New Orleans

Zoom sketching

Urban sketchers no longer need to pack up and drive to the meet up locations, then brave the weather. In fact we can’t due to the shelter-in-place rules for Covid times. Zoom sketching is fun though. That is, Zoom as in the social media meeting app, but also as in fast! 

It was my turn to be host so I picked three pictures from my New Orleans trip last month. When we were done chatting we did two 20 minute timed zoom! sketches.

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This is downtown NOLA where all the big skyscraper hotels are located. I just loved this sign, which covers four of the main attractions in Louisiana: Jazz, gumbo, gators and pralines.

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One of the Mississippi steamboats, which we never got around to riding while there. Somehow I had pictured Spanish moss-covered trees reaching over the river while somewhere a banjo plays. But in New Orleans the river is wide, flat and brown. So we chose to stay in the colorful city instead of venturing onto the water. Next time though, I want to go out on the bayou and see some real gators!

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In the garden at home I’ve been doing more weed pulling than sketching. Guess I’d have to sit in someone else’s garden to feel like I could just loaf and sketch. I live on a private road where the houses are a bit spread out and off the road, so the neighborhood sketching has not really happened. But I noticed this little vignette while sitting on our patio under the redwoods, looking across the road.

 

How the Days Get Filled

Well, yesterday Bob and I spent about three hours combined doing a deep cleaning of just one of the wall areas in my studio. And then there’s the hours fixing computer glitches after my computer was upgraded. And there’s the keeping up with phone calls and checking in with friends and keeping up with the (bad) news.

But in between it all some art is happening and it’s my salvation! So yesterday I sat up on the road above my studio to listen to the birds, enjoy the view and do some “Shelter-in-Place Sketching: My Neighborhood”,  a Meet up organized in the San Francisco Urban Sketchers group.

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For the sake of those of you who have never been to my home/studio, and might even live in another country, I labeled things. Clearly sheltering-in-place here is not a particularly difficult occupation, especially in springtime.

I live on an acre on a private road, so there’s not much traffic of the human sort, but still, in the half hour I sat there I got to talk to my neighbor and wave to our postman.

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Still glorying in the wonders of our trip to New Orleans in early March, I have done some thumbnail sketches from pictures, good practice for the art of urban sketching which requires that one leave out a great deal of detail and capture the essence.

In the cleaning of the studio I pulled out a portfolio of portrait paintings I’d done in the 1990’s. They were so clean and accurate. Not like these messy concoctions I enjoy so much now. My vision is not what it was then, or even ten years ago, so the painting has changed. The farther away my subject is, the more I must simply get the “feel” of it and  sacrifice accuracy in the process. The result is different, but no less satisfying. I share this in the hopes that you may also accept wherever you’re at with your art as worth the effort to express yourself. That’s why we do it anyway, isn’t that true?

And then I’ve been drawing portraits for the #30faces30days April challenge on Sktchy. But I’ll save the results for another day.

 

Final Days New Orleans

We set out on another Garden District walk, inching up Jackson Street with a stop here to admire the palm fronds spilling over the sidewalk, and there to gawk at the boughs of trees that extended down to the earth and up again, and there to catch sight of the bird serenading us with vigor. We took pictures of lichen painted leaning fences and antique gate handles with rich verdigris patina.

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Until finally we just sat down on the sidewalk to sketch the next house. This one looked a bit run down and haunted, causing a passerby to query “Why are you drawing this house?” (meaning, because there are so many nicer looking mansions)

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We were headed to one of the historic cemeteries where people were buried above ground inside the tombs, since the water table in the city is so high. The gates were locked and the cemetery closed while much needed maintenance and repairs were happening. But the view from outside the gate was fascinating. There are so many places in New Orleans like this, with a Halloween vibe that makes you want to carve a pumpkin, go trick or treating or read a gothic novel.

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Next day we took two buses (for $.40 total fare) to a neighborhood down river aptly named Bywater. And there I believe we encountered not one other tourist! We walked along the Mississippi on a trail reclaimed from post-Katrina devastation and found a jewel of a hipster lunch cafe.

NOLA17 After lunch we found a hurdy gurdy man outside his music/clothing/etc. resale shop who was friendly and excited to have some prospective customers or at least people interested in the hurdy gurdy.

The houses in Bywater were smaller than the Garden District, but were so charmingly diverse and colorful, that in the interests of time, we did thumbnail paintings.

As we were leaving we talked to a woman who pointed out an intersection nearby that had “bad juju” so that none of the businesses survived for long. She also shared what she’d had to do to exorcise the spirits from her house with a combination of Feng Shui and Voodoo or something like that. Like I said. . .the stuff of Halloween.

Later in the day on the way home I stopped at the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium because I love bugs! I think it comes from having raised two little boys with whom I spent lots of time finding chrysalids, following butterflies and bringing crickets home for the leopard gecko and  praying mantis. As I walked through the museum I kept having flashbacks of my little boys faces lit up with delight! So of course I revelled in the exotic butterflies and beetles and tasted the bugs in the cafeteria. They have no taste on their own, but are quite tasty with cajun spices and in chocolate chip cookies!

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And then it was our last day, with just enough time to wander in and out of all the strange and wonderful shops on Magazine St, grab a last sketch, and meet Brenda.

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Somehow we started talking while she was waiting for the bus and I was loitering. It wasn’t long before I learned that she’d worked in the medical field her whole life and had lost her home in Katrina, and that her son had died two years ago. And then she said something that has stuck with me since, as I’ve contemplated the repercussions of the pandemic crisis. She said that what people gained from Katrina was a greater knowledge of what’s really important in life – kindness and caring for each other.

As we parted we shook hands (the last of that act for a long time now!) and introduced ourselves.  It felt a bit like a blessing to take with me on the airplane and into my life at home with the (bad) news digesting and the hand washing and social distancing. . .a blessing to stay kind and caring and find a way to look out for each other.

If you’ve stuck with this travelogue this far, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I hope you are finding a way to live with the onslaught of news and lifestyle changes. Stay well and let’s stay connected in all the ways we can.

And do lots of art of whatever kind you have access to!

NOLA Part II

On Saturday we met up with the New Orleans Urban Sketchers at the Historic New Orleans Collection  in the French Quarter. I must admit that another museum was not what I would have chosen on a sunny day in a city with so many sights to see. But we were welcomed with a heady combination of southern hospitality and urban sketcher friendliness. We were given a lovely sunny courtyard with French Quarter architecture and a history-savvy docent, away from the tourist-choked Royal St. outside.

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By this point I knew better than to spend my time with the frustration of ornate balconies and walls of columns and shutters, and picked the vignettes that told my chosen story. The scent of alyssum and violets behind the curtained window afforded flashbacks of my mother and grandmother.

For those of you who are sketchers, my sketchbooks were hand-sewn signatures of CP Fluid 100 paper which later will be bound in a book. The above size is the smaller, 7.5X11″ when open, as above.

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When we emerged again onto Royal St. we were hungry, but wandered a while, checking out the shops devoted to Mardi Gras, wild hats and jewelry, and hot sauces before settling on the Royal House for lunch.

Then back to more of the History Museum. One thing I learned from a week in NOLA was that my taste for history had not been totally destroyed in school by chapter books and memorized battle dates!

One sign in the exhibit: in a life sized picture which put the viewer in a seat in one of the early trolley cars: DEATH RIDES THE HIGHWAYS, BUT YOU ARE SAFE IN THE TROLLEY CAR!  Ironic that in the day of the Corona virus one might feel safer in ones car  on the highway than in a trolley car.

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And then one of the high points of the trip, the street musicians I’d hoped to hear, and in particular Doreen, who could lean back and blow that clarinet with every muscle and cell of her body and make you want to weep with it. That’s her husband on tuba and daughter on drums. Standing across the street in a crowd I managed to draw this and paint it later.

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She had glittery blue braided into her hair. Afterwards I shamelessly asked for her picture, and tired as she was from a long session on the busy streets, she beamed that warm smile.doreenandI

Note the vestiges of Mardi Gras on the balcony above, which one finds everywhere in the city. As we walked the streets of the French Quarter there were small marching bands and processions on every other street “celebrating” funerals,  weddings, and who knows what! When we reached Bourbon Street, where the amped music flooded the street along with liquor that permeated the air, we headed home.

 

A Week in New Orleans

A little over a week ago, while the Covid19 pandemic was brewing, but not yet declared, I was on my way for a week in New Orleans, in a state that as yet had no cases of the dreaded virus. Nevertheless my morning started with a text from my son Ben – to not worry because the tornado which ripped through sections of Nashville during the night had (rather too narrowly for comfort) missed him. I guess that goes to show that when you’re focused on one disaster, you could be missing another coming your way! (I mean there’s always the stock market and the election to worry about.)

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I’ve been wanting to get back to New Orleans (NOLA) for 45 years since I was last there. So I talked my sketch buddies into joining me. It wasn’t a hard sell.

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We rented an AirBnB in the Lower Garden District and discovered we were in a neighborhood that became easy to call home. While waiting to get going the first morning, I sat on our porch to sketch the deli across the street. The Turkey and the Wolf won  America’s best new restaurant of 2017 award from Bon Appetit!

And 3 blocks away was District coffee shop (donuts, sliders, etc) which became one of our home bases for eating. Ever tried Miso Praline Bacon?!

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So I know it sounds like a strange way to get started seeing NOLA but a thunderstorm was brewing that day, so we headed to the WWII Museum on the 11 bus (40cents for seniors!) It’s more like a theme park, and the Beyond All boundaries theatre provided an immersive sensory experience including vibrating seats with machine gun fire and even falling snow. I kept ducking the fire and tearing up at the letters written home by soldiers.

NOLA4 Both my parents were enlisted in the war: my dad on a submarine in the Pacific, my mom as a WAVE. The dog tag card above was a way to follow the experience of a particular serviceman or woman in the exhibits.

Our rental house was the lower story of the house on the right. Highly recommend it if you have a chance to go!

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Next day we were out walking around the Garden District enjoying the architecture and trees. I made the mistake of plunging right into a sketch in my larger sketchbook and rapidly felt impatient with all the detail.

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So I took the lead from Cathy and scaled way down to a more manageable 3X3″ size. While sitting on the sidewalk a man stopped to tell us about his experience with the WWII museum. We found people in NOLA friendly and always ready to tell a story, whether it was how they lost everything in Katrina or the sights they recommend.

Lunch that afternoon turned into a extended affair when we decided to explore not only the excellent cuisine of Lula but the distillery and tasted the gin and tonics, where not only the gin but the tonic was made on site.

In the evening we were at Frenchman St where there is door to door live music and other attractions like the Poets for Hire sitting with their typewriters cranking out spontaneous poetry.

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One has to do the French Quarter in NOLA and get the beignet and coffee at Cafe du Monde, but personally the crowds of tourists were exhausting.

When I finally found a quieter spot in Jackson Square and was ready to paint, a park guard said it was not allowed! Apparently the painters would otherwise take over the park and mess it up, if they allowed the lowly watercolorists to get their brushes out.

NOLA7So I satisfied myself with a pen sketch of the statue of Andrew Jackson, for whom the square in named. On a side street, in front of the Conjure Shop (hoodoo, voodoo, spiritual magic, rootwork, and readings) we found a spot to not get trampled while we set up our stools for a bit.

Next: a meet up with the NOLA UsK group, the museum that woke up my interest in history, and the jazz I had hoped to find on the streets of New Orleans!