reportage

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 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!

TLR Sketch Stories

The Living Room folks have been putting up with me and my sketchbook for six months now. I’ve produced a couple of posters of the sketches, but now I have a hard copy of Vol. I of my mostly on-location sketches to share with the women when I’m there. Apparently it’s nice to see yourself in a handmade book, especially when you’re used to being overlooked in a multitude of ways when you’re homeless.

Once again my husband Bob has applied his detailed book-making and letter press skills to the project. I always feel a little sheepish about putting all (literally) of my sketches, rough or otherwise into such a lovely container. Since I sketch on paper signatures which are sewn and taped together and then clipped into a light weight, temporary book made of corroplast,  there’s no way to tear out a sheet without messing up the book. But somehow when the book gets bound in this lovely cover my messy sketches look “right” and people are not critical (even though I still am!)

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8″ X 10″ book with pen and watercolor on 100% cotton rag CP Fluid W/C paper

My plan is to publish the best sketch stories in a book that can be available then to the women in the program and others for fundraising purposes, but I’m working on a second volume first.

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I’ve tried to sketch the various activities, both the everyday and special groups like meditation and singing. But I’m also documenting the many ways that volunteers help to keep this valuable program going.

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. . .like preparing food, playing with the children, decorating the tables each week with fresh flowers and so much more.

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When I sit in the corner sketching, usually for 30-50 minutes, I’m making notes about all the things that are happening around me. One Monday last month, in the living room-sized room, all these things (above) and a great deal more occurred in about 50 minutes! There’s no time to plan out the picture space. I just keep drawing in whatever I can see that may show some part of the story. It’s more like a tapestry of images that I hope will come together.

 

I’ve also been helping out a bit with the groups there. While the Expressive Arts group leaders take a month-long break, I’ve been filling in by offering a mixed media Muse Group with the able help of Ruth Burke. More about the fun we’re having in another post.

If you are interested in volunteering at The Living Room, they need you, especially this summer with so many folks headed off for vacation. Also donations are welcome. For more info head to their website.

Now I’m headed off to the Sierras for a week of painting and no wifi, so I’ll be back to the blog in about 10 days.

Bouquets to Art 2019

You have to take a deep breath before plunging into the scene at the de Young art museum in San Francisco for those few days when the Bouquets to Art exhibit reigns each year. There must be many thousands of floral enthusiasts in the Bay Area who live for this show, which pays homage to the art of floral arranging. What I love about it is that the stunning floral displays are inspired by the collection of artworks in the museum and actually the museum architecture itself.

I brought my sketchbook and pencil and took pictures so that i could add color later.bouquets1

The floral displays use live flowers, which is why the show only lasts 5 days. I imagine by the fourth or fifth day the flowers can get pretty limp and brown around the edges. The structures are as mind-bending as the flowers.

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Everyone was taking pictures and trying to get the right angle for a shot. People were particularly respectful of the sketcher, standing valiantly in their midst. But I was trying to stay somewhat out of the way as well, and choosing subjects that were not as mobbed.

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This was one of my favorites and a really interesting challenge. Here I’m sketching my reflection in the mirror in the arrangement structure as well as the art that inspired it!

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And this one challenged with another reflection, of the dangling roots on the shiny surface beneath.

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The petroglyph-inspired art behind the arrangement was the inspiration for this magical piece!

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At some point my feet were quite tired, not to mention my ears. The din and press of humanity made me seek rest in the native art section, where there were no floral arrangements or people! A bench across from this statue beckoned. I was sure I was looking at an androgenous figure, more male than female, until I read the sign. Surely a male artist at least, certainly one who had never witnessed childbirth!

Volunteers at TLR

Still a highlight of my week, after 6 months of almost weekly visits, is The Living Room, a day shelter for at risk and homeless women and children. I’m a volunteer artist there, recording visual stories, making friends with the women, watching the children play, getting to know some of the unique challenges of living without a home.

Yesterday I hung out in the small building where all the clothing, toiletries, bedding and other donations come in. The two volunteers there allowed me to take up precious space while I sketched their story.

 

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In the hour I was there a steady flow of donations came in and the phone rang with offers of even more.

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It was quite a job, keeping track of it all, sorting and organizing. And I know from hanging out with the women who take advantage of this program, that these free items not only sustain them, but lift their spirits when so many other parts of their lives are not working for them. Being able to dress their children up in cute outfits, to bathe with fragrant toiletries and put on make up and dress in “new” outfits and jewelry, helps them to feel that at least some of the world is on their side.

L.A. Trip

A week trip to L.A. and now I’m back again, and happy about it. Some of my garden has grown several feet in that time and the pipevine caterpillars are plump and juicy from all that green munching.

The purpose of our trip was to do a bit of art sightseeing, since neither Bob nor I had been to LA in decades.

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I managed to get a bit of sketching in, though that was not the point of this trip (granted, a bit unusual for me.) It was so lovely to fly direct from Santa Rosa’s airport (one hour in the air) and not have to deal with cars the entire time!

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I brought my small and larger handmade sketchbooks which are lighter to carry and have good Fluid watercolor paper.

We were staying Downtown to make it easy to get around on public transport (more on that below) and the first day visited the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which looks like a regatta of sailboats madly reflecting light off its curved stainless steel walls. Designed by Frank Gehry. I sat briefly in the garden to capture some smaller perspectives.

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I would have loved to sketch this scene in the MOCA Grand art museum live, but that was not possible, so I took a picture. The design was so perfect so I sketched it later. I loved seeing classes of students of many ages in the museums we visited.

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This was the view from our AirBnB apartment downtown. Seemed like a good idea to be centrally located. But oh my, I think this sketch tells the story. Suffice it to say we were situated between the Bang Bang Room and the Cabinet of Curiosities with its 5 bars on different levels.

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I had to get one of the electric Lime scooters in this. You can pick them up anywhere and drop them anywhere when you’re done, or at least that’s what people do, after careening helter skelter down the crowded sidewalk.

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A bookstore with big comfy chairs to lounge in while reading! (or to lounge in while sketching the loungers.) The Last Bookstore. I bought a book too – on writing poetry by Mary Oliver.

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Two of my Urban Sketch friends invited me for a meet up in the historic part of Downtown, el Pueblo de los Angeles. There was such a friendly Mexican community vibe to the place, and within minutes we were enjoying the company of families interested in checking out our sketches.

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A quick capture of City Hall and Grand Park.  As often happens with urban sketching, the sketch, however simple, reminds you later of the people you met while sketching. In this case the friendly Latino family of 7 or 8 siblings, cousins and parents, who stopped to marvel at what I was doing with my colorful paints and water brush. The six year old told me that if I mixed all my  colors together I would get brown. And the teenage boy said they were learning about color mixing and value scales in school. I think the kids would have stayed with me a long while, but the parents (wrongly) thought they might be intruding and ushered them off.

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There’s more to the trip of course, but you’re getting the sketch version here. I’ll end with the airport where I had lots of time to capture travelers looking at their screens.!

Occidental Fools Parade

Tomorrow is Fool’s Day of course. But you’ll have to wait til next Saturday to celebrate Occidental-style with the annual Fools Parade. This is some of the best sketching of the year with many of the townspeople dressing up as the fools (I am sure they are not) and parading down the main street of town, accompanied by the Hubbub Club marching band and lots more foolery.

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Whether or not you want to dress up as some kind of fool and march in the parade, or just come and gawk and sketch, you are invited to join me and others for a sketch meet up. Here’s the details:

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Join in the fun of this whimsical tradition where families in this picturesque town in the redwoods dress up as “fools” and parade their silly way down the main street in town, ending at Occidental Center for the Arts.  Experience extreme frivolity, bands, music, crowning of the King and Queen of Fools, Lunapillar rides and more!

Meet at noon in the parking lot of the Occidental Community Center to sketch people getting ready for the parade, which starts at 1pm. Walk in the parade while sketching, or sit on the street and watch. To sketch people in costume, there’s no better setting. (Some sketchers will be in costume too.)

The Hubbub Club band will provide live music, and there will be food of course. It’s all totally foolish and fun. What better excuse do you need to get out of the city and go exploring in Sonoma county?

There are people to direct traffic and help with parking nearby.

I will be there in my tutu at noon and later walking in the parade. We can meet back in the same parking lot of the Community Center after the parade to see presentations by Zero the Clown and others on the Podium of Impossibility and share sketches after that, around 2:30 or 3 behind the Community Center where the bleachers are.

See sketches from an earlier year’s parade here 

Meet you there?! Contact me if you have questions.