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 , , , , , , , , , , | 5 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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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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Copenhagen Culture Night, and an unrelated Paris question

Lights on the harbor, Copenhagen, at the tail-end of Culture Night.

Culture Night lights on Copenhagen’s calm harbor. The city turned into one vast Open House.

Still recovering from Copenhagen’s Culture Night (Friday) and have no sketches to show for it, although it was fun surfing the tide of humanity in and out of concerts, Danish military drills, museums, 12th century ruins under a palace, the halls of power at the Danish Parliament (think: Borgen), and a unique ballet on the Botanical Garden’s lake, where a glowing sprite danced eerily on the water. It was ingeniously done: a projector beamed the will-‘o-the-wisp onto clouds of fog and it danced on the lake to insistent cello orchestrations (which I can’t get out of my head) for a superbly stirring effect.

Brilliant light-play at the Thorvaldsen Museum. Seeing the Thorvaldsen after dark, with dramatic lights and music swelling through the museum, took the sculptures to a whole other plane. I almost think this is the only way to see it.

Brilliant light-play after dark in the Thorvaldsen Museum. This might be the best way to view sculpture: as a performance piece.

A friend took his family to kid-friendly venues. At the Ministry for the Environment, kids made their own crepes in a fire-pit and a deer was gutted and grilled; at an art museum, a room-sized chocolate-colored clay birthday cake complete with lit candles featured the artist herself embedded nude in the frosting.

The Royal Drum Corps beat a night tattoo using glow-in-the-dark drumsticks. At the finish the sticks were tossed in a whirl of pink, green and blue into the the crowd. Antman caught one and slipped it in his coat pocket. Whenever we lost each other in the surging crowds, he held it high as a beacon to guide me back to safe harbor.

Think: Borgen. Great series about the Danish Parliament. On Culture Night, the Parliament was open to the public, with each political party holding a little meet and greet in their own room opening off the main corridors. I took some campaign literature and scoped out the candidates, of course.

The Parliament was open on Culture Night. With lots of political parties in Denmark, there were many festive rooms set up for meet-and-greets. On the sly, I collected campaign literature.

This Wednesday we head off to Paris, our first trip. I’m practicing my bon jours and s’il vous plaits and sharpening pencils, and I have a question for you: what’s your favorite place to sketch in Paris? Let me know, and I’ll try to go there and make a drawing. Thanks in advance for your recommendations.

Happy Monday!

Posted in Adventure!, architecture, Art, Artists, Copenhagen, Culture, Denmark, Diversions, Exhibits, Family, garden, museums, Music, Politics, Pop culture references, Sculpture, self-indulgence, Sketching, travel, urban sketching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Friday Sketchbook: Copenhagen Zoo and a Night of Culture, Too

Muskox and hooded crows at Copenhagen Zoo. Watercolor over pencil, Robert Bateman 8 1/2" x 11 sketchbook.

Muskox and hooded crows at Copenhagen Zoo. Watercolor over pencil, Robert Bateman 8 1/2″ x 11 sketchbook.

At the Copenhagen Zoo today, drawing many new animals. The rainforest walkthrough was enchanting- rich and properly steamy with living plants and birds that displayed and sang. A good thing to see in a zoo.

Reindeer, Copenhagen Zoo. Pencil on Robert Bateman 8 1/2" x 11 sketchbook.

Reindeer, Copenhagen Zoo. Pencil on Robert Bateman 8 1/2″ x 11 sketchbook.

This reindeer bull was nosing around a doe in estrus. I made a little sketch and added a wish for a future Santa’s helper.

Humboldt's penguins, Copenhagen Zoo, pencil on Robert Bateman 8 1/2" x 11 sketchbook.

Humboldt’s penguins, Copenhagen Zoo, pencil on Robert Bateman 8 1/2″ x 11 sketchbook.

Humboldt's penguins at the Copenhagen Zoo, underwater view. Pencil on Robert Bateman 8 1/2" x 11 sketchbook.

Humboldt’s penguins at the Copenhagen Zoo, underwater view. Pencil on Robert Bateman 8 1/2″ x 11 sketchbook.

Humboldt's penguin, Copenhagen Zoo, inordinately attracted to my red mechanical pencil. Did it look like a fish?

Humboldt’s penguin, Copenhagen Zoo, inordinately attracted to my red mechanical pencil, which must look like a fish.

The penguins were a kick, especially from below.

Crested seriema, Copenhagen Zoo. Pencil on Robert Bateman 8 1/2" x 11 sketchbook.

Crested seriema, Copenhagen Zoo. Pencil on Robert Bateman 8 1/2″ x 11 sketchbook.

Lesser Malayan Mouse Deer,  black-necked weaver, Copenhagen Zoo. Pencil on Robert Bateman 8 1/2" x 11 sketchbook.

Lesser Malayan Mouse Deer, black-necked weaver, Copenhagen Zoo. Pencil on Robert Bateman 8 1/2″ x 11 sketchbook.

It was a good day well spent, and now it’s time for Copenhagen Culture Night, or, rather, Kulturnatten. The city turns tonight into a huge party with music, dance, food, concerts, light shows, you name it. There are big doings on every street in town. Museums open their doors. Concerts, tours, light shows, food demos, endless fun. It’s just starting up- you can hear the roll of drums. Time to join the party.

Happy Friday.

Posted in Adventure!, Art, bird art, birds, Copenhagen, Culture, Denmark, Diversions, Drawing, Exhibits, mammals, natural history, Nature, rainforest, Sketching, Urban Nature, Watercolor, Wildlife, Zoo Sketching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments