Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Around Europe with a Sketchbook, Summer 2019


The trip to Europe this summer started with visiting my 90 year old grandmother in Tallinn. Good to be back here. Jet lag and rain has kept us indoors for a while, but a quick trip to the old town quickly yielded some results.

Finally the weather and the head cleared enough for some pleasant drawing conditions. 14th century Hellemann tower in the background and the old city wall to the right.

Darn it! Things don’t always go as planned. Getting sick while traveling is frustrating when you want to see, draw, and visit with friends and family. This sketch also didn’t go as planned. I wanted to capture Tallinn’s layers of history in its distinct architectural choices of pre-soviet, soviet and post-soviet housing projects. Things got too busy and overdone, even though my intention was to keep color choices limited.


Back in beautiful Heidelberg for a few days visiting my childhood friend and his family. This town is truly magical and I will never have enough time to draw here.


As I draw the small town of Anghiari from the overlook in the park a large group of Italian school kids are swarming all around me checking on the progress, making comments and complimenting me on the drawing. The teacher keeps reprimanding them: “Don’t distract the artist because...because she needs to concentrate.” I love having their sweet attention and company.

Filming with one hand while drawing with the other is not one of my talents, but until I get a film crew to travel with me you have to settle for a shaky time lapse. Anghiari and the surrounding valley in 1 hour and 35 minutes with the church bells marking the passage of time.

And here is the finished sketch!

Arrivederci Anghiari! During the quick sunset drawing of this enchanting town I run out of water in my brush. As the only water I have with me is sparkling I decide to give it a try. It works but comes out with lots of force and too much volume. I call this’s sketch Anghiari Frizzante (sparkling)!


Finally in Amsterdam–the main reason behind this trip. Beyond excited to teach three days of workshops at the USK symposium in Amsterdam alongside the star lineup of the world’s Sketchers. This morning getting the first feel for the city and the Waterlooplein Flea market where I will be teaching “Unfolding Stories: Recipes and Ingredients for Visual Storytelling”. Only after three days of workshops at this market did I finally realize that the guys who I picked to be the heroes of my story and demo for my students are selling stolen bikes. Need to follow my own advice and talk to my subjects early and often.

I didn't do a ton of sketches in Amsterdam. I figured over a 1000 sketchers who were there in July will get the job done. I was extremely proud of my students work though who managed to produce amazing unfolding stories in the record setting heat of over 100 degrees.

Santorini, Naxos

Still so much left to tell and post about Amsterdam but this morning a cup of strong Greek coffee and a killer view.

The island is a total eye candy but completely suffocated by tourism. Cruise ship day tourism presents a particular challenge for the island’s infrastructure not designed to handle tens of thousands of visitors a day. While other islands could use the cash but perhaps are less of interest to Instagram tourists. Have mixed feelings about traveling and posting about this place as I realize I am contributing to the problem.

I decide on sketching a long panoramic drawing showing the caldera, the villages, the cliffs, the tourists, and the cruise ships–all of it. It takes a while, mostly because the lighting is not cooperating and the sun is relentless.

Part of the first of four panels of a large panorama of the Santorini’s caldera.

Third panel

Last panel

My little working spot. Grew attached to it at the end.

Now we are on another island called Naxos. It is less touristy, especially some parts of it. This is Kastraki beach at sunset. Away from the glamour of Santorini a more humble island of Naxos with Greek families and a few foreigners enjoying the last rays of the merciless Greek sun.

The sketch of the port of Naxos is appropriately as chaotic as the place itself. Ferries, boats, motorbikes, restaurants, octopus tentacles dangling of displays, tourists dragging their suitcases, elderly Greeks watching the world go by from their balconies. All of this is set in even more fierce motion by the gusts of wind that carry whiffs of souvlaki and sea.

Quick panorama from the lovely rooftop terrace cafe in the town of Naxos. Cooling down with Espresso fredo and meditating on the rooftops below me with a pen.

Quick sketch of the monastery that appears to be clinging to the rock on the gorgeous island of Amorgos. Gusts of wind come and threaten to rip the sketchbook out of my hands. I start to cling to rocks as well.

Sketching this giant beach while my friend is diving nearby I get fascinated by a character who persistently and energetically throws his pink net into the shallow water, even though it comes empty each time. Strong gusts of wind keep ripping my umbrella out of the soft sand and blowing it on top of an older Greek woman smoking and baking in the sun next to me. After it happens for the third time in a row she gestures me to try to dig it in deeper. I decide to fold it instead, reluctant to test her patience any further. The sun is relentless and with no trees to provide shade and refuge the only escape is the cool blue water.

A few more vignettes from a trip to Naxos and Amorgos. From top left: Only the door remains from the ancient temple to Apollo. The rest of the temple was stripped for marble but the door was too heavy to steal. Bottom left: A typical ferry boat always running a bit behind. It arrives with delay, the engines still churning the water underneath, opens up its giant mouth, swallows a crowd of people, suitcases and cars. Before they even stow their luggage, the ferry is already full steam towards another island. The whole process is very hilarious and chaotic. Then a castle with white crosses painted right on the cliff and a typical Greek mill.

Little Greek Orthodox churches pop up in Santorini’s landscape like magic mushrooms. Spotted these blue domes from the sea. To my surprise it was open. I hesitated about coming in—entering a church always feels sacrilegious to me as a nonbeliever. Then I remembered I was baptized as an Orthodox Christian, so I guess I have some sort of a license to come in.

Oía’s sunset is so famous or so over promoted by tour guides that enjoying the daily celestial event becomes an existential struggle not to have your eye poked out by a selfie stick. I am plenty entertained by watching people watch the sunset and sketching the gypsy with his accordion entertaining tourists and taking photos with the ladies.

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