Reportage Sketching

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. . .

 

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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. . .

 

 

 

Amsterdam: Part I

Back home again and resting up from an eight-day trip to Amsterdam to attend the annual Urban Sketchers Symposium. It was not exactly the best week to plan a trip to Amsterdam. Peak tourist season. Record breaking heat wave. But I had booked my trip months before and was looking forward to all the activities and seeing my friends from around the world and in the process seeing the city.

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Sketching is a great way to look closer at a city, to notice the details and get interested in knowing more. Many of you have probably been to Amsterdam, since it’s one of the most agreeable cities for tourists to visit. So I will share my very own impressions here as a way to also remember and consolidate reflections about a remarkable visit.

This first sketch was all about the the crowns on the bridge. There are crowns everywhere. The Dutch must have loved their royalty.

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But actually this was my first sketch, a piece which illustrates the madness of arriving at 10am in Europe after a 10.5 hour flight and needing to stay awake til the local bedtime in order to begin to acclimate. This syndrome is affectionately known as brain-deadness. So you soldier on and if you’re a sketcher, you sit and scribble out your first. I was at a canal-side table, elbow to elbow with people drinking cold drinks and facing one of the iconic bridges. These two guys at the next table touching mine were filming something for Mexican TV to be shown in the U.S. (?) and oblivious to my taking advantage of their process.

On the plane ride to Amsterdam I watched the movie about Vincent van Gogh, At Eternity’s Gate which explores his emotional/mystical inner life as an artist and struggles with insanity. Amsterdam is the home of the van Gogh Museum, which I will share about later. This trip came to be imbued with his presense. His words resonate so deeply with my own experience of life and art and my time in Amsterdam, such as. . .

I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.

-Vincent van Gogh

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After a morning’s canal cruise with my sketch buddy Cathy McAuliffe, we had lunch at a garden restaurant and sketched in the park to try to stay cool. There’s practically nowhere big enough to park much more than a bicycle in Amsterdam, so they have adapted by shrinking vehicles to the size of miniatures so they fit on sidewalks! The above is an Amsterdam delivery “truck”!

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Cathy here is demonstrating the ease to which a passerby could steal a car by lifting it off the curb. (Note the chain around the lightpost!)

By my second day the heat wave had kicked in big time and I was seeking the shade of a nearby park. This elderly lady (probably not much older than me!) looked like a local who had discovered a way to keep a bit cooler. She was doing a crossword in the paper and drinking her coffee and seemed quite content. Nearby was a group of Surinamese men speaking animatedly in a language I didn’t recognize.

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Rembrandt is a big deal here. I mean he is everywhere, and especially in Rembrandt Square where we were waiting to meet other Bay Area sketchers for an Indonesian rijsttafel or feast. I couldn’t help the comparison of the two highly adept artists! (Rembrandt and modern day Cathy)

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This restaurant on the canal (by the way, everything is on a canal in Amsterdam) was right around the corner from the hotel where I was staying. Earlier we had taken a morning walk through the Red Light District which looked like the morning after a Fraternity party. amsnosexworkerpics

There were no sex workers to be seen. The shutters were drawn, but the signs pointed to a world that we needed to at least acknowledge with our cameras! Interestingly the Amsterdam flag which flies everywhere around the city, has three red X’s on it. We never found out what they stand for. Do you know?

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So back to the serene canal scene I was trying to capture. It was heating up once again and life was active on the water. I was beginning to wish I was in the murky canal water.

Stay tuned for Part II Amsterdam!

Amsterdam Bound

The bag is packed. All the decisions are made about what sketch supplies to bring. And I’m Amsterdam-bound today for a little over a week of joining people from around the world at the 10th Urban Sketchers Symposium. It will be my fourth year attending and first time in Amsterdam, so I know I’m in for a wild and wonderful ride. After all, I can sleep when I get back home!

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So this sketch does not qualify as an “urban sketch” because it was not done on location, but in my studio, from a tourist pic on line. It’s a practice run, since I’ve never sketched a canal and they are everywhere in Amsterdam. This one was a study of what happens with reflections in the water, and how much of the bicycle you need to put into a sketch to make it read “bikes” which are as omnipresent as the canals.

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Another bicycle practice. It’s sort of like studying the anatomy of the human body which one does in figure studios. Getting those circles and ellipses is a challenge.

Also I dove right into this one and later thought about the perspective of the buildings. I think I’ll start with pencil lines mapping that out before the painting, rather than after.

And then the reflections in the canal. Why not just bring the paint loaded brush down into the water after painting the trees and buildings? That could save time and integrate the painting.

I added some Naples Yellow to my palette, a pigment that might help to create a warm subdued glow on the city surfaces. Also I’m bringing an extra teeny palette with some white and colored gouache to add highlights.

Now how does one sketch from these bridges which are everywhere and frequented by fast moving bicycles at the very least? Hmmm. Well, soon I’ll find out! I’ll be posting on Instagram and Facebook while gone and back here on the blog by August 1st.

I hope you’re enjoying your summer!

Duncans Mills with the Ready, Set, Sketchers

Duncans Mills is a “tiny hamlet” along the Russian River one encounters on the way to the beach at Jenner. It’s colorful in an historic and commercial way and immensely sketchable. The Ready, Set, Sketchers were meeting up there on Saturday and I happily joined them.

Years ago I did several “watercolor paintings” of the area, but wanted to do some quicker sketches in my book that told some part of the story of the place this time.

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For some reason it’s always easier for me to sketch a building if I can put a figure in front of it. Luckily I could see this fellow in our group from my spot in the shade!

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Duncans Mills is really all about the shops and gardens in between. I was fascinated by the rusty filagree of this gazebo and the fact that you could see through it to the garden and seats behind.

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This was a quicky I got in just before we shared our sketches. Sitting under a tree across the street I thought I’d be less likely to make my usual mistake of overdoing the details. What happened was a reliving of the happy memories of the times we were invited to join the camping club on the river when the boys were young!

If you’re in the Sonoma County or northern San Francisco Bay area you may want to join us on one of these regular monthly sketch meet ups on the second Saturday of each month. Check it out on Facebook here. You would be most welcome!

 

Meditation Garden and Art at TLR

Once a week for the past month I’ve been entering through the gate at The Living Room (TLR) laden with art supplies for the mixed media expressive art class. Ruth from the Muse Group meets me there, also laden with fun art stuff. This week she found me in the garden sketching a lovely corner of the day shelter compound that I hadn’t captured in sketches yet – the Meditation Garden.

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I was well into this sketch when the subject I would have liked to sketch – a woman who is the owner of the bike – showed up. In the shade of the arbor she unpacked a loaded backpack, got it organized and repacked before heading out on the bike. There’s always a great deal of packing and unpacking going on here at this place where women come for day time respite and services before heading out again, to manage lives that are often lacking in secure housing.

On the day of our art group the resource room where we meet is a bustling place with women using computers for email and phones for inquiries about jobs, housing and a million other life concerns. As they finish up and file out to the hot lunch which is being served in the dining area, we turn the room into an art room with watercolor paper  and colorful inks and acrylic paints spread around the tables, along with stencils and stamps and squirters and scrapers and rollers for application. At noon the women start wandering in, up to seven or eight of them, and soon the small room is full of artists who have no trouble figuring out what to do with the paints!

Ruth and I quickly realized that what these folks needed was not an art class but an opportunity to play with materials without being encumbered by performance expectations. (Don’t we all need that!?)

This past week the room filled with a happy, raucous energy that was reflected in the paintings.  It was the last of our meetings in this series. (The regular Expressive Arts team returns with their wonderful program this coming week.) I think we were all a bit sad to have to draw our time to a close, possibly even especially Ruth and I.

I’ll be back this week though and probably for years to come, helping out with the meditation group, sketching stories and best of all, seeing my friends.