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A Sketchbooking Retreat- part 2

Posted by Koosje Koene in ArtJournal, sketchbook on September 8, 2017

Kicking the inner critic’s butt


This is the second blogpost in a series of 4. In this series I’m sharing my experiences and drawings of a workshop I attended in Rotterdam a couple of weeks ago. You can read the previous post here.

The title of the three-day workshop I attended says a lot: ‘Pushing Your Sketch Boundaries’. I would loosely translate that as ‘inviting your inner critic out and then kicking its butt’.

The day before the workshop started, I was drawing  on my way to Rotterdam:

I did a drawing to celebrate my mini-vacation:


I attempted to draw the band at the beer garden where we had all exchanged sketchbooks after our official introductions, and where a band started playing – I sketched alongside of Inma and Isabel, hoping some of their magic would rub off:


…and a drawing I did of a bunch of sketchers I just met – all in anticipation of the first workshop day the next day. I was already loosening up my line, inspired just by flipping through the artists’ sketchbooks:

At breakfast I did a quick warmup sketch, with blocks of color (using the molotov pen I got along with my workshop sketchbook), inspired by some of Inma’s drawings:


With a blank sketchbook and a mind as a blank canvas, me and my 29 classmates started day 1. We were in groups of 10, all levels, ages, nationalities, and skills mixed. My group got their first push by Isabel Carmona. She told us a bit of history about the Laurens Church and a bit about its architectural construction. The church was the only thing still upright after the WW II bombings in 1940. Now, it’s surrounded by new buildings of many different architectural styles. Even earlier, in the 1900s, there was a canal close by the church, and rows of houses that we can’t see any trace of anymore now.

So of course, we drew the church. Several times. First with watercolours only, and then on transparent paper we would draw the different history stages – the way we’d imagine it. With a brush pen, I drew the church the way it must have looked like after the bombing: no windows, no roofs, lots of rubble around. Isabel encouraged us to capture the grim feeling.

On our second transparent paper, we drew the way the church’s surroundings must have looked like; with the Renaissance houses, two rows from where we were sitting. I struggled my way through this exercise – felt very stiff when I tried to add those Renaissance houses, even though I should know what they look like because the style of architecture back then was like the houses we have alongside the canals in Amsterdam! Well, I guess it was just a matter of letting go, and also of reminding myself that I promised I wouldn’t go for great results, but I was there to learn, experiment and play. So once I had those stiff houses in, I started to relax a little and started to enjoy the exercise once I added some life to it by drawing people and even a scratchy horse.

Biggest takeaways:

-When I paint with watercolours, I don’t recognize my own style in it.
-Color pencil lines are really fun to add a little accent or give some more shape to a watercolouring piece.
-You can do some serious time traveling when you draw!


Every day, all three groups would gather for lunch and that way we’d get to know each other a little bit. Sketchbooks were exchanged and stories and aha-moments were told. I didn’t expect that a group of 30 could feel quite intimate.


In the afternoon we did some serious people sketching with Inma and speaking of Aha-moments! Wow.
At first, we did quick gesture exercises.

Biggest takeaways:

-Forget about arms and legs first. Look at the torso and draw it – that’ll have most of the body language in it.
-Draw tiny heads
-Details aren’t needed. Like: at all.

Then we moved onto my first aha-moment: quickly paint the gesture, then add a few lines (sparingly!) to add personality.

Biggest takeaways:

-a few small lines can make a world of a difference

-color pencil lines on top of watercolors are fantastic

I was already completely happy then, but there was more!

We sat down at a very busy street corner and drew the energy of the city. By simply blocking out the shapes of the buildings, you can set the scene, tell the viewer where you are. Then add a ton of courage and draw with a bold line; be fast because they move quickly. By adding big shapes in the foreground (people passing by), you’ll create a sense of depth and energy.

Big takeaways:

-you don’t need much detail to tell a story or capture a scene

-color can help you steer the viewer’s eye.

Koosje Koene

Hi I'm Koosje. I'm an illustrator and art teacher in Amsterdam, where I was born and raised. I went to school to study graphic design, then worked for ten years as an award-winning professional photographer. But eventually my love of drawing and painting took over and I became an illustrator. My illustrations have been published in many Dutch magazines and in 2011, I began blogging and started developing and teaching online art classes. In 2014 I founded Sketchbook Skool, which is a flourishing community of artists from around the world of all skill levels.