Thoughts about my 2016 England Trip

I've been back in Singapore for more than 2 days and it's time to recollect some of my thoughts and experience on the trip.


Part of my motivation for going to the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Manchester is to create some videos to share with those who were not able to go, just like what I've did in Singapore last year. And I get to create content to grow my Youtube channel. As always, it's great to catch up with fellow sketcher friends and also visit new places at the same time.

About the symposium

If I remember correctly, the turnout was close to 500. That's a lot of people! More than enough to pack the Manchester Town Hall and I've to give kudos to the symposium organising team for securing such a beautiful and wonderful venue for the opening night reception.

The symposium was packed with workshops, activities and lectures. The schedule is tight and there are activities happening all the time. In my opinion, if you hold the Workshop and Activity passes, you'll probably not have enough time to actually see Manchester because everything's going to be in a rush. Ideally, you should have some extra days before or after the symposium to really slow down and travel — probably after because you can use techniques you've learned from the symposium to sketch.

Overall organisation is pretty orderly except for the few lost sketchers I met who were not able to find their workshop location because the location was changed due to the weather.

The only downside for me is the weather. It would drizzle occasionally and made it difficult for instructors who are teaching outdoors. The drizzle is so fine it flies everywhere so it doesn't help if you have an umbrella. If you use watercolour, you'll get unwanted splotches and it's incredibly frustrating. I usually just hang out inside the headquarters at Manchester School of Art to stay out of the weather and keep warm.

Art Supplies

I did not bring enough sketchbooks. I guess I underestimated how much I would sketch. I only brought alone a 40-page sketchbook and another half-filled sketchbook. I've to make a note here to bring at least 60 to 80 pages for a two week trip.

Thankfully, I was given two free sketchbooks. One's a notebook size Stillman & Birn Alpha series paperback sketchbook. Because of the small size, it's always in my pocket and I could take it out anytime to do very quick sketches. Paul Heaston whom I met also uses a small sketchbook. It's great when I want to draw something but don't want to spend too much time or use watercolour.

The other sketchbook was a panorama sketchbook made by Annette Chung from Chapter and Stars. While she wasn't able to come to the symposium, she had her friend Peggy Wong passed it to me. Thanks! It's a really handy sketchbook because of the format. It's great for sketching the waterfront at River Thames, Palace of Westminster and the area outside Buckingham Palace.

The watercolour set I brought consist of Mission Gold and Daniel Smith colours. The colours I used most are French Ultramarine (WN), Burnt Sienna and Cerulean Blue Chromium because I like their granulation. I did not use too much of the other colours with the exception of yellow. With artist grade paints, you don't have to use a lot to get an intense mixture, and you can mix strong colours very quickly. I brought along one pan of Van Gogh's green and stopped using that after I saw how much faster it was to mix my greens from the artist grade.

The sketchbook that I brought was filled with Hotpress paper and I'm really beginning to love it. It's smooth so it's great for drawing, especially with technical felt tip pens. It's also a pleasure to work on it with pencils, although I still have to sharpen my pencils often but with technical pencils, I think it's a good match.

The box of pencils given by Cretacolor is much better than last year's. This year, there's a mixture of different types of pencils. There are the dark Nero, white chalk, blue pastel, red Marino, Aquarell and one graphic pencil. I love the dark Nero pencil. The lines are so dark that you can still see them when watercolour is applied and the overall look with watercolour is wonderful.

For this trip, I brought technical pens instead of the usual fountain pens. I brought along the Rotring Tikky, Zig Mangaka and Copic SP. The problem with such pens is their felt tip can get worn out very quickly, the worst being the Copic SP. Rotring Tikky is the best among the three I've brought. Anyway, now that I've used them extensively, I can make proper video reviews for them.

Although there were many art supplies and books sold at the sponsor booths, I did not buy much except for the Manchester Sketchbook sold by the organisers. The art supplies sold there are too expensive for someone like me who's used to buying stuff online and from art stores in Singapore where they are much cheaper.

I don't want to spend £3 for a simple pencil sharpener that I later found at less than £1 at Atlantis Art Materials in London. Oh speaking of London, art supplies there are marked up so much it makes me wonder how those stores can survive when competing with online stores. One Uniball Vision rollerball pen from London Graphic Centre cost £3. Seriously? I can buy three pens in Singapore. Cass Art prices are more reasonable but still pricey.

About video editing

Someone on Youtube asked how I was able to do all the sketching and recording video and get them uploaded on the same day. By the way, you can see all the videos at

When it comes to recording video, I only record what I need without much extra stuff. If the clip I've just recorded doesn't look good, I delete it and record again. This ensures that I don't have too many clips to look through afterwards. During the editing process, I usually just have to trim the start and end of each clip and then compile them together. The music I use are from Youtube Audio Library that's available to everyone who has a channel. Selecting music is the most time consuming part because you have to wait for the music to stream, listen to it, and download it, and put it together with the video while making sure to lower the audio whenever there are people speaking. And unfortunately for whatever reasons, there are times the music is louder than the talking or makes the talking difficult to hear, and that's when you get comments stating so. I think it's good to bring along proper earphones when editing music because speakers from laptops tend to be crappy.

I used the Panasonic GH4 and 12-35mm lens for this trip. And I forgot to turn on the Image Stabilisation on the lens for the first 4 days. Argh!

About uploading, well, I managed to upload some through free wifi at the hotel, and the other videos after the symposium were uploaded through Giffgaff's Always-On plan. Always-On is like an unlimited monthy plan (£20) with a cap, after the first 6GB, they will throttle you and if they suspect you're abusing the network, like me who's uploading huge video files to Youtube, they will warn you that you may longer be entitled to their Always-On plan. To keep your video files small, in Adobe Premiere Pro, under export settings, you can choose to export them to Youtube settings which will reduce the file sizes significantly.

For video creators, the £20 Always-On plan is the one to get in England. Throttle after 6GB happens only during peak hours which means you can upload at relatively fast speeds in the middle of the night.

I spend around 2 hours each night editing the videos and sleep around midnight.

About traveling

After the symposium, I went on a road trip with Paul Wang and some Hong Kong sketchers, namely Sketcher Ben, Gary (founder of USK Hong Kong), Rob Sketcherman and his wife Louisa.

For some of the locations, it was really too rush. For example, spending an hour to drive to Peak District only to spend two hours there before driving to York is not a wise use of time. Personally for me, I would rather visit less places and spend more them at those places than say that I've been to so many places.

The road trip was fun. Thanks to the HK sketchers for researching into the different places to have meals at.

My car was rented from Sixt. Getting the car was quite fast at the Manchester pick up point, and dropping the car at London's St Pancras/Kings Cross station was equally as fast. I thought insurance was paid for when I booked online but apparently not. I did not opt for the extra car insurance to save some money. Driving in England is quite safe as long as you're attentive. Overall, it's quite worth it and I would rent from them again.

Urban sketching

For this trip, I actually told myself beforehand that I would be adopting a cleaner illustrative style. That's why I brought the technical pens. But the weather got in my way, I started to draw quicker, looser and messier just so that I get into shelter from the drizzle and cold.

To make good art, you have to concentrate. There are many things to break your concentration when you're outdoors. It can be the weather, your lack of time, people talking to you or even people standing behind you. It's like you can practice as much as you want at home but when you're outdoors, it's a different ball game. It's challenging but fun.

Some things I learned

iPad can be a very good tool for drawing even when it's drizzling. Your work is not going to be affected by smudges and there's no drying time!

The convenient colours you should add to your palette should be the ones you can mix with existing primaries - Jane Blundell (who won a free Workshop pass for next year's symposium in Chicago!). I happen to stumble upon Jane's workshop and heard her tip regarding convenient colours. That's when the light bulb in my head lit up.


It's great to make new friends too. Special thanks to Reggie, a supporter on my Patreon page, for showing me around London and giving me a treat at Chinatown! Also to many of the sketchers I've met during the symposium.

So that's all. I hope the videos I've made for the last two weeks has been entertaining enough. :-p

It's time for me to get back to work.


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