JJ Gregory shares her hilarious record of behind-the-scenes at Sketchbook Skool in Amsterdam. You won’t believe what you missed!
Monday, July 22:
5PM: I am generally a bit of an uptight traveler and I’m incorrigible about wanting to arrive at the airport needlessly early. For Danny’s sake, I’ve decided to be more chill on this trip. Instead of getting on with it 4 hours in advance, I wait staring at the clock and instead leave the apartment just as an epic thunderstorm fully unleashes on NYC.
8PM: Still early to the airport, despite having to navigate treacherous subway platforms that are cascading with torrents of gushing water. Drenched!
9PM: Flight is officially delayed due to weather. Inbound plane has been diverted.
9:30PM: There is a Real Housewife of NY sitting next to me in the Delta lounge! Inspired by her presence I drink white wine. They are free here and our flight continues to be delayed indefinitely, hour after hour…so I drink too many.
3AM: Sitting on a stifling plane with no air conditioning while they try to jump-start the motor that controls it. This hot air situation is a harbinger of things to come in Amsterdam but I don’t know that yet.
HOURS LATER: Someone is screaming for help; her elderly traveling companion is having a heart attack while we are over the Atlantic. This is terrifying. Everything ends up OK but no one on this flight really sleeps again. Also, I have never been thirstier in my life, but how can I think about that in light of what just happened?
Tuesday, July 23:
2:30PM: Arrive in Amsterdam!!!
6PM: Eat dinner with Koosje but I’m borderline hallucinating and my mind and body have disassociated with each other. Order water that comes in a teeny tiny child-sized bottle. Ask waitress for bigger water, she scowls and after an interminable wait brings a small sip of liquid in a thimble-sized vessel. Give up and order a Heineken that is cheerfully delivered to the table in a normal-sized glass almost immediately. In my mind I am crossing the Sahara desert. It is so hot and I am so thirsty. I need to go to sleep.
Wednesday, July 24:
9AM: Thankfully our hotel has AC and I slept like a rock. I put my head under the tap and gulp from the bathroom’s faucet. Two-thirds of the clothes in my suitcase are still damp from the downpour in NY but since it is supposed to be hot here today maybe this will serve as some manner of personal cooling system?
10AM-12PM: Arrive at Koosje’s studio to discuss our plans for the week. Many of our friends from around the world are gathered in this amazing city right now for the Urban Sketchers Symposium (USK). Everywhere you go in Amsterdam there are dozens of people sketching and painting. It is like a dream. Also, we are using the opportunity to host a Sketchbook Skool bash of our own on Friday. Danny, Koosje and I will also use this time to discuss new business plans for Sketchbook Skool that I am sworn to secrecy about but it is all VERY EXCITING.
12:30PM: Lunch. Water comes in an even smaller bottle than last night. Thankfully the restaurant has Cola Light (diet Coke) that I anticipate will not only be thirst-quenching but also helpful for the second onset of jet lag that I feel rapidly approaching. I ask for ice and the waiter brings a glass with one small cube. I start to think that this country hates dispensing water in all its forms — until I notice the restaurant staff have inflated a small child’s swimming pool and they are filling it with water. Koosje explains this is for patrons to put their feet in. Did I mention it is unusually hot here right now?
1:30PM: Back at the studio and my friend Patty (who moved from NYC to Amsterdam last year) has arrived to help us fill up the 100 goodie bags we will be passing out at our party. Royal Talens, Derwent and Art Snacks have all given us amazing swag and I kinda want to hoard it all for myself but as they say — it’s better to give than receive!
6:30PM: Koosje and her husband Pascal have arranged to take us to the city’s best seafood restaurant and we order a tower of shellfish including succulent crab that has been plucked from the adjacent North Sea. Not only that but I receive a medium-sized glass of water. THIS IS LIVING.
As we are leaving the restaurant Danny and I notice The American Bookstore across the small plaza so we walk by to look in the window there. They have a prominent display welcoming the Urban Sketchers and nestled among the featured titles is a copy of The Creative License. I am so proud of my husband.
Thursday, July 25:
9AM: We are at Winkel 43, sitting at a shady table waiting for the imminent arrival of our dear friends who are SBS fakulty: Katya Tikhova, Swasky, Jean-Christophe Defline, Andrea Joseph, Inma Serrano and Anna Denise Floor. Side bonus: this place serves world-famous apple pie, which I decide to have for breakfast. It’s really heating up so I pass out Sketchbook Skool baseball caps to everyone — we look like a bit of a dorky club but it is strangely heartwarming too.
11AM: I have never seen so many people drawing on the streets in my life. Also, it is a very pretty street next to a canal. It is classic Amsterdam except that it is unusually hot.
12PM-3PM: We have retired back to a shady spot at the café because I, for one, needed water, and if the truth be told, as soon as I sat down I fell dead asleep in my seat — which Anna Denise captures in her sketchbook. There are huge numbers of folks in this little shady square sketching, sharing sketchbooks and taking photos and it is kind of nirvana. Too bad I slept through most of it. I really don’t do jet lag well.
4PM: Amsterdam shatters its ALL TIME HEAT RECORD. It is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and consider myself somewhat of an expert on enduring extreme heat (pro tip: drink lotsa water to stay hydrated) but this is killing me. I am delirious.
5PM: Danny, Koosje, Jean-Christophe and I gather in our air-conditioned hotel room to do a live Draw with Me broadcast. They are all drawing sneakers using different art supplies at timed intervals. I hear a lot of laughing as I drift off to sleep again (are you detecting a theme here?)
LATER: We have dinner at an alluringly-named restaurant called Kevin Bacon, but it is too hot to be memorable. Of course there is not enough water, which is starting to be funny rather than just upsetting.
Friday, July 26:
10AM: We gather at Koosje’s studio to do more of our top-secret business planning and we are all so excited we cannot even. Stay tuned!
12PM: We hop in an Uber to meet up with Lapin, Jean-Christophe, and their friends Roberto from Peru and Arne from Brussels who are sketching in Amsterdam’s Red Light District.
12:15PM: Our Uber gets in a fender bender. This heat is getting to everyone.
1PM: We finally meet up with our pals and are filled with envy and inspiration at the sketches they have been making, then retire to a nearby café where we continue to draw together and enjoy a light meal. After lunch, Lapin picks a picturesque building and everyone lines up to sketch it. Koosje chooses to tackle it from a different angle so what I see are 5 men lined up in a row studying something intently and making drawings together. They all create something unique and wonderful. I think this is incredibly cool.
6PM: Pascal makes us a delicious and healthy home-cooked dinner and serves as much cold cold ice water as I can chug. I love this human. Joanna Tseng, a SBS student and dear friend, has been staying with them. She is infectiously enthusiastic and fun to be around. I’m deeply impressed by the art she’s making – she started at SBS as a true beginner and she’s developed an incredible style and a total passion for drawing!
7PM: My instincts beg me to arrive extra early to our party but I remember that I am trying to be more chill on this trip.
7:45PM: We pull up to the venue, Meneer Nieges, and excitement is building. Folks are already lined up waiting to enter the party!!!
8PM: The goodie bags are a massive hit and Danny and Koosje are having a really special time greeting friends from all over the world (even Sangseob all the way from Korea!). I am obsessing over the incredibly narrow space between the party’s entrance, a seating area and…gulp…a vast and mighty river. I am alarmed there is no guardrail or even good lighting in such a remarkably tight space but the Dutch proprietor claims that no one has ever fallen in. I say a silent prayer that we will not be the first. Drinks are flowing. This does not help my anxiety about the river factor.
9PM: I have to admit, everyone is having a great time. I hear many languages and a ton of laughter, sketchbooks abound, glasses are clinking and no one has fallen in the river. Just when I think it can’t get any better, our friends from The Blue Walk show up and invite us to join their 12-day art tour of Greece led by Prashant Miranda next April. I am bowled over. Pinch me, my life rules.
10:30PM: I am tired (not shocking) and I’ve had too many glasses of wine and not enough water (ditto) and we are heading to bed with our hearts overflowing. In the end we shared this night with over 150 amazing members of this beautiful community that we have all created together. More fakulty than I can count on two hands showed up: Liz Steel, Andrea Joseph, Lapin, Veronica Lawlor, Jean-Cristophe Defline, Swasky, Inma Serrano, Sabine Wiseman, Marloes deVries, Nina Johannsen, Katya Tikhova, Ohn Mar Win and Matthew Midgely all raised a glass with us. I am incredibly grateful to have each and every one of these people in my life.
Saturday, July 27:
I spend the day sleeping and rehydrating. Danny and I sit in Vondelpark for a few hours and he makes a very fine drawing of a tree on his iPad. We talk about the iPad kourse that is coming out and how much we hope people get out of it. I am so proud of my husband.
6PM: We obtain bikes and ride through the city with Koosje to the venue where the USK closing ceremony is taking place. This is the only official ticketed part of the event we are taking part in and seeing the scale of it is impressive. People are so bonded by this passion they share and they are sad to be saying goodbye for another year. This feeling makes me long for another SketchKon. I think we have to do it in 2020 and we agree to start planning when we get back to the States.
One thing I know for sure is that, wherever our next Kon is, we will serve lots of water.