The Casa-Museu Vieira da Silva (Historic House Museum of artist Vieira da Silva) has a year-long program of sketching workshops, held on saturdays every two weeks, in cooperation with several members of Urban Sketchers Portugal (myself included). The themes are quite diverse so, even if you’re an experienced sketcher, there’s something for you.
I decided to attend Nelson Paciência‘s workshop a few days ago, titled “How much stuff fits in my sketchbook”. Fitting title for a sketcher who skillfully cramps stuff in the small canvas of his sketchbook.
He showed us how to use this cramping style, and suggested several techniques to help us in the process. One is to deform the subject to the canvas. Another one is to turn the head and look at more than just the view in front of you. Another yet is to keep out the stuff you don’t want to sketch, so that you get more free space for the stuff that matters. Here he is, stating that he “likes to squish heads”. Game of Thrones style?
He then proceeded to teach us how to use the famed photographers rule of thirds to our advantage. A simple layout device that allows us to direct the focus of the viewer to what we want to give focus to. And this is when we – the students – sprung into action. We had to make a few sketches based on the rule of thirds, with different focuses, foregrounds and backgrounds, etc.
It was a pleasant morning to learn and practice something new. Quite challenging also! On my way home, this Fiat 126 was waiting for me to sketch it.
In the south of Portugal, high up in Monchique, the rooftop of Algarve, the accent tends to steal a few letters from each word. Destila, the process of distilling, becomes Estila. And in Monchique especially, the estila has to do with a particular kind of fruit – the medronho – which turns it into a mildly sweet and fruity firewater (aguardente) named after the very own fruit.
A small band of regional Urban Sketchers put together a series of sketch meetings in a couple of distilleries, deep in the woods of the Monchique mountain range. The first distillery, and by far, the most interesting one, has had the same process for ages, the traditional way!
The fruit ferments in gigantic barrels called dornas for a few months. Then, the resulting paste (massa) is transferred with a large copper ladle (cácero) to a round copper vessel (barriga) which is attached to a copper alembic. The whole device is inserted into a masonry furnace, heated by firewood. As the distilling process begins inside the copper alembic, the precious transparent fluid pours down a pipe that goes through a massive ceramic tank, filled with running fresh water, to cool it down. It might have been more efficient to have a spiral tube going down a narrower tank, but as the distillers explained, the spiral tube would create more challenges to the cleaning process. More cons than pros. Scratch that!
What comes out of the other end is a deliciously fruity smooth rich-bodied transparent medronho that wraps up the meals of most homes in Algarve. It’s also a deceivingly treacherous liquid, as it is so smooth and tasty, you don’t realize you’re having an alcoholic beverage until it’s too late!
The distilling of one batch can take up to four hours, so the crew finds ways to entertain themselves throughout the day. This particular fella shared his own technique of properly roasting a chouriço: wrap it up nice and tight in brown paper; put it on the ground and cover it with ash; cover the ash with glowing embers. Wait until you feel it right; take out, unwrap, slice in medallions, serve with traditional Monchique sliced bread; wash down with medronho. You’ll be happy for the remainder of the day, no matter what.
A room full of sketchers eagerly awaited the two performers of the Desenho Cru session of March. Some of them had heard that they were in for a special surprise. Warm up took some time as one of the performers couldn’t make it. A substitute had to be found.
Viktorija came to the rescue. The make-up artist from Lithuania turned into her own model and demonstrated on herself the transformation of make-up. She showed the long process women go through privately or in pairs, in bathrooms, languidly and meticulously, sipping red wine and enhancing her red lips, in front of 20-something sketchers. All the while, in the backstage, a different make-up strategy was taking place.
Suddenly, and after headlamps were distributed, the lights were out! A chilling, shrieking, spooky song started in the background. A horned silhouette approach from the outside. It came to the center of the stage, dark robes absorbed all the light. Its red eyes gleamed as the demonic figure threatened to impale all of the sketchers to their seats with a blood-stained pike. Pens and pencils were in awe of the imposing and macabre visage of Kina Karvel, demon-performer of the night.
After the music was over, suspension of disbelief was broken, as the demon started speaking in an unexpectedly high-pitched voice, and proceeded to strike a few poses during the following hour or so.
It was some impressing minutes, those of Kina Karvel’s performance. Hard to picture them in a sketchbook.
In Oeiras, a township next to Lisboa, there is a public park peppered with statues from Portuguese poets ranging from all epochs. It was the setting for an Urban Sketchers Portugal sketch meeting, last weekend. I decided to bring along Maria, my 8-year-old niece, given that she had shown great interest in sketching during the summer holidays.
At first she goofed around quite a bit, being that some of the statues portrayed naked poets and she was in awe of their buttocks. But soon enough, while sketching David Mourão Ferreira’s odd looking statue, she had her moment of absolute focus. Here’s my own, for comparison:
But her focus period didn’t come to an end. She found Florbela Espanca up the hill and proceeded to sketch her more shapely stony female body. Both sketches were loudly praised by all the sketching community gathered there.
Right after sketching Fernando Pessoa’s statue, she had a brief moment of touching sadness, as the pictures of the final gathering were being taken. She realized the sketch meeting was over and she didn’t know when the next one would be.
So I decided that I want to take her to the most meetings possible in the near future. I’m curious to see what lies ahead and how will she progress in her art. In the end of the day we did a collaborative sketch, where I did the linework and she the coloring. I hope she kept good memories of the afternoon and of all the sketchers.
The sketch meeting in the Maritime Museum of Ílhavo was a nice excuse to get away for the weekend.
In the debate of architecturally neutral museums and museums that parttake in the exhibitions within, this one falls in the latter category. It goes back and forth, down and up, meandering along an exhibition of real life ships and objects of life aboard a fishing vessel, plus many many shells and a fish tank with a few unfortunate cod fish.
While during the sketch meeting, everyone was pretty much focused on their sketching activity, it was only later in the day that everybody started to mingle, just before the museum ended. The meeting gave place to a visit to a nearby illustration exhibition of one of the participants.
Sharing sketchbooks and techniques is an inevitable part of any sketch meeting. And so it happened with the fine people of Aveiro Sketchers and I, around a late lunch table of pizza in the fishing town of Gafanha, of the south bank of Aveiro’s lagoon.