Workshops

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!

 

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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 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!

Portraits Plus. . .

I left my pencils and paints home this week for the Portrait Party at Sebastopol Center for the Arts and brought Prismacolor felt tip pens and my pocket brush pen. So no mistakes allowed. It’s all good, because you don’t have enough time – with the one to ten minute sketch periods – to make it “right” anyway.

We take turns posing for each other, the hardest part for me since I hate to sit still. By the end I was standing and sketching and moving to the music we could hear from the Peacetime concert band playing next door at Ives Park.

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At some point we started doing whole body poses, trying to get some attitude in them and most of us switched to putting more of the body in the  drawings.

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I combined a dark liner with a shading pen to get some quick volume.

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Loved Cary’s pose, the Rosey the Riveter “attitude”. My paper was too small to get the whole figure on the page, a constant problem for me, regardless of how big the paper is! So many times the feet and the top of the head don’t make it in.

There are two more Portrait Parties scheduled – August 29 and September 26. Put it on your calendar if you would like to join us next time. We meet at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts from 5-8pm. Beginners and pros are all welcome.

A Lesson in Pouring Acrylics

We poured acrylics this week in Muse Group, using Pouring Medium (Liquitex or Golden) mixed with fluid acrylic paint (about 10/1) poured from cups we mixed it in. The Pouring Medium gives you a leveling paint film with “rheology” or “flow”. So the colors flow together as you tip the paper back and forth. It also gives you spontaneous effects that you could never have dreamed up or accomplished “on purpose”. And if you have a fertile imagination, which I’m sure you do! the image which results might even have something to say!

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fluid acrylics mixed with pouring medium and moved with a rubber spreader

I’ve been hanging here a long while. Not at all the budding musician I was at eight when Mom would drop me off at the piano teacher’s house, until I’d endured three years of mediocrity and dread about recitals. . .and learned to play a bit, Fur Elise and all that. . .and then quit.

Fast forward 60 years and another try at it. . .for fun this time. . .until it seemed that the bit I could play had only shrunk.

And so our lovely piano is on its way out now, for sale to someone worthier. No longer will I own that bit of cultural cache. My chin sinks, along with those early dreams of musical excellence (WHICH WERE MY MOM’S, NOT MINE!)

You gotta love moms. I mean it’s great the way they root for you, tell you to hang in there because you can accomplish something great. My mom actually thought I would be an accomplished pianist (like she wished she had been).

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Once again this was fluid acrylics mixed with pouring medium, dripped from a cup onto watercolor paper. The marbling effects spontaneously appeared as the paper was tilted! The hungry fish that appeared was so engaging that I created some other fish from acrylic skins. It’s easy to make acrylic skins with the leftover pouring medium mixture by pouring it onto plastic, letting it dry, and cutting out shapes! I glued the little fish down with gel. Now the big kahuna will not go hungry!

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.