looking over liège

Liege hydrants
I took the train across the linguistic divide that cuts Belgium in two and landed in Liège, a city I had last visited in the final months of the twentieth century. I was going there for exactly 24 hours, to visit my long-time urban sketching friend and art hero, Gerard Michel, and also sketch with some other Belgian sketching friends. Liège is a fairly big city, larger than I remember, and the architecture is very Walloon, lots of brick houses and steep hills. Gerard and I went for a morning walk around his neighbourhood, up steep paths and down long stairs, overlooking rooftops and spires and trees and the great river Meuse. Liège is a lively city, with a lot of atmosphere, a university city, and a very sketchable one, but in a different way to Ghent. We met up with Fabien Denoel, who I’ve known and followed since Barcelona 2013, and Chris Damaskis, as well as Danni Hoedamkers whom I had sketched with in Ghent, and Martine Kervagoret, visiting from Paris on the way to the Symposium, whom I first met back in Lisbon 2011 I think. We sketched up at the Terrasses des Minimes, overlooking the city, and it was very peaceful. I have seen many of gerard’s skethces from up there, as well as Fabiens, but also Lapin’s Florian Afflerbach’s, Nina Johansson’s, all the great sketchers who have visited there before, so I knew this scene well already, and I’m glad to have sketched it myself.
Liege rooftops des Minimes
I liked this picture of an apple that I took too.

IMG_3733

We walked into town for lunch, going to an old Liègeois cafe called Chez Stockis / Cafe Lequet, near the banks of the Meuse. We sat and chatted in French (I am very rusty), looked through sketchbooks, had cold beer and ate very local food. Most people had these things called ‘boulots’, which are these large meatballs (I don’t eat the meat so I didn’t have those), but I had Tomates Crevettes, which were these little shrimp sat on a big tomato, with frites. The cafe is old and a local favourite, but I heard that it would be closing. In fact I think by now, M. Stockis has closed up for the last time, though the cafe may still be going on (there’s a FB page). The patron, Guillaume Stockis, is there in the background of the sketch below (which is of Fabien Denoel). On the ceiling is hanging the marionette of Tchantchès, a local Walloons character dating back to the 19th century, dressed in his traditional miners’ clothes. You can learn about him here, if you can speak Walloons. This here is the heart of Liège.

Liege Cafe Lequet sm

IMG_3751

After lunch we walked across the Meuse to the Outremeuse neighbourhood and sketched at the roundabout of the Rue Pont St Nicolas. It was getting hot, the heatwave was coming in, and regular cold drinks were necessary. I sat next to a Friterie – the Friterie Tchantches of course – and drew as best I could. I also wandered about a little, as I had learned (from one of Gerard’s sketches) that the best waffles in Liège were at a place just across the street. Sadly it was closed, so I had one from a chain nearby, which was not as good. The waffles of Liège are a bit different from the waffles of Brussels, usually smaller and rounder, and they remind me of that Belgian film Rosetta, which I saw back in 1999 when I was in Charleroi, a story about a young woman in Liège who at one point works in a waffle truck.

Liege Outremeuse

Going back a few hours, the sketch below was the view from the guest room at Gerard’s house, I had woken up early (jetlag), and needed to practice the sketching. The bells at the local church were playing Bob Dylan, Blowin’ in the Wind, which always reminds me of when I lived in Belgium, when I listened to Bob Dylan a lot, and that was the first song on the CD I had bought. I would listen to that when looking out over the rooftops from my 13th floor room, so perhaps this was the universe welcoming me back to Wallonia.
Liege view from window
And as you know, I like to draw fire hydrants, so I drew three of them in Liège. And here also is Gerard, on the steep Montagne de Beuren, showing me the spot where he had once drawn a spectacular 360 degree picture of the whole scene – he gave me a print of it a decade ago, I do love it. It was funny seeing the real place in real life.
Liege Hydrant OutremeuseIMG_3719

Here is Gerard’s sketchbook, and as you can see I show up in it twice! A huge honour. I’m wearing my 1984 classic Belgium shirt, crouching over my book as always.

IMG_3770(Edited)
After sketching the roundabout, I walked down to the shade beneath the bridges crossing the Meuse. There was a smell of wee. The footbridge is the Passarelle Saucy, and I think I remember this bridge from that one time I came here twenty years ago, but I don’t remember it being called Saucy. What a brilliant name for a bridge. And no, I won’t be doing any sauce or saucy based jokes here.
Liege Passarelle Saucy
We crossed back over the river, walked about the city-centre a bit, before stopping off at the Place St Denis to draw the side of the church there. The weather was really getting hot by now. Gerard’s son Antoine joined us, I’ve met him a number of times. It was nice having dinner with Gerard’s family at his home the evening before, he made a really delicious chicken meal. I was delighted to take a look at his sketchbook room, his inventions, and we looked through a large map book of 17th or 18th century Belgium with Fabien, scouring it for every village; a small country with a big and detailed history. Belgium has only been the country of Belgium since 1830, but every area has a long hisroty, often of being ruled by some foreign power like the Habsburgs, or the French, or the Dutch, or the Spanish; Liège for many years was ruled by the Prince-Bishops of Liège, the princes-évêques, and the next time I am here I will draw the magnificent palace that still dominates the skyline. This is also, possibly, the city of Charlemagne’s birth, though nobody knows for sure. It might be Aachen, which isn’t far away, and was his capital. The city I was in the day before, Ghent, was the birthplace of another great Holy Roman Emperor called Charles, whose name lives on in one of my favourite beers, Charles Quint (Kaizer Karel).
Liege Sketchers
The Church of St.Denis dates back to the late 900s AD, founded by someone called Notker of Liège. I added the colour later on the train out of town. I spent exactly 24 hours in Liège. We all went for a cold beer in the city square, before Gerard took me to the station, the phenonemally futuristic cathedral of Guillemins, and I just made it onto a train to go back in time to Charleroi. A la prochaine fois, Liège!
Liege St Denis

Cars in the City (with Lapin and Gerard Michel)

rainy Manchester

 

USk Symposium Morning 1
The 7th International Urban Sketching Symposium kicked off on the Wednesday evening with a big gathering at Manchester Town Hall in a huge, wonderful room that was not unlike the Great Hall at Hogwarts, but more ornate and elaborate. I didn’t however take any photos or do any sketching, busy as I was meeting with old friends and chatting away. I did got for dinner afterwards and sketched there but I will post all the ‘dinnertime’ sketches separately I think. I’d like now to dive into the Symposium itself – above is a quick sketch I did of the first morning introduction session, with Simone Ridyard, Elizabeth Alley and Omar Jaramillo there. It was time to go and sketch, and my first workshop was one I was really looking forward to: “Cars in the City“, with Lapin and Gerard Michel.

Lapin and Gerard
Yes indeed. I’ve known Lapin and Gerard since the first Symposium (though have followed their work since the start of Urban Sketchers), both have very different approaches but have a big love of drawing cars, especially classic vehicles. This workshop of course was originally to be co-taught with Florian Afflerbach, the great sketcher of cars who sadly passed away earlier this year. I took a workshop Gerard and Florian co-taught in Lisbon, teaching me a lot about perspective. While this workshop was not necessarily about large scenes and mastering vanishing points, the workshop did focus very much on how the eye perceives the world based on our distance from what we are sketching, and Lapin and Gerard did a good job of showing us what they mean.

Cars in the city A

Our first assignment was to sketch a car from a distance of about a metre or so, maybe a little more. The view of the car would be more typical, and they gave us an example of how to work out the shape using simple boxes. My first car happened to be a Mercedes, and I drew in pencil (thinking again of Florian), keeping a little way back from the car, crouched, as it looked very much like it might rain. Oh and by the way it certainly did rain.

Cars in the city B

So we found a car-park not too far away which was sheltered beneath an overpass, and sketched in there. Lapin asked us to sit very close to the car we wanted to sketch – the closer you sit, the more warped the perspective would start to look. This is a good rule for perspective – you position matters enormously, and even slight changes to your position can alter the perspective of what you are drawing immensely. I found a blue Ford Focus – hardly a beautiful car but still attractive for the sketch’s purpose. I drew my reflection in it and also changed the number plate to something more fitting the Symposium. Lapin came and said, sit even closer! I was pretty close, but still two feet or so out – he suggested going right up to the car, and seeing what happened. His suggestion to the class was that we don’t think about perspective rules, rather, just see what is in front of you as a series of shapes, and draw the shapes, letting the picture unfold itself. For my next car then I chose a Rover 400 (below), a more classic British brand, and sat right up to the headlight.

Cars in the city C

Well I think you can see the difference! Immediately everything bends that bit more, yet the sketch really starts to pop out. This is something I would like to try a bit more. We ran out of time before I could add colour, and we had a little gathering to discuss what we had learned, but the parking attendant in charge of the car-park came along and booted us out; I guess the car park is private property, but it was good shelter from the rain. We moved along to a spot around the corner for the final part of the workshop, drawing cars with the city around them. This was very much Gerard’s part of the class and he showed us some examples; including the cars in the foreground of the sketches helped to add depth but also some foreground anchor to help understand the perspective of the scene. there was a nice spot away from the rain next to an office block, showing a clear view of Manchester’s skyline (thanks to a building having been demolished, I believe it was something to do with the BBC). We did go into the building and ask permission to sit beneath it and sketch, and they were fine with it. It was a very interesting view, with the Palace Hotel there, but oh so rainy.

Cars in the city

Key points I took away:

  • Your perspective of an object curves dramatically as you get closer to it
  • Use box shapes often helps figure out the car’s overall shape
  • Draw the scene as the shapes you see and the perspective often figures itself out
  • Manchester really is quite rainy

LapinGerard Michel

Many thanks to Lapin and to Gerard! Awesome instructors!

lisbon symposium, day 2: lisbon perspectives

lisbon praca comercio

Day Two of the Lisbon Symposium started with the eagerly awaited Lisbon Perspectives workshop, led by Gerard Michel from Liege, Belgium, and Florian Afflerbach of Cottbus, Germany. I met Gerard last year and talked about curvilinear and other forms of (very difficult) perspective with him; he is the master of the art form! I have wanted to practise it for a while (did a couple of drawings last year, but none since) so the tips Gerard gave me were very useful. The drawing I did, which took me a lot longer than a drawing normally does, was a lot of fun but I didn’t stretch my curves anywhere near as much as perhaps I should; I was a little reticent I think. It gave the impression that I was sat a lot further back than I actually was. Still, I’m pleased enough with the overall effect, but I really want to practise more now! Gerard gave me a couple of his large and amazing prints; they’ll serve as inspiration.

Below, Gerard shows some of his examples of 360-degree perspective, and Florian does an impression of Tower Bridge…

Gerard Michel Lisbon PerspectivesLisbon perspectives, Florian and Gerard

 

gerard michel, animated

Above: some very quick impressions of Gerard speaking about six-point perspective (in French), while below, Jason Das looks at the world through a grid.

Lisbon perspectives, Jason Das

Lisbon perspectives

And here are the sketchbooks! More symposium sketches to come…

In the meatime, you may like to check out everybody’s sketches and photos in the Lisbon 2011 Flickr pool