Saturday, February 12, 2011

Portrait Party

Portland weather means more indoor sketching during the cold and rainy winter months. Often the subject is whatever you can see from the cozy confines of a cafe couch, but this Tuesday we got together to draw a very specific subject - each other!

The portrait party is not a new idea - there are plenty of examples online - but it was the first time for the Portland Urban Sketchers Group to try it.

We gathered at the Columbia River Brewing Company Pub in Portland's Hollywood District and, after drinks and dinner, got to drawing. 

We worked on pre-made portrait blanks 8.5"x7" in size on heavy bond paper, specifically designed to copy easily onto legal-sized paper in the second part of the party. Attendees were asked to bring drawing media that photocopied well - pigment liner pens, black brush pens, black ink, or very dark pencil are best.

Partners were chosen randomly, and each partner took a turn drawing and being drawn. Each partner was drawn twice - a 2-minute warmup followed by a full 10-minute drawing.

(We had an odd number of people this time. Vicky was kind enough to sit out the regular drawing round and do a number of thumbnail sketches instead.  Then she sat for multiple artists in an extra round of drawing while we got sorted. Thanks, Vicky!)

When the drawings were done, one drawing of each person was turned in for collating. Occasionally people prefer their looser, more gestural 2-minute drawing over the 10-minute one, but ultimately it's left up to the artist and model to decide. The short drawing times help level the playing field between artists of different skill levels, making beginners less anxious to attend!

Drawings in hand, we headed to the Fedex copy center a few blocks away for the next step - turning our drawings into a book!

The portraits were collated and copied into book format so each page spread showed a pair of portraits. Each full sheet was a legal-sized piece of paper, making each page 8.5" high by 7" wide. We also added an introduction page in front and Vicky's thumbnail sketches in the back. During copying, other members were hard at work preparing the other pieces of the book...


We folded heavy art paper for the covers - Mi-Teintes or similar paper is good for this - and attached pre-made title cards to the front covers using a glue stick.

We cut and waxed white linen thread for the spine-stitching. After pages and covers were assembled, we used a 5-hole pamphlet stitch to bind the whole thing together and...

Finished! The first Portland Urban Sketchers Portrait Party book ever. We made one copy for each attendee, plus an extra copy for our very patient waitress from the pub, delivered to her after the event.

Here's a sample spread from inside - Alanna and Katherine taking turns drawing each other...


All told, the process took about 3 hours including dinner, explaining the process, drawing, and making the actual book. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, so hopefully we will do this again next winter!

If you are interested in learning more about the portrait party process, you might want to check out this excellent post from Roz Stendahl which acted as a guide for our own party. In addition, Flickr users may be interested in the Julia Kay Portrait Party group, an ongoing online portrait party with over 10,000 portraits and growing!


  1. Colin, you did a super job of putting this all together. It was great fun drawing at the brew pub and the final result is a wonderful memory of our good times together.
    Thank you, deb

  2. this looks like it was great fun... sorry i missed it. next time.

  3. @Deb - Glad you liked it!

    @evensketchier - I'm hoping we can do this on a weekend next time. Hope to see you there!