Charlotte, North Carolina

2019

Late last year in 2018, the Urban Sketchers organization announced what was called the "Community Workshop Grant Program" explained as:
"We believe that one way to share Urban Sketchers with those who have not had the opportunity to practice urban sketching is to combine our two greatest resources: our enthusiastic USk Chapters with our talented USk instructors. USk chapters worldwide are invited to partner with a local community group (not-for-profit, school, art organization, city agency) to develop and implement a workshop for that group. Check out the Community Workshop Grant Program and apply."
 
I loved everything about this and immediately talked with my local Charlotte USk Chapter admin Jenny Sperry who was also excited with this.
We bounced around numerous ideas on who we could possibly work together with to spread the joy of sketching on location and who might enjoy and benefit the most out of this experience. Out of all the possibilities we talked about, Jenny had a strong desire to partner with people with special needs and I also agreed that would be an amazing opportunity. Along the way in finding the exact group of people to work with, we met up with Cheri and Toby from Haerfest coffee who not only made great coffee but was also partnering with artists from an organization called UMAR to create artwork for their sensory coffee packaging labels. This is what finally led us to meet up with Ed, Lauren and Isis from UMAR to work with artists with IDD (Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities) for our very first community workshop.
Having all of the information in place, we submitted in our grant proposal and in early spring we received a note saying our grant was approved!
Along the way, we were also able to get additional art supply sponsorship from our favorite local art supply store Cheap Joe's thanks to Brandon!
 
From then on we were going through numerous email chains and face to face meetings to work out the details and this was not an easy task. Setting a date that would work for everyone and the unpredictable tropical weather in this area also made it hard to pick a date that was not going to rain too. At one point we talked about doing all the activities indoors, but I was strongly against this since I have a strong belief in sketching outside from direction observation will bring the most reward to the Urban Sketching experience, especially when doing it for the first time.
 
Almost 9 months from the initial discussion, we finally made the workshop happen on August 24th at the Freedom Park, a beautiful and spacious public park in Charlotte.
The morning of the workshop, there were transportation hiccups for the UMAR people to arrive but it turning out to be perfect timing since the delay made it for the light rain to stop. I had asked all the participants to bring something to sit on, and they all came with a fold-able seat, a blanket or even a sleeping bag to sit on and we got started right in front of the beautiful Freedom park pond.
 
The kickoff started with a quick introduction then jumping right into distributing the first art supplies that they were going to be using: A sketchbook by Stillman & Birn, a watercolor kit by Sakura and a water brush by Pentel already pre-filled with water.  The watercolor kit was sponsored by Cheap Joe's, and the remaining supplies were all sponsored by Urban Sketchers.
All the sponsored art supplies for the art students shown below (excluding Tenten the cat :)
The 1st exercise was about getting used to the paper, the waterbrush, and being able to paint in different colors using an additional sponge added into the watercolor kit to be able to clean the brush. Some students jumped right into using the entire page having no difficulties in changing colors, while some other took their time in meticulously coloring small areas; but in the end, everyone was using the different colors included in on the kit.
For the 2nd exercise, a Felt tip pen was handed out for drawing line work and i did a quick demo on drawing a single tree, mostly outlines and as a very basic shape. Similar to the watercolor exercise, some were quickly drawing numerous trees, while some were slowly and cautiously drawing a single shape. Everyone was drawing their interpretation of the tree and it was a delight to see. The felt tip pen usage was a challenge for some students that were putting too much pressure on the page bending the tip. This made me think of bringing a more tolerable medium such as a pencil or a ball point pen the next time.
We then quickly moved on to the 3rd exercise which was putting it all together: adding watercolor to the tree that was drawn. A quick demonstration was done looking at the tree across the water and then going around to work with everyone individually.
This was right around the time that it started to rain again, and looked like it was going to rain for a while. Nearby was an unused picnic area with a roof and we decided to move everyone to the location; perfect timing too since it really did start raining hard.
 
The area was equipped with numerous tables and people just found a comfortable location and continued to sketch. It was impressive to see the amount of concentration these artists had as they either were finishing the coloring they had started earlier, or starting to sketch a new view seen from the picnic area.
After over 2 hours of non stop sketching, we were almost coming close to lunch time and needed to wrap up.
For the wrap up session, I handed out everyone a copy of my book and was just blown away by the excitement I received from everyone. Early in the year for this workshop preparation discussion, I was told that a book might not be appreciated since it might be too difficult to understand. I felt strongly that since it was a book filled with lots of illustrations, the artists will have some sort of visual reference when working on sketches and I'm so glad I brought them. A few artists came over for an autograph, and gave me lots of smiles, hugs, holding hands and even sign language and it was just such a rewarding experience.
After the workshop, Jenny who helped me with the workshop and my wife who took all the shown video/photos and I went out for a nice Chicken salad and talked about our wonderful experience that we just went through. I've always had a strong belief that art brings people together regardless of who they are, and I couldn't be even more certain of my belief after this workshop.
Words really cannot explain the reward I got out from this experience but hopefully I was able to convey a little bit of that from the photos and videos in this blog.
Thank you so much for everyone that made this a possibility!!
The following week, Jenny and I received the following note from Isis, the UMAR coordinator who also attended this workshop, was such a rewarding feedback too:
 
“Thank you all so much for an amazing Saturday morning, our participants got so much out of the event. They have all come to me this morning saying that they spent the weekend water coloring after learning from Mike. If you all are ever interested in doing something like this again we would be more than happy to participate. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”