Madeline Island Retreat

I had the opportunity to attend the Urban Sketching Retreat at Madeline Island a couple weeks ago. Hosted by the Madeline Island School of Arts (, this 5-day sketching adventure was an amazing week of sketching, new friendships, world-class instruction, great food, and many memories. Madeline Island is the largest of the Apostle Islands, off of Wisconsin and in Lake Superior. I drove four hours to Bayfield, Wisconsin, caught a car ferry, and after a 30 minute ride, was at Madeline Island. The line-up of instructors for the week was awesome– James Richards, Paul Heaston, Uma Kelkar, and Shari Blaukopf. Masters in their fields of urban sketching, watercolor, and design, they taught us valuable skills in perspective, watercolor, sketching, elements in our sketches, and much more. We had two days of instruction in Bayfield (a quaint town with shops, yachts, restaurants, and much more!) and two days of instruction at Madeline Island. Here are a few pictures and stories from my week:

Entrance to Madeline Island School of Arts
Shoreline off of the main street of Madeline Island
Outdoor Dining area

The first day I had James Richards (, from Florida. A landscape architecture pro, teacher, and sketcher, he taught us sketching skills in thumbnail sketches, perspective, color choices, and we sketched on the streets of Bayfield. We also moved to the Apostle Islands Yacht Club after lunch to practice sketching boats, buildings, and other structures. I sketched a red sailboat that was moored nearby.

Day 2 found our group back in Bayfield, with Paul Heaston ( Paul does greatly detailed drawings, and often includes “umbrella” perspective. I also call it fish bowl perspective, as it’s a way to extend the elements you can include in a sketch by curving the lines between two or more vanishing points.

I drew myself in the front of the sketch and curved the roads and buildings. I thought the curved gray building looked like a Starbucks coffee cup, so my friend jokingly encouraged me to put some whipped cream and a straw in my sketch. Just for fun– I did. And now it adds a little graphic humor.

The third day, we studied with Uma Kelkar ( An electrical engineer by profession, she is also a master at watercolor. Uma had us exploring different types of washes, thumbnail sketches, value studies, direct watercolor, and other compositional elements important to sketching. We used these skills to paint at a marina in the afternoon. I normally use pen and watercolor, but ditched the pen for a couple days and just painted on loose sheets of watercolor paper. I chose a dry-docked boat with bright blue wrap as my subject. Later, I did use a white Gelly Roll pen to add the lines off the masts of the boats.

Our last day was with Shari Blaukopf ( Shari was a graphic designer and was a master with watercolor. She taught us all about limited palettes (using 3 colors to do an entire painting), color schemes, and compositional considerations. We spent a very hot morning painting a bar called “Tom’s Burned-Down Cafe.” It was an eclectic bunch of masts/sails, cars, signs, umbrellas. These types of places are a sketcher’s dream, because there is so much to draw. I chose one side of the establishment that had good shadows on the sails, and an ATM machine and purple umbrella added visual interest.

In the afternoon, we went to the Madeline Island Museum to sketch a building on the grounds and practice limited palettes. I did a watercolor painting, but as I enjoy using a pen, I also chose to sketch the museum quickly. I added some watercolors, bumped up the values later at home, and was happy with my rendition of this building, complete with fence and moose antlers over the window.

There were many other pictures and experiences I could share here, but to keep things short, I’ll just say that this was a fantastic experience! They were long intensive days, but I worked hard and brought home many new skills and ideas to think about. I would highly recommend anyone to take a workshop like this. Getting away from home, being immersed with art-minded people from across the US, was so fun. They were “my people”, and to talk urban sketching, art, and craft for 6 days straight was a rare gift. I will always remember it, and it was truly a retreat from the ordinary and mundane, into new worlds!


  1. Heather~looks like so much fun to immerse in art at a beautiful environment!
    Your art is wonderful to see. Thank you for sharing.
    I’m hoping to join in more urban sketch events in the future.
    Diane Pearson

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