gimme some Leuven

Leuven panorama sm

I woke up and it was raining hard. There was no way I was going to Charleroi to draw old factories if I was sitting on top of a hill getting drenched. I spent enough time getting drenched in Charleroi between 1999 and 2000 for a lifetime. So I had a little lie-in, and then hopped on a train to the nearby university city of Leuven (Louvain in French, but this is in the Flemish region). I have only been to Leuven once before, and that was an even rainier day, meeting up with one of my fellow year-abroad teachers. Always thought it would be a good place to go back to a less rainy day, but since it was raining anyway I thought, what the hell. This was my last day in Belgium, I was going to be catching a Eurostar that evening back to London. Originally I’d planned to stay another day, but as much as I like Belgium, an extra day in London is something I knew I’d love more (and I did). I dashed from shop doorway to shop doorway to stay relatively dry, until I reached the centre of town. I spent a bit of time in an interesting bookshop looking at Flemish books, including one very big volume all about the various dialects of Flanders, complete with detailed maps. If I could read Dutch better that would be a fascinating book. It’s hard for foreigners to sometimes pick up the subtleties of accent and dialect in a language where they struggle just to understand the words (I said that very thing to someone when I first came here in 1999, they asked if I was having difficulties with the accent, I said no it’s the vocabulary). I didn’t for example realize that the French of Charleroi was a particularly peculiar version compared to many other places in Belgium, such as my friends in Liege who told me they couldn’t always understand Les Carolos. Meanwhile they are struggling to understand my French, and then when I went to Charleroi, people told me “oh you have such good French!” so I understood, right, I learned it here, that’s why nobody else comprehends me. That’s my story anyway. So, I got to Leuven and had a waffle, and tried to figure out what sort of drawings I would do. I was faced with this big church – I’d go inside later – and the extremely ornate Stadhuis (Town Hall) building, which I knew I’d need to draw, but wasn’t sure where to start. I walked about, and found a covered passage by the Grote Markt where I wouldn’t get splashed on too much. I drew the panorama above. This took under a couple of hours, though I added most of the paint later. Click on the image, you will see it in more detail (on Flickr). It was a reasonably busy Wednesday lunchtime. As I drew, a girl crashed her bike not far from me, sliding on the watery street, and she seemed pretty hurt. I went over with some other bystanders and she was helped up into the dry, and her bike put to the side. I got back to my drawing, I couldn’t really help much more with my limited Dutch, but someone else was able to help her get her phone to call her mother who came to collect her. I felt really bad for her, I don’t think she’d broken anything but she was pretty upset. As much as I enjoyed this drawing I do think of that poor girl falling from her bike now when I look at it.

Leuven sm

Leuven is an important old town, the historic capital of the Duchy of Brabant. Its university goes back to the 1425 (as the old University of Leuven, though that was abolished in 1797, and its successor KU Leuven was founded in 1834). The university’s library was atrociously burned to the ground by the invading Germans in World War I. The enormous St. Peter’s Church (Sint-Pieterskerk) is opposite the Stadhuis and dates from the 1500s, though it too was seriously damaged in both world wars. I stood at the rear of the church sheltered from the storm, and drew the sketch above. I liked the shape of those rooftops. The flags were above a bar called Leuven Centraal, where I would stop in for some food before heading back. there was a young couple seated nearby who were if not on a date, seemed like it was a kind of date, they were having that “I like this music, do you like that music” sort of conversation (from what I could gather of their Flemish; I may have misunderstood, they could have been talking about horse racing for all I know). So I went into the church, walked about, was a bit overwhelmed to do a proper big sketch int here, and drew this big wooden pulpit thing that looked like a magic tree. I bet the priest loves going in there, it’s like walking into a fantastical sculpture, like you become some sort of wizard on the other side.

Leuven st peters sm Leuven Frites smLeuven Statue sm

A couple of different things. The first was outside a friterie, and is an anthropomorphized bag of frites eating a frite. He only has one arm so maybe another bag of frites ate his arm. Maybe cannibalism is a thing in the live-action-frites community. Either way this was CREEPY as hell, but not the creepiest frites related image I’ve seen in Belgium (that would be the odd three-legged feminine-frite, a ‘frite-fatale’ if you will, seen in Charleroi next to an image of, for some reason, Dopey the Dwarf). Still it is a bizarre figure. Yet it still made me hungry for more salty frites. The next statue is a more well-known Leuven fixture, ‘Fonske‘, or ‘Fons Sapientiae’. I would presume this is Leuven’s version of the Fonz, is telling kids “eeeh, be smart, be cool, read books, stay in school” and then for some reason pouring a drink on his head, which Fonzie would never do, unless the drink was hair gel. I don’t know, I’ve not seen Happy Days for a long time. Fonske was created in 1975 to commemorate the university’s 550th anniversary, and the name means “the fountain of wisdom” in Latin. Just like Mannekin Pis in Brussels, the statue is sometimes dressed up in costume. I really hope that one of those costumes is of the Fonz. (Side note, when I first met my wife in France, I would sometimes make her laugh by singing the theme tune to Happy Days in French, “Dimanche Lundi, Heureux Jours…” etc).

Well there was no goodbye grey skies, hello blue just yet, so I popped into the cafe Leuven Central (my guidebook recommended this place) for a late lunch. I got a veggie curry and drank a Kasteel Rouge, which to my surprise was a kriek (or cherry beer). Krieks are popular over here, I’ve never been a big fan of them but this was quite nice. And that was my day out in Leuven. I had to get back to Brussels and back to London, and this little sojourn in Belgium would be over.

Leuven Kasteel sm

“thou Scheldt not pass”

Antwerp Steen sm

I weaved through the streets of Antwerp heading for the river Scheldt, to use that brilliant “thou Scheldt not pass” line I had thought of in my previous post. I might use that as a title for this blog post. I headed for Het Steen, the little castle on the banks of the wide river that is the oldest building in Antwerp. It dates from the early 1200s, and means “The Rock” (though “Steen” is a pretty common word for a stone castle in Dutch). There was a castle on this spot right back in the 9th century Carolingian period. It has a decent tourist information office in there now, where I bought some chocolates for my son (little chocolate hands from Antwerp). I had a good spot to sketch from across the busy street, up some stairs, but it was starting to spit so I sketched quickly. You know I love a street sign, so I made sure to include the blue crosswalk sign in the bottom right corner. Some people might think no, you leave those out, takes away from the historic castle, but I say thee nay, give me modern metal street signs and old medieval buildings any day. Back on my 1998 train tour of Europe I became a little bit obsessed with crosswalk signs, because they were a little different in every country. I liked the German ones in particular, wearing the little hat, as do the ones in the Czech Republic which look a bit like spies. I would always get obsessed with things like that.

Antwerp Lange Wapper sm

I tell you what, they can’t get enough of those Flemish giants here in Antwerp. This is a statue of a big lad called Lange Wapper. It’s right outside Het Steen, and shows Lange Wapper doing that Tory-party conference stance and looking down on two smaller people, crotch out, threatening them with his Lange Wapper (I’m so glad he is clothed, unlike Silvius Brabo). Lange Wapper is a Flemish folk tale, about a boy who started out as a bit of parsley and cabbage and then became a bit of a trickster. He apparently saved an old woman who had been thrown into the river Scheldt by a gang, and the old woman gave him the ability to shape-shift, for example turning into a massive giant who could leap between towns. He got into all sorts of antics; he would probably be cancelled now. He is kind of like a bogeyman figure of Antwerp. This statue was put there in the early 1960s.

Antwerp hydrant 2 sm

Not far from here I found another hydrant I needed to draw. This one had a peculiar sticker that said “Love the game, hate the business” and “Against modern football!” on it, which must really make the firemen think. Haha, a fire hydrant talking about sportswashing, the irony. Anyway I drew this down a fairly quiet street. Those few drops of rain I felt over at Het Steen were coming back, we were definitely going to get wet today. It’s good to keep adding new city fire hydrants to my big collection.

Antwerp Kathedraal sm

This is the Onze Lieve Vrouwe Kathedraal, in the heart of Antwerp. As well as fire hydrants, and crosswalk signs, I am obsessed with drawing cathedrals, though one subject generally takes a lot longer than the other. I drew this one looking upwards from a standing spot, all the benches in that particular square having been taken, and those clouds were pretty ominous. I did about 75% of it and finished the rest later when I was sitting down not craning my neck. The hours of the day were moving along quicker than those clouds, and I wanted to go and sit inside somewhere before getting the train back to Brussels, and have another hearty Belgian beer. I had a place in mind, but it would be a walk to get there. It took a while, but I beat the incoming rainstorm by bare minutes.

Lille, dimanche après-midi, il pleut encore

Gare de Lille Flandres

It stopped raining for a little while after lunch. After walking about the back streets of Lille in the steady drizzle to find a restaurant to sit down in and enjoy some ch’ti region food, with little success (most of the outdoor seating had closed up due to the rain, and places were generally full inside at lunchtime) I ended up eating at the cafe that was that day’s “hub” for the urban sketchers, near the Treille cathedral, and just had a fairly small snack. I ended up chatting with some German sketchers I bumped into, such as Basel-based Tine Klein who I had met at previous symposia, she paints dramatic watercolour sketches I really admire and was talking technique with her friend from Berlin. I didn’t see any of the other sketchers I know, I was planning to join them in the evening for the drink-n-draw (or rather “drink-n-look-at-amazing-sketchbooks”). So after lunch I went back to the hotel to dry off, and when I headed out again the rain had stopped. I headed towards the train station, Lille Flandres. I couldn’t remember if Lille Flandres was the French name for Ned’s wife, on the Simpsons. In the road leading up to the station, Rue Faidherbe, there are these big green sculptures, so I stood next to one and drew the Gare itself. It opened in 1842, known then as just ‘Gare de Lille’. I spent a lot of time in European train stations when I was younger. In the summer of 1998 I took a five week trip around Europe with a Eurail pass, carrying the big Thomas Cook Rail Timetable book with me, but I never passed through Lille Flandres. I love a train though. I got this far with the station and that was enough, because the rain was back.

Lille St Maurice 1 sm

I crossed the street and took shelter in the awnings of a closed cafe. The rain wasn’t heavy (yet), and I felt quite contented. As a resident of Davis California I don’t see much rain any more, so it’s still a thrill to get a downpour, even one that stops me sketching wherever I want (spoiler alert – it rained a lot more on this trip, I still made the best of it). I still had a decent view of the rear of the Eglise St. Maurice de Lille and I couldn’t resist all those triangular turrets. I plotted it out and started sketching, and then the heavens opened up. I’m assuming someone in the heavens left the bathroom taps on. The rain was the heaviest I had seen in a pretty long time, and it was getting hard to really see. It was also being driven in towards me, so I was still getting wet, though not as drenched as those dashing down the street. Well, I thought, no point in trying to draw in pen, so I gave up and went to the next page, and added a wash, before adding in what details I could with the paintbrush (below). Not the sort of thing I usually get to draw but I definitely enjoyed it, and it definitely reflects the mood of what I saw more than the line drawing. I left the original sketch as it was, that’s part of the story.

Lille St Maurice 2

The day’s urban sketching exploration was over though, so I jumped from shelter to shelter and dashed to my hotel. I am glad I stayed in such a good central location. It wasn’t a fancy hotel, just a regular Ibis, but the room had a desk which is something I always look for in a hotel room, as a sketcher who sometimes has to finish stuff off.

Lille people 060522

In the early evening, I walked out to the citadel park, to a little bar where the Sunday night meeting of French urban sketchers was going to take place. There I met with people that I knew from sketching trips gone by, such as Sophie Navas, Vincent Desplanche, Mauro Doro and more, and enjoyed a beer and looked over some amazing sketchbooks. We then went on to meet with my Belgian sketching friends Gerard Michel, Fabien DeNoel and Arnaud De Meyer, as well as French sketchers Martine Kervagoret and Lolo Wagner, it was great to see them all again. There were some others who I did not know as well, and others whose art I was very familiar with such as Jean-Christophe Defline and Sylvain Cnudde, whose work I have been really loving for a number of years (his sketchbook is even more amazing in person, I tell you). We had a quick drink at a cafe, before many of us went off to find some dinner at a place big enough for an urban sketching evening. Aux Moules on Place Rihour was that place, we ate in the large room inside and the staff were very friendly. I did do some sketching on the paper placemat (as did others), and also drew a panorama. Sophie (who I had first met briefly at the Strasbourg USk France Rencontre in 2015, and who now lives in Strasbourg; her sketches are great and she also designs excellent posters) did ask if I minded that everyone spoke French (she knows my French is a bit rusty) but I said that I loved to listen, and that I did understand most of what was being said, but I probably couldn’t join in to speak as much! Vincent Desplanche had copies of his book of sketches from Japan to buy, I snapped that up.

Lille Aux Moules dinner 060522

My moules were great, the beer was nice and it was fun to meet up with old sketching friends (and listen to some French, if only occasionally speaking it!). It had been another long day, so I went off to bed and fell right asleep. Next day I would be off to Belgium for a few days of sketching and exploring.

il fait chaud à charleroi

Charleroi Eglise St Christophe
After my late night frites from Robert La Frite, Charleroi’s finest friterie, I had a much needed lie-in. I spent much of the morning in the large new comic shop near the hotel; Belgian (and French) BD stores are really incredible. They love their hardback comic books, and I get very inspired by the artwork. It made want to get drawing. I have daydreamed about returning to Charleroi and drawing as much as possible. I spent a year there with hardly any drawings, so I always felt I needed to return to catch up. I did want to walk through the fancy new Rive Gauche mall though. Now I know where all the shopping has gone since the stores all closed down in Rue de la Montagne. Despite the novelty, it didn’t feel like I was in Charleroi at all, so I left and headed out with the sketchbook. I went straight up to Place Charles II, and drew the Église St. Christophe, the large rusting-green domed church dominating the round plaza. But wow, it was already really hot.
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Any football fans among you may remember the Euro 2000 tournament. Incredibly that was twenty years ago now. In that tournament, which was held in Belgium and Holland, there was a famous game in which England played Germany right here in Charleroi. This plaza saw the English hooligans running wild before the game, throwing chairs and giving all that old little-Englander nonsense about St George and yelling obscenities at anyone foreign, and in one case I witnessed a drunk Englishman hilariously kicked one of those concrete balls (which had been dressed up to look like footballs at the time) hurting his foot in the process and spilling his beer, but Charleroi is a place that did not care for that sort of thing at all, and they just pulled out the water cannons and sprayed them all over the place. I’ll never forget, some of the local bars decided not to open up that day, but they still sold beer from lemonade stands outside, because Belgians don’t give up on beer. Once all of the losers had been washed away, the evening following England’s victory was one of the best nights in town, and I met some great English lads staying up all night to catch the morning train and ferry, and showed them to all the places the locals love. I though back to all of that while drawing the church, glad that it was two decades in the past.

Charleroi Town Hall
Charleroi is not a place awash with tourists (even though the town was literally awash with cannon-sprayed football hooligans once), but there is a tourist office right here on the Place. I went in to look around, picking up some badges and a few postcards. I was suffering from the heat and so came in to cool off. I got talking to the guy working in there, talking about all the changes in Charleroi, he told me about all the new cool stuff in town, new breweries, while we also reflected sadly on the state of some of the old shopping streets. I said that I was intending on sketching the city and that I had always wanted to promote its image, being that big overlooked city in Belgium, and we talked about how the city always was and still is a place of art; Magritte of course lived round here, and then there are the comics, the famous Marcinelle School. I also said that I have been following a photographer online whose work actually inspired me to come back here, ‘Charleroi Zoom‘, they really show the best of the city. The guy was a bit shocked – it turns out that Charleroi Zoom is him! He shook my hand and couldn’t believe I had been inspired by his photos to come from California back to Charleroi, but it’s true. I was just as gobsmacked. Always nice to meet someone who loves the place. I went back out into the Place Charles II and drew, in what shade I could still stand in, the Hotel de Ville (above).

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The heat was unbearable, and moving about the city was slow and ponderous. I wandered down to Parc Reine Astrid, looking a little shabbier than twenty years ago but this was where I used to come to relax and read books. On the edge of the park is a statue of the cowboy Lucky Luke, another BD hero who originated here. I thought I’d draw in pencil for a bit, it was a bit quicker in this heat. The more animated style of sketching it gave is probably appropriate for the Marcinelle School (also called the Charleroi School), which was the house style of Spirou back in the 1940s or so. This style, also called ‘comic-dynamic’ was said to be in opposition to the very precise ‘ligne claire’ style of other Belgian books books like Tintin.
Charleroi Lucky Luke
I was saddened to see that Lucky Luke has really weathered a lot over the years. He used to be so shiny, but hasn’t seen a lick of paint in years. Here he is below, in 2019 (left) and 2000 (right).

Further up the road near the stadium is Boule et Bill. I didn’t sketch Spirou, also nearby, but I had to draw these two. Boule is wearing the black and white stripes of Sporting Charleroi, the local team. Of course, I ahd to visit the stadium. The last time I went there was for a game at the end of the 1999-2000 season when Charleroi drew with Anderlecht to just about stay in D1. They were never a very good team, although this season 2019-20 they have been playing brilliantly. I bought the new season’s shirt, I love my football shirts, and then walked back up to Square Hiernaux.
Charleroi Boule et Bill

Square Jules Hiernaux is where I lived twenty years ago; I could see into the Charleroi stadium from my window. It’s not a square but a large roundabout – the ‘vicious circle’ I used to call it, when I would watch the Belgian drivers aggressively battle their way around it – but in the middle is yet another local BD hero, the long-tailed leopard-like creature Marsupilami. My little neighbour friend was looking good.
Charleroi Marsupilami
And here is La Vigie, the student living quarters for the Université de Travail (UT), the tower that was my home from 1999-2000. I worked as a teacher at the UT, in the attached building, during my year abroad from my French degree. It was an interesting experience living there; I remember that for months the showers were freezing cold, and we had no hot water even in the sinks. There was nowhere for me to refrigerate food or drinks so I didn’t eat a lot of dairy that year (outside of chocolate or the mayo on my frites), but I would cook pasta and noodles in the small kitchen in the basement. My neighbours were mostly from central Africa, friendly guys who would often cook spicy-smelling dinners on a little electric stove-top in the corridor, while playing Congolais music. The neighbour right next door to me however was more into Celine Dion, and would play “My Heart Will Go On” at full blast on repeat EVERY SINGLE MORNING. For MONTHS. I remember how glad I was to bring my guitar over to Charleroi to counter this musical monstrosity. I wrote a lot of songs there that year, that’s what I used to do instead of drawing. That’s what you do when you’re 23 and don’t know many people. It was an entire lifetime ago, but it looks like the building has not changed a bit, except for the new white neon sign on the roof.

Charleroi La Vigie

I took the photo below the evening before, looking up to my old bedroom on the thirteenth floor. I really wanted to go inside, and go up to the rooftop to look out across the Caroloregion, with the giant ‘terrils’ (old slap-heaps now turned into grassy hills) dotting the landscape. I perhaps should call ahead some day and arrange this. This time though I thought I would just pop in and ask the custodian if it was ok. The door opened as someone was leaving, so I went in to ask.

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But nobody was there, and it didn’t look like the custodians were working that day. It was the summertime, so they probably have a limited schedule there, while most of the students are gone. Ok, well maybe next time. I went to leave, but the door would not open. I remembered that to get in years ago you needed a little electronic badge, but you also needed it to leave the building, inexplicably. They have not changed their system in two decades, so for now I was stuck in there. The doors would not budge; I knew that from experience. Twenty years before I was stuck outside in the snow one night after returning from a work visit to Brussels, when the doors were locked while the custodians went wherever they would go. I tried everything to prise the doors open with my frozen hands, to no avail, and got into an argument with the custodians when they finally returned an hour and a half later. I wasn’t going through that again, so I just waited. Nobody was coming, it was the middle of summer. What was I going to do, stay there in the lobby all night? I couldn’t get further into the building without an electronic key so I was stuck in this small lobby. There wasn’t even anything to draw. After half an hour or so I thought I would try the door to the canteen, which I was certain would be locked like all the other doors, as it led into the main university building. To my surprise it was unlocked! I wandered into the canteen area, where years ago they would give me free dinners (of grated carrots or weak soup; I could not eat anything meaty as I was ‘le vegeterien!’). Amazingly the door from the canteen into the main university was also unlocked. I was wandering through an empty building I had not stepped foot into since my early twenties. You know when places from your past like this show up in the dream space when you sleep, morphing into those buildings you have to try and somehow get out of, well this was where I was in real life. It was surreal. I remembered my way to the main entrance, which of course was locked. I found another entrance, and that too was locked. I was still stuck, and really wanted to get on with the rest of my day. And then I remembered that years ago there was this one door in a stairwell that led outside which for some reason was often left unlocked, if I could just find it. Since nothing else here had changed over the years, maybe I had a chance? And I found it, and of course it was unlocked, and I was finally outside. Typical Charleroi, still messing me about years later. I had one more sketch to make, the Waterloo Metro entrance right outside the front door. I think I was just about done with La Vigie.
Charleroi Waterloo Metro Station

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I headed back to the hotel (picking up a delicious “mitraillete de dinde” on the way from Robert La Frite) before coming back up this way to sketch La Cuve. However, La Cuve was closing early due to nobody being there, so I wandered the town a bit more, taking some pictures of the dramatic summertime sky.

There was one place I used to go that I wanted to check in on – the Irish Times Pub. I remember when this place opened in early 2000, a new pub in town that the locals made sure kept very busy. Again, it has not changed in the slightest. I had many late nights here back in 2000, so it was fun to spend time working on a bar interior after all that time sketching out in the heat. Naturally I had to give in a drink a Westmalle Triple, the beer I first tried in this very bar which I always knew was trouble, one that you definitely can’t have many of.

Charleroi Irish Times
Westmalle Triple

And that was my brief visit back to Charleroi. Definitely some mixed feelings about the old place, but it was nice to finally be back. The next morning I was to be up and away to catch the train to Amsterdam; little did I know that the intense heatwave was going to make that journey very difficult…

Back in Barnstaple

Barnstaple parish church, Devon
I went to Barnstaple with family to see family, an almost six hour drive to the West Country. I like Barnstaple, all of the shops are close together, and if you need a pair of socks urgently you can just walk to a shop a few minutes away and get some for a quid (unlike in Davis). Yes it was the same shop I bought four Topics for a quid. By the way Americans if you don’t know what a quid is, it’s a pound, the UK currency, not the unit of weight. I say ‘quid’ a lot. In America I say ‘bucks’ a lot. By the way it’s never ‘quids’, you don’t say “seven quids”. Oh except in the phrase “quids in”, which means…ok let’s get on with the drawings. I was up early, having beaten my brother at MarioKart the night before in the hotel room (just wanted to point that out), and I like to wander about having a little walk. The sketch above is Barnstaple Parish Church. The church dates back to Saxon times over a thousand years ago (England is well old, folks), though none of that building survives. The present church is much newer, having been built just recently, in 1318 (the spire is even newer, having only been put up in 1389, which was pretty much just the other day). Some more building was added in the 1600s such as the Dodderidge Library in 1667 (it’s hard for a Londoner to see a building dating from 1667 and not assume it is just replacing one destroyed in the Great Fire of London, but it didn’t quite reach this far, hundreds of miles west). The spire of the church has a twist – it was a ghost all along. No, not that sort of twist. It was struck by lightning in 1810, but the twist is that it wasn’t the lightning that twisted it at all, but centuries of sunlight on the lead and wooden frame. Apparently George Gilbert Scott (the grandfather of Giles who built Tate Modern, Waterloo Bridge and designed the red phonebox) was asked to renovate the church, but he refused to fix the twist, because he said that “if you know Bruce Willis is a ghost all along it ruins the tension of this otherwise unwatchable film”. By the way if you ever travel back in time to 1810 and get stuck, at least you know you can generate the 1.21 gigawatts of power to get home by hooking up a cable to the Barnstaple Parish Church spire.
Barnstaple butcher shop

When I first came to Barnstaple last year to visit my uncle Billy who lives here, I saw this really interesting looking butcher’s shop in Joy Street. I determined that I would sketch it when I came back, so I did. I could never be a butcher. I would just be doing ‘meat’ puns all the time, like “nice to meat you!” and “it’s bacon hot today!” and “gammon have a go if you think you’re hard enough”. See, I’d be really bad at it. Master Butchers are very skilled at what they do. They really know their meats. They know all the meats. Beef, Lamb, Pork Pies, all the meats. It would take me ages to learn all the meats. Across the street from here is an art shop called the Blue Gallery, so I popped in to have a look around. Lots of nice art supplies. They also had a copy of Matthew Brehm’s perspective drawing book, I have quite a few sketches in that one. These were the only sketches I did in Barnstaple this time, but my ones from last year are in this post: https://petescully.com/2018/05/19/barnstaple-devon/ . Devon’s nice. I came to Devon when I was in my teens a few times, and always thought I would come back more as I grew older, but never got around to it. It’s a big county, with lots of places to discover. Devon is old country. When you are out on the windswept moors time is almost irrelevant. Unless you are sentenced to Dartmoor prison, when time becomes a thing you do. I always liked the ghost stories from the moors, like the Hairy Hands of Dartmoor. Seriously, the Hairy Hands of Dartmoor. That is an actual ghost story, look it up. It sounds like a Dr. Strange incantation. “By the Hairy Hands of Dartmoor!” 

lisbon and her histories

Lisbon Street tiles sm
I intended on waking up early, as I like to do when I travel, and wander Lisbon’s streets in the dawn light, try to find a little bakery with amazing delicious pastries. However my bed was just too comfortable, so I stayed there. It was the last full day of my three-week trip before I would be flying back to America. I’d been to London, Warwick/Stratford-upon-Avon, Madrid, Toledo, Porto, and Lisbon. I was overdue a long lie-in. But I had a Lisbon to sketch, so eventually I dragged myself out from the comfy covers and headed towards Alfama. I walked through the long grid system of Baixa, which owes its layout to the massive rebuilding of Lisbon after its devastating earthquake in 1755. That earthquake really was devastating – it is estimated to have been between 8.5 and 9 on the Richter scale, and resulted in the deaths of anywhere between 30,000 to 40,000 people in Lisbon alone, most of whom died in the resulting firestorm and tsunami caused by the quake. Lisbon was rebuilt, but the Baixa area is sometimes called Baixa Pombalina, after the Marquis of Pombal who led the reconstruction and was responsible for a more earthquake resistant architecture. Now I didn’t end up do any sketching around here, except for the man above, a workman repairing some of the mosaic pavement tiles. So I also drew some of the various mosaic pavements I came across in Lisbon. This style is ubiquitously Portuguese, black and white square tiles, often laid out in intricate patterns, a feature especially common in Lisbon but also found in far-flung former Portuguese colonies, like Brazil and Macau.
Lisbon Se Cathedral sm
I passed into the Alfama district, which I did not visit back in 2011, and headed up to the cathedral, the Sé. You’ll remember that the cathedral in Porto was also called the Sé. IT is related to the English word ‘See’, as in the ‘Holy See’. Do you see? Anyway it shares some similarities (or “Sé-milarities”, eh) with the Sé in Porto, well I think they look alike, I don’t care what you sé. Anyway I sketched outside next to a statue of a famous actor (I’ve never heard of him) and walked around inside. It turns out the proper name is Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa and it dates back to 1147, when the city was retaken from the Moors. Actually the cathedral was built on the site of the city’s largest mosque. The doors were interesting, and as you can see from the inscription on the metal part, they date I think from 1933, made by a bloke called Vicent Esteves, aka Vince Stevens, old Vinnie Steves. I am assuming the doors are from 1933, that is, for all I know the cathedral was built then and the whole of Lisbon was built then too. In the post-truth era people might believe this. There was another symbol in the masonry on the wall, a circle with a greek cross, although it might be the view you see when being thrown down a well by four radishes.
Lisbon Se Cathedral details sm
Ok enough cathedral based silliness. So I started walking around Alfama, an old windy-street hilly part of town with red rooftops and twisty alleys. Then I stopped and ate some sardines for lunch, the classic Lisbon food, I had forgotten how many bones are in those. I found this post-box, next to a similar looking blue one. I only drew the red one. Speaking of the post, can I just point out that I sent a postcard home from Spain and thus far it has not arrived, but we received the postcard I sent from Porto already so that’s 1-0 to Portugal in the postcard wars. Well, last year we sent a card from the Vatican City State which got here super fast, but thirteen months later we are still waiting for the Italian postcard from Rome.
Lisbon Postbox in Alfama sm
I liked walking around Alfama. There’s so much history around here, it’s hard to believe Lisbon was only built in 1933. Only joking. Actually much of this neighbourhood was apparently spared widespread destruction in the 1755 quake. This was the stronghold of the Moors, but they don’t live there any moor. (Travels with me is an endless series of admittedly excellent puns) Alfama the name is itself Moorish deriving from the Arabic “al-hamma”, which means thermal baths or fountains. Before them, the Visigoths. Before the Visigoths, the Suebi, the Alans (“Ah-Ha!”) and the Vandals (such as our old pal Vinnie Stevens), and before them of course were the Romans, when Lisbon was known as ‘Olisipo’. And before the Romans, it was the Celts who lived here. The area around the Castelo de São Jorge was (it is thought) home to a Celtic fortification, and archaeological excavations even suggest a Phoenician trading post here dating back to around 1200 BC. And before the Phoenicians, there were the Oestrimni, and the Beaker people, the old Bell Beaker culture. And before them, the Neanderthals, living around the Tagus estuary 30,000 years ago or so. I could go on but I’m just not sure which dinosaurs exactly had nesting sites in the Alfama area so perhaps we’ll just carry on our story from here.
Lisbon Alfama Street sm
This scene was drawn near the Castelo, in the winding maze of streets around the castle hill. As I was drawing, I (again) bumped into fellow urban sketcher Genine Carvalheira, with her girlfriend. She may have thought I was just one of many Pete clones dotted around Lisbon with sketchbooks (I wish I had access to that sort of technology, can you imagine how many sketches I would get done?). It was a hot afternoon and I stood in the shade.
Lisbon Alfama View sm

And here is the view from the shady leafy gardens of the Miradouro de Santa Luzia. Those red rooftops of Alfama, that blue Tagus river, it was a gorgeous day in a gorgeous – and very historic – city.

porto polyrhythmic

Praca Ribeira
“Polyrhythmic” – being made of two or more rhythms at the same time. I think that is a good describer for many great cities, but is certainly true of Porto. I am not quite at the end of posting my Porto sketches, but have divided them out so certain ones will post together. I think with these ones, they were ones that I didn’t necessarily categorize, but looking at them together they do have a certain joined-up difference. Above, the Praça Ribeira, down near the Douro. This was where the nightly Drink’n’Draw was held, and there are so many sketches of this colourful little spot.

Miragaia hillside, Porto
This scene here is of the hillside of Miragaia, as seen from the long riverside street of Alfandega. Another scene sketched by many, as it was right by the Symposium location. It was an overcast day, so the colours were more muted. I never explored this area, which appears more labyrinthine and a little ramshackle. And of course, there is a tiled church in there. That’s the Antiga Capela e Hospital Do Espirito Santo, Google Maps tells me. I would have liked to have drawn even more, along the whole riverfront. I walked along it a lot of times (or ran along it, rushing to get to a demo or workshop on time).

Porto view from Se

This is the view from the Terreiro da Sé, next to the cathedral, looking out over the rooftops. I was really attracted to this group of colourful houses, many of them tiled, but the one on the far right (not a great phrase that, these days) is called the ‘Varanda de Fado’. I think they play a lot of Fado there. I don’t know though, because I never went to find out, in the evenings. Funnily enough, I didn’t manage to seek out any Fado in Portugal. I know I should have, but I never had the opportunity. I felt a little strange asking where the Fado was, like I was too much of a tourist, afraid of getting rolled eyes and shaking heads, like if a tourist to London asked me how to find the bowler hat shops. So, I pretty much missed out on the Fado scene. Perhaps next time.

Aliados, Porto

The scene above is of Liberdade Square / Avenida dos Aliados, which is the big main thoroughfare of Porto. It’s fairly long, sloping uphill slightly towards the tall white tower of the town hall. This was sketched during daytime, but I came along here on a Friday night on the way home to the hotel. It was a bit bizarre, it seemed to be full of teenagers, huge gangs of them, mostly young ladies dressed as if going to nightclubs and lads barely on the right side of shaving, but not doing much more than hanging around in the street in large groups talking and drinking and smoking. Perhaps they all were going on to nightclubs, I have no idea the habits of young people of Porto, or perhaps this just is what the young people do these days. Been along time since I was that young. anyway I popped into McDonalds, which was packed (mostly with more of these well-dressed youths). They had chandeliers (McDonalds, not the youths). Ordering at McDonalds in Europe these days is done on big touchscreens now, they aren’t really a thing over here in California yet, not sure why. Probably because we are still mostly about Drive-Thru when it comes to McDonalds. My wife says that this touchscreen ordering system would not work at McDonalds in America, but most Americans I know are quite familiar with touchscreens by now so I think it would. Except at a Drive-Thru, unless you had really long arms, or maybe the screens could move closer to the window. McDonalds, get on that idea, you are welcome.

O Porto Statue
This statue was on that same square. I don’t know who it is, but the statue is called “O Porto”, which is probably like “Oh Canada”. The man with the spear has a dragon on his head. From behind, he looks like Loki. “I am Burdened with Glorious Purpose!”
Torre Medieval Reboleira, Porto

Above is a building which I believed to be called the Torre Medieval da Reboleira, but which Google Maps now tells me is something else. No I think this might be not one but two churches, the Igreja Monumento de Sao Francisco on the right and the Igreja dos Terceiros de Sao Francisco behind it. Well, at least this is a couple more churches for my church count (this might put them ahead of the hydrants now). I had two attempts at drawing this, both times I ran out of time and had to go elsewhere, so I left it. I’m going to need to cross out that incorrect name in the sketchbook now though, aren’t I.

Porto Tiles

And finally, well I had to draw some of the tiles didn’t I. Seriously, Porto is chock full of houses decorated with these colourful ceramic tiles, usually in blue and white. There are so many different patterns. I remember seeing a lot in Lisbon, but nothing like Porto. If Porto is known for anything, it is this.

About three more Porto posts to go! Then we move on to Lisbon.

porto parochial

Santo Ildefonso, Porto

It was a bit of a race for me: will I draw more fire hydrants or more churches? Fire hydrants was always going to win because of the ease/speed factor, but by day two it was neck and neck and if I hadn’t spent so much time schlepping up and down hills I might have spent that drawing even more Porto churches. There are so many beautiful ecclesiastical buildings in Porto, with accompanying dizzying views, sculpted masonry and often those very Porto-esque blue and white tiles. Above is the church of Igreja Paroquial de Santo Ildefonso, at Praça Batalha, which was right outside my hotel (I drew a map, below) and on the other side of a deep valley facing the iconic Torre Clerigos. A lot of sketchers drew this church. I never went inside, but I loved all of the tiles outside. This was the first sketch I did in Porto, sat outside my hotel eating a couple of ‘Natas’ and drinking a Fanta Orange.
Porto Map Batalha

Below is the Cathedral of Porto, the Sé, another magnet for sketchers, not least for its incredible views over the city. I do wish I had drawn it more than once from another angle, as I really liked the views approaching the cathedral from behind. I wanted that view of the front with the sun shining down on it. I stood outside some houses in the shade, looking up, a group of older Portuguese men stood to my left just chatting and smoking, and shaking hands with the occasional local passer-by, while an old lady sat outside her house to my right yelling at pigeons while another one (or maybe the same one, I wasn’t paying much attention) threw things at pigeons from an upstairs window while hanging out laundry. Ok, why am I drawing cathedrals? I should be drawing that. The Sé building dates from 1737.

Se do Porto

Now below is the one that, if you were an urban sketcher and didn’t sketch this at the symposium, you weren’t really there. Ok that’s how it seemed anyway. The Torre Clérigos was used as the symbol of the Symposium and was that one tall tower visible from everywhere. I sketched this one (below) on the last Saturday of the Symposium, making sure I managed to get it in before I left the city, forgetting I had actually drawn it three or four times already from a distance. It’s on a very, very steep slope which is great for the perspective sketching, and I sat in the afternoon sunshine with a wide-brimmed hat on to draw this. The Clérigos was built by renowned baroque architect Nicolau Nasoni, who designed many other grand buildings in Porto.

Clerigos Porto

Below was one of the more spectacular churches I saw. The building shape itself was not inspiring, but you don’t look at a painting and say, yeah but it’s just a rectangle of canvas. It was the amazing decoration, covered completely in smooth blue and white tiles, covered in beautiful ornate paintings. It was like the Sao Bento train station but inside out. I didn’t have time to go inside. I came across this church, while walking around late at night looking for an easier way back to the hotel that involved no mountaineering. By the way it is called the ‘Capela das Almas’ and is located on Rua Santa Catarina, opposite the Bolhao Metro station (Santa Catarina is actually one of the few I walked down that was actually a flat surface). This church dates from the 18th century but the tiles were added in 1929 by Eduardo Leite. At night it was lit from outside and so it shone like a beacon, with all those smooth tiles, but I was tired so drew it in the daytime, my last sketch in Porto before leaving. In fact I only had time to draw the lines, I added the paint afterwards. This would be an amazing one to do a huge drawing of, spending a long time with intricate details, but I would need (a) better glasses, (b) loads more time and (c) loads more natas.

Capela Das Almas, Porto

 

Here it is in the flesh, at night:

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There were so many other church buildings I did not get to sketch, such as this one below. Actually it is two, right next to each other, located near Porto University. Perhaps next time I’ll draw all the ones I missed this time.

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Stay tuned for more Porto sketches!

 

porto perspectives

São Lourenço (Grilos), Porto

It is time to post my Porto sketches, and I have decided against the linear storytelling method of posting, rather I will loosely theme my blogs, and when I say loose, I probably mean barely connected at all. I will tell the story of the symposium from my own point of view, the people I met, the places I visited, the panoramas, the perspectives, the perambulations, and other words that will inevitably all begin with ‘p’. In fact the letter ‘p’ will probably be the prominent/predominant theme. Photos will be presented along with pen, pencil and paint pictures. So without further pause, let’s proceed.

I arrived in Porto from Madrid and took a cheap shuttle from the airport to a downtown bus station that was unfortunately just outside the range of my map. Being the navigator I am, I decided to follow my nose. My nose however had other ideas and led me and my small rolling suitcase in the complete opposite direction, into a neighbourhood of steeply sloping streets, brightly coloured tiled houses, and old women standing around yelling at each other, while old men stood around shrugging at each other. My initial encounter with Porto is still how I would describe the city, even after almost a week there. I was looking for my hotel, but did not mind being lost; I wasn’t in a hurry, though I wanted to start sketching. Eventually I found my way to within the boundaries of my small Lonely Planet guidebook map (note to self, the nose can smell pastries from a hundred feet but has no sense of direction whatsoever) and made it to my hotel, on Praça Batalha.

Igreja São Lourenço

The photo in this golden early evening light brings out the colours in the sketch more than the cold scanner

 

So it looks like I am starting out by telling this story chronologically after all. Well let’s move on from that, and go with the theme of exploring. Hang on, that doesn’t begin with a ‘p’. ‘Perspiration’, perhaps, from all the steep hill-climbing this city forces you to do. Ok then, let’s start with ‘perspectives’. The sketch at the top of this post is São Lourenço, aka ‘Grilos’, and was in fact the fourth sketch I did on my first day in Porto. I left the hotel and explored, sketching churches and fire hydrants, and found that it was hard to get very far because everywhere is so sketchable. Everywhere you turned, an impossible view. Already several sketches in by this point, and having come across many other sketchers dotted around the city already – my people! – I felt it was time to go and eat dinner somewhere, try some local cuisine. The sun was lowering and the light was golden, and I turned around a corner and saw this view, looking over the city with the tall ornate façade of São Lourenço sweeping down a cliff like an opera in stone. There was the river Douro, there were all the orange-red rooftops, showing me that all two-dimensional maps of this city were woefully inadequate; what I had though may be short cuts turned out to be like hiking up and down impenetrable mountain paths. The perspective was exciting. I stood on a bench for a slightly better view. You can see from my eye-line how high up this was, as high as the peaks of the hills across the river. The street down below in the distance is roughly parallel to this building so followed through to the same vanishing point, but other streets twisted and followed their own paths. I was pleased when I was done as it was the first Porto sketch I did that I felt encompassed how I saw the city (I hadn’t even drawn the bridge yet…). As I sketched I overheard young travelers from other countries talking the way young travelers do, the way I might have done twenty years ago when I was a young backpacker. I spoke to a few other sketchers, all of whom had the same ‘I must stop and sketch this now!’ moment I did. This view was one of many epic views over the city I would encounter, and you can’t draw them all but at certain times of day the light demands it. Dinner can wait. I ended up having a cheap kebab on Aliados if you must know, followed by a Nata. Well, there was another view I wanted to draw, the rooftops with the iconic Clerigos towering above them. All I had time for was the outline, and the glowing dusk.

Porto skyline

I think I will stop here for now. Please join me for the next chapter, which will either be “Porto People”, “Porto Parrochial”, or “Porto Postcards”. Or perhaps none of those?

st james church

st james church, davis

Taking a momentary break from posting my holidays snaps (travel sketches), here is one I did here in Davis this weekend past, St. James Church across from Community Park. This is one of the pieces I am submitting for the Pence Gallery’s annual Art Auction. The Art Auction exhibit will be between Sept 1-15, with the Gala event itself on Saturday Sept 15. Find out more at http://www.pencegallery.org/events.html. Anyway, this building is not far from our house and I have drawn it before, but always wanted to go back and do it again. It’s a tricky one to draw, because it’s mostly roof, an interesting design but tricky to fit in a satisfactory way onto a sketchbook page, it’s longer than you expect and I could never find a view I liked. Then as I was cycling past I realized the view which includes the sign is pretty nice and encompassing, so I chose that. It’s funny that this is St James, because I was just in Portugal where many of the churches were on the route of the Camino Portugués, the Portuguese pilgrimage route to the famous Santiago (that is, St James) de Compostela in Galicia. You can tell this because of the abundance of signs of the scallop shell, which is the symbol of the Camino Santiago. I have been fascinated with the Camino since I was a kid, the main one that is, across northern Spain. I’m not religious or follower of Christianity or anything, but I do love all the old churches and buildings (I like sketching cathedrals), and I love the idea of taking a walking journey across a long distance to reach a faraway place, knowing that many others are doing the same or have done the same in centuries past. Also I just like exploring. One thing I didn’t know though was that travellers on the Camino will wear those scallop shells on their backpacks as markers that they are on the pilgrimage. That was very interesting to spot, but I also started to see the scallop shell symbol everywhere. Now you probably won’t see that shell in this building here in Davis, because firstly this is not on the traditional Camino routes to Santiago de Compostela, and secondly the scallop shell is the symbol of St James the Great, while this church (according to their website) is dedicated to St James the Young, a different James. They were both Apostles I guess, but one of them really liked shells and the other really didn’t. My sister used to go to a St James Catholic High School in Grahame Park in north London (originally it was in Burnt Oak), though I don’t know whether that was shell James or non-shell James. Anyway this building here in Davis was built around 1975, actually it looks a little bit like another building from my old neighbourhood, Burnt Oak Library, with that large pyramid-like roof. You can find out more about St James Church in Davis on their website, https://www.stjamesdavis.org/about-us, and you’ll notice that they have a sketch on there by a local artist called Pete Cully, I must check that guy out. There’s also a history, which includes a photo from the 1970s of the very same view above, with the sign, but without all those big shady trees. Really cool to see the difference.