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I met a Greek urban sketcher on my last day in Mykonos!

Posted on Jun 28, 2013 in Mykonos | 5 comments


Iris Giannakopoulou’s card and exhibition invitation. A Greek urban sketcher!

Our last night on Mykonos was June 25. We had one more seafood dinner, then walked around the narrow streets until midnight, soaking up the atmosphere.

We walked by a gallery that had caught my eye earlier in the week. The large format canvasses I could see from the door had looked suspiciously like giant urban sketches blown up.

It was past midnight, but in Mykonos most shops in the tourist areas are open until 12:30 or 1:00 a.m. or even later. The clubs don’t even open until midnight or 1:00 a.m., then the clubbing goes on until sunrise.

So we walked into this municipal gallery and large canvasses of urban sketches blown up to 8 x 3 ft or 4 x 5 ft were hung there, lovely loose lines with light watercolour washes, quite a few vertical and horizontal panoramas. My travel companions all said “this artist is Sigi’s twin!”

The artist was there: Iris Giannakopoulou, a Greek architect from Athens showing her urban sketches of travelling on boats around the Greek islands and water ways. She had only discovered the Urban Sketchers organization about a year ago, and had never met another urban sketcher, so she was overjoyed to meet me. I could detect the same excitement in her that I feel about drawing. We showed each other our sketchbooks and talked for a long time. It was another one of those intense connections that can happen with other sketchers.

This is why I didn’t get to bed until 2:30 a.m. and we had to get up at 5:00 a.m. to catch an early flight to Athens, then transfer to Frankfurt, which made me a bit of a wreck on our travel day.

But what a great way to end my visit to Mykonos.

Below is a card I drew and a poem I wrote on my last visit to the beach. Not aspiring to poetic greatness, as you can see, but just trying to describe a wonderful experience.

Goodbye Mykonos

Goodbye Mykonos

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The magical Kastro Bar in Mykonos

Posted on Jun 27, 2013 in Mykonos | 0 comments

Frou-frou drink and Kastro bar, Mykonos

I finally had a frou-frou drink, as overly colourful and decorated concoctions are called. There wasn’t even alcohol in it, really just the frou-frou.

The Kastro Bar is a 38-year old gay bar in Mykonos, fondly remembered by my friend L. who used to hang out here. All four of us had a drink here earlier in the week and L. was happy once again that nothing had changed. We discussed how the North American mantra seems to be to change things up all the time, even if something’s working well, because there might be an even better “business model” with more profit to be made. But there is something to be said for leaving things as they are if a business is providing a living. The Kastro Bar owner is clearly content to keep his bar’s character intact.

Today I went back here on my own to draw. But I sat outside the bar on a little plaza flanked by at least three small churches. The young waiter was beautiful, but he was only batting his long eye lashes at men. The bar tender came out to look at my sketchbook, then he sent the owner to say hi. They showed me their new drawing exhibit of Mykonos doors inside the bar.

Inside, this bar is a wonderful place. Part of the Little Venice area of Mykonos, the bar room hangs out over the sea. Only classical music plays. The large west-facing windows are filled with golden light in the evenings and the ocean view. People here are quiet, almost reverential to this view and atmosphere, it’s a small room, and as L. pointed out, anyone who sits on the benches right at the windows turns beautiful as they are bathed in a golden light.


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Greek food and hospitality

Posted on Jun 26, 2013 in Mykonos | 0 comments


The food in general has been wonderful, because it’s fresh and simple. I have never tasted such an intense honeydew before. Fresh figs are amazing. Grilled tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and peppers with olive oil are simple yet delicious here. And then there are the fresh grilled anchovies, octopus, red snapper, sea bass, red mallet, swordfish, prawns, the egg roe salad, fresh sea urchin, and smoked trout that seems to be popular here. Greek salad with fresh feta cheese and the most flavourful olives. Grilled lamb. Greek yogurt with fig jam. I have a whole new appreciation of Greek food. I’ve always liked it, but everything tastes so much better in Greece.

But that alone is not the appeal of Greece, it’s the people. They are friendly. One night, our 20-something waitress brought us a free round of drinks after dinner, which seems to happen here all the time, but she brought a 5th drink and had the shot with us. Just like that. There is no tipping here, so it’s not as if they are fishing for a bigger tip either. I know the Greek economy is in shambles, but the social system has until recently treated them well, so the career and wages of a waitress are meant to cover their needs.

There is no “Hi, I’m Suzy and I will be your waitress” intro. The waiters and waitresses here are dignified, friendly, unobtrusive. My friend L., who has social perception tentacles all over him in a way I never will, even proposed that the waiters move differently earlier in the evening when they serve large groups of tourists versus later at night when locals are dining. I have no idea how he picks these things up, but I have to trust him, because I don’t notice such tiny nuances of human behaviour. This talent of his is like singing, which I can’t do either but totally admire.

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All of Mykonos is a big white wash

Posted on Jun 26, 2013 in Mykonos | 1 comment

Mykonos street scene

Since I had so much fun on my first solo Mykonos sketching day, I took another day off from my travel companions. I skipped the beach in favour of meandering through the maze of narrow streets that is Mykonos. Mopeds can still go through even the tightest spots, and they will. Even cars and mini trucks get into some places that we North Americans would not dream of attempting to drive through.

An old man with a cane very slowly walked through my drawing just as I was finishing, as if on cue. His extremely slow speed allowed me plenty of time to capture him.

I half stood, half sat on a slanted ledge to draw this, I really had to press against the white washed walls to stay in the right position for this view. When I was done, the seat of my beige pants had turned chalky white. Those traces of chalk may be my best souvenir of Mykonos.

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Suffering for art on Mykonos

Posted on Jun 26, 2013 in Mykonos | 0 comments

Little Venice, Mykonos

Continuing my solo sketching day, I decided it was a great idea to sit in the shade of an awning at a bar by the water in the late afternoon with an iced coffee. The view westward to the setting sun and to the Little Venice area of Mykonos is beautiful.

I like to brag that I can handle the heat, but I almost melted as the sun dropped below the awning and started hitting me. Soon I was feeling quite off.

I had to stop once I finished the line drawing and decided to add the colour later. I was completely out of blue watercolour after using the last few molecules to do the sky, so later I used my blue Pitt pen for the water.

I was getting worried about heat stroke. I crawled back to the hotel slowly, stopping for a gelato and some water in the shade. That gelato took me a long time to eat because the heat had slowed me down. After that I felt better.

Overall though I was so happy with my solo sketching day that I decided to take another one.

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How I was fed, beered, and adopted by a Greek hotelier

Posted on Jun 24, 2013 in Mykonos | 0 comments

I am fed, beered, and adopted by a Greek hotelier on Mykonos

On June 23, I took a day for myself and left the three boys to their own devices. Of course that meant major sketchy time! I wandered around Mykonos’s maze of streets, fully hoping to get lost, but I already know it too well.

I sketched a typical Mykonos street, having walked away a couple of blocks from the tourist shops to where locals live. In spite of the picturesque scenes everywhere here, and my option paralysis as to what to sketch, a lot of scenes I found were not doable because there was either no shady spot or the wind blew so strong that it was impossible to hold a sketchbook open, never mind a single piece of watercolour paper. But I walked away from the water and found a wind-free, shady ledge with a good view. The painting took me about an hour or maybe 90 minutes. I lost track of time. I tried to just paint shapes instead of lines, I left out a lot of details, and I used somewhat random colours in a few areas, but the main composition is what I saw.

I had just finished painting and was wiping out my brush and watercolour kit, when a plate of grilled meats, bread and mustard was handed to me by a friendly 60-something Greek man. “Here, you must be hungry,” he said and I realized I was. I gratefully accepted, and he said “come have a beer with us too” and pointed up the street where I’d noticed a man grilling on the street. So of course I did.

This is how I met Kostas, a Greek hotelier, his Rumanian wife Marianna, her 18-year old son Marius and her brothers George and forgot-his-name. It was George’s birthday so naturally I also had to have birthday cake with them. Then they showed me their hotel, Lefteris Hotel, which has the most gorgeous view over Mykonos and faraway islands from their rooftop terrace, and we talked about Greece and Colorado and Whistler and Chicago, where Kostas had lived for 20 years. He turned out to be a big ski fan, he had met Toni Sailer (a famous Austrian skier) and Billy the Kid (American skier), who had stayed at his hotel.

George asked me how to get into Canada with his construction skills, and I gave him my business card and invited everyone, but especially the teenager Marius, to visit us. We don’t have kids, but we are in the habit of hosting older teenagers at our place for months, to enrich their lives, to give them and their parents a break from each other, and also to infuse our lives with some young-people-energy. They tend to be at their most mature with us precisely because we are not their parents. Then we happily give them back and enjoy our freedom.

Anyway, this is what can happen when you sit on the street and sketch. Do it!


Mykonos is full of scenery and the high contrast between the deep blue sky, the strong shadows and the white washed walls lends itself well to black and white photography. Being a visual person, I am walking around in a bit of a sensory overload daze. And of course I am taking a couple of photos.

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Greek economy seriously tanking on Psarou Beach, Mykonos

Posted on Jun 23, 2013 in Mykonos | 0 comments

Psarou Beach, Mykonos, Greece

My friends asked me to sketch them a handsome man that they spotted. So I did. I need a bit more guts and practice to draw people on the fly anyway, and why would I object to practicing my male model drawing? He may well be one of those Greek gods I wanted to look for, although L., who is Italian, insisted that he was a Roman god. Plenty of Italians are here, and making a bella figura. On a colour note, I had to use my Aegean blue and turquoise felt pens to colour the sea, because I am basically out of blue in my watercolour kit, and there isn’t a proper art supply store here on Mykonos, I already asked around.

I am not usually a beach person, but willing to learn from my friend L. who is. I can easily handle beach time for several days in a row but I wear sun block, stay mostly in the shade or wear a long sleeve shirt. And the doing nothing aspect of beach time is something I need to practice more.

We tried out a different beach today in an attempt to get away from the wind: Psarou Beach. The wind blowing sand at us was still a bit much, but there was a simple snack bar at the back of the beach where I could sit with a glass of Retsina and had a perfect drawing surface and view.

Next to the simple beach we were on, are the high end beach restaurant Nammos and Psarou Beach Hotel which has cushy lounge beds you can rent for €30 a day, all the way into the water. Dignified-looking waiters were delivering champagne buckets, towels, trays of €15 frou-frou drinks and there was a sushi bar at the beach. They played music, fortunately relaxing light jazz, which drifted over to us. That turned into a more up-tempo but still pleasant lounge music in the early afternoon. At least the place was tasteful. We found out it’s a long weekend in Greece and a lot of people fly over to Mykonos from Athens. Giant yachts pulled up in this bay, unloading more revellers. These were mostly rich Greeks partying near us, with Italians being the next most represented group.

I have not noticed any signs of the tanking Greek economy here in this rich little enclave that is Mykonos.

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More mini sketches from Mykonos

Posted on Jun 22, 2013 in Mykonos | 0 comments

Beach time on Mykonos, Greece

My tiny sketches continue. This way I can squeeze one out in a few minutes and I can focus on doing a quick composition, not bothering with as much detail as I normally do.

We are travelling with a great fan and expert of beach holidays. But I am planning to skip the beach routine in order to have a full day by myself soon. I want to explore and sketch the town of Mykonos too. It’s so picturesque it feels unreal.

And when I go on vacation with several people, I always make sure I get some time to myself, even before I became a sketcher. Now of course, that alone time is perfect for sketching. I like people, but I have some of my happiest moments in solitude.

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Blissed out on Agrari Beach, Mykonos

Posted on Jun 20, 2013 in Mykonos | 1 comment

Agrari Beach in Mykonos, Greece

Thanks to our friend, an experienced Mykonos traveller, we know to bypass the beaches called “Paradise” and “Super Paradise” with their thumping music and party scene, to get to our favourite, Agrari Beach. It’s pretty empty at this time of year, no music is blasting, it’s clothing optional, and there is a great cafeteria style restaurant with great grilled food and other Greek delicacies. My limited colour palette is really off, by the way. The water is a deep turquoise and azure blue, but I don’t have those colors, and my attempts at mixing them have been unsuccessful so far. I’ll happily keep trying.

L. was worried that Mykonos would not be the same as it was on his long ago visits in the late 80s/early 90s, that he would be disappointed, that his happy memories of it would be overwritten like old data. None of this has been the case. In fact, I have never seen my lovable but curmudgeonly friend happier. This makes the rest of us happy, plus he knows how things work here: where the best beaches are, how to get to them, which restaurants have the freshest grilled seafood, and how to speak a bit of Greek — at least he can wing it, since he studied Ancient Greek. So it’s an easy trip for us thanks to our friend playing tour guide.

It’s worth describing how the beaches work on Mykonos. Many beaches are served by a small boat, called a caïque, which holds about 12 people and quickly putters up onto each sandy beach with its front where an attached ladder allows quick off-on access. The caïque comes around about once an hour, and you can hop on or off at any beach you like for €3.50. The ride to or from “our beach” takes about 45 minutes. You sit anywhere on deck in the sun and enjoy a blissful sail on the Aegean Sea. On the way back, we sail towards the early evening sun. I have some of my happiest and most peaceful moments when I am on a boat, looking out at the sea, whether that’s in the Greek Islands or the Gulf Islands.

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40 hours in Athens

Posted on Jun 20, 2013 in Athens | 4 comments

Athens and Mykonos

The new Acropolis Museum was a great way to spend a few hours out of the heat in a beautiful air-conditioned architectural space surrounded by ancient Greek artifacts and views of the Acropolis.

On our first morning walking the streets of Athens, my friend L. got hit by bird poop. It bounced right off his smoothly shaved head and onto my arm. This is known as collateral bird damage or among birds, as “hitting two humans with one dropping”. We decided it was good luck, but that bird looked rather smug to me.

There are 4 of us travelling: Jeff and I with another couple, G. and L. It’s L.’s 50th birthday this summer, and to celebrate properly, he wanted to go back to Mykonos where he used to come in his 20s when he had hair. Jeff and I were the only ones able to coordinate our vacation time and budget with them, so we made the huge sacrifice of switching our original plan to go camping in B.C. with an island vacation in Greece.

I made a new friend, a young Greek woman running a bakery where we bought some pastries for breakfast. During our conversation, I told her I was going to Mykonos and would be sketching it, then she wanted to see my sketches, so I showed her my sketchbook and gave her my website. She was so impressed, she ran off with my sketchbook to show it to her husband in the back, and then gave me a pastry. Once again, sketching connects. And my breakfast was probably the best spanakopita I ever had.


There was a display on how the ancient Greeks made their pigments for painting marble sculptures. Various rocks were ground and mixed with binding agents to create coloured compounds. As a sketcher, of course I was fascinated by this side display.


I liked Athens, what little I saw in a day and a half through a jet lagged haze and 35+ degree heat. The Acropolis was awe-inspiring, of course. I did not know there were other temples up there besides the famous and gigantic Parthenon. My favourite temple became the Erechtheion, which has two smaller temples attached to it.


The old district of Athens, called Plaka, was a maze of narrow streets full of touristy shops and restaurants. Cold refreshments became very important at that point. I had a wonderful fig gelato, not too sweet and full of fresh fig flavour.


Graffiti in Athens.


Graffiti in Athens.


Street name in Athens. Graffiti and vernacular typography are what I am often drawn to in cities.


We watched the changing of the guards ceremony in downtown Athens, featuring pom-pommed red shoes combined with a gait right out of John Cleese’s “Ministry of Funny Walks” skit.

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