Amsterdam

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!

House of Dreams

I pulled out an older mixed media lesson for Muse Group this week – one of my favorites – “Building” a House of Dreams. The idea is that you don’t have to be an architect to build a house for your dreams, a temple or sanctuary, a place that feels just right. You can start out by picking materials and images that speak to you and allow some kind of structure to spontaneously evolve as you play with them on the two dimensional surface.

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demo: black gesso, acrylic ink and collage on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

Small wonder that I found pictures from this harbor scene in Denmark, which echos that of Amsterdam where I’ll be next month for another International Urban Sketchers Symposium. Reminds me of Bergen, Norway where I lived and felt so at home for two years when I was 20-21. I’m not a good sailor and never could handle the North Sea, but the canals of Amsterdam have great appeal!

I started this piece by painting the paper with black gesso, which has good coverage and a lovely mat finish. The white spots I left were random, just to see if they could be useful later on. Some ended up looking like clouds? and the one in the center is an opportunity to let the imagination explore. Is it a daytime scene of the harbor and sea? a symbolic place of rest beyond the turbulence, or a dangerous rock that could sink a ship? What do you see there?