from that trip here and here. )barcelona7ohotomarket.jpg

Sagrada Familia… what can I say? Worth the crazy lines. I love how the stained glass lights up the interior in ever-changing colors.barcelona3gaudimad

And the exterior, sketched from a cafe after our visit. Just like the interior of Sagrada would look strange without people, the exterior just isn’t itself without the ever-present construction cranes. barcelona5gaudimad

One last sketch from Parc Guell on a very hot day.

My travels didn’t end at this, but our family trip did. I headed back to Portugal, to Porto where I taught at the Urban Sketchers Symposium. But it was sad to say goodbye to my family: it had been so much fun to share our adventures with the kids. The mad architecture in this city (and the ice creams) had them super-excited.

If you missed my earlier posts from the trip, here are links to Granada, Cordoba, Seville, Evora, and Lisbon.

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Lisbon: Family Travels in Spain and Portugal

From the little town of Evora to our first big city of the trip: Lisbon. Here is a ‘mixed bag’ page: bits of Evora on the left,(that was possibly the best pastel the nata I had in Portugal) a train sketch from the ride into Lisbon and a page of train sketches on the way to Sintra a few days later.

My third trip to a city I love. We all loved Lisbon, can you tell?

We stayed in an apartment in the Alfama, the oldest district in Lisbon, and one of the few areas of the city not destroyed by the earthquake of 1755. Narrow alleys festooned with streamers, always filled with conversation. I loved staying here: a good part of the day, the streets are filled with tourists. But in the early morning you hear the tiny stores opening, the locals bantering and you see all the bright clothes being hung out to dry.

At night, there was fado to enjoy, literally around the corner from us.
Here’s a little fado-tip for you: Fado and dinner is an expensive deal. But if you turn up at 10pm or later, you can just order a carafe of wine and enjoy the music until about midnight when the last song is sung.

Lisbon is full of miradours or lookout points with wonderful vistas to sketch. I will never tire of view after view of terracotta tiled roofs and whitewashed walls (with the occasional yellow house to punctuate the scene).

We spent a day in the town of Sintra and I didn’t draw much, I just wandered through the Pena Palace and gardens. The palace is an eclectic mix of styles. The gardens are wild and huge and shrouded in mist and wonderful to wander around. This turret of the palace cut through the fog with it’s bright yellow color. For the quickest of sketches, I do color first and then some linework with the Pentel Pocket Brush pen.

Back in Lisbon, we watched France play Spain in in the World Cup on a giant screen at Praça do Comércio. One of the things I love about sketching when I travel is even sketches don’t turn out that great, they’re all tied deeply to memories and places…and then it doesn’t seem to matter how good or bad they are. For the record, France won.

At halftime, I walked over to the edge of the river to sketch this iconic spot, Cais das Colunas.

Here is one last sketch from the Alfama, on our last day in Lisbon. I knew I was going to be back in the city in a couple of weeks, (that post coming up by and by) ,still it was sad to leave Lisbon, even for a short time. So I sketched my idea of a ‘happy Lisbon scene’ with two terracotta roofed buildings, one covered in blue and white azulejos, the other one unabashedly new gamboge.

If you haven’t seen my earlier posts, here are sketches from Granada, Cordoba, Seville and Evora. Next up: The crazy, exciting city of Barcelona.


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Evora: Family Travels in Spain and Portugal

From Seville, it was across the border to the little town of Evora in the Alentejo region of Portugal. Evora is magical, the kind of town in which you just wander through the labyrinth of streets within it’s fortified walls; you can walk forever never repeating a street and yet, you’re never too far away from where you started.

This is the main plaza. As I sat there sketching, two Australian urban sketcherscame up and chatted and told me the urban sketchers of Evora were meeting to sketch at the square the next morning. USk makes the world a very small place indeed!

The plaza is the heart of the city and always so full of life.

Here’s a spread from my Alpha sketchbook. I drank a lot of wine. The kids drank a lot of a drink called B! 

In my wanderings through the streets, I chanced upon a gem of an exhibit, Aledeia da Terra, created by artists Tiago Cabeca and Teresa Raquel. They take clay and create a whole city of buildings and streets populated with great characters. The pigs were my favorite.

Evora isn’t a town of big landmarks, but you can sketch at just about any corner in town.

And if you can add a pastel de nata into your wanderings, that’s even better. The baker that I bought my pastry from told me that that the best sweets in Portugal are always made by nuns. And the best alcohol comes from monasteries. I haven’t fact-checked that, but I thought I’d pass it along… evora8

Here is one last sketch from Evora, made as the sun set. And yes, a Brazil-Uruguay football match was under way…

To see previous posts from this trip, here are the links: Granada, Cordoba and Seville.

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Seville: Family Travels in Spain and Portugal

Seville is the capital of Andalusia and feels like it. We spent almost all day at the Alcazar and I didn’t sketch much all day because I just keep wandering through hall after splendid hall and then through fantastic gardens and just wanted to take it all in and not stop.

Still, here is a quick sketch of the Courtyard of the Maidens. For those of you that have written in and commented on instagram about not being allowed to sketch in Granada and Seville: I find that if I stand up and sketch/paint, (as I often to) holding all my supplies including wearing my backpack, I rarely get reprimanded for sketching. It’s different when I settle down and lay my supplies out. So when in doubt, I’ll stand.

This second piece from the gardens remains unfinished, not only because the peacocks decided to come inspect us, but also because we were told by the guards that we couldn’t lie around in the gardens… oh well, you can see some of us enjoyed it while we could.


This was sketched at a flamenco performance in Seville, quite different from the flamenco in Granada. This was grander, the costumes more flamboyant. Lovely as it was, I’m a fan of smaller, more intimate performances. As always, everywhere we went, there was incredible tile.

And here’s a quick sketch over dinner with notes of the tapas consumed on the top left, and an update on the day’s football match on the top right. Oh, and some tile notes too.

One last piece, of the Seville Cathedral. Huge and grand.  I sketched it sitting quite a distance away and I still had to crane my neck to get it all in one view.

From Seville, we jumped across the border into Portugal to the enchanting little town of Evora. That’s up next.

Meanwhile, here are the earlier posts on Granada and Cordoba.











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Cordoba: Family Travels in Spain and Portugal

After Granada, we drove towards Seville, but stopped for an afternoon in Cordoba. If I visit this part of the world again, Cordoba will get way more time than it got on this trip.

If you’re in Cordoba just a few hours then head straight to the Great Mosque of Córdoba. Once a mosque, now a cathedral. 856 columns topped with striped double arches in the main hall. Fascinating to look at, madness to sketch.

I’m not a drawer of detailed structure, so there was no way I was going to plot, measure and draw out every arch. Which means I had to convey they idea of this crazy striped madness without drawing it all. As I often do with a tough subject, I did multiple quick takes. Here they are.

Take 1.

Take 2, from the very same spot. A little less line, a little bolder.

Taking it easy by choosing a far simpler angle for Take 3.

Cordoba has far more to offer than just this amazing church-mosque. We squeezed in a lovely lunch, getting lost in the narrow alleys around the mosque, and a gelato break into the rest of our afternoon before heading to Seville.

If you missed my first post with sketches from Granada, it’s here.
next up? Seville. Stay tuned.


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Granada: Family Travels in Spain and Portugal

This summer, I spent four weeks in Europe, in Southern Spain and Portugal, with my family and then at the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Porto.


Here’s the start of our trip. A long direct flight from Oakland to Barcelona, followed by a connecting flight to Granada means we were transported within a day right into the heart of Andalucia. I love places where cultures meet: they always produce the best art (and food!). The Moorish influence in this region is everywhere.

I used two types of sketchbooks: a wirebound 9×12 inch Beta and a softcover 8×10 inch Alpha, both from Stillman & Birn. The smaller Alpha was key to being able to do smaller, quicker sketches while traveling with my family. Next time, I might go even smaller in size so I end up pulling that book out more often and capturing more little stuff.

This is my very first sketch the morning I woke up in Alhambra. Every where you look, there are tiny cafes that you can sit at to have a drink and some tapas. In a new place, I always struggle with the quality of light and the colors for a few days. For a while, I feel like I have visual information overload and the only way past that is to draw and paint through it. Do you feel like that in a new place?


This quick sketch is just to say “When I crane my neck and look up and out from my hotel window, I can see a wee bit of The Alhambra.”

Here’s my first sketch at the Alhambra.

And a spread from my Alpha sketchbook, over lunch and then inside the palace. The tilework at the Alhambra is spectacular. I could have spent days in there, looking at it and sketching the different patterns.


I loved the spaces too: they’re always designed to be human-scale, and even the grandest rooms aren’t so large they overwhelm you. And the screened windows and courtyards with orange trees make you wish you could spend a whole day there with a good book.

Here’s a sketch of a random little cobbled street. The occasional car did drive through, but for the most part, this was a walking street.

You can see The Alhambra on top of the hill from all over town. I sketched it over and over again. This view is from Albaicín, the neighborhood we stayed in.

And this one is from Mirador de San Nicolás, a viewpoint on top of a nearby hill.

A little ‘palace’ (really, a grand house) that we visited in the narrow lanes of Albaicín.

And a few sketches from a flamenco performance at an intimate little space called Le Chien Andalou. Traveling through football-crazy Spain and Portugal during the World Cup brought an additional dimension to our travels. Recorded in my sketchbook are bits about the matches (see the guy on the top right).

That’s it from Granada but there’s lots more sketches to come, these many books worth of them!

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That Transition Page. And, I’d Love Some Advice.

I’m back from a fabulous four weeks in Spain and Portugal, with a head full of memories and images and close to four full sketchbooks, waiting to be blogged (something I love doing because I get to re-live my travels).

But first this important page in my sketchbook. The transition page. On the face of it, just two pages of notes and little sketches, done while eating and drinking. But the similarity ends there.


On the left, a page from Belém, Lisbon. Sketched while gorging pastel de nata. My sketchbook is never far, anything and everything is worth capturing.
On the right, taking a break from my computer, picking up my pen for the first time four days after coming home, little sketches and notes at my local coffee shop. It’s hard to keep going after a big trip.

So here’s a question: How do you do this? How do you keep your sketching practice alive and interesting when you are not traveling or at a special event? Do you set yourself goals and challenges? Do you set aside daily or weekly drawing time? Work from a library of images or from your imagination when you can’t get out?

What keeps you motivated, experimenting, learning?
I have a pretty long list of things I’d like to work on, but it’s just harder to get myself to sketch in the middle of everyday life.



Maybe you have some ideas you can share, things that work for you, challenges you will try? I’d love to hear from you and learn from you. And I’ll share what I do over the next few months that seems to help.

Thanks in advance. And those sketches from Spain, they’re coming up next.

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