Porto’s narrow spaces

After a much needed few days rest in Strasbourg, I’ve arrived in Porto. Wow, what a city! It took a good walk around the city to fully understand how hilly it is here. I spent the day sketching the narrow spaces, looking up and down lanes and trying to get a sense of the place.

My workshop at the Urban Sketchers Symposium is about colour, light and shadow in these narrow spaces, so you can understand my disappointment when my first morning was overcast. Looking up at the Escadas do Codecal and the supports of the Ponte Luis I overhead, I drew the narrowing grey stairs, waiting and hoping for the clouds to part.

After walking across the bridge and having a quick bite, the sun came out so I returned to the staircase and drew the plunging view down to the Douro River.

When I travel I always hope for a room with a view, and in Porto I have one of the best — a terraced garden with pink buildings at the top. In the afternoon I sketched a quick one before heading out again into the streets, to eat my first Pastel de Nata and then sketch some more.

The last one of the day was one looking down Rua de Fabrica in the Aliados neighbourhood. I think my umbrellas are a little too high in the sketch but the perspective is REALLY hard here. I have to forget everything I learned from Stephanie Bower here and draw by intuition alone. There are just too many vanishing points to keep track of!

I’ve started seeing sketchers all over the place — hidden in corners, sitting on little folding stools. It’s going to be an exciting week in Porto!

And even though I was mostly resting (and shopping) in Strasbourg, here’s the quick one I sketched on Place Kleber.


Workshop in Provence, group two

I’m on the train headed up to Alsace for a few days before making my way to Portugal. Sadly, my two outstanding weeks in Provence with French Escapade are over.

Since the second week of teaching (and the locations) was basically a repetition of the first, I thought I’d post some highlights from my student’s sketchbooks. No colour correction on these unfortunately, but as you’ll see, again, a very talented group!

A few of my demos:

As you can see, we packed a lot into our fabulous week, but we couldn’t have done it without our guides Jackie and Marie, who made teaching this group so easy because they so thoughtfully took care of everything else.


Jardin de Petrarque

There’s a reason this Provençal town is called Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. This fountain is a spring, the source of the Sorgue River which flows out of the mountain, bubbling and gushing it’s way through the town. You can read on Wikipedia, like I did, about how much water flows from this biggest spring in France, but what no photo or website prepares you for is the sound of the rushing water. It is at times deafening. I can hear it outside my window when I wake up in the morning because a stream runs right through our hotel. I ate dinner last night at a restaurant next to the river and could hardly hear the waiter because of the waterfalls below our table. It’s also what makes Petrarch garden so special and why I’ve spent so much time there these past two days.

The poet Petrarch lived and wrote in this town in the 14th century, so there are many things named after him, including our hotel. There’s also a small museum and a splendid garden with many shady spots for painting the rushing water. Yesterday I sketched but it was so peaceful I came back today. In three or four hours I churned (no pun intended) out three quarter sheet paintings from different spots in the park.

The first one was from a spot where I could see the blue damsel flies landing on the reeds in the shallow pools of water, which is absolutely clear and an unearthly shade of green.

The second one was looking at the museum which was supposed to open in the afternoon but never did. Glad that man dipped his feet in the water at the right time!

And the final quick one was looking upstream at the river. I set my easel up in the shade of a wide fig tree and enjoyed the cold breezes coming off the water as I painted.


Provence workshop day six: the town square

On our final day of this workshop we stayed in our home base of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. I’d love to go into more detail about the village but that will come at a later date when I have a keyboard to type on.

The town square was a complex subject with lots of activity, but after six days of sketching, I think people were up for the challenge.

It’s a busy place in the morning but the square is shaded all day by huge plane trees. There’s no sense of urgency if the location is comfortable and out of the hot sun, so people took their time drawing the scene.

Our final gathering in the evening started with a little vernissage of the work produced during the week. There’s something to be said for having a whole week to sketch.

Thanks again to our amazing guide Natalia from French Escapade and to all my students for working so hard! Now I have a few days off and then I’ll do this all over again next week.


Provence workshop day five: in the footsteps of Van Gogh

We spent the day at the monastery of St. Paul de Mausole in St. Remy. There was something about this special place that made for a very tranquil day, despite all the tourists passing through. Perhaps it was because we were looking out at the very same view that Van Gogh could see from his room at the sanatorium, or else because the heat and windless day left us in a state of lethargy. I’m not sure which it was.

My demo was of the recently planted lavender garden, which called for a bit of artistic license.

On day five the student’s sketches are quite amazing!

We’re spoiled with lunches, and this one included local strawberries and pastries…

To get out of the heat, we spent the afternoon in the cloister…

It’s one of those places where the views and the light are magical.


Provence workshop days three and four: The village of Oppede Le Vieux and market day in L’Ile sur la Sorgue

Between slow wifi and long days it’s been hard to post but here are a few highlights from the past two days. Again, more visuals but few words.

A demo about mixing greys and painting stone in the magnificent hilltop village of Oppede le Vieux…

Market day in L’Ile sur la Sorgue where we had some free time to shop and sketch. I found the produce tables!

And finally a chance to paint a demo of the market scene…

My students produced some amazing work from the shade of the park across the canal.


Provence workshop Day Two: Lavender and red rocks

So happy to hear that yesterday’s post came through! I will continue the week with few words and many visuals.

The day started with a drive to a lavender field where we spent the morning under the shade of a huge tree, painting a view of the rows of flowers. We’re very lucky to be here during the short blooming season.

I started with a demo, simplifying the rows of lavender into loose shapes.

So thrilled with my students work. They also painted in simple shapes and loose washes.

We’re spoiled every day by our amazing French Escapade guide Natalia. Lunch was sandwiches and my favourite: Cavaillon melon.

In the afternoon we headed over to nearby Roussillon for a few free hours of shopping, ice cream eating and sketching. Of course I had to sketch the red town piled on top of the red rocks.