Friday Sketchbook: Drawing, the New Hot Topic

A passageway between Gammel Torv, the old town square, and Kattesundet, a narrow cobbled street. It's framed by two beautiful arches.

Beautiful arches lead the eye (and feet) between narrow cobbled street Slutterigade (“Prison Street”) and the bustling square of Gammel Torv, backed by the old Copenhagen Courthouse. The imposing structure once housed the town prison. Hans Christian Andersen used it in “The Tinder Box”, a story in which a soldier awaits execution behind iron-grated windows, possibly the ones at ground-level just beyond the second arch. That arch is known as “The Bridge of Sighs” for the prisoners who crossed it on their way to trial next door. Today it’s a nice little shortcut for bicycles and pedestrians and drivers who know where to sneak through.  A painting by Martinus Rørbye depicts the same spot in 1831, when Andersen might’ve been in the crowd. Watercolor over pencil, Moleskine 5″ x 8″ sketchbook.

Urban and travel sketching was in the news yesterday, to my surprise and delight. Luis Simoes, a Portuguese artist, is on a 5 year mission to sketch his way around the world. He talks about his experiences and the purpose of of slow travel via sketchbook:

“What I’ve learned is I have time to see things, to see the culture passing by. I can be in one spot for three hours maybe, it gives me the time to feel more.

Which sums up the practice very nicely. He also talks about sketching as a cultural ice-breaker, which is tremendously useful at times (like the time someone sent a drink to my table in Florence where I was sketching. At least, I think that was the reason).

Frederick's Church, a.k.a. the Marble Church, Copenhagen. Green and gold confectionary dome sketched from the central courtyard of Ameliaborg Castle, where I was waiting for the noontime Changing of the Guard.

Frederik’s Church, a.k.a. the Marble Church, Copenhagen. A sweet rococo confection of green and gold, as sketched from the central courtyard of Amelienborg Castle while I (and a couple hundred other tourists) waited for the noontime Changing of the Royal Guard.

It made me very happy to see sketching, and a great sketcher, featured in mainstream news, and I hope it inspires people to pick up sketchbooks and go for it. You don’t have to travel around the world to make it work, either. You can try this at home.

Happy Friday.

Happy Halloween.

And Happy Anniversary, Antman!



Posted in architecture, Art, Artists, Copenhagen, Culture, Denmark, Drawing, Environment, Sketching, travel, urban sketching, Watercolor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sketch of the Day: Chimps Get Warm and Fuzzy

Lights out at the Chimp House. The troupe is furnished with leafy branches, which they chew on, and armloads of excelsior, which they gather around themselves and make into duvets and comforters and feather beds. All very hygge at the zoo, Copenhagen. Pencil in Robert Batement 8 1/2" x 11" sketchbook.

Lights out at the Chimpanzee House. The troupe is given leafy branches at sundown for fresh bedding and a nice bedtime snack, along with armloads of shredded excelsior. They arrange these soft materials around themselves, patting them into duvets and comforters and feather beds, then snuggle under for the night. Touchingly hygge out there at the Copenhagen Zoo. Pencil in Robert Batement 8 1/2″ x 11″ sketchbook.

Posted in Animals, Art, Copenhagen, Denmark, Drawing, figure drawing, mammals, natural history, Nature, Sketching, Zoo Sketching | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Friday Sketchbook: How to Draw a Museum

Drawing the paintings gets the structure into your head

The point of drawing these little thumbnails is to catch what might otherwise be missed, and to figure out a few basics, like composition and value. And steal ideas. In the Alfred Sisley work at bottom left, the viewer’s eye crosses roof spines and slowly floats down to the courtyard stones, where- surprise- people are hanging out. Sisley saves the trick until the end. Take a sketchbook to a museum and you, too, can take Sisley home for further study. Or Renoir, or Monet. Many museums, including the Musee d’Orsay, don’t permit photos, but no one’s ever stopped me from sketching.

Why did Camille Pissarro put a woman in the gutter? The couple in La route de Louveciennes stroll along a sidewalk which is partly blocked with fallen leaves and melting snow. The woman steps off the curb and slogs through muck and debris while the man walks high and dry. As I drew a little sketch of this unequal relationship, my imagination overheated, and I began to worry. Did he push her off the sidewalk ? Are her shoes okay? Should she find another boyfriend? Maybe none of these questions worried Pissarro when he painted the walking couple. Or maybe they did. Could La Route de Louveciennes be a sly little commentary on bad manners?

Drawing is a great way to get inside a work of art, and a great way to absorb and remember a museum. I wasn’t the only one in the Musee d’Orsay doing this. A boy who looked like he might have been ten years old was sketching a Van Gogh. No parent hovered nearby and he wasn’t part of a class. He was an independent young artist, drawing with confidence. He even ignored the rubberneckers peeking over his shoulder. I peeked. He was making a very fine sketch.

Two Degas masterpieces, dissected on the page.

Two Degas masterpieces, lightly deconstructed.

A gaggle of art students sat cross-legged on the polished floor and sketched Renoir’s Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette as their instructors lectured and critiqued. The regular museum visitors threaded their way around the students, admired the huge canvas a few moments, and moved on.

Color notes and technical surprises: the bubbles done with the mouth of a bottle, most likely, dipped into aqua paint and pressed to the canvas.

Color notes and technical surprises are revealed by the close scrutiny that comes with sketching. For instance, the soap bubbles on the bathtub rim were made by dipping something perfectly round into aqua paint and pressing it on the canvas- perhaps the mouth of a bottle recently drained by Degas?

Of the the two groups, one came away with a deeper understanding of Renoir’s cinematic canvas, and may even have had a few questions about the subplots, the casting, and at least three of the extras, while the other got sore feet and an espresso at the museum cafe. Care to guess which was which? I leave it up to your imagination.

Happy Friday.

Posted in Art, Art materials, Artists, Culture, Drawing, Exhibits, Museum Sketching, museums, oil painting, painting, Sketching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Sketch of the Day: Four Days,Two Gardens, One Paris

Jardin des Tuileries, Paris. A place of calm and congeniality in the eye of the Parisian arts hurricane: the Louvre at one end, the Musee Orangerie at the other, Musee d'Orsay just across the Seine.

Jardin des Tuileries, a green haven of calm, congeniality and fountains with black-headed gulls (in winter plumage) and tilt-back chairs to collapse into when the head is full and the feet hurt. Antman and I shared a baguette and long blank stares at dancing water before setting off into the evening for more magnificence and a cozy dinner somewhere in Paris. Watercolor over pencil, 5″ x 8″ Moleskine sketchbook.

Meanwhile, at the Jardin des Plantes, further down along the Seine, the rose-ringed parakeets (introduced and thriving) chattered from the yews and wood pigeons picked at the tidy forbidden lawns (we got yelled at when Antman tried to pose with a statue of Lamarck and walked on the grass).

Meanwhile, at the Jardin des Plantes further down the Seine the rose-ringed parakeets (introduced) chattered from the yews. Wood pigeons picked at the tidy lawns, which are off-limits to human feet. The Jardin guards gave us a Warm French Scolding when Antman posed by the statue of Lamarck for me to take a picture. Which was not as pleasing as it sounds, trust me. Watercolor over pencil, 5″ x 8″ Moleskine sketchbook.

Posted in Adventure!, architecture, Art, birds, Culture, Diversions, Drawing, garden, history, museums, plein air, Sculpture, travel, Urban Nature, urban sketching, Watercolor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sketch of the day: Paris au revoir

Our last day in Paris was spent in the Impressionism collection at the top floor of the Musee d’Orsay. Just walking through and seeing all the iconic works gave me gooseflesh: on the left, Manet’s picnic on the grass with that naked lady who looks you in the eye. On the right, Cezannes and Sisleys and a rich supply of Degas, with whom I’ve fallen in love all over again. Made lots of little pencil sketches, trying to figure out what makes a good painting tick. More about that later.

Afterwards Antman, looking a little shaggy, got himself seated in a traditional Parisian barber shop, and was clipped with finesse and aplomb. He came out looking wonderfully French. I approved.

Posting by iPhone is kind of clunky but I appreciate your readership and comments and wish I could have answered. We’ve just returned to Copenhagen and can resume our Nordic lifestyle. But we’ll be back to Paris one of these days. A bientot!


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Friday sketchbook: Musee d’Orsay, Paris




Amid the late 19th Century sculptures at the great Musee d’Orsay, a group of students sat drawing. From the marble figure of a young woman tenderly kissing the brow of a severed head (she was a Muse kissing inspiration into the mind of poet Andre Chenier, and hope I got that right) to a gorilla taking a struggling, buxom nude woman captive, (which was odd on so many levels and who knows- it might have inspired Edgar Rice Burroughs to write Tarzan) with a chipped flint in its big paw suggesting a tool- using simian culture, to the multi stone woman draping her white marble mantle over a fashionable skirt of polychrome travertine, well, the Muse was kissing many brows today.

The students, as it turns out, were taking a web design class at the University, with drawing as part of their curriculum. Bravo to the Professor and the University for bringing an essential visual skill to those students. And their sketches were awesome.

Happy Friday.

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Sketches From Paris: A Pope’s Installation


At Notre Dame today, a bronze statue of Pope John Paul II was placed facing the Seine. I happened to pass by as it was being lowered by crane. Then it was swaddled in a green tarp. The unveiling is next week. Watercolor over pencil in Moleskine sketchbook.

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