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Blog | Urban Sketching in Stoke-on-Trent

The following is a guest blog from our cultural champion for Stoke-upon-Trent, Alan Barrett.

The weekend of June 7th to June 9th saw Stoke-on-Trent enjoy a friendly invasion from an eclectic bunch from across the UK who had one thing in common, sketching. In particular, sketching the urban landscape of the country, from derelict factories to listed gems still in use today.

Urban Sketchers Stoke hosted the national event, Urban Sketchers UK 2019, (USKUK2019) and welcomed incredibly gifted artists from Brighton, Newcastle-on-Tyne, London, Derby, Peterborough, Leicester, Hull, and several other places as well as local artists who hadn’t previously joined them on a mass sketch. I’m not quite sure what the collective noun is for a group of sketchers, a scratch maybe, or a scribble, but whatever it is, just watching them work was a pleasure all by itself. I though of using “a pallet of artists”, and I’d appreciate some feedback on that.

I say “work”, but I doubt anyone of them would consider it so, there was genuine joy and even love, in their eyes as they took advantage of new subjects and opportunities to sketch, each picking out their own perspective of what they were seeing in front of them.

Having been approached by Laura Green, one of the local organisers, to help publicise the event, I was able introduce her to the Rector of Stoke, Canon Andrew Wickens and he very generously allowed USKUK2019 access to all parts of Stoke Minster, including the balcony on the Friday evening. this was very helpful to those who arrived by train, as it is, as you’re aware, just a 5 minute walk from the station.

I went along with my meagre talents and after one appalling effort decided my time would be better spent speaking vto folk about the history of the town, the city and the Minster itself. About 8pm we all adjourned to the White Star for a meal and other refreshments and I met several other sketchers who had braved the evening coolness to sketch the delights of Kingsway, including Spode Rose Garden and the outside of the Kings Hall. This included Julio from Spain, now resident in London, and he expressed disappointment at the lack of industrial subjects, so I took him for a quick tour of the town, and pointed out several potential subjects for an early morning sortie on Saturday.

Saturday was a dismal, dreary, dour downpour of a day, but that didn’t stop even more hardy sketchers turning up, oohing and ahing over the veritable cornucopia of urban delight that we call Burslem. Amanda Bromley of Barewall offered her shop as shelter, alongside the wonderful Burslem café who kept us refreshed, and I even saw Dan Townley venture out into daylight, such as it was, from his dungeon in the bowels of 6 Towns Radio. This cloud though, had the silver lining of the lovely Kirsty and the joy known as Ezra.

After a couple of hours that seemed to pass in minutes, we all adjourned to Swan Bank café for a light lunch and the day’s first throwdown. I stood aghast at the thought. However, my fears fled as I realised it is the term for “let’s see what we’ve all created” in sketcher circles. It’s at these time I realise my limitations and was particularly grateful I’d left my crayons at home, whilst witnessing such an incredible array of artwork spread across 3 tables acting as an impromptu gallery.

Soon though, it was time to wander down to Middleport Pottery, who very generously allowed members of USKUK2019 access to the site, although some were happy to be dripped upon from the shrubbery and other flora across the canal whilst sketching the outside from a distance.
This stage of the journey also took us to the Waiting Room Gallery in Longport and a few hardy souls ventured along the canal and the railway station, whilst several took advantage of tea and coffee, as well as cake – well, it’s impolite to refuse – as they sketched the delights of Cherished Chimneys, amongst many other subjects. Cherished Chimneys were kind enough to allow their floor space to be used for the day’s second throwdown.

Sadly, because of work commitments, I couldn’t join the crew on Sunday in Hanley, largely outside the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, but I’ve seen the photos and some of the throwdown shots and it’s safe to the say that the standard did not wane.

I’m absolutely delighted to be given the opportunity to justifiably brag about our city, the town I represent as Cultural Champion, its history and beauty, and have the bonus of meeting up with a few friends I hadn’t seen in a while, as well as to have met so many new people who will have left our city with warm, if slightly damp, memories of just some of what we have to offer.