In June 2014, Jeff and I took a 17-day road trip through the Northwestern U.S. in our VW Westfalia camper van.
We both drove, but whenever it was Jeff’s turn, I sat next to him in the passenger seat and sketched the landscape as we zipped through it (if you can call it zipping in an older VW van). The seats in the van are upright and comfortable, you’re towering over normal-sized passenger vehicles, and there’s a large tray-like dashboard area with a deep rim that comfortably holds a travel watercolour kit and pens. A letter-size sketchbook was on my lap and a jar of water for my brush in the drink holder of the passenger door. The perfect setup. My challenge was to sketch as quickly as possible. So I prepared small frames in the sketchbook by tracing a credit card 8 times on each 8.5 x 11 page. I’d prep several of those 8-frame pages at a time, and then fill each one within 1 to 5 minutes (some were done in 10 or 15 minutes, when we weren’t driving).
The speed with which I had to draw, forced me to quickly assess a view and not linger over details. Some views passed by so quickly that I had to make stuff up after seeing them, relying on my bad memory. Most of the sketches took only 1–5 minutes. But it was great fun and I observed much more intently this way than if I’d been idly staring out the window for hours. It got to the point where I didn’t want to drive anymore because I had so much fun sketching. And normally I enjoy driving. But Jeff made sure I drove my share.
I have created a 5-minute video of our road trip in sketches. Enjoy the ride!Read More
On May 11, my friend K. and I went drawing around Montmartre.Read More
At midday K. and I finally made it out, rented bikes, and rode to Jardin du Luxembourg, which turned out to be closed for a private function. But we found a nice plaza “Place de la Sorbonne” and drew a church-like building which turned out to be part of the university of the Sorbonne. Then went to the Latin Quarter and bought some chocolates, then back to the Jardin which was still closed.
We gave up on the Jardin for the day and found a small cafe where we had some drinks and I consumed a French Onion soup in spite of my supposedly all-rice-and-bouillon diet.
Then we walked home via both the Île de Paris and the Île St. Louis, admiring the Notre Dame, and enjoying the music that was everywhere. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny spring day in Paris.
Once at home, we were exhausted, and just sat down and added some colour to our drawings from the day.Read More
On May 8, K. and I had a couscous and merguez dinner at this restaurant above, which I probably shouldn’t have done, but it was before my doctor visit on May 9, when I got the official order to only eat rice.
On May 9, after the doctor’s visit in the morning, I picked my Vélib city bike card at City Hall, since it was Saturday, and none of the district offices were open. There are also always holidays in France. I think that each week of the year must have a holiday, because May 1 and May 8 were holidays, and May 14 and May 24 are also holidays. So when Paris seems surprisingly quiet on a weekday, you can be sure it’s a jour de férié!
I immediately activated the Vélib card (it’s great, you just touch it to the receptor right next to the bike you want and it’s yours instantly!) and borrowed my first city bike of the year. I went riding around Paris, always an exhilarating experience. I think I don’t really take the traffic here seriously, because it’s not home. It’s a tourist paradise, and I feel cocky and immune when I’m on the bike. I like to zip through traffic and people.
A bit later in the afternoon I met up with my Berlin sketcher friend K. at the Printemps rooftop terrace and I also checked out the Galeries Lafayette terrace. Then I raced home by bike to meet another guest, 20-year-old E., the daughter of an old German friend, but it was hard to keep biking due to the narrow roads being full of cars and narrow sidewalks full of tourists. I gave up at some point, returned the bike and caught the metro to be home in time to meet E.Read More
The week of May 4, a lot of work came in for me, as well as my first visitor, and I was keeping my head down. It didn’t help that I got a GI bug early that week which lasted about 10 days. My friend got it too, so it must have been something we ate. It may have been a ripe cheese that he forgot to take out of his backpack after shopping. I had wondered why the living room was smelly.
I waited 4 days to see if it would pass on its own, but when I didn’t feel any better on day 5, I called S.O.S. Médecin, an emergency doctor service, and a doctor came in on a Saturday to make a house call. They still do that here in France. It was a bit strange. I had to lie down on my bed, while the doctor took my blood pressure, and patted my stomach. He was inordinately impressed with my blood pressure, by the way, but I have no idea why. I know it’s quite low. I asked him, resigned: “Je ne peux pas manger des croissants?” and he laughed. “Non, seulement riz et bouillon.” So I tried that for a couple of days to give my stomach a break, but snuck in some chocolate anyway. He also prescribed some medicine to slow down my système, and some pain killers for the stomach. I’ve never had anything like this for so long. Welcome to Paris.
I had to make do with longingly drawing my second visitor’s pastries but I abstained for about 2 or 3 days after the doctor gave me the stern advice, then I slowly began to feel better. I had planned to drink a half bottle of wine a day in Paris. Now I am far behind on my drinking regimen.Read More
On May 3, I went to the Musée des Arts et Métiers (that means something like “Museum of Arts and Industry”, I think) to join a meetup group called “So sketch — carnets de voyage” that I joined and drew with last year when I came to Paris. So I recognized at least one person, the organizer for this event.
After about two hours of touring the museum and sketching, we reconvened in the lobby and moved on to the very nice museum cafe to have a drink and talk more about sketching and what we are all doing in Paris. Out of the 7 or 8 people, there was probably only one French person present, but most of the other people live in Paris permanently.Read More
On Saturday, May 2, I had a late breakfast in small bistro near the Marché d’Aligre. It was so late that they were out of croissants, I had to make do with a chunk of baguette. That’s the problem with my Paris schedule, I work from about 6 pm to 2 am, go to bed around 3 am, and get up around 10 am. It’s not a schedule conducive to catching the freshly baked batches of morning croissants. But luckily, many bakeries continue baking them all morning until noon or even later. So one can often find them, even with a night shift schedule.
I then walked for five hours, almost to the Eiffel Tower and back. It was a rainy, drizzly, chilly, but somehow lovely day. I had the bank of the Seine almost to myself. I stopped for pastries at Eric Kayser behind the Musée d’Orsay and had beyond a doubt the best chocolate éclair of my life. (Did I mention I came to Paris in large part to eat?). I also popped into the Louvre (I love saying that) to apply for an annual professional pass to the Louvre, but no success. They said that my VCC faculty card with my photo had no validity date, which is true. So I will request a letter from human resources. Being an instructor in a fine arts field, I get the opportunity at a reduced rate pass.
I picked up more food at Marché d’Aligre on the way back, and after a day of eating and looking at great food, made myself an anti-climactic sandwich for dinner.
Still no drawing this day… but the banner at the top shows a view of the Seine on a later, much sunnier day.
Now walk with me through rainy Paris:Read More
I arrived in Paris on Friday, May 1. I am going to be here for two full months! I rented a 1-bedroom apartment on Airbnb, and invited all my friends to visit me. And many are coming.
After landing, I took the Air France bus from Charles de Gaulle airport, to avoid having to lug my suitcase off and on trains and metros. Everything went smoothly. I checked into my apartment at noon, then walked around the neighbourhood. I checked out the nearby daily farmers’ market, Marché d’Aligre, and got some groceries at a store. In Paris, there’s a grocery store, a cheese store, a butcher, a bakery, a wine merchant, a bar, a restaurant, a book store, a realtor, a falafel place, and at least one completely unidentifiable business in every block. Or so it seems.
Since I came mostly to consume things on the spot, I brought a small suitcase only. It has no room to bring much of anything back. I didn’t want to be tempted to buy stuff. Okay, maybe one pair of shoes.
No drawing yet. It was only my first day.Read More
The killings of cartoonists and staff at Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris by religious extremists last week, and the other related shootings, affected me more than most news do. It’s probably because I identify with other artists, especially with people who draw. And I’ve been to Paris just last May for the first time in 22 years, and will return there this spring, so the place is often in my mind.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the shootings, and what they mean. About how someone could get killed over a drawing. Obviously, it was a barbaric act by people who may or may not care as much about religion as they say, by people who may be violent, unstable, disenfranchised, misguided, unfulfilled in their aspirations, looking for belonging, or just ignorant tools in a greater plot for dominance. I don’t know, and I can’t relate to, or even understand their motives.
But most of all, I want to make a case for blasphemy. I am all for it. I think it is important as a tool to criticize organized religion. Religion should not be above criticism. I have no problem per se with the big prophets: Mohammed, Jesus, Buddha — they were all searching and finding a lot of wisdom to share. It’s what people have made of their wisdom, how they’ve been interpreted, that is the problem. So even if you cover yourself with the mantle of religion and belief, it should by no means give you a free pass to be above criticism, and yes, satire and parody. Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion. What you must not do, is physically injure, enslave or bully others.
While I personally would not take on Islam to criticize and parody, since it is not my religion, nor my background, and I don’t know that much about it, I feel completely entitled to make fun of Christianity, which is part of the culture I grew up in. I participated in the Christian religion for a while. But I don’t go to church any more because I realized it was dysfunctional, and moreover, I disagree with the whole patriarchal system that shockingly, most evangelical churches still follow to this day! So as I have been getting older, I have returned to existentialism as my preferred life philosophy. But I admit that I don’t have the final answers, and I firmly believe that you don’t either.
Here’s some blasphemy (or as close as I can get) that I’ve been sketching over the last few years. Yay for blasphemy, and uncensored art and writing!Read More