Author: Susan Cornelis

The Three X’s

All over Amsterdam you see the image of three white x’s on a black stripe on a red background. One can’t help but wonder what it means. It looks a bit like a pirate flag. But since I was there I’ve learned that the X’s actually stand for St. Andrew’s crosses. St. Andrew was a fisherman who was martyred on an X-shaped cross in the 1st century AD, which is relevant to Amsterdam as the city’s symbol dates back to 1505 when it was a fishing town and all ships registered in Amsterdam flew this flag. (Thank you to a FB and Instagram friend for clarifying)

The only reason I bring this up now is that those X’s popped up in my art demo in Muse Group on Monday. The lesson was painting on a black painted surface. Interference paints are iridescents that only show up on a dark surface where they seem to throw the light around.

3xInterference acrylics and collage over black gesso coated w/c paper

Presenting. . . (drum roll) the three X’s!

Not as in X-out or don’t you dare, or wrong times 3

but as in, this is a riddle. . .

What happened when the 3 X’s went for a walk and suddenly found themselves on stage and had to act out a character?

Answer:

One was dressed in bright stripes and struck a fashion model pose

Another was in black and took a defiant stand

And the third shy one was in blue like the background and happy to blend in.

Which one were you?

Interestingly most of the Muse Group students agreed with me that they would prefer to be the one who blends in. But gosh, it’s fun to get a little bit of spotlight every now and then!

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Ahh, summer!

Ahhh, hot! So we scrapped the idea of getting our shed cleaned out today, which would have been suicide in this heat, and packed up the umbrella and beach chairs for a morning at Doran Beach in Bodega Bay. It was heavenly.

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I enjoyed watching the little boy play in the sand while the pelicans swooped and the harbor seals barked from their island off the coast. I couldn’t help remembering with bittersweet yearning those days when we would take our rambunctious little boys to the ocean and get to see it all fresh again through their eyes.

As I’m enjoying my musings one of them, 6’2″ of him, lay engrossed in his book by my side under the umbrella. Well, that part is fun too. Always nice to have that fresh 26 year old energy to liven up our home!

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Challenging myself here for a few minutes of painting those distant shapes that my eyes can’t quite get in focus. Then it was time to hit the Fishetarian Fish Market for dripping, finger licking fish tacos.

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Last weekend I met up with the monthly Ready, Set, Sketchers! gang in Geyserville, in the heart of Sonoma County wine country. About one block of historic buildings, housing gourmet restaurants like Catelli’s, wine tasting, and other assorted stores.

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. . .like Gin’gilli’s Vintage Home, with a little bit of everything you might want in your home. I found a chair in the shade outside and just kept adding on to my nutty picture.

 

Muse Group resumes: The Grid

Though I’m happy to be home again, sometimes it feels like I’m still traveling, like when I wake in the morning perplexed to not find myself on a trip somewhere. This feeling of limbo has snuck into my art. One brings home so much more than the photos and sketches. The unpacking of other subtler things takes weeks and months.

The Muse Group resumed once again on Monday and I invited the students to start out by picking a design and a color scheme before beginning an expressive painting.

For my demonstration I picked a grid design and started drawing with an ink dropper.

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Black ink and acrylic on gesso coated w/c paper, 10 X 11″

There’s a lot to shop for here, but I’d rather just look.

Everything organized with shelves and cupboards and signs

And walkways, crossing signals, streets and doorways, entrances and exits.

I’ll take the open doors and wander down alleyways to more openings

Perch a while in a foyer and watch people

Wonder at the whos and whys and whats of their lives. . .

While my life stays suspended for a while

Held in breathless limbo at the sheer diversity of life.

The colors are right out of Amsterdam! The words describe that experience of puzzling out and absorbing a novel place and “foreign” people. I love to indulge my imagination, to be a bit invisible, like a big eye that takes it all in for the sheer appreciation of differentness.

I just posted the dates for the next mixed media painting Playful Muse Group which meets in my studio in Sebastopol, CA.

Monday Afternoon Muses

October 7-November 11

1:30-4:30pm

Cost:$210 for 6 classes

For more info visit my website and contact me soon. It’s filling up fast.

Amsterdam Last days

It is not the language of painters but the language of nature which one should listen to, the feeling for the things themselves, for reality is more important than the feeling for pictures. -Vincent van Gogh

On my last full day in Amsterdam I visited the Van Gogh Museum and emerged two hours later feeling that I’d just encountered the part of myself that knows what it means to be an artist with a pressing need to draw and paint the world. I felt a kinship to this strange man who loved the common people, the miners, the potato eaters, and celebrated that love through his painting. . .kinship with his need to get out of the studio into the beauty and harshness of nature to try to find its “language”.

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Afterwards the trees outside the museum seemed to have stepped right out of his paintings, and I sat to ponder them while eating my sandwich. A bee was flying around my food and I welcomed it, like the birds, as a part of this glorious natural scene! When my attention was distracted I took a bite and felt an electric shock in my mouth. Out popped a dazed and dying bee into the grass. My tongue was on fire! What would Vincent do? Surely not freak out, but start his painting! Which is what I did (and clearly survived).

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Laurie Wigham met me for lunch afterward, and while I talked, she did this cafe portrait piece of me, direct watercolor with touches of after-the-fact water soluble pencil!

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My last morning I had an hour to head out for a last sketch before catching my shuttle to the airport. Ah, if only I had another week, I thought. . . but this will have to do for now.

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The flight back to San Francisco was fully booked. It was delayed and the waiting area was full of people already hot and weary, anticipating the eleven hour flight. My last sketch kept me from grinding my teeth, almost.

On the ride home my seat companions were a couple from Holland making their first trip to the U.S with their three teenagers. They got to practice their English and get some tips from a Californian. The man was a dyke engineer, so I got to ask my questions about how it’s possible that Amsterdam is not under water when it is over four meters below sea level!

The scene I never got to sketch on location!

I want to thank you if you’ve lasted through this rather long story documenting just a week of travel. It would have felt like a dream if I hadn’t put it down in this way. Actually as I look at my sketchbook, I think I’ve painted a dream.

I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.  – Vincent van Gogh

Exactly, Vincent!

 

Amsterdam Part IV

The last day of the Symposium I was out dodging bicycles and exploring again, this time in the Jordaan, a neighborhood with numerous outdoor markets, stunning houses, interesting shops and more canals! I particularly wanted to find the Het Papeneiland a historic outdoor cafe I had seen in my guidebook. It was early in the morning and barely open yet.

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Once again I tried to tackle all the elements at once! (When will I learn?!) Then walked across another bridge to get this stunning view of the cafe from a different angle.

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There I met a charming Yorkshire sketcher who, while she was drawing this whole complex scene, regaled me with stories of life on the moors where the Bronte sisters lived. Soon a Dutch woman joined us with her own local stories. . .which is why I sometimes enjoy wandering “alone”.

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The subject matter here was chosen as a result of resting my feet and drinking an iced coffee at another cafe on another canal.

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Just in case you haven’t been to Holland and you picture people walking around in wooden shoes or skating on the ice of canals. . .this is the scene outside the Central Station in Amsterdam. If you want to blow a gasket, try sketching that tangle!

One has to learn very quickly that pedestrians must yield to the bikes that are coming at you sometimes at alarming speeds from all directions at once. After a couple of near misses I caught on and walked with exaggerated caution.

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The Symposium ended that day as it always does with the final sketchwalk followed by picture taking and the closing reception. I joined the Spanish “delegation” on the waterfront across from the Nemo Science Museum, built in the shape of a boat.

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The day ended at the reception with the big announcement that next year’s Symposium will be held in Hong Kong!

A high point for me was getting to meet Danny Gregory and Koosje Koene, the online art school creators of Sketchbook Skool . It was Danny’s book Everyday Matters, 2003, that launched me on a lifetime of sketching and broke the ground for the Urban Sketcher movement.  His books and courses have been at the top of my resource list for students for years. So I shook his hand and offered my sincere thanks for his gifts to the world of sketching. . .and we had a lovely conversation. Koosje too, as beautiful and enthusiastic as she in the online workshops she teaches.

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The next morning I took a bus out to the De Gooyer windmill to do my mandatory windmill sketch. Up close one is struck by the enormous span of the blades/arms; also the attention to primary color accents, which now seems so “Dutch”.

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Seated at a sidewalk table at a lunch spot near the Zuidekerk I had a busy view which I chose once again for an architectural landscape reflecting Mondrian style.

While I was busy with this sketch a fellow stopped on his bike, watching in respectful silence. I looked up and asked “Are you an artist?”  Bingo! He nodded and smiled and we started talking and he asked to join me and an hour later we parted.

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Corstiaan had been noticing scores of sketchers occupying his city and was happy to have someone tell him about it. He is an accomplished Dutch artist, master of many styles and materials, and was fascinated to learn about the international world of urban sketchers. I was equally fascinated to meet a local and hear his perspective of the art world in Europe.

Stay tuned for the last two days. . .

 

Amsterdam Part III

The International Urban Sketchers Symposium can at times be a humbling experience as one gets to observe some of the most accomplished sketch artists from around the globe. It is tempting to hide one’s imperfect sketches, or even give up! But here’s what Vincent had to say:

If you hear a voice within you say “you cannot paint”, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. -van Gogh

So I headed out in the relative cool of the morning to tackle canal reflections, boats, buildings and bridge. . . to paint.

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And what I loathed about this sketch at the time with its clumsy inaccuracies, I quite enjoy looking at now. The point of the sketch was obviously the red boat, which I accomplished, and some similitude of a reflection in the water. A bit of cropping would undoubtedly help, but that’s not the point here.

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That particular canal was shaded and serene, so rather than wandering on when I’d finished one sketch, I stayed to do a study of one of the colorful row houses that are so typical, along with other common aspects of canal life. One is always “serenaded” by waterfowl on the waterfront.

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I wandered a bit as the day heated up, staying close to the canals, hoping for a breeze, observing canal houseboat life. It didn’t look like any of the houseboats which lined the canals had air conditioning – not so idyllic a life in the 100 degree heat!  Even the swans looked hot, or perhaps that was my imagination? After all, at least they were in the water!

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I found a table in a busy market square at lunchtime, right next to the hot baked potato booth, which not surprisingly had almost no business in this record breaking heat wave. The potato chef, delighted to have myself and another sketcher to watch, hung out with us, helping me at least to get the mind off physical discomforts.

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During the hottest part of the day I holed up in the air conditioned hotel, feeling boundless gratitude for its welcome comfort. From a relaxed vantage point in the lobby ice cold beer in hand, I sketched my homage to Motel One Waterlooplein!

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Evening was for enjoying beer, dinner and good company again at the Drink and Draw, though no relief in temperature (note the walking shoes are off).

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From my seat I could see the Zuidekerk, also known as the Hub, where the Symposium was meeting.

 

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And before I knew it I was late getting out to join the sketchers on the river. The sun had dipped below the horizon, the city and boats lights cast a spell on the scene, and I was sketching in the dark! Luckily I at least knew the location of my Quinacridone Gold and Payne’s Gray on the palette and just stayed with those.

I often think the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day. – V. van Gogh

To be continued. . .

 

Amsterdam Part II

By my third day in the city the heat was steadily ramping up, making it not only uncomfortable to walk around, but even to sit in the shade. I thought the Hortus Botanicus garden would give some respite, but it was more of a steam bath.

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Ah, but the palms! Focusing the eyes on them in concentration helped, though my fingers were slippery with sweat.

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That day an almost cool wind made the early evening pleasant in the park by the canal. People were taking advantage of it, and I enjoyed the constant giggling of the group of stoned teens in front of me, as well as the family of ducks that came begging for crumbs at my feet as I sketched.

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The Urban Sketchers Symposium was officially launched, though I had chosen to be more of a free agent, sketching on my own or with others around the city and participating in an abridged fashion. That night I met up with Agnes, an old friend I see now only at Symposiums, and we dined canal side across from the “Drink and Draw” location, where I would meet urban sketchers the next two nights. As we sat drinking our beer we were flanked by sketchers from Germany and Spain and the UK.

The next morning I attended talks by three urban sketchers I revere: Laurie Wigham, Lapin and Mario Linhares. Laurie’s talk was titled Connect with the world, one drawing at a time, a variation on the urban sketcher motto. We had worked together on her brainchild project of Sketching Climate Stories which had led to my work with Sketching Fire Stories. I hope someone recorded her inspirational talk about the impact we can have on the world with our practice of going out and sketching stories and meeting and interacting with people as a result.

 

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Umbrella over head and loaded with an extra water bottle, I left the cool of my hotel around 5pm and was hit by a blast of heat that took my breath away. Vincent knew about the discomforts of on location painting. He wrote:

As we advance in life it becomes more and more difficult, but in fighting the difficulties the inmost strength of the heart is developed. -van Gogh

In other words I thought, bring it on! I’m not going to melt, (though I might pass out!)

At a snail’s pace and on the shady side I proceeded to the organized sketchwalk area and found a spot on a dock in the shade. What caught my eye was the wonderful square geometry of the buildings across the canal, so Mondrian-like. Normally I get quite bored doing windows, but these somehow relaxed me.

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Meanwhile there was a great deal of splashing and screaming behind me as young people plunged into the brown water to cool off. Pretty eye catching colors on this drawbridge! Mondrian again!

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That evening I got in some socializing at the Drink and Draw and joined sketchers from all over the world at the edge of the river to do a quick atmospheric rendering of the spectacular night scene. After wetting the whole page I started painting like mad, unable even so to keep up with the light that was rapidly changing everything, and the excited people blocking my view!

To be continued. . .