Tag Archives: drawing

a little petite

Petite France, StrasbourgMore sketches from Petite France, the old picturesque part of Strasbourg, famous for being where they put diseased soldiers centuries ago. The scene above is one of the most beautiful views in the city, where one of the canals of the river Ill twists past the narrow medieval lanes surrounding the Place Benjamin Zix (“Zixplätzel” in Alsacien). Benjamin Zix was a painter and sculptor in the Napoleonic era, born here (well, on rue des Moulins) in 1772. The building in the middle is the Maison des Tanneurs, dating from 1572, which is now a restaurant. I sat here by the narrow lock for a couple of hours, as tourists walked by, and other tourists in groups whirred by on those Segway things. I don’t know how you can go around Petite France on those Segways (which remind me of the STAP flying platforms ridden by battle droids in the Phantom Menace while attacking Gungans on Naboo), but a lot of people did manage it. Sketching in Petite France

Below is the rue des Dentelles (Spitzegass), which I sketched on the first day. There is a really interesting shop there called ‘Un Noel en Alsace’, which sells Christmas ornaments, mostly Alsatian. The most recent visit to Strasbourg I had made was in December 2004 with my wife, when we came to visit the Christmas market, or “Christkindelsmärik”. Strasbourg, if you don’t know, is the home of the traditional Christmas market. It is the oldest one in Europe, dating back to 1570, and is a lovely experience (albeit rather crowded). Strasbourg calls itself the ‘Capital of Christmas‘. It seemed to cover most of the centre-ville, and there was mulled wine (or maybe gluhwein, both of which I’m not keen on) being passed around. I do love Christmas time though, and Alsace does it pretty well.

Spitzegasse, Strasbourg

On the final day in Strasbourg I decided I would do more exploring than sketching (I spent a lot of time in bookshops), but I just had to go back and sketch more Petite France. I wasn’t done with Petite France yet. There was one scene which again is picturesque, tourist-photogenic, detail-heavy timber-framedness. The view from the Pont St. Martin towards the back end of the rue des Moulins (below). I spent an hour and a half sketching all the ink, and added most of the colour later. Below me, the water was gushing down from the locks. Behind me, the sound of children playing at a nearby school. Around me, tourists from all over the world lining up to take pictures of each other. I did consider making this a two-page panorama (and even plotted out the left hand page) but knew I wouldn’t have the time to draw it. Still, I’m well happy I took the time to come and draw this.

Petite France Pont St Martin

Still more to come!

it is like a finger, pointing away to the moon

Rue Merciere and Strasbourg Cathedral
It might be my favourite building in the world. And this year, 2015, La Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Strasbourg is 1000 years old.

The day I got back to London last month, I was looking for some drawing pins at my mum’s house when I happened upon an old badge that was mixed in with them. It was a small metal badge of Strasbourg Cathedral, which I must have bought on my first trip there, and has been sitting in a drawer at my mum’s for years and years. What a coincidence, as I was shortly going to go back there. Strasbourg might have a European parliament building, and lots of pretty timber-framed buildings, but it is a city dominated by its massive cathedral. It sits in the centre of the Grand-Ile with its single solitary spire pointing high into the heavens. It can be seen for miles around. Locals told me that if ever I were lost, I should just look up and find the cathedral. Of course that only really helped if I were going toward the cathedral, so on this trip I booked a hotel right next to the thing (the Hotel Cathedrale, I recommend it). It was the scene above, the view down the tourist-trail of Rue Merciere, that I longed to sketch. I was stood almost in Place Gutenberg, where stands the statue of Johannes Gutenberg, who invented the printing press right here in Strasbourg. I stood there mid-afternoon, and because my hotel was just around the corner I took a break halfway through, and went back to do the rest. I had promised myself that I would sketch the cathedral at least three times, from three different angles, and so I did. I love this building.
Strasbourg Cathedral
In 1997 I came to Strasbourg with my oldest friend Terry. We came on an overnight Eurolines coach (remember taking those, in the days before budget airlines? Yeah those days are thankfully gone). I remember that it was the day after Princess Diana died (it was funny, French people kept asking us how we were doing, all concerned like, and we were both like, um, we’re fine, thanks, not realizing all the national weeping nonsense going on back in England). As we approached Strasbourg, I could see the huge spire in the yellow dawn mist towering over the city, and it was an image that stuck with me, like an illustration from a fantasy novel. Its shape is so distinct. It looks like it is missing a spire, and in fact it is – the second steeple was supposed to be built, but was never constructed. I was told many stories about this cathedral, how for several centuries it was the tallest building in the world, how during the French Revolution the cathedral was covered up with a giant cap to save it from those revolutionaries who wished to tear it down. In the sketch above, you can see how the rear is also covered over, but this is just renovation, not revolution. I had a nice time sketching this one. Several of the Belgian sketching group were there too; Gerard Michel (the cathedral expert, my inspiration) was gathering a crowd of onlookers. As I sketched, a group of young schoolchildren were gathered in the plaza (which was not as nice and open as this the last time I was here), and several times they sang La Marseillaise, which echoed off the grand building beautifully. As well it should – for as much as Strasbourg has been swapped between the French and German realms, that national anthem of France was actually composed not in Marseille, not in Paris, but right here in Strasbourg.
Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Strasbourg, and Maison Kammerzell
The sketch above is the pre-breakfast early-morning drawing. My hotel being where it was, I just had to roll out of bed, grab the large sketchbook, and stand out in the Place de la Cathedrale before all the tourist shops opened. I said ‘bonjour’ to a few people holding machine guns, as you do. The cathedral is being well guarded by soldiers, walking about the building at all hours. It’s not a scene that I’m used to, but I’m not unfamiliar with in France (I remember years ago walking past a large cadre of soldiers on the Paris Metro, their fingers on the triggers of their automatic weapons), and it’s a reminder of the terrorist dangers that France has had to deal with this year. I stood next to the 15th century Maison Kammerzell, which I drew in the foreground in black ink, and drew the cathedral in brown-black ink. This is a famous shot. I started this at about 7:30am, but by 9:00am I was getting hungry so I stopped there, and went for a pain au chocolat at a boulangerie  around the corner. It was such a delicious pain au chocolat that five minutes later I was back there asking for another. The woman in the bakery gave me such a dirty look when I came back and for a second one, as if to say “why didn’t you just buy two the first time?”. At least I got that much. On two other occasions that day (in FNAC and in Librairie Kleber), the shop assistant serving me barely acknowledged my existence other than holding out a hand for my money, looking away in another direction. But then I also had many occasions where I was helped by super friendly (and above all patient) people in shops and cafes.
Strasbourg Cathedral & Maison KammerzellAnd so, the Cathedral celebrates its millennium this year. I didn’t realize this before I came to Strasbourg, so it was very good timing. Later this year they are having lots of celebrations and events. The picture below, taken from a display outside the cathedral, shows the history of its construction. As with most massive building projects in the middle ages, this took several centuries to complete. It stands at 142 metres tall (that’s 466 feet). It doesn’t sound like much when you put it like that. The first stone was laid by Bishop Werner von Habsburg in 1015. One of the most prominent architects involved was Erwin von Steinbach, who died in 1318, and the cathedral is one of the best examples of high Gothic architecture.  DSC04824

Gerard and Belgian sketchers

Gerard Michel and other sketchers from Liege, sketching Strasbourg cathedral with an audience

DSC04836

The massive rose window, photographed from the inside

DSC04594

The view of the cathedral when I arrived in Strasbourg in the early hours of the morning

IMG_4488

Here’s that metal badge I bought twenty years ago (and found again last month), along with the USk France 2015 badge.

rencontre 2015: strasbourg, city of sketchers

Cafe Atlantico, StrasbourgWhen I first read that Strasbourg was the location for the third annual Urban Sketchers France ‘Rencontre Nationale’, I knew I finally had an excuse to go back there. I still left it a long time ultimately deciding, but I tied it into a short visit back to London (to surprise my dad for his birthday), and then threw Aix into the mix as well. I had wanted to go to one of the French ‘rencontres’ since the first one in Lyon a couple of years ago. These are literally just large gatherings of urban sketchers from all over France (and neighbouring countries too), serving as sketchcrawls held over several days, informal, relaxed and friendly. I like the International Urban Sketching Symposia, the sixth of which is now taking place in Singapore, but they sometimes feel like a lot of rushing around and can be pretty overwhelming, with all the workshops and organization. Sometimes I prefer something a bit more simple, like this (that said, I do really wish I were at the Singapore symposium sketching with everyone!). The sense of freedom afforded just wandering about a city with no time restraint, but still having the opportunity meet and learn from other sketchers, especially those whose work you’ve followed online, is great, and I really love following Urban Sketchers France. Of course, I’m often shy and my French is atrocious so those don’t go in my favour, but thankfully there were several familiar faces here!Urban Sketchers France at the Cafe Atlantico, Strasbourg
The 2015 Rencontre National USk France was organized largely by local illustrator Lolo Wagner, who had put together an impressive programme of information and suggested sketching routes and locations, as well as places to stay, to eat, to drink. Every evening after the sketching was done the croqueurs urbains would meet up en masse at the Cafe Atlantico, on the banks of the river Ill, to boire un verre and check out sketchbooks. If you wore your USk France badge you got a good price on your beer too. As you can see above, it was a pretty nice location to end the day. We also met up on the Saturday evening for a large group get-together to eat tarte flambée. Many sketchers stayed at a local hostel called CIARUS, a place I myself have stayed a couple of times back in the late 1990s (a nice place too).

I sketched the scene at Cafe Atlantico (top sketch), and you may notice that the page is a bit dirty. What happened there was that I was talking to some people, and my hand which was covering my page luckily saved the sketch from a random bird’s dropping, falling from the sky. That was a good save! So I joked about how American I am now because I am prepared with hand sanitiser and wipes, and I put my sketchbook down for a moment on the ledge next to me which was also the sidewalk and…a bike cycled over my book. It was right by the railing, not like in the middle of the street, but it left a big tyre mark across the page. Oh la la, I said. The cyclist apologized, we all shrugged (gallically of course), not that big a deal. He said it makes it look more artistic. No, not really, it looks like a bike cycled over it. I got most of the track marks off, but you can still see it, and I decided not to get rid of it in the scan because – the cyclist is right – it does at least mean I can tell this story. It’s not necessarily a very good story, but it’s a thing that happened.
USk France rencontre 2015As I mentioned, we got together on the Saturday evening to eat Tarte Flambée at the Brasserie De La Bourse, a large 1920s-era restaurant in between Place d’Austerlitz and Place de l’Etoile. I don’t eat certain meats, so my tarte flambée came without lardons, but normally this most Alsacian of dishes – which is kind of like a flat pizza-like bread covered in cheese and onions – usually comes with little strips of pork called lardons, a bit like bacon. They love lardons in France, and my non-pork-eating status means I’ve missed out on many lovely French dishes (in Aix one of my colleagues often came to our apartment to make ‘tartiflette’, which was delicious but I had to pick the lardons out.

There were some sketchers I knew and a few I was meeting for the first time. My sketching friend Gérard Michel, the famous urban sketcher from Liege in Belgium (who I first met in Portland in 2010) was there, and it was great to see and chat with him again, and see his amazing sketchbooks. If you’re not following Gérard Michel on Flickr, your really should be. If you want to see what you can do with the art of perspective, have a butcher’s at his album ‘Perspective Games‘. Mind-blowingly good. I keep hoping to finally have time to visit Belgium again to sketch architecture with him, and the Liege crew. His nephew Fabien DeNoel, who I first met in Lisbon in 2011, was also there, and his work is equally as impressive. I sat with them and some other Liegois sketchers, in fact there was a large Belgian contingent at the Rencontre. I had met some others such as Corinne Raes  in Lisbon and Barcelona (she’s great and I got to meet her husband Werner, who took video at the Rencontre), and it was nice to meet a few more too. I also finally met Dutch artist Rene Fijten, whose work I’ve admired for many years, he’s a nice guy. I had met Paris sketcher Martine Kervagoret a couple of times before so it was nice to see her again, I like the Paris urban sketchers. I met for the first time some of the sketchers from the Aix-en-Provence group, such as Caroline Manceau (I think she actually lives in Marseille) whose work is great, and Nicolas Doucedame, whose sketchbook was mightily impressive. I really hope to sketch with the Aix group in the future, they organize regular sketchcrawls down there in my old home. A couple of other sketchers I met whose sketchbooks really impressed me were Sophie Navas, who I think is from Clermont-Ferrand and had some amazing sketches (I did meet several Clermont sketchers when I was in Barcelona, and I’d love to finally attend the Rendez-vous de Carnet de Voyage in CF some day, it’s just I never get the time), and Vincent Desplanche, who had an unbelievable amount of sketches in a short time, and is my new hero of the two-page spread. His style is loose, in pencil and watercolour, but so effective.

Restaurant La Bourse, Strasbourg
I did sketch at dinner a little, the restaurant windows above, and a few sketches of people (further above), including Gerard, Fabien, Vincent, Sophie and others whose names I have forgotten. However I struggle with sketching people, especially when I am surrounded by people who sketch people, I get more self-conscious than usual. I daresay if I was in a room full of fire hydrants, someone who doesn’t sketch fire hydrants may feel the same way, but I did my best, and in fact went one better. It wasn’t my idea (it was Fabien’s) but I did a sketch of Gérard Michel using a local material, namely the Tarte Flambée. And it actually did make a good likeness, or at least a better likeness than my pen sketch, I think I captured his famous smile. He loved it; here it is:
Gérard flambé!

But we urban sketchers, Gerard and me and all the others, we sketch architecture, and cathedrals the most. Ok it isn’t to scale, but here is Strasbourg Cathedral, made out of Tarte Flambée. I’m sure I’m not the first. And it tasted great!

Cathédrale flambée!

You can see some great posts from the Rencontre by USk France members at the Urban Sketchers France website (tag “rencontre USk France”). This post is particularly nice as it shows the group photo (taken by Marc van Liefferinge) as well as a newspaper article in DNA (Derniere Nouvelles Alsace): http://france.urbansketchers.org/2015/02/rencontre-usk-france-2015.html.

Lolo Wagner also put together this great album of photos from the Rencontre on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lolowagner/sets/72157654652186532

In the meantime I have more sketches to come…

sketching fire hydrants in strasbourg is cool

Strasbourg Hydrant 1 smStrasbourg Hydrant

Let’s just go back in time again, to 1995, to my first ever trip to Strasbourg. More on that later. But let’s just say I ask my 19 year old self, in twenty years time, do you expect that you will come back to this city, right, and draw pictures of fire hydrants? I would have laughed the very crazy idea right back to England. Yet here I was, in 2015, sitting crouched up next to red fire hydrants drawing them as if it’s totally normal. Actually if I’m honest, my 19 year old self would have been, “oh wow, respect.” My 19 year old self would have thought that was the coolest thing. My 19 year old self, may I remind you, thought that going to Denmark for the summer with less than a hundred quid in his pocket to pick strawberries and have adventures (adventures that largely consisted of being poor and getting sick of strawberries, it has to be said) was cool. My 19 year old self worked at an Asda coffee shop and would get red Slush Puppy all over my shirt and think, oh that’s cool, I look like Mr Blond from Reservoir Dogs now. My 19 year old self wore black adidas shorts and a nike baseball cap and a messy purple shirt that had buttons missing. My 19 year old self was frankly an idiot, but then that’s true of most stages in my life to varying degrees. Being 19 was a time I remember with great fondness, a time of energy and invention and wanderlust. But I still wouldn’t have thought of drawing fire hydrants all over the world, that was not an idea that I had yet had. So I was pleased, on making this anniversary return to Strasbourg, to find they did have hydrants there too. I only drew the two above. The first one was sketched in Petite France, on the rue des Moulins. The second one was drawn on my last day in the city, on the rue des Francs-Bourgeois, across the street from the Vox cinema. Now, my 19 year old self went to that cinema. My 19 year old self had as one of his favourite movies (and it still is) Les Visiteurs, the French comedy classic about two knights who go into the present day, wash in the toilet, beat up a postal van, and so on. Jean Reno and Cristian Clavier, “Cousin Hubert”, all of that. Well, I didn’t see that there. I did see another movie with cristian Clavier there called Les Anges Gardiens, a stupid comedy he starred in alongside Gerard Depardieu (I know right, a French film from the 90s with Depardieu in it, such a rarity). I saw it on my second trip to Strasbourg as a 19 year old, a solo trip in the autumn of that year, when I came back to explore the city more by myself. I recall it was billed as being the ‘next Les Visiteurs’ so I had to see it. It wasn’t, it was bloody awful. You see? My 19 year old self was an idiot, even my 19 year old self knew it. Anyway, that’s what I remembered when I was sketching that fire hydrant, with the tramway humming past me.   

little hydrant

An honourable mention goes to this hydrant, which I did not sketch (I was on my way to a morning urban sketchers meet-up). I loved the way it was hiding in an alley, half in shadow, with the silhouette of a very Alsace-looking shop-sign just behind it. Strasbourg-hydrant-noir, if you like, but you know, in the daytime.

More Strasbourg sketches to come…

over the ill and far away

Eglise St Paul, StrasbourgI don’t think I’ll be putting these Strasbourg sketches on my sketchblog in chronological order necessarily, but perhaps thematically. ‘Down by the River Ill’, which is the theme for this post, will overlap with at least a couple of other posts, but c’est comme ça. There’s a lot of river in Strasbourg (unlike Aix, which doesn’t have one). The centre of Strasbourg is built around the river Ill, primarily on a big island in the river (the ‘Grande-Île’, or ‘Big island’). The Ill meanders into the great Rhine river, which flows by many of Strasbourg’s western suburbs and provides the border with Germany. Strasbourg by the river Ill is very pretty, and a popular place for people to sit on the embankments and just relax, and read. Or sketch! The church above, however, I sketched from a tram stop located on one of the bridges. This is the Eglise St. Paul, which dominates the spot where the river Ill is joined by the short river Aar. The Eglise St. Paul was built in the 1890s, when Strasbourg was part of the German Reich (in the territory of Elsass-Lothringen, or Alsace-Lorraine). The bridge is the Pont d’Auvergne.

Pont St Thomas, StrasbourgSketching by the Ill river, Strasbourg

This second sketch was done earlier in the day, while sat on Quai Finkwiller next to the Pont St. Thomas, on rue Martin Luther. I had just spent a couple of hours sketching a wildly detailed scene in Petite France, and was on my way to sketch the Cathedral. The pink flowers were beautiful against the green railings of the bridge. Below me, a man fished with his long line. I met one other urban sketcher while drawing this, Rene Fijten from the Netherlands. I had met him the evening before at the Urban Sketchers France meetup, having followed his amazing work for years, and it was an absolute pleasure to finally meet him in person. I found him sketching nearby a little while later. If you don’t know his work, you really should check out his sketchblog.

Pont du Corbeau

This final sketch was made down by the Pont du Corbeau, at the end of a long first day sketching Strasbourg. I was on my way to meet up with the French urban sketchers at the Cafe Atlantico, further up the river, and found this stretch of the Ill too sketchable to resist. I could spend days just sketching along the river. I never did do my two-page river panorama (I did give it a go), but I might save that for a future trip.

Strasbourg!

Petite France, StrasbourgThe first time I came to Strasbourg was twenty years ago, and I arrived on a coach some time after midnight. It was part of an exchange program between sixth-form colleges in England and the Lycee Jean Monnet in Strasbourg, and from that trip in 1995 I fell in love with the city. I was learning both French and German at the time, so naturally Strasbourg was perfect. I went back a few times since, but the most recent was over ten years ago, and so when the opportunity (let’s call it the excuse) came up to visit Strasbourg again, to meet up with the French Urban Sketchers at the 3rd National ‘Rencontre’, I couldn’t resist. It was the twentieth anniversary of that pretty formative trip and Strasbourg was fading from my memory, so I simply had to come back and draw it, and draw it A LOT. Just as twenty years ago, I arrived after midnight, on a TGV from the south of France. I arrived to discover that the whole train station was now covered in a massive futuristic glass bubble. I walked to my hotel right by the cathedral, using the massive, towering steeple as a compass.

I met a group of French urban sketchers the next morning down at Petite France, where I stood on a bridge near the Ponts Couverts and sketched the scene above, the river Ill winding sleepily past timber-framed houses. You can see the sketchers gathered on the banks. I recognized a few from their sketches online; I’m a big fan of the French Urban Sketchers group, having met several of them in Barcelona, and I eagerly follow them on all the usual online places (the main site is france.urbansketchers.org). It was a cloudy morning, and the occasional raindrop splashed down, but there were no more storms, and eventually the sun came out. The weather here in Alsace was perfect for being out sketching.

Petite France, Strasbourg
Petite France is an area of Strasbourg famous for its narrow cobbled streets and old timber-framed buildings, where the river splits off into canals criss-crossed by footbridges and the occasional lock. It is very peaceful, or would be if it weren’t for the groups of Segway tourists whirring along the cobbles. There was a lot to sketch down here, and I would come back every day. Petite France is not, as the name suggests, a model-village based on the whole of France, nor is it made of Lego, nor are the people really small like Lilliputians. It gets its name from a disease, specifically Syphilis, which was known as the ‘French Disease’. Actually (according to a tour guide on a Segway) it was also known as the ‘Italian Disease’, because French troops brought it back from Naples at the end of the fifteenth century. Actually it was probably first brought into Europe from the Americas, but nobody knows for sure. Anyway, those affected soldiers were often brought here to this part of Strasbourg to be treated (or at least kept out of the way), giving the area the name “Little France” after those afflicted with the French Disease. The city was part of the Holy Roman Empire at the time, not France – Strasbourg, or Strassburg, was for much of its history decidedly German, and its native language Alsacian is a form of Low Alemannic German.

Here I am in a France shirt (size Large, not Petite) sketching by the river Ill. Ironically people used to come here because they were ill. Anyway, all potential jokes and puns now exhausted, I decided to move along.
Sketching in Petite FranceSketching in Petite France
I stopped for lunch at a little place on Rue des Moulins, around the corner from the spot above, called ‘Le Baeckoffe d’Alsace’. I sketched the scene below while waiting for my food, and sipped a nice cold glass of ‘Fischer’ blonde beer (or Pecheur, depending on the glass), which was a real treat of a beer. Alsace knows its biere blonde. It also knows its food – I had the Cuisse de Poulet au Riesling (chicken leg in a Riesling-based sauce) with Spaetzle “Maison” (Spaetzle is a German side dish which my wife’s grandma used to make). This was superb, especially the Spaetzle, which was seasoned deliciously, and I could have eaten it all day long.

Rue des Moulins, Strasbourg

Strasbourg lunch

Best. Lunch. Ever.

To be continued…

barn on the thirteenth of july

bikebarn, uc davisAnd now for a short break from France sketches to see a sketch from July 13th, which of course is the day before the French national holiday, Bastille Day. This is the UC Davis Bike Barn, yes, even looking like this. Regular tuners-in will remember I have drawn several times since taking up Davis sketching, but now it appears to be undergoing some reconstruction. It looks sad with the windows boarded up, but signposts indicate the Bike Barn is still operating during the building work. So much building work on campus right now…

Below are most of the sketches I have done of the Bike Barn over the past nine years, not including the ones of the other side of the building (which looks very similar). I wouldn’t mind, but I hate drawing bikes.

 

sketch bikebarnthe ucd bike barnback to the bike barn

Above: September 2006, October 2006, January 2007.

a part of the bike barnno leaves for yourainy rainy daybikebarn

Above: August 2007, January 2008, March 2009, April 2010

uc davis bike barn february blossombikebarn, uc davis

Above: January 2011, February 2011, August 2011, October 2013

uc davis bike barnbike barn blossomthe bike barn

Above: October 2013, March 2014 (x2)