Sightseeing for the Sketchbook Tourist

 

Hamlet's parking space, Elsinore Castle. Watercolor over pencil in Moleskine 5x8 sketchbook. Cannons on the embankments point at Sweden. The gift shop sells Viking helmets. Horatio gives guided tours. Pied wagtails foraged in the grassy swale.

Hamlet’s parking space, Elsinore Castle, Denmark. Watercolor over pencil in Moleskine 5×8 sketchbook. The cannons aim at Sweden, the gift shop sells Viking helmets, and Horatio gives guided tours. And pied wagtails forage in yon grassy swale, Anon.

I like touring with a sketchbook. It requires something from me, the tourist. Drawing becomes an indelible piece of my travel experience, glued by hand into the flapping scrapbook pages of memory.

The Storkespringvandet, or Stork fountain, in Hojbro Plads in the heart of the well-heeled Stroget., a shopping district and people-watching hangout. I bought a ringside table and a beer for 54 kroners, and sketched happily until it was gone. Watercolor over pencil in 5x8 Moleskine.

The Storkespringvandet, or Stork fountain, in Hojbro Plads in the heart of Copenhagen’s well-heeled Stroget shopping district. According to tradition, (which may turn out to be apocryphal) newly graduated town midwives join hands and dance around the stork fountain (fertility rites could be good for business). I rented a table and beer here for 54 kroner and sketched until the beer wasn’t. Watercolor over pencil in 5×8 Moleskine.

The camera is essential, of course, and catches more images than the sketchbook ever will. I’m having a ball with the camera, too. But when hand and eye meet travel’s fresh wonders, it’s fun to see how biology renders the pictures.

Jugglers walking on Slotsholms Canal, Copenhagen.

Jugglers walking on Slotsholms Canal, Copenhagen, and me, right behind them, camera in hand.

I keep walking into delightful surprises here in Copenhagen. Today it was a pair of jugglers heading home from work. Yesterday it was the Royal Danish Army Fife and Drum Corps standing in the resonant vaulted passageway behind the Royal Danish Theater and playing, of all things, a medley of Monty Python hits.

The Danish Royal Army's Fife and Drum Corps playing on the street in Copenhagen. Watercolor over pencil, Moleskine 5 x 8.

The Danish Royal Army’s Fife and Drum Corps playing on the street in Copenhagen. Watercolor over pencil, Moleskine 5 x 8.

I guess the downside of being a sketchbook tourist is not being camera-ready when it counts. Busy drawing, I missed those famous first notes. But the rest of them are glorious. Enjoy.

Happy Friday.

Posted in Adventure!, Art, Copenhagen, Denmark, Diversions, field sketching, figure drawing, Music, Pop culture references, self-indulgence, Sketching, Sounds & Movies, travel, Video clips | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Birds, thus far, of Copenhagen

The Royal Swans at the Kastellet, which I think is a small castle, but also gets called the Citadel. From the air, it's star-shaped with raised battlements and a moat with swans. These are this morning's sketches of the two parents and their 5 ugly duckling cygnets. Sorry about the unscanned sketch. Pencil in Moleskine sketchbook, photographed with iPhone.

The Royal Swans at the Kastellet, which isn’t Danish for “small castle”, but translates to The Citadel. From the air it looks like a star. A moat around it hosts a family of mute swans; these are the morning’s sketches of the two parents and their 5 cygnets, born this spring. Pencil in Moleskine sketchbook, photographed with an iPhone. Sorry, no scanner.

I haven’t run up much of a bird list here in Copenhagen. The city habitat is a little heavy on stone and masonry, so whatever lives around here must love rooftops and manicured parks. That narrows the list to pigeons (rock and wood, how appropriate), corvids (hooded crows, jackdaws and magpies), and a few gulls (common black-headed, herring, great black-backed) around the wharf. This week we’ve been busy with official business: finding fruit stands and cheesemongers, learning how to navigate cobbled streets and shampoo-purchasing, filling out forms. Birds create a playful diversion. Living in the attic apartment, we can stick our heads out of the roof windows, and sometimes, birds whoosh past at nearly arm’s length.

Wood pigeon on the chimney, swifts (Apus apus) high above them. The view from my writing desk. Pencil in Moleskine sketchbook.

Wood pigeon on the chimney, swifts (Apus apus) high above. It’s the view from the writing desk where I’m sitting at the moment. Pencil in Moleskine sketchbook. Those are my fingers at the bottom of the page, holding the pages open.

Below us, Nyhavn (New Harbor) is awhirl with crowds of diners and drinkers clinking glasses at little tables. A strolling accordionist squeezes “Moon River” and “A Time For Us” while herring gulls and magpies lunge at dropped smorrebrod. Today I watched an unleashed chihuahua bury a bone under a tree in a city park as a hooded crow stood by. When the dog’s back was turned, the crow snagged the prize from the dirt and flew away. They are adaptable, those birds, those that can adapt.

A Jackdaw, a pigeon-sized corvid with lots of charisma. This one seems to have found the roof tiles below the window amusing. Drawn from, maybe, six feet away, out the window. Pencil in Moleskine sketchbook.

Jackdaw, a garrulous, pigeon-sized corvid with charisma. This one seems to be amused by the Nyhavn tourists below. Sketched from, maybe, six feet away, with my head stuck out the window. Pencil in Moleskine sketchbook, 5″ x 8″

As long as we’re in the city, I’ll be looking at the vast possibilities of other things, too: bicycle traffic flow patterns and rider fashions, sketching gruesome statues and 19th century tall ships, people on the street. The birds of Copenhagen, however, squeeze into the human ecosystem with not a lot of room to spare. They breed in castle moats and shaved yew hedges; their wings sweep green spires and chimney tops. And that’s where you’ll find me: sticking my head up above the roof tiles, watching the jackdaws play.

Happy Friday.

Wonderful Copenhagen: the evening view from our little apartment on Nyhavn.

Wonderful Copenhagen: the evening light on candy-colored houses, taken from the window of our little Nyhavn apartment.

 

 

Posted in Adventure!, Art, bird art, birding, birds, Copenhagen, Culture, Denmark, Diversions, Drawing, Environment, field sketching, Food, natural history, Nature, Sketching, travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Little Mermaid Maintains Her Dignity

Little Mermaid turns her face from the crowd, wishing she'd worn her good fins. Mechanical pencil (.7) in Moleskine sketchbook.

Little Mermaid turns her face from the crowd, wishing she’d worn her good fins. Mechanical pencil (.7) in Moleskine sketchbook.

We are settled into our canal-side apartment (more pics to come) and have begun to stock up on essentials for the long run: salt, soap, coffee, herring, buying only as much as we can carry home on foot- no car, no supermarkets that we can find. No problem- fruit stands and wine shops and bakeries abound. The yogurt is amazing.

This morning I took a walk up to the statue of the Little Mermaid, the city’s beloved icon. Hans Christian Anderson is much on the mind as we are living in his old digs in Nyhavn. On my Kindle are his collected stories- 168 of them. They make me weep. I have to read with a hankie in hand. The statue is life-sized (assuming mermaids are the same size as humans) and bronze; she is perched on a softly rounded boulder. There were tidy piles of kelp lined up all along the water’s edge, spaced exactly 20 feet apart, some sort of neatness campaign, I supposed.

The Little Mermaid, on the harbor in Copenhagen.

The Little Mermaid, on the harbor in Copenhagen.

As I sketched, a British man asked, “Is she hard to capture?” I said, “Not at all, she holds completely still”, and got a laugh.

A moment later the kelp-cleanup crew arrived, dropping the boom, so to speak, on my drawing session.

Happy Friday.

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My Weekend With Google

Google by night: yes, it's a real, physical place.

Google by night. It’s not really a brick and mortar place. More like glass and titanium and pixie dust.

What looks like a bleached octopus, sans tentacles, rests in my hand. White, flaccid and cold, the rubbery blob chills my gloved palm as the researcher describes her work: decellularizing organs to create scaffolds for recolonization by new cells, and possible future implantation.

I am holding a human heart.

The occasion is Science Foo Camp, hosted annually by O’Reilly Media, Inc., Nature, and Google. It’s an un-conference or an unconvention, take your pick. An invited group of scientists, techies, writers, philosophers and artists join for a few days of idea-exchange and oh, wow sessions.

Mind-stretching is a little exhausting, but a full-time barista froths cappuccinos under whimsical Googleplex structural swoops. We are surrounded by saturated colors and other eye candy: bicycles with green tires, red seats and yellow frames roll by. Leaf-green Adirondack chairs zone in on orange tables. A full-sized skeleton T-Rex replica crunches pink lawn flamingos in its toothy jaws. Intense discussions are taking place on boulder-like couches and around the wine bar and It’s It ice cream cart. Pop-up demos of 3-D mathematical puzzles tie participants in knots for fun and frustration. A working model Antikythera Mechanism (eclipse predictor) is built entirely from Legos. The decellularized human heart turns out to be a good ice-breaker, too. Shy nerds come out of their shells, get excited, and talk about their and each other’s work.

Primary colors for maximum visual fun. Google's architecture reflects its purpose: a big toybox for grownup child's play. Seems to work very, very well.

Primary colors for maximum visual fun. Google’s architecture houses a big toybox for grownup child’s play. Seems to work.

More formal sessions are stuck with post-its to schedule boards with titles like, “The Last 3 Minutes Before the Singularity” “Human-Powered Helicopters: Ornithopters and Really Fast Bikes (there’s an incredible video of this Sikorsky-Prize-winning flight)” “De-Extinction: Should We Bring Extinct Things Back to Life?” Conference rooms are named Neuralyzer, Space Elevator, Tricorder, and Flux. The session on “Why Should You Collaborate With Artists?” led by artist Charlotte Jarvis, is packed with scientists.

It's a Conference Bike. As good as it sounds.

It’s a conference bike, what else? Another wild idea from Google.

I feel very lucky to hang with these amazing people and hear about their work, chat with neurobiologists who study the science of aesthetics and attention. I have a cozy chat with an astrophysicist and president of a well-known planetarium who tells me about her citizen science programs, about how to demystify and make science accessible, how anyone can do it ( for starters, here’s how you can join in the fun). On the subject of drawing and field sketching, she admits not knowing how to draw, so I throw out a small challenge: anyone can learn drawing, too. Handing her a new sketchbook, the two of us sit on the ground and sketch Google’s landscape plantings: rudbeckia, salvias, grama grasses. An Anna’s hummingbird hovers three feet away, shoving its bill into a salvia bloom. I set the timer on my iPhone for one minute and we madly draw gesture sketches of trees and flowers. In minutes, she is drawing, but even better, the process is demystified. She sees as an artist for the first time.

Later we stand in the Holodeck, the surround-experience version of Google Earth. We hover over Copenhagen and dip into street view. Hanging onto the console keeps us from keeling over as destinations spin our way. The astrophysicist shows me her planetarium, a beautiful jewel at the edge of a great lake. Then we find the extra-terrestrial icons. Clicking “Moon” spins us outward again at a terrifying clip, into the starry black sky. A cruise over the craters shows us the gritty gray floor. Mars’s craters are crisp and the atmosphere at the horizon as orange as a smog-alert day in Burbank. The red planet rolls away under us and names pop up in white letters: Bay of Toil, Cape Verde, and the Valley Without Peril. We park a few hundred feet up, and I draw a little landscape sketch, my first plein-extraterrestrial-air artwork.

My first drawing from the surface of Mars. Drawn on Google's Holodeck.

My first drawing from the surface of Mars. Victoria Crater as seen on Google’s Holodeck.

When we start showing each other our houses, that’s when we know it’s time to go. But what a journey.

Next stop: Copenhagen. Happy Tuesday.

Posted in Adventure!, Art, Culture, Diversions, Drawing, fossils, Science, Sketching, travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

I’ll Have the Danish

My favorite new word is hygge, pronounced, “hooga”, but with a better Danish accent.

In Denmark, it means coziness and warmth and cheerful goodness. It means candlelight and hot mulled wine, knitted scarves and good companions, pickled herring and maybe a friendly Viking. I’m thinking about hygge right now since A) it’s a record cold July day in Oklahoma and it’s a nice warm thought, and B) we are preparing for four months in Copenhagen, long enough to find the best birding spots, learn a few words in Danish, and maybe soak up a little culture. It’s also Ant Man’s sabbatical and a working trip for me. I’ll be sketching birds, both in urban and rural landscapes, maybe from the seat of a bicycle. Which sounds a little insane and terribly cute, if not entirely hygge.

Our living quarters, like something straight out of a fairy tale. Just ask Hans Christian Anderson. He lived here from 1871 to 1874. We'll be here from August to December.

Our Copenhagen living quarters (follow the arrow) look like something out of a fairy tale. Just ask Hans Christian Anderson. He lived there from 1871 to 1874. Photo by Google Street View, blurry legless people and all.

We had to drive to Houston to get our paperwork in order at the Danish consulate. The mute swan is, by sheerest coincidence, the national bird of Denmark. These two were afloat in the tiled pond in the Houston Embassy Suites lobby. Sketched in a borrowed Moleskine notebook, equations and all.

We drove all the way to the Danish Consulate in Houston to get our paperwork in order. These mute swans, national birds of Denmark, were afloat by pure coincidence in the lobby pool of the Houston Embassy Suites where we stayed. Sketched in the pages of a borrowed Moleskine notebook, equations and all. Guess who I borrowed it from.

Lately I’ve been working with writer Susan Dragoo, illustrating a story for Oklahoma Today Magazine. In the past weeks we’ve torn through the Oklahoma backroads like Thelma and Louise in Susan’s monster truck, laughing, eating too much fried food, and hitting the brakes for interesting wildflowers. And that, come to think of it, is some real Oklahoma hygge.

Happy Thursday.

Painting from an abandoned bridge over the Cimarron river near Ripley, Oklahoma.

Painting from an abandoned bridge over the Cimarron in central Oklahoma.

At Wilson's Rock, an outcropping along the Arkansas river in eastern Oklahoma.

A hot day at Wilson’s Rock, an Arkansas river outcropping.

 

Posted in Adventure!, Art, Artists, Drawing, field sketching, Flowers, Food, Illustration, natural history, Nature, Oklahoma, painting, Pastel, plein air, travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Tales from the Isle of Galveston

Roseate spoonbills preening and moving nesting material around; High Island's Smith Woods rookery, Bolivar Peninsula, Texas. Watercolor over pencil, drawn through a dinky Nikon field scope to great amusement from the Guys with the Giant Camera Lenses. 8 1/2" x 11, Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook.

Roseate spoonbills preening and moving nesting material around; High Island’s Smith Woods rookery, Bolivar Peninsula, Texas. Watercolor over pencil, drawn through a teeny Nikon field scope to the great amusement of the Guys with the Big Lenses. 8 1/2″ x 11, Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook.

There’s a species of birder that birds through the long lens of a high-caliber camera. These birders are usually male, although more women join the band every year. I call them the Big Lens Guys. They appear to be an army unit clothed in camo and khaki and multi-pocketed vests. As a rule, they are strong and silent, patient and intense. When a warbler alights, bazooka lenses swing to aim, focus, and fire off motorized clips of imagery. It sounds (and looks) like a battlefront. It’s awesome.

Birding the Starbucks way. Antman, far right, knows how to watch warblers over a cup of Pike Place. Lafitte's Cover Nature Preserve, Galveston, TX.

The Big Lens Guys on warbler watch. Artificial water features are staged to attract birds, and roped off to hold back the paparazzi. Ant Man, far right, expertly birdwatches and drinks coffee in one smooth motion. Lafitte’s Cove Nature Preserve, Galveston Island, TX.

A pair of artificial water features were in operation at Lafitte’s Cove Nature Preserve, a jungly copse of hardwood and vine on Galveston Island. A weary songbird making landfall after crossing the broad Gulf of Mexico would spot this patch of greenery and come in for a drink, lured by splashing water. In migration, anything feathered can drop down and birders will be right there to catch them. Blue winged warblers, Baltimore orioles, painted and indigo buntings, rose-breasted grosbeaks, waves of Tennessees. One day I stopped by and a McGillivray’s warbler did, too.

Common nighthawk on a post near the beach condo tower, Galveston Island. Pencil, 8" x 10"

Common nighthawk on a post near condo towers, Galveston Island. Pencil, 8″ x 10″

Here’s where the story gets a little dark. Of the two water features, one was under intense scrutiny, while the other feature, tucked away in deeper vegetation, was oddly devoid of birders. When things got quiet at Feature #1, I walked over to #2, a short distance away.

Tricolored heron studies, watercolor over pencil, Stillman & Birn Alpha Series 8 1/2" x 11". Fishing for teeny minnows in a Bolivar Peninsula inlet on an incoming tide.

Tricolored heron studies, watercolor over pencil, Stillman & Birn Alpha Series 8 1/2″ x 11″. Fishing for teeny minnows in a Bolivar inlet on an incoming tide.

Where I saw something small and misshapen twisting in the gloom. Raising binoculars, I peered into the shadows.

In the water feature, a snake makes a kill. Watercolor over pencil, Stillman & Birn Alpha Series, 8 1/2" x 11"

In the pool, a water moccasin takes a warbler. Watercolor over pencil, Stillman & Birn Alpha Series, 8 1/2″ x 11″

A water moccasin of enormous size was gulping down a warbler. From the head and upper body of the bird, I could tell it was a female black and white. I was about to sketch the drama, but first I hurried back to relay the news (common courtesy, I guess). The Big Lens Guys uprooted and made a beeline for the second feature. With their long lenses and tripod legs they erected a barrier that shut me out as they fired off their cannons. As I struggled to see, a nice birder got indignant on my behalf (bless you, whoever you are) and pushed me to the front of the crowd, where I sat on the ground cross-legged and drew. The snake worked its jaws around the struggling warbler as photographic pandemonium exploded behind me. One Big Lens Guy even balanced his lens on my head. For a brief moment the water moccasin wore the suggestion of a mustache, gray primaries being the last to go down the throat. Then they, too, disappeared, and the snake slid backward into the mire.

White ibis and dunlin, Galveston East End marsh. Watercolor over pencil.

White ibis and dunlin, Galveston East End marsh. Watercolor over pencil.

On our last night in Galveston, Ant Man and I ate dinner by the beach and took a long sunset walk on the darkening sand. Exhausted birds shot past us across the curling waves of the Gulf, flying low and tired. Warblers and buntings and grosbeaks, they skimmed the beach, rose up at the seawall, and disappeared into the night.

Back home again, I rigged up my own artificial dripper out of black tubing wrapped around the branches of our holly tree and attached to the faucet outside. Water dribbles into the bird bath below. Birds come from blocks around to splash in the little concrete basin. And there’s nary a snake in sight.

Happy Tuesday.

 

Posted in Adventure!, Art, bird art, birding, birds, Drawing, Environment, field sketching, natural history, Nature, nature journaling, Sketching, travel, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Sketching Spoonbills on the Nest

At High Island, Texas, famous for warbler migration binges- no one ever mentions the spoonbill rookery. Or do they? Watercolor over pencil on Stillman& Birn Alpha Series 8.5x 11 sketchbook.

At High Island, Texas, famous for warbler migration binges- no one ever mentions the spoonbill rookery. Or do they? Watercolor over pencil on Stillman& Birn Alpha Series 8.5x 11 sketchbook.

Posted in Adventure!, Art, bird art, birding, birds, Drawing, Environment, field sketching, natural history, Nature, painting, plein air, Sketching, travel, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment