Alleviating All Anxiety of Amsterdam

Amsterdam Dancing Houses sm
Moving on to the next day and the final day of the Symposium, I woke up Saturday morning definitely feeling the heat exhaustion. I decided to skip my final workshop (I did go and let them know so they wouldn’t be waiting for me) and find a spot to sketch peacefully. I hadn’t yet drawn the dancing houses along the banks of the Amstel from Groenburgwal, so I found a nice bench and drew away. I met another sketcher doing the same. It was quiet, the weekend heat had not yet started cranking up, and my stress-headache was clearing up immediately. I didn’t need to be in a class, stopping and starting and rushing, being “on”, I needed to be in “breathe-in, breathe-out, sketch” mode. It worked. I had met Lapin earlier the morning, and I was going to go and sketch with them (as it turns out he and Gerard and co went to sketch my hotel), but I decided to draw the Dancing Houses. They are impressive. Many houses seem to ‘dance’ in Amsterdam, leaning this way or that – my perspective tip of following the windows to find the vanishing point on the horizon doesn’t work as well here, where the windows follow lines more suited to more Marty Feldman’s binoculars (Young Frankenstein reference). Crooked buildings are fun to draw. By the way I did overhear one sketch instructor scoff at counting the windows on houses in Amsterdam, but counting the windows really helped the composition of each element, and also helps get the scale right. Besides, in Amsterdam they are usually three windows across as a rule. The patchwork nature of the architecture breaks up the monotony you find in many cities, it’s just so fun to draw. Looking back I probably could have had the energy to do some more group sketching and plough on, be a bit more sociable and awake, but mental health came first and I look at this sketch and immediately I feel more relaxed. Breathe in, breathe out, sketch.
Amsterdam Montelbaanstoren sm

I wandered about a bit more, bumping into the occasional sketching friend, I met Nina Johansson (long term urban sketch idol of mine since the beginning) teaching a class nearby here, the tall Montelbaanstoren. It was pretty peaceful over here too, a couple of blocks from my hotel, in fact the workshop I had skipped was being taught close by, but I decided not to join late. I sat by the canal and drew the tower as best I could, with a bike in the foreground. I was going to add full colour, but stopped at the blues, it just felt right for the relaxed mood.

After doing a few sketches of the hotel (I posted those already), I wandered over to Niewmaarkt to enjoy one of my favourite discoveries in Amsterdam – poffertjes. Little mini pancakes, from a friendly guy called Tony Benson. I spoke with Tony and a woman who was with him, we talked about Belgian footballers (maybe because I was wearing my Belgian shirt again), she was really inot Eden Hazard and asked who my favourite Belgian player was (Super Jan Vertonghen obviously!). The poffertjes were small but delicious. I could eat some of those now.

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In the afternoon, there would be another sketchwalk, over near the NEMO center, culminating in a huge group photo (the ones I usually miss at every symposium), and then the final reception over at the Muziekgebouw. I was going to meet up with everyone there, but at the hotel I realized I really needed more rest, not more rushing around in the heat. Here’s how I rested:

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I also rested by spending an hour or so in the amazing blue-tiled pool in the hotel’s basement, and relaxing in the hot-tub. Best decision I ever made. Matt Brehm was right, you don’t have to draw.
The sketchwalk was nice, and although I turned up too late for any sketching, I did meet up with a lot people I had not seen during the symposium. Many of the local groups got together for their local group photos – I am one of the Californians, but I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo with them. I did at least make the final group photo, but there are so many people in the picture that I obviously can’t be spotted, even with my bright red Belgium 1984 shirt. Actually though, in this photo of the whole group (by Belgian friend and photographer Marc Van Liefferinge) I can be spotted near the middle of the back. Proof I made it there.

You know what, there are loads of sketches you can find from other symposium attendees, if you go to Flickr and search through the tag “amsterdam symposium“. Of course most people now just bounce them out on Instagram and so on too. There are a LOT of Amsterdam sketches to be found. I went over to the final reception (a very very long walk, I went with Mauro and Fabien, though Fabien stopped on the way for a beer and to wait for Gerard, they were not coming to the reception but actually driving back to Liège that night). At the reception I caught up with all the people I had not spoken to as much so far, such as Gabi, and Liz (we snuck up on Paul Wang and got our annual symposium pic of the three of us, guerilla-style), Elizabeth, James, and of course Rita, and did a little people sketching, but mostly chatting. I also got to meet Danny Gregory for the first time, he was there with all the Sketchbook Skool lot, that’s a big thing now. I had been a chapter in one of his books years ago, the one with my drawing of Vipins ont he cover, and we’d tried to arrange a video interview to go on his website but it was always dinnertime in my house and we never did it, so it was nice to finally meet. (Though I suspect I he didn’t remember who I was). I also met a number of people who I’ve since started following on Instagram, it’s what these whole events are about really. And then in the end, it was the gathering off for dinner, I went off with a big group of the usual sketchers, and we had a great evening. The best bit though was finishing off with some late night or early morning) car sketching. A bunch of us led by Lapin sat in a narrow street by a canal and drew a couple of classic Citroens. This is apparently a tradition at the Clermont Ferrand festival. My habit of sketching fire hydrants at 3am when I travel does not seem so odd now; these are my people. One of though people though, Hugo Costa, nearly fell in the canal when his stool broke – lucky escape! Here’s what I drew, and a photo of some of us sketching in the darkness of Amsterdam.
Amsterdam Night Car Sketching sm

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Now this little fire hydrant I actually drew at night on the first night in Amsterdam, but I’ve saved until now because why not. As for the blog post title, “Alleviating All Anxiety of Amsterdam”, I mean it says it all but seriously I might come back and change all these titles some day.
Amsterdam Hydrant sm

And that was it for another Symposium. I have more Amsterdam sketches to share here, plus a bit more Belgium, a bit of Disneyland Paris, a few from London, and then loads more of Davis, then some from Santa Monica, and Portland again, and Hawaii. But after this long day of relaxful sketching Citroens by lamplight, I had a well-earned lie-in on Sunday. After all the heat, there was a little rain coming, but so were my family.

“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

under the sea to paris

Eurostar to Paris

We went to Paris!! It had been a very long time, for me at least; France 98 I think was the last time, except when passing through en route to somewhere more southerly. We took the Eurostar from St.Pancras; my four-year-old son had been looking forward to this for a long time, the TGV Eurostar that goes under the sea all the way to Paris. He was so excited he had the hiccups. “This is the first time I’ve been to Paris with the hiccups!” he said. When we sat down however his window seat didn’t actually have a window; thankfully the kind French lady in the seat behind offered to swap seats, so he got his wish. We really had to go back to France this year; it’s ten years since my wife and I first Rue Daubentonmet in Aix, and we have been away too long.I sketched the above drawing in my Miquelrius ‘Lapin’ sketchbook, in dark blue micron and watercolour. I have taken the Eurostar many times to Brussels, but only once before to Paris. It’s quicker now, and St.Pancras is a beautiful station, but I do miss the old Waterloo departure, seeing the Thames as you rumble out of London.

We got to Paris, and packed onto the RER and the Metro to our apartment down in the 5th arrondissement. We rented an apartment in the Latin Quarter rather than stay at a hotel, and I must say it was an excellent decision, though we were only there two nights. This part of Paris is completely unknown to me, and I just loved it straight away; it’s nice south of the river! There was a bakery on the corner of the street, opposite the Metro, and a small supermarket around the corner, which was like heaven – so many familiar everyday things from ten years ago: my favourite French cereals, all the different Oranginas, all the different cheeses. It’s the miscellaneous details I like. The area had lots of shops, and I particularly love French bookshops (except that I can never work out the prices of things due to their card-shop-esque coding system). I picked up for my son a story book about the Eiffel Tower running away to see the world.

I had to draw the view from the apartment at night, and got a large bottle of Leffe Ruby (which was a lot fruitier than I expected it to be, and bubblier – it fizzed all over the place, so I only had less than one glass) and some cheese. It’s nice to be in Paris. Must go back more regularly!

More Paris sketches to come…

the lisbon streets at night

rua anchietta at night

Night-time sketching is fun, as the light is all different and in summertime in Lisbon, people are out on the streets enjoying life, or sketching the world. Right below the Shiado hostel on Rua Anchietta where I stayed was a cafe called Kaffeehaus (it was Austrian). I went there on a few occasions for dinner or a drink with some of the other urban sketchers who were staying at the hostel, such as Paul Wang (Urban Sketchers correspondent in Hong Kong, originally from Singapore), who I sketched above. I was pleased to have met Paul (who also spent some days in London prior to Lisbon, though I didn’t sketch with him) as I love his colourful sketching style, it’s so nice to look at. We were at dinner with Liz Steel and Omar Jaramillo; you couldn’t get a more multi-continental group of sketchers!. Our hostel was just around the block from a square where nightly open-air concerts filled the air with classical music, right up until bed-time. I’m no classical buff, so couldn’t really tell you your Schubert from your Chopin, but it was nice to hear. It was still going on when I got back to my room, and so I looked out of the window and sketched the scene below me.

Below: from the night before, sat in the same place, but this time sketching Florian Afflerbach and Rolf Schroeter, two of our USk correspondents from Germany. I appear to have sketched Florian and Rolf in slightly different sizes, kinda! The couple sat behind Rolf were enjoying themselves. We were there with Jason Das that night, having all just been at the USk correspondents dinner. One thing I remember most is the damn street-lamp flickering away…

florian and rolf at kaffeehaus

you may take our trees

E street from sophia's kitchen

Memorial Day. Got out on the bicycle tonight after a trying day, and rode about enjoying the evening warmth. Stopped for a cold beer in downtown Davis, where I sat outside and drew the scene opposite me. And actually included cars! This is important. A couple of years ago I sat in this very spot and drew this very same scene, and purposely left a big space where the carwas, because I don’t really like drawing cars (unless it’s a really cool car, and that is the main thing I’m drawing). And then I went and spilled my little water jar all over my sketchbook. You’ve never seen my hand move so fast. Thankfully nothing was damaged – all is well. Thankfully I live in a dry part of the planet and so didn’t have soggy book syndrome.  

Anyway the previous drawing is below. Note how there’s a big tree whose trunk begins bottom right. That tree is sadly gone now. It was enormous, but they chopped it down because it was threatening to fall over and crush you puny humans.

E st (minus the car)

jingle all the way

in the globe at moorgate

Twas two nights before Christmas, and all over the City, nobody about, not even a mouse…

Well there were a few post-work revellers lingering in the Globe pub in Moorgate where I met my friend Simon for a bit of late-night nocturnal urban sketching. I did this quickly in the pub before he got there (so that I was one sketch ahead, you see; we’re very competitive). We wandered off through the deserted streets,guildhall at night far from the madding crowd, and sketched in front of Guildhall, which remarkably I had never been to before. It was fun. It was dark, but the buildings were lit and there was a soft mist in the air. Do you know, it has’t rained once since I have been here? Considering my last rain-soaked trip in the summer, it is remarkable (while in California right now, rain rain and rain; “ha-ha” as nelson would say). We then wandered off in search of a pub that was actually open, and found one that was old and did Fuller’s beer, and we chatted and chatted away. I do miss chatting with my best mates.

(By the way, he ended up sketching more than I did)

But I have plenty more sketches I have been doing on this trip which I haven’t yet scanned…