USK Symposium Auckland 2023 Instructors

Urban Sketchers Symposium: What To Expect – Facts, Figures & Feelings!

What is the Urban Sketchers Symposium?

I am going to assume you know of the official Urban Sketchers non-profit organisation. Each year they hold a symposium in a different city around the world. USK chapters from any city can put a proposal forward to the Urban Sketchers Executive Board to hold the symposium in their city.

The first-ever symposium was in Portland, Oregon in 2010. Since then, symposiums have been held in Lisbon (2011), Santo Domingo (2012), Barcelona (2013), Paraty (2014), Singapore (2015), Manchester (2016), Chicago (2017), Porto (2018), and Amsterdam (2019). Hong Kong was supposed to host in 2020. Due to the pandemic, it was postponed. [source:]

2010Portland, Oregon, USA
2011Lisbon, Portugal
2012Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
2013Barcelona, Spain
2014Paraty, Brazil
2016Manchester, UK
2017Chicago, USA
2018Porto, Portugal
2019Amsterdam, Netherlands
2020Hong Kong – cancelled 
2023Auckland, New Zealand
2024Buenos Aires, Argentina

In addition to the annual international symposium, mini symposiums are also held around the world along with other regional USK events. So even if you can’t make it to the international event, there are many other events held throughout the year which you can check out. For example, USK Johannesburg has been given a grant for a mini-symposium in September of this year (2023).

I bet for many of you South Africa is a super long way away BUT if you are close by or happen to want to visit Johannesburg, please come along!

We are super excited to host the first official USK event in Africa and we would love for you to join us. I, along with a few others, will be holding workshops and we shall be hosting sketchcrawls, drink and draw events and maybe even some lectures. If you are interested in joining in, you can register your interest here (no payment required).

There are LOADS of other events going on too, check out the Urban Sketchers website for more information and to see if there’s something going on closer to wherever you live.

What does the event entail?

The event is held over 3.5 days. On the first day registration opens mid-afternoon. This is when you go and get your lanyard, event programme and a goodie bag which has some nice freebies and samples from the event sponsors. There will most likely be an art market where art suppliers and local art shops will have stalls for you to buy some new goodies. The art market is usually open throughout the event. 

In the early evening, there will be a formal opening reception to hear from the president of Urban Sketchers and the local organisers. There will most likely then be a drinks reception and some snacks while you wander around and get to know some other sketchers or sit in a corner and draw, whichever you prefer!

What are the different tickets available?

There are different types of tickets: a sketch pass and a workshop pass.

The sketchpass is cheaper and gives you access to the opening and closing receptions, all the sketchwalks and lectures, plus a 1 hour demo with an instructor of your choosing.

The workshop pass gives you access to the same PLUS 3 x 3-hour workshops with instructors of your choosing. There will probably be about 20 different workshops to choose from. These will be available to select when you buy your ticket.

Workshops are held each morning from 10am – 1pm. After this there are short presentations you can attend, a sketchcrawl and then in the evening informal drink and draw sessions. On the second day, rather than talks, you attend a demo with your chosen instructor, followed by a sketchcrawl and on the last day you attend the third and final workshop you chose, have a big group photo at a designated spot, go on another sketchcrawl and then end with the closing ceremony where there will most likely be raffle prize draw, a silent auction, a buffet and some drinks.

The exact schedule of the event may be slightly different each year but the contents are generally the same.

What were the workshops like?

Each workshop has a focus, for example, Eleanor Doughty’s workshop was about drawing with calligraphy pens (in the context of urban sketching of course). Ben Luk had a workshop about food sketching; Rob Sketcherman taught how to create sketches that pop on the iPad etc.

The workshops follow the same basic format in that we get to know each other and then the instructor shows some of their work, demos a few things, sets some exercises for us to do based on the location we are in and then does a longer demonstration and we are set free to practice the things we have learned for an hour or so and then we came back together to do a throwdown and critique to get some all-important feedback.

How do I know it’s for me? 

Something I heard often at the symposium was, “I wasn’t sure if I should come, I’m only a beginner”. There were so many people who labelled themselves as beginners at the event. I personally think that’s exactly when you should start attending. To feel the enthusiasm and passion of hundreds of people from all over the world surrounding you is quite an extraordinary thing.

I think a feeling of belonging and a sense you’ve found your tribe is a powerful thing. One that can really advance your own enthusiasm as you start exploring what it means to be an urban sketcher.

How can I improve my urban sketching skills before the next event?

There are so many online courses available to take to improve your urban sketching skills before attending an official urban sketching event such as the international symposium – although it’s not necessary to do so might I add. But if you want to go along with a little more confidence then there are a few courses I can suggest. For a full round-up of my favourite urban sketching courses, you can check out this post.

  1. Urban Sketching for Beginners – Ian Fennelly
  2. Urban Sketching: Express Your World in a New Perspective – Lapin
  3. Artistic Watercolour Sketching: Dare to Sketch – Felix Scheinburger
  4. Watercolor Travel Journal – Alicia Aradilla
  5. Urban Sketching: Create Expressive Cityscapes – Eleanor Doughty
  6. Urban Sketching: Capture Your City in Motion – Inma Serrano
  7. Urban Sketching in Mixed Media – Jenny Adam

And if I may, I would like to mention my very own course, Sketch Your Adventures, where I take you from sketching something totally mundane like road signs (yet making them look awesome) through to drawing an entire building in a scene.

If you like the quirky ink & watercolour sketches pictured below then I think you’ll love my course. You can find out more here.

Sketchy Adventures in Ink and Watercolour

If you prefer something a little more experimental, check out my course on sketching on top of pre-painted abstract backgrounds. This is a technique I have fallen in love with and always gives super interesting results.

You can find out more here.

Where is the next international urban sketchers symposium?

The 12th international urban sketchers symposium will be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina in October 2024. I think tickets will sell quickly in 2024 so make sure you follow Urban Sketchers on Instagram and/or Facebook to keep tabs on the announcements.

What were my exact costs to attend the USK symposium in Auckland 2023?

I shall disregard the trip around New Zealand I did before the symposium and focus on the event itself. By the way, if you want to check out my accordion sketchbook from the 3 week road trip I did, you can watch here.

I live in Johannesburg, South Africa. My airfare was pretty expensive – somewhere around US$1500. Although this was half the price if I had flown the shortest route with Qantas. I was very disappointed that their air tickets were double every other provider. As such what could have been an 18-hour journey with 1 stop became a 32-hour trip with 3 different stops.

After travelling in a campervan for a few weeks I decided I would treat myself to a nice hotel while in Auckland at the event. My hotel was about US$125 a night and I stayed there from Wednesday (the day of the opening ceremony) through to Sunday (the event ended Saturday night). That’s 4 nights, so in total US$500.

The hotel did not include breakfast but my room had a kitchenette and I had half a bag of muesli from my travels around beforehand so I bought some milk and that was breakfast sorted each day. 

I ate lunch out in cafes during the day as there’s not all that much time between workshops and whatever you want to go to next. Also, it’s a great way to hang out with other attendees.

New Zealand is quite an expensive country for food and drink relatively speaking. I am used to South African costs now but NZ is probably on a par with London prices. I say “London” and not the UK because London is generally much more expensive than a lot of the rest of the UK in regards to eating and drinking out at least.

Lunch would be somewhere between US$15-20 per day. Let’s round up to US$20 per day and so US$60 for the whole event. You could certainly make or prepare your lunches and bring costs down. 

Then I only had dinner on 2 of the nights as on the first and last nights there was a buffet at the opening and closing ceremonies. I felt I ate enough to fill me at the buffet (but you had to be quick, the food vanished fast!), especially after eating a reasonable lunch.

Dinner was probably US$20-30 each time too plus a few alcoholic beverages, let’s round it up to US$40. So, US$80 for 2 dinners.

I walked everywhere during the event. I used an Uber to return to the airport on the final day, which cost about US$30. 

The ticket for the workshop pass cost US$450. I also bought some raffle tickets which amounted to approx US$10. 

Put some money aside if you want to buy things at the art market and also the silent auction. This is where anyone at the symposium can submit a piece of art and put it on auction. Attendees can bid for a piece by writing down their price and at the end whoever bid highest wins the piece. The money is donated to the USK organisation.

Let me put this in a handy table so we know where are things:

Air FareUS$1500
Hotel ( 4x nights)US$500
Transport to & from airportUS$60
Lunch x 3US$60
Dinner x 2US$80
Workshop passUS$450
Raffle ticketsUS$10

Therefore attending the event cost US$2660.

Obviously, the vast majority of that was the airfare. Without airfare, attending the event cost US$1160.

If this event is closer to home then this will drop dramatically. Being in South Africa I think it will always be quite a journey to attend one of these events but travelling to Europe, for example, could be quite a lot cheaper for me personally.

The second largest expense is the ticket itself. I knew if I was travelling all that way, I definitely wanted to do the full workshop pass. In fact, if the money is available, I think I will always choose this pass.

But the sketch pass is a more affordable option (I think it was between $225-275, I can’t find or remember the exact figure). And you still get involved with everything other than the workshops themselves, including getting to know many wonderful people!

I really do feel the entire experience was priceless for me. I didn’t really feel I could fully afford it but I decided I would make it work one way or another and I am so glad I did. It wasn’t the USK event itself but more the airfare and the feeling that if I was going somewhere so far I really needed to go for as long as I could and see as much as possible. So that added a lot more expense.

I almost pulled out of the whole trip because of the expense but I am so glad I didn’t as it was one of the best things I have done. As most of you know, sketching pretty much consumes my life and work so to get an opportunity to be surrounded by hundreds of other people who are also addicted to sketching and some of which I had connected with on the internet over the past few years, was just amazing, The sense of connection was worth every penny.

Some of my favourite online classes

Keep in touch!