Venice. Is there any more romantic city? The maze of narrow streets, the glittering mystery of the carnival, the doomed (?) feeling of rising sea level. I have always wanted to travel here.
Sadly – there’s something wrong with my brain. This trip, for whatever reason, I wasn’t charmed by the place. I have to think that’s on me, not Venice itself. I came unprepared to find the real city.
We did meet our friends Stephanie Bower and Sean Andrew Murray – both in Italy by coincidence at the same time as ourselves. So that was the highlight. To be able to sketch next to other talented artists is something I don’t want to take for granted. I’m spoiled that way :) We go out of our way to have those experiences.
Seeing Stephanie’s masterpieces of perspective appear so easily for her – that’s always a pleasure – and a stern lesson. Her skills are frankly intimidating. Though she’s a patient teacher, I’m a lazy student when it comes to the discipline of architectural views. Mine are the painter’s cheats. Style over structure.
We may not have given it enough time. Only a week. We might have not budgeted enough cash. A struggling artists resources don’t go very far. A great deal of what there is to see in Venice is barricaded behind a living wall of tourists. Being willing to buy some special access passes to things, stay in some historic hotels, and hire a few water taxis probably would have helped.
Even though I enjoy the sketches we got – this faux Sargent Bridge of Sighs being a favorite – I hope to return with a better frame of mind some day. I’m kicking myself for not making friends with locals, and not doing better research in advance. I could see there is an extensive artistic community here. This is going to take a more serious attempt another time.
The note on this sketch says “…sound of out-of-tune bells – how does this happen?”. It seemed to me that someone would have fixed such a thing over the hundreds years these bells have been ringing. Damn tourists! Like spoiled kids, right?! Always wanting a perfect experience :)
So yes – one of the days during the Cortona event we did a side jaunt to nearby Sienna. We’d already spent some time sketching on location with plenty of 1:1 feedback, so it seemed we might as well toss everyone into the pool and go on a sketching tour.
We got dropped off at the Plaza del Duomo and started by choosing a series of meeting points – circulating around a small area, and meeting at a visible landmark in an hour. So you could stick together if you wanted, or choose to have some alone-time with your sketchbook if you preferred. Either way, we’d be back together for the next leg of the tour.
It seemed like a good model for this group of sketchers – people could find their level of artistic freedom vs. instructor attention. Each time we regrouped, people could see what we’d all found in the way of subjects. One person spent each session sampling dessert at a different café. That’s a sketcher who knows how to have fun :)
When I’m touring a new place, I like to alternate between the big picture, (street views or architectural portraits), smaller details of structures (carved ornaments and such), and the “human element” – which is sketching people whenever possible – or in the case when it’s all tourists and no interesting characters – then I’ll draw statues :)
There’s great story I heard about this gate:
Apparently this free standing gate leading from the basilica square to the larger oval track in the city center (where Sienna’s famous horse races take place) was originally intended to be the side entrance to a huge cathedral that would have massively enlarged the basilica, making it the biggest church in all Italy.
Except. The Black Plague occurred, and killed off both the work force and general enthusiasm for that project.
The gate, and some walls are still there today, implying just how impossibly big this structure might have been. It’s astonishing to stand in the street and imagine it roofed over with giant arches.
It’s always kind of magic to me, the way you sketch things, and later come to find they have some fascinating story. If you wander an area and just draw the interesting stuff – you’re always finding great things. You don’t need a guide book. Just looking at stuff, you can tell – that thing is something important!
This kind of fortuitous exploration is really inspirational to me. I feel the finding by accident, and the sketching by instinct and interest, connects me to history in a way that I’ll never get from books or documentaries.
So, of course I’ve already mentioned, we’ve recently been sketching in Cortona Italy. We were there in June teaching a workshop – which I was actually a little nervous about initially.
This was to be my big first sketching event outside the umbrella of UrbanSketchers.org and I was unsure what it would be like. I was working with a company I’d never partnered with before, and we’d chosen a town I’ve never seen. So there were a lot of questions how the event might go. Of course I need not have been concerned.
The best thing about these workshops is the people. Anyone willing to drag themselves halfway around the world to go sketching is someone worth knowing! From the first day, our little group was exploring Cortona, drawing together like old friends.
By the end of the week, we’d been doing a lot of pen and ink sketching, and I was raring to get in a for-real painting. People were interested in seeing a big demo, so we set up at the lookout point in Piazza Garibaldi and I did this 9×24″ panorama.
I was – again – a little nervous going in. I’d been drawing all week, and felt a bit rusty with the brushwork. Plus, I was a bit concerned about tackling this incredibly complex view. Not that I was going to back down once I’d set up the easel. You just stick to your game plan – do the things you are always telling people – “simplify, see the big shapes, draw with dry edges, let water play inside, come back when dry to re-enforce darks”. And miraculously – one of my favorite paintings of the trip just appeared before our eyes – like watching someone else paint it.
Heading out to Singapore for the big USK symposium first thing tomorrow. In case you can’t make it – here’s the notes for my workshop. Maybe you can try and sketch a few characters back home. More news when we hit the ground sketching! ~m
My friend Shari Blaukopf has been working with the Stewart Hall Art Gallery in Pointe Claire on the exhibition “A Sketch in Time”, which opens tomorrow, at a Picnic Vernissage Sunday July 5th from 10am to 4pm. They will have a small selection of sketchbooks and urban sketching watercolors on display in the project room of the gallery for the rest of the month of July. There will be a few of my favorite older works hanging alongside paintings by Shari and our fellow urban sketcher Jane Hannah.
There is an open invitation to come sketch with Shari and other Urban Sketchers, as well as other activities (info here). I would have liked to be there myself, except I’ve been called away to work on a sketching project down south, which I hope to be able to announce very soon. But if you’re in the Pointe Claire area, I hope you will stop by. ~m
We had a fun little reception in the garden at Villa Guadalupe here in Volterra. Everyone put out their works to recap the week and we had a nice gallery tour. We’d done the same at the class in Cortona, but I wasn’t smart enough to take iPhoto’s :) Here’s our teachers Carolyne Peyron and Simo Capecchi. They took us to all the best places in Volterra, and had new ideas to try at each spot. I was stubborn and stuck to my watercolors – but everyone else learned a lot from Chinese ink, found newspaper collage, blind contour drawing, even painting with wood stain borrowed from some workmen, and alabaster dust from the floor of a sculpting studio. By the way, here’s the view from the villa, and a look inside. You can stay with our wonderful hosts if you like – here’s their air BnB [link].
One of the things we sketched at the Cortona workshop, besides the beautiful scenery and quaint medieval streets, was their Flag Festival. It seemed like a great thing to capture for the folks in my Drawing People in Motion Class.
Here’s some iphone shots for now – I’ll replace these with better quality scans when we get home.
The festival is part of a three day historical event including a crossbow competition and a recreation of a renaissance wedding – which I think was an important alliance between Cortona and a neighboring town. The cast of the recreation are all locals, drawn from the approximately 800 residents. Amusingly, the groom was played by a tall handsome gentleman who owns one of the local art galleries, and the bride by his beautiful daughter.
The flag tossing event itself was full of enthusiasm and intense competitive spirit. Each nearby town sent a delegation, their star flag-tossers marching in through a phalanx of crossed trumpets – like gladiators into the arena.
The event itself was a mix of tossers juggling flags 30 feet in the air while synchronized sprinters wove silk rivers of color around them. Every so often dueling pairs matched their talents in a kind of Kung Fu dance off. A squadron of drummers provided a dramatic martial soundtrack while flagpoles clacked like quarterstaves, whipped over ducked heads and below leaping feet.
In the final spectacle all the teams ran a tight double spiral, filling the small square with upraised 12 foot flags, then peeling back out a huge iron studded gate.
This night was a terrific unexpected bonus to cap our week of sketching in Cortona!