Journey Around the World – Montmartre, Paris, France

Sketching, Travel Sketching

Visiting the Musee de Montmartre and Suzanne Valadon’s Studio                           May, 2017

One of the reasons that I went back to Paris was to learn about the life of some of my favorite artists. I wanted to know about the social fabric of the times, where they lived and worked, who their friends were, and also to try and get a sense of what it was like to be an artist back then.

Montmartre is a hill in the north of Paris that is known mainly for its artistic history towards the end of the 19th century. Many artists such as Picasso, Renoir, Vincent van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec  lived and worked there taking advantage of the low rent in the area.  While visiting the Musee de Montmartre I discovered an artist I knew very little about. Her name was Suzanne Valadon and she lived and worked on the property that is now part of the museum.

Walking into her studio is like going back in time.  The sketch I did at the top of this post  shows the working part of her studio. She was born in 1865 and grew up in poverty. When she was 16 she worked in the circus as an acrobat until she got hurt.  She then went on to be a model for Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and others.  During this time she learned how to paint by observing and learning their techniques while modeling. In the early 1890’s she befriended Edgar Degas who was impressed with her bold line drawings and bought a couple of her paintings.  She went on to paint for 40 years and became the first woman painter admitted to the Societe National des Beaux-Arts.

It all sounds great!  She has a beautiful studio in the artistic area of Paris and she has amazing artist friends that eclipse any education you would receive by going to art school. On the other hand her life was not easy, she was only 18 when she gave birth to her son Maurice. My understanding is that she was a single mother and her income at this time was from modeling.  Modeling was not so straight forward in those days.  Montmartre was a free loving kind of place during the “Belle Epoque” (1872-1914) and some artists expected or hoped for more from their models.  Being an artist back then was tough enough without being a female or being born into poverty.

As I sat in the lower garden behind the museum doing a sketch I imagined that many of the great artists such as Renoir had painted and sketched here.

 

 

Journey Around The World – Two Weeks in Paris, France

Travel Sketching

The Great Museums of Paris                                     The Louvre, May, 2017

This summer Lyn and I decided to go to Paris.  For Lyn this was a chance to go back to her old home in Maisons-Laffitte near Paris where she lived during her high school years.  For me, the last time I was in Paris was as a young art student traveling through Europe in search of the great masters of painting.  I wanted to see those paintings that I had studied in Art History class, and so together we went back in time 40 years to rediscover Paris and Lyn’s child hood.

When I was 20 years old and visiting the Louvre, I wasn’t that mature or self directed, and so there was a lot to see forty years later.  The sketch at the top of this post is from my sketch book in 1978.  If you compare this view with the same view today, you will see that I drew this a few years before the glass pyramid entrance way was to be built.

Now there are great line ups outside of the glass pyramid entrance to get into the Louvre. The Louvre is the world’s largest museum with over 35,000 objects on display.  It really doesn’t matter what day you go to the Louvre to visit, it is always busy except for the evenings. The average daily attendance is about 15,000 visitors per day.

Over our two weeks in Paris we went to the Louvre three times just to break it up a bit.  As much as I love art I could only handle three or four hours at a time. When you combine this with speaking french, walking the streets of Paris and all the other stimulus it made for big days.

For me I found that seeing the Louvre in sections allowed me to really savor and think about the artists represented there.  It allowed me to put some context around the art movements and where they fit into the bigger history of Paris, Europe and the world. Many people go to the Louvre with just a couple of hours available and so they rush around looking for the big three attractions; The Mona Lisa, The Winged Victory of Samothrace and Venus De Milo. With that done, they are off to see other things.

The history of The Louvre goes back to the late 12th century and is a big part of the history of Paris and is worth reading about if you plan to visit.  My favorite little nugget of history about the Louvre was regarding the Nazi occupation of Paris, France in May 1940. In the fall of 1939 the French decided to hide all the great art works from the Louvre.  They were secretly dispersed to various locations around France and remained hidden until the liberation of France in 1945.

My favorite moment of discovery at the Louvre was around seeing the Mona Lisa, arguably the most famous painting in the world due in large part to the fact that she was stolen in 1911. After patiently working my way forward in a large room with about 300 people that were all determined to take selfies with Lisa del Giocondo (Mona Lisa), I took a blurred picture of her and left the room.  In the hallway in front of me was another masterpiece by Leonardo Da Vinci called The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne painted a few years earlier than the Mona Lisa.  Nobody was looking at this incredible painting. Maybe it is just me, but I thought to myself that the figure of Saint Anne looks exactly like Lisa del Giocondo (considered to be the model for the Mona Lisa).

 

 

Journey Around The World – Cape Point, South Africa

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013, watercolour painting

Baboons, Dassies and African Penguins                      September 8, 2013

On my last entry, Lyn and I were in Namibia exploring the desert. We made our way south to Cape Town with stops at Sossusvlei, Fish River Canyon and Franschhoek. For my last entry in South Africa before flying to Mumbai, India, I thought I would tell you about our day exploring Cape Point, South Africa, an area south of Cape Town.  It is not the southern most point of Africa, but it was a very interesting day-trip out of Cape Town.

Our first stop on the way to the Cape was Simon’s Town, where we saw the only nesting penguins in Africa. In 1982 there were two nesting pairs of Adelie penguins that had migrated to Simon’s Town. Since then the colony has grown considerably and is now a protected area. I never thought I would be seeing penguins in Africa, but considering the geographic latitude it makes sense.

Our next stop was Cape Point where we encountered baboons and dassies, also known as the Cape Hyrax.  I made sketches of both of these animals.  Nothing to fear from the cute little dassie, but the baboon is another story.  In this coastal park there were several families of baboons that were habituated to human food.  With all the tourists that visit this area the baboons spend a lot of time trying to steal food from unsuspecting tourists.  It makes for great people watching and seeing there reactions to being robbed by the baboons.

As an artist, I found this small region of Southern Africa that we explored overwhelming with the many choices available to paint.  I doubt I will ever finish painting everything I saw here, however in the next blog entry we are heading to Mumbai, India.

Journey Around The World – Hiking and Exploring in Namibia

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013, watercolour painting

Cheetah’s, Rock Paintings and Quiver Trees                            August 27, 2013

After leaving Etosha National Park our first stop was a farm that takes care of wild cheetahs.  In some parts of Namibia the cheetah is considered a pest that attacks and kills live stock. This beautiful cat that can reach speeds of 110 kilometers per hour has lost its territory to cattle farmers in Namibia and was being hunted to extinction.  In the 1980’s one farmer decided that there must be a better way than just killing them and so farmers started to bring him captured, wounded and baby cheetahs which he keeps in a fenced in area on his property.  It is not the perfect solution however it has become a small eco tourism business he calls Cheetah Park. The cheetah’s are kept in a large fenced in natural area and are fed daily.  He also has a few pet cheetah’s that live with his family in another fenced in area around his house. We camped on his property for the night and watched the farmer throw big chunks of meat to the cats from the back of a tractor.  The next morning before leaving Lyn and I got the chance to spend time with the tame cheetahs at his house and this was my opportunity to get some sketch’s done of these amazing cats.

Our next stop was Brandberg Daures National Heritage Site at Brandberg Mountain. We took a small hike part way up the side of the mountain to see rock paintings that date back 2000 years.  I had the chance to sit and sketch some of these paintings.  It was an amazing feeling to sit quietly in the presence of this ancient rock art and in my own way commune with artists from long ago. In the early days of tourism to this site people would throw water at the rock art to help enhance the colours for their photographs.  This caused a lot of damage to the paintings and some of them have faded quite badly.

After this experience we went on to a place called the Spitzkoppe Hills also known as the “Matterhorn of Namibia.”  It is a group of 120 million year old granite peaks in the Namib Dessert.  We had the time to go for a hike up one of these peaks.  There was no trail and so it was more of a scramble up the side through cactus, huge boulders and the odd Quiver tree which has the look of a tree from a prehistoric time.  The watercolour painting I have done at the top of this post shows the incredible colour of the rock in certain lighting conditions which in my minds eye could be what parts of Mars look like.

 

Journey Around The World – Etosha National Park, Namibia

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013

Driving through Etosha Pan in Etosha National Park, Namibia          August 24, 2013

After leaving the Okavango Delta in Botswana we headed west to Namibia and Etosha National Park.  Etosha National Park is one of Namibia’s largest wildlife parks and contains with in its boundarys what is known as Etosha Pan which is a salt flat left over from a long dry lake bed in the Kalahari Basin.  This is a great place to see animals in the dry season as they stay close to the watering holes.

I was able to do a lot of sketches while we were there. These sketches were done mainly in coloured pencil that I reworked back home in my studio with the help of photographs Lyn and I took.  Drawing and painting wild African animals has been a huge departure from painting Canadian Landscapes but I believe that as an artist it doesn’t really matter what the subject is as long as you feel passionate about what you are painting and drawing. As someone once said a picture has to pass through your heart first before you should paint it.

With this idea in mind we camped that night inside of the park in a camp ground which is protected by a high fence and so we didn’t have to worry about the sound of roaring lions in the middle of the night.  After dinner we walked a path that took us to a watering hole where we could watch the animals come down to drink.  With my sketch book I drew black rhino’s just as the sun was setting.  I think that I would be hard pressed to find anything more interesting than that.  They also made good subjects as they didn’t move too much.

 

Journey Around The World – Botswana, Southern Africa

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013, watercolour painting

The Chobe River and The Okavango Delta                           August 20th, 2013

After leaving Victoria Falls it was a relatively short drive south west to the town of Kisane in Botswana.  From here we went to The Chobe River which cuts through the North east corner of Chobe National Park.  We boarded a river boat thinking we would get our first look at some African animals.  What we didn’t expect was the over whelming number of elephants, hippo’s, cape buffalo, crocodiles and lots of bird life that come here during the dry season.  Being in a larger boat we were able to get up close to the hippo’s in the water which you just can’t or shouldn’t do in a small boat such as a Makoro, which was the next boat we were about to experience.

After this great day we continued on to Maun to start our three day camping trip in the Okavango Delta.  The Okavango River flows down from the mountains in Angola and into the Kalahari desert, where the water is absorbed into the sand. The river forms a delta here where we were about to embark on our canoe trip.   The trip to our campsite in dug out canoes called “Mokoro’s” took about two and a half hours traveling through pristine landscape.  Sitting in the bottom of the boat I am seeing the journey unfold from the perspective of three feet above the water as we ply our way through tall reeds and hippo pools.

Our campsite was on an island in the middle of the delta. From our base camp we spent the next couple of days exploring on foot and by canoe looking for elephants, zebra and hippo.  It is an interesting feeling when you are on the ground looking for wild life and your guides are completely unarmed.  It makes you feel like you are part of the food chain.

That being said one of the trips we took in the Mokoro’s,  took us into this deep water hippo pool surrounded by tall reeds. There we were in our little wooden boats looking at two full grown hippo’s at the other end of the pool about a hundred feet away.  After a few minutes of looking at each other one of the hippo’s goes underwater.  We realize rather quickly that there is a stream of bubbles coming towards us.  The bubbles are getting closer and closer and I am thinking to my self that we are so screwed!

Just when it is looking like carnage time the bubbles start moving away.  OK that was fun, lets not do that again any time soon. With all this fun and excitement I did manage to do some pencil sketches and some small watercolour paintings on location. One of the great pleasures of this trip has been the opportunity to paint in exotic locations like this and to share this unique experience with my wife Lyn.

Journey Around The World – Walking with Lions, Zimbabwe

Sketching, Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013, watercolour painting

Walking with Lions, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe                        August 16th, 2013

We had the opportunity to spend some time with two 18 month old lion sister cubs just outside of Victoria Falls.  Lion Encounter is a not for profit organization working to reintroduce lions back into the National Parks of Africa where the lion has become extinct.  There main goal is to increase the overall population of wild lions in Africa.

In the 1940’s according to National Geographic the estimated population of lions was approximately 450,000.  Today it is estimated that there are fewer than 20,000 animals in the wild.

We were somewhat cautious of being part of a lion program that could potentially sell the lions to a private game reserve that caters to hunters.  We were assured that this was not the case by the information and video that we watched that this was about reintroducing lions into the wild through a 4 stage program.  We were seeing the lions in stage one. In stages 2 and 3 they are part of a pride with no human contact. In stage 4 the off spring from the pride in stage 3 are released into the wild when they are old enough.

With that being said our experience with these lions was amazing.  We spent about an hour and a half walking and hanging out with them.  It is one thing to see a show on television about lions and it is another to see them up close.  Later on in our trip we saw wild lions in Etosha Pan from the safety of our truck.  Taking pictures while on the ground with lions allows you to get a lower perspective than if you are in a vehicle.

The pictures that Lyn and I took with our cameras were used later on for the watercolor painting at the top of this post.  Often when I am preparing to do a more formal watercolor such as this one I will do a series of sketches to become more familiar with the details.  One of the things that amazed me about lions was how there coloring blended perfectly into the surrounding bush.  With this in mind I used a limited selection of colors to suggest this in the picture.

As amazing as this experience was I realize that this is somewhat controversial. Our next encounter with African animals would be on the Chobe River in Chobe National Park in North West Botswana.

 

Journey Around The World – Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, South Africa

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013, watercolour painting

An Afternoon at Victoria Falls                                 August 15th, 2013

After our flight from Buenos Aires to Johannesburg, South Africa we took a relatively short flight to Victoria Falls (only 1200 kilometers).  The next day we spent some time orienting ourselves to our new reality.  We were staying in a camp ground for a couple of days before heading out on a truck with Oasis Overland Tours.  Our trip would take us over land through Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and south to Cape Town, South Africa.

Painting streams, rivers and waterfalls are some of my favorite subjects and so a day exploring at Victoria Falls was an inspiring way to kick off a month in Southern  Africa. In the western section of the park is a monument to Dr. David Livingstone a Scottish pioneer, and missionary explorer.  The monument credits him to “discovering” Victoria Falls which is maybe a British Colonialist perspective when you consider that the locals who had probably lived there for hundreds of years called the falls Mosi-oa-Tunya.  So maybe he was the first European to see the falls.

We saw our first monkey’s in the park called Vervet monkey’s and as you would expect they do very well for themselves feeding on handouts from all the tourists.  We saw this in the Amazon Rain Forest in Ecuador and with the Baboon’s at Cape of Good Hope, South Africa.  All along our trip I erred on the cautious side by keeping a safe distance from our monkey friends.

As a former white water raft guide I was very aware that just below Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River is one of the greatest rafting day trips on the planet. If you are an adrenaline junkie this is the trip for you.  Sadly I only had one day to do this and we decided that since I have done hundreds of rafting trips that we would go walking with lions as this would be a more unique experience. This will be my next blog story and was one of the great highlights of our trip to Southern Africa.

Journey Around The World – Buenos Aires, Argentina

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013

Exploring Buenos Aires                   August 4th to August 12, 2013

After leaving the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia we traveled south into Argentina. We drove through a number of interesting towns and cities including Salta, Cafayate and Cordoba.  We were excited to get to Buenos Aires which would be our last stop in South America before flying to South Africa.

Lyn and I had been to Buenos Aires a few years earlier but we didn’t stay long enough to really explore “The Paris of The South”.  With eight days available to us we rented a short term apartment and started our grand walking tour.

Our apartment was in the barrio (neighborhood) of Recoleta, which was central to most of the places we planned on walking to.  Everyday we plotted with our trusty map where we would walk to and what we would see.  We met local people that were very helpful with suggestions for us and so our plans were always fluid.  As always I carry a sketch book and a camera in the hopes that I will get some good sketches and photos for future paintings.

The National Museum of Fine Arts in Recoleta was a great surprize with a wide range of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings plus paintings by El Greco, Titian, Rembrant, Goya and many more.  The museum opened my eyes to some amazing Argentinian artists from the 19th and 20th centuries.

High on our list of to do’s was going to a tango show and wandering the antique markets in San Telmo.

Buenos Aires is a city that really comes to life at night.  Many locals or Portenos as they like to call themselves have dinner after 8 and 9pm.  Some bars and cafe’s stay open most of the night.  For us going to an authentic Argentinian Grill  for Parilla (grill or BBQ) was something we managed to do but the restaurant didn’t open until 8 pm and so after walking all day this was a bit of a stretch to wait but well worth it.

Most evenings we cooked from our apartment and shopped at the local mercados for our food.  This was its own adventure.

After a week in this beautiful city we boarded a plane for South Africa.  As exciting as the next leg of our trip would be I felt a little sadness at leaving such an amazing place.

Journey Around The World – Bolivia

Travel Sketching, Trip Around the World 2013

Driving South from La Paz  to the Uyuni Salt Flats           July 19 to 24th, 2013

After leaving Puno, Peru on the shores of Lake Titicaca we headed south into Bolivia through the high arid plains known as the altiplano.  We spent a couple of days in La Paz, which is considered the highest capital city in the world at 11,975 feet. We stayed at a small hotel in the central area of the city and made up our own walking tour as we went.

The Witches Market also known as La Hechiceria was really interesting in that they sold witch craft supplies with lots of obscure and strange products necessary to carry out traditional spiritual rituals from the Aymara world. Dozens of vendors line the streets and sell everything from dried frogs, snakes, owl feathers, llama fetus as well as the usual things like post cards and key rings.  Good times.

While I was in La Paz  I read a book called “Marching Powder”, by Rusty Young;  A true story of friendship, Cocaine and South America’s strangest jail. If you are planning a trip to La Paz this book is a cautionary tale and will give you an interesting perspective on drug smuggling and prison life in Bolivia. You can also visit this prison which is now officially closed.

Back on the road to the Uyuni Salt Flats we ran into a road block in Oruro that lasted for about twelve hours which offered me the opportunity to sketch and paint.  When the road finally opened again it was getting dark and so we pulled over to a road side stop to camp for the night. In reality it was more or less a garbage dump and make shift memorial for unfortunate travelers.  I normally only post pictures of my art work for this blog but sometimes a photograph tells the story better.

The salt flats at Uyuni are the largest in the world at 4,086 square miles.  We spent a day driving on the flats and for the most part it looks like snow.  A popular tourist  excursion is to drive to Incahuasi “island” in the center of the salt flats. The island is covered in very large cactus and offers a really good vantage to see the salt flats from a higher view point.  The sketch I did of the Cemetery of Trains was inspired from this day trip.  It is a place very close to Uyuni and unique in its own way.  It seems like the kind of place Pink Floyd would have used for an album cover.