Friday, May 15, 2015

Memories of a field trip to Ravenna, during an Italian art class of a few (too many!) years ago.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The towers of Siena

One April I cycled to Siena, the rose-red gothic metropolis of central Tuscany that, of all the many beautiful medieval cities in Italy, is perhaps the most beautiful.

I arrived from Florence. In that city, apparently, they have a traditional proverb about Siena:

Di tre cose e piena:
Torri, campane,
E figge di putane.

I shall leave it untranslated. Let it be a warning to anyone here who’s thinking of visiting this most charming of Italian cities. It should also be a warning about Florence. For a city that for 500 years has prided itself on speaking the purest Italian (except Siena, see below), and producing the best poets (or at least Dante, who counts as more than one), you’d think they’d be able to come up with something better.

Or maybe the point is to express maximum contempt with the least possible effort. I lived in Toronto for a long time, and it makes me wonder: are there poets in Hamilton or Windsor right now, sharpening their pens?

Back to Siena. Norman Douglas summed it up in one word: "hell." I can only say that of all cities I’ve visited, except Venice, it is the most beautiful. Now if only we could get rid of the Senese, who profit from the immigrant labour of southern italy, but refuse to speak to the labourers.

They speak, tourist books claim, the most pure and refined Italian to be found in the country, but I’m sceptical. Someplace or another has to have a title like this one, but why is it always a town full of money and visibly smug in its affluence? But this is just predjudice on my part. My command of the language is not sufficient to enable me to judge for myself. All I can say is that in Siena Italian is much easier to understand than in the Veneto, and that here all the women enunciate every letter in ciao, stretching the word out so that it rhymes with meow, like a cat. It’s an enchanting habit.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The basilica at Assisi

One fine spring day I bicycled to Assisi (from Perugia - it wasn't much of a journey) with my sketchbook and sat down to draw buildings.

So here is a fast sketch of the famous basilica of San Francesco. It's a great building, if you're into gothic architecture. It's two churches, one of them built atop the other - you can see the entrance to the lower one at the bottom of the steps on the left. Whether Saint Francis himself would have been pleased with it is another question.

Even if you're not into architecture, the frescos by Giotto make the trip worthwhile, and Assisi itself is a very charming town. Here is a sketch of the town square, complete with Roman ruins, that I did on the same trip.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Friday, April 24, 2015

don't wanna be

Robert is a beast of burden. But Jacki is not really that heavy. It's a one minute sketch, done with a china marker.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

"few rap songs are about sexual inadequacy"

Drawing with the Collective in Toronto, fellow sketcher Francis F. made the observation. I wrote it down mid-drawing.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Life drawing quick sketches, each done in about a minute. Or maybe two, in the case of the face on the right.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Santa Maria di Salute, Venice

A view across the quay and the loitering gondolas at the vast baroque church of Salute. It's the kind of view that's been done a thousand times but remains irresistible.

It's an etching, about 4" by 6," printed at the Open Studio in Toronto, Ontario. The uniform blue was applied with a technique called chine collé, in which a layer of tissue-thin tinted paper is laid down between the etching plate and the support paper.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Monday, April 13, 2015

Anna in a striped dress

A quick photo of a painting in progress. The dress will be in colour, and the big rectangle will too - it will be a hanging carpet of some sort. The pineapple like object will probably become a bust - but we'll see.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Venice - the gondolas on the Riva degli Schiavoni

It was a cool November evening when I sat down on the embankment to make this picture.

I was in a hurry. The shapes were quickly sketched in with a black crayon, and then rounded out with watercolour. Although I started with lines - as I almost always do - the picture quickly became about mass and pattern. The final touches were added in gouache; you can see its opaque layers where the blue covers of the gondolas are visible above the dock.

In the background, San Giorgio Maggiore was a box of shadows, except for its brilliant marble facade, which here merges with the air.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

strange encounter

Drawn from life at a Keyhole Session in Toronto, using a copic brush pen, a china marker, and several other pens. This drawing took about 45 minutes, which obviously wasn't enough.

There is nothing quite so difficult to draw as the intersection of multiple human bodies.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Plan B

"I've always rejected being understood. To be understood is to prostitute oneself." So said Fernando Pessoa, one of the 20th century's most awkward writers. Also one of the most easily quoted.

He used a thousand different voices to say one thing, and that thing is about human loneliness. Many would prefer to be a prostitute than to be alone.

He said it in The Book of Disquiet, chapter 128. He goes on "I've always rejected being understood. To be understood is to prostitute oneself. I prefer to be taken seriously for what I'm not, remaining humanly unknown, with naturalness and all due respect. Nothing would bother me more than if they found me strange at the office. I like to revel in the irony that they don't find me at all strange. I like the hair shirt of being regarded by them as their equal."

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Chandos off Trafalgar Square

Tarragon wrote me to say:

“I took a short holiday and went to the National Gallery to see Inventing Impressionism. It was a good show, except one has to like Renoir's portraits to think so. I really like Renoir. He's an acquired taste I reckon, but presents such a lovely parallel universe I find hard to resist. So I don't try.

Except I wasn't planing to see the show at all, it was news to me. I simply stopped in on my way to the the Sargent show at the Portrait Gallery. It was not the greatest Sargent show that you could imagine. But some truly lovely pieces. It is a bit heart wrenching how good he is. So it was a pleasure. 

In between I had lunch at Chandos, off Trafalgar Square, from whence I drew the attached. Such a lovely pub in the middle of the afternoon.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The shadow over the lane

Walking back along the sandy track from the old Tudor manor, I was struck by the deep shadows and the gables of the house at the corner. Beyond the trees, the farmer's field was full of horses, but I didn't put them in the drawing.

Saturday, February 28, 2015