a rome with a view

View from Rome Apartment sm
This was the view from our Rome apartment living room. I’m not exaggerating, this isn’t a collage, I’m not condensing a lot of different spires and domes into one, this was the actual view. I left this uncoloured because it was actually my favourite sketch in Rome, and definitely my favosuite view in Rome. I could look out of that window all day. Except for the fact I wanted to look around the city itself. The dome in the distance, behind the bigger dome, that is the Vatican. The church with the stag on top is the Basilica di Sant’ Eustachio. The stag’s head is a reference to St. Eustace, who was a roman general back in the 2nd century who was out hunting when he saw a stag with a crucifix in its horns, and he saw this as a sign and converted to Christianity. I had to look that up because I did wonder what it was for. It looks cool though. The most dramatic steeple though is the baroque church of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, that spiraling corkscrew tower on the left hand side. It’s so eye-catching. The church was designed by the legendary architect Francesco Borromini between 1642-1660.

Our apartment on Via Della Palombella was pretty big, and the owner was really nice; I’d definitely stay there again. The only thing, those stairs! Four huge very steep flights, over 120 steps I think my son said it was, so I got a good work-out every day. I went up and down a lot, to go sketching in the morning, come back with breakfast from the nearby Caffe Sant-Eustachio, back again after sightseeing, then again after dinner and if I went for an evening stroll then I would be up them again. I got my 10,000 steps in before lunchtime! But look at that view. That view is worth every step, and then some. Below I sketched the view at sunset, which was stunning to say the least.
Rome Sunset sm

And from the bedroom window is the dome of the Pantheon!

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big dome in a little country

The Vatican sm
We didn’t see the Sistine Chapel. We didn’t see the Pope on his balcony. We didn’t look inside St.Peter’s, and we didn’t climb up the Basilica’s massive dome. But the Vatican City State was still pretty great! We walked there from our apartment, crossing the Tiber, my son super excited at the possibility of checking another country off of his list of visited countries, and the smallest recognized one at that. Sorry Sealand! Ok, so before I tell you all about the Vatican, I’m going to say that I promise not to make any puns or word-play jokes, not out of any reverence (careful now, that was nearly one) or respect, but because pope-based puns are just too easy, even for me. I’m not promising but I vill see Vatican do (dammit, promise broken). So, approaching the Vatican, you can always tell how close you are by the number of people coming up to you offering you special deals to beat the line, look at that line, I can help you beat the line. By the time you get up to the little boundary that is the border between Italy and Vatican, it becomes unbearable. You only have to turn your head and look at the big line and someone will notice and pounce, “I can help you beat the line! Don’t you want this special deal?” So many of them. They would not leave us alone. I expected devout Catholics everywhere praying n the street (no idea why I had that impression), but it was mostly aggressive unofficial tour-guides with tricks on getting past the big line. So, what I love about the Vatican – as soon as you reach that frontier, they vanish. Like cursed ghouls they are unable to cross the invisible holy line. It’s incredible actually. Now I’m not religious, I don’t believe in God or any of that stuff, but being able to banish all annoying tour-guide-line-jumping-irritants with one magic line is pretty much magic in my book. So we went into the Vatican City-State, no passports or visas required, but we did not enter the Vatican building itself (if only there was a way to beat that line! Why didn’t I listen?), and I took in the experience by sitting and sketching it. I love to sketch a cathedral, big church, basilica etc when I can, and like, dudes, this is the big one. It is massive. The dome of St. Peter’s! My name-sake. (The ‘r’ is silent in my name, as is the St.) We bought postcards, and sent ourselves a postcard from the little Vatican post-office (and by the way, it arrived very quickly, unlike the one from Venice which I am still waiting for, so score one for Vatican Mail. I was disappointed to see that it wasn’t called the ‘Holy Post’ though). I’d like to go back and see all of it some day, but reserving tickets ahead of time is the way to go. We had a lot more sightseeing in Rome planned, so we moved along.
The Tiber sm

Easy, Tiber. I did come back to the river early the next morning to sketch the view of the Vatican, along with the Pont Sant’Angelo, from the Ponte Umberto I. That bridge you see actually dates from the Roman Empire (it is also known as the Pons Aelius) and was built in 134 AD by Emperor Hadrian. Ok wait what, 134 AD? Rome has a lot of ancient buildings, but a bridge that old?? Remember how I said the Romans built London Bridge? Yeah that one didn’t survive obviously (there is a famous song you may have heard about the problems you get with different building materials, but I don’t know how true to reality the song is given that at one point they suggest building a bridge across a wide river in a major metropolitan centre by using ‘silver and gold’, though to be fair they do concede that the people of London may be inclined to strip the bridge of its valuable metal). Well anyway, back on point, this bridge was also built by the Romans and there it is still, to this day. That is impressive. It leads over to the Castel Sant’Angelo, where the Emperor Hadrian has his tomb. The early June morning light reflecting against the waters of the Tevere was so gentle, serene, despite the buzz of mopeds on the street behind me, and the morning tourists posing for selfies. I miss Rome already. I did throw a coin into the Trevi fountain, which means I will definitely, absolutely return to Rome. By the way I still have more Rome posts so don’t go away. Rome wasn’t sketched in a day.

“People called Romans they go the house”

Piazza Navonasm
While I love an early morning when travelling, I also like the night. Depends where though – I’ve never really liked Venice at night, but Rome’s piazzas, lined with warm streetside cafes, are a pleasant place to be. I didn’t go to the Trevi fountain at night, that was crazy enough during the day that I didn’t want to spend too much time there, but Piazza Navona, a short walk from our place, was much more pleasant. Doing as the Romans do is the thing to do, so I went to a cafe and bought a beer and sat on a bench near the fountains. Actually it was mostly French students doing that, but I assume they were doing as the Romans do. Actually what is funny is that since I was there, the Mayor of Rome has brought in a new local law forbidding people from drinking alcohol in those public squares and places after 10pm at night, effective July. So the Romans aren’t doing that now. We also noticed that, during the day, anybody sitting down on steps or by fountains and monuments and eating anything, even a gelato, were being quickly moved on by local wardens. Apparently this was a new law as well, enacted just a week before I got there in June, and you can get big fines for breaking it, a fact completely not signposted anywhere. I sketched the above scene, as best as I could see. Piazza Navona is in the shape of the ancient Stadium of Domitian, which used to stand on this spot in Roman times. Well I suppose these are still Roman times, this city being still called Rome. It is the Eternal City after all.

Rome People sm

A bit closer to home now. Right outside the front door of our apartment, which was itself about 120 steps up four steep flights, was a little trattoria/bar in a narrow lane just off the Pantheon. On our last night in Rome, after la famiglia had gone to bed, I walked down the stairs and sat at a table with a beer and my sketchbook, drawing Rome at night. The street is Via della Palombella, and that church, which has a stone head of a stag on top, is called Sant’Eustachio. The little Piazza before it is called, of course, Piazza Sant’Eustachio, and the cafe of the same name just across he street is where I would get my pastries in the morning. There were people strolling about, as they do, tourists and Romans on their nocturnal promenades. I sketched some of them (above), Romans going home. “Romanes eunt domus“.
Via Della Palombella sm

“Silenzio! Grazie!”

Pantheon sm
I expected more cats. I had never been to Rome before, but I had always heard that there were cats everywhere, lounging among the ruins and darting between the columns. I remember in fact my first trip to Venice, seeing lots of cats around the doorways of churches, presumably looking for the church mice. But I didn’t see any, not a single one. I must have spent all my time admiring all the amazing ancient architecture or paranoidly perusing all the people as potential pickpickets, or maybe some alternative alliterative activity, but I found far fewer felines than foreseen. Funny, huh. I did see two dogs though, who ended up in this sketch of the Pantheon, which may be one of the most amazingly built and well-preserved building s of the ancient world, and it was right next to my apartment. I could see the top of the dome from my bedroom window. The Pantheon – which translates to “all the gods” – was built by the Romans around 125 AD, on top of a previous Pantheon which was destroyed by fire. The reason it is in such great shape and is so well preserved from ancient times is that is has been in pretty much continual use since then. After the Roman Empire became Christian, this great pantheon to all the Roman gods and goddesses – Jupiter, Mars, Juno, and so on – was eventually converted and consecrated into a church. The ancient dome itself, however, is one of my favourite pieces of architecture. The Romans were experts at concrete to a level that we have been barely able to match since, and they built this massive and perfect structure out of an especially light but strong mixture.  It is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world.

I like to sketch early in the morning on my trips to other countries, especially in tourist-big cities like Rome. So I woke up before la famiglia Scully, went out into the bright morning, and sketched the Pantheon from across the Piazza. Morning people were out and about, delivering goods to cafes and stores, jogging in groups and lycra, the occasional jetlagged tourist out with a camera and a coffee to go (don’t eat or drink on the steps of the fountain though, they will move you on), or locals out for a morning stroll, stopping to chat with other locals about the daily news, calcio, dogfood, I don’t know, however conversations work, I’m not good at them. This was one of those sketches that, yes, I enjoyed sketching this building, I’ve always wanted to go there, but what I remember is the experience more than worrying about the finished product. This sketch then becomes a record of me spending a little time watching Rome, seeing how it works. As you can see from my description I clearly understand it fully. (Shrugs shoulders). After this, I found a local cafe and brought lovely Italian pastries back up to la famiglia for breakfast. I love Italy in the mornings.

Pantheon INT sm

From the outside the Pantheon looks fairly small, ancient yes but otherwise not a particularly special building, but the interior is what really excites all the senses. Seeing that ancient dome from the inside, wit the large perfect oculus in the centre, pouring in light, is just as exhilarating as I expected. We went inside much later in the day, after the doors had opened. Outside tourists and locals mingled, street performers danced, a large choir sang “Fading Like A Flower” by Roxette (a song I never hear in America but used reminds me of those European trips I took as a teenager). We were tired from a morning spent in Ancient Rome (the Colosseum was incredible!) and an afternoon down at the Gladiator School outside the centre (by the way, families visiting Rome, do not bother with the Gladiator School, an immense waste of time and money). I had been preparing to sketch the inside of the Pantheon for a long time, studying how other sketchers had tackled this amazing building, even going as far as drawing lines on a sheet of plastic to help visualize things, but I forgot the plastic and it wouldn’t have helped anyway. Better to trust my own eyes. I did not do a complete sketch with all the details but stood there drawing while la famiglia walked around and looked at things. I would have liked to have added a touch of paint and shown the circle of light coming in from the oculus, but we were tired. It reminded me a little of the Crystal Chamber, the Great Conjunction, the Skeksis and the Mystics combining into the UrSkeks, and why does everything remind me of the Dark Crystal? Seriously. It was busy in there, but I did see some of the royal tombs, where a couple of the previous Italian kings are buried, as well as that of Queen Margherita of Savoy, after whom the Margherita pizza is named.  My son had one of those the night before, and I ate lots of them when I was a kid on my first trip to Spain. But best of all were the announcements telling people to be quiet. The noise level was getting a little too cavernous, so a very loud “SHHHHH!!!!!!” played over a speaker. Everyone stopped dead in their tracks, eyes open, utterly silent, and then the same voice spoke “SILENZIO!”, followed by a pause, and then “Grazie!” It was a surreal experience and everybody stayed silent for a good while after that. As the chatter slowly grew, a few more less scolding messages of “Silenzio” came out in various languages from time to time. Each time, the chatter grew again. I thought back to my old junior school dinner hall, when the noise of chattering kids would echo around those hard floors, and this one dinner lady with a massive booming voice would bang this huge metal spoon against a table, banging so hard that the spoon was all bent, shouting “SHUUUUTTUUUUPPP!!!!!!!” I guess Rome does things a little different than Burnt Oak, but I expect the sentiment is the same.

round our way the sun shines for ya

Davis Community Church

Before I dive into the Manchester posting I thought I would jump back to the present day (Manchester was like less than two weeks ago) and show you some of what I’ve been doing since I got back. Here is Davis Community Church, on 4th Street, sketched while squeezing the curving perspective lines to fit the image in. In truth I wasn’t actually squeezing them – this is how they looked from where I was standing. As you get closer to a building those parallel perspective lines to curve more. I have wanted to redraw this building for a long time so this was a fun way to do so; after taking Paul Heaston’s workshop in Manchester I realized I need to squeeze in those perspectives even more, to get the bigger picture. I had just gotten my hair cut (finally! it was too long while I was in Manchester, too long for me) and the weather was hot but not bad. My body was aching and tired still after my trip back, my back being still a bit stuff from the cramped journey across the Atlantic. Although I complain there’s nothing left for me to draw in Davis, it’s still nice getting back to the old familiar streets.

Sketching Wren’s London – 2016

wren's city sticker
On Sunday July 24, a lot of us gathered outside St.Paul’s, and then dispersed and sketched Christopher Wren’s London. It’s the second time I have run a Wren-themed sketchcrawl, and the fourth themed ‘crawl I have hosted in London since 2012. I’m already thinking of themes for next year! As in the past, I created special handouts which included a hand-drawn map showing all of the Wren churches (and other buildings) within the City boundaries. There are a couple of Wren’s City churches not showing, only because I didn’t stretch the map far enough north, and of course it shows none that are outside the Square Mile; perhaps we’ll sketch all of those next time! Here is the map:

Sketching Wren's London Booklet MAP

We started at 10:30am outside St. Paul’s, and I gave a little historical introduction (see this photo by James Hobbs!) talking about London leading up to 1666, starting with the beheading of Charles I, which many English people believed had brought a curse upon them, manifesting in the year of the beast, 1666. That was the year of the Great Fire of London; I won’t tell the whole story here, you had to be there. We were joined by a good number of people from around the world who were in England for the Symposium, including my Portland sketcher friend Kalina Wilson (Geminica). I met a lot of great new people that day too, as well as old friends. It was very international – in addition to the UK and the US, we had sketchers from Singapore, Hong Kong, Italy, France, Pakistan, Luxembourg, China, This was day two of London’s Urban Sketching pre-Symposium, and it was a little cooler, and a lot calmer than the previous day in Trafalgar Square. I do like the City on a weekend.

Temple Bar

In 2014, I sketched seven Wren buildings in one day, and my ambition was to sketch more. However, you sketch what you can sketch, and I’m pleased to say I at least matched my previous haul. I did use more pencil while sketching than usual, something I am doing more. First off though I sketched the Temple Bar gateway in pen. This was originally down at Fleet Street at the entrance to the City but removed many decades ago, only to sit languishing in Theobolds Park near Cheshunt. It was restored and placed next to St. Paul’s just over a decade ago, forming the entrance to Paternoster Square. It was from that still-shining-new plaza that I sketched St. Paul’s itself. I have always struggled with the great domed cathedral from this angle but that’s ok, you have to draw St. Paul’s.

St Pauls Cathedral

Next up, a couple of neighbours to St. Paul’s. First of all, St. Augustine’s Watling Street, largely destroyed in the Blitz. I sketched this in pencil from the gardens of St. Paul’s churchyard while talking to my old friend from high school, Joan Uloth (check out her Instagram) and Beliza Mendes from Luxembourg. I really want to sketch Luxembourg, I met more Luxembourg sketchers in Manchester.
St Augustines
Then I sketched St. Nicholas Cole Abbey, which is visible across the street (now that the building that was in the way has been demolished, that is).
St Nicholas Cole Abbey

This one was sketched across a busy street, St. Benet’s Paul’s Wharf, the church where they hold the sermons in Welsh.

St Benets Paul's Wharf

Ok this next one was sketched from an angle and with the very loud and quite chaotic bells ringing. St. James Garlickhythe (haunted by “Jimmy Garlick” who sounds like an old washed up musician from the early 70s). I did the old paint splatter thing because the great Tia Boon Sim from Singapore was on the sketchcrawl and I’ve always been inspired by her paint-splatter styles. It seemed appropriate given the noise of the bells!

St James Garlickhythe

My final sketch was of the neighbour to St. James, which is St. Michael Paternoster Royal. What I loved about this crawl was that wherever I went there would always be at least one or two other sketchers there busy plugging away. This by the way is the church where legendary (but historically very real) Mayor Dick Whittington (he of the cat and the pantomime) was buried. Nobody knows where his grave is now though, but while Wren’s tomb says “Look Around You” I presume Whittington’s tomb says “Look Behind You”.
St Michael Paternoster Royal

And then we met up at The Monument, to look at each other’s sketchbooks. Of all the people that made it to the finish (and quite a few did not; I checked the number of maps given out and I think we had around 80 participants total), we got together and I read out the names of each Wren building, asking sketchers to raise hands if they had sketched it.

You’ll never guess – we sketched ALL OF THEM. Every single one! Great job, London sketchers!!!

Here are a few photos from the end. You can see more at Urban Sketchers London (JAmes Hobbs has posted a nice set “In Wren’s Footsteps“) and on this Flickr set “Sketching Wren’s London“.

Afterwards several of us went to a pub near Borough Market for a post-sketchcrawl-pint. I sketched two sketchers, Rachel and Jimmy…

jimmy and rachel

And here is the final group photo at the base of Wren’s Monument to the Great Fire! Can’t wait to sketch with Urban Sketchers London again in the near future. So nice to meet so many new sketching friends.

IMG_0611

Oh, and everyone got a sticker!

fifth street on a sunday morning

5th St Panorama July 2016 sm

Carrying on the series of street panoramas going from 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and now 5th. This is Newman Chapel on Fifth Street, Davis, on the corner of C Street. I have drawn it before, a few times. But it is nice so it is always worth drawing again. If you live in Davis and are at a loss for something to draw, just come and draw Newman Chapel, it’s small and simple but pretty, and the light is usually good. I sat opposite on a nice Sunday morning on Independence Day weekend (it was the 3rd) (by the way I hope you had a fun Independence Day everyone in America! I just want to know, why do you have to have fireworks on a date when the sun goes down so much later than on the rest of the year? Could you not have declared Independence in, I don’t know, mid-October, or some time in April?* Then you can have fireworks at a decent hour and tired kids can get to bed a bit earlier, I’m just saying, it’s just a suggestion America, it’s too late now but any other countries wanting to declare independence should probably consider this. Just think of the children, the sleepy children!) (Actually I bet Jefferson and co did take the daylight thing into consideration, thinking “well, we don’t have electric lights and stuff so let’s have Independence Day on a day when people can celebrate in as much daylight as possible, yes that makes a lot of sense actually, and schools are out so kids can stay up as long as they want, what is a firework anyway,” that’s what Jefferson and co thought. It’s worth pointing out that schools are indeed out over here by this point, unlike in Britain, which I’m sure factored in the whole Independence thing too, “we’ll finish school when we want!” I’m sure the politically powerful Summer Camp Lobby had a say in matters as well, arguing for longer summers. I’m digressing well off topic here but can I just say, summers off school are very long over here and figuring out what to do with the kids all summer can sometimes be a challenge. We watched the fireworks in Davis from the Green Belt with all the other families in our neighbourhood, all the kids running around in the dark with their glow sticks, it was like a rave for very small tired people. The firework display itself was at Community Park, just opposite, but we avoided the throng of people over there who went to listen to live music and a poetry reading by the Davis Poet Laureate before the big firework s went off, staying in our little Green Belt park. It’s a very family atmosphere. Davis is a very family town.

This was sketched in the Seawhite of Brighton sketchbook #4, all ink done on site and coloured in later when I got home (after going for food and drink at some friends’ house).

*I just need to point out that in fact Independence Day should have been in April, it was signed 7/4/1776 right, which technically should be the 7th of April (think of Oliver Stone’s famous film ‘Born of the Seventh of April’), meaning you could have had fireworks after dinner and then got the kids to bed and still had time to watch a movie, but for some reason it isn’t. That’s fine, I totally prefer July anyway.