The afternoons in Lisboa are lazy when there’s sun and beer and good friends are around. Lourenço came to visit Lisboa. I had not met him since he was in Sweden. And now, we could meet under the sun of our native country. He brought his entourage, which made the day more special. We were supposed to go visit Sebastião Salgado’s exhibition – Génesis – but it was too crowded, so we took a detour to the Clube Náutico de Belém.
While I had spent the morning learning about the rule of thirds in Nelson’s workshop, the afternoon was all about getting to know some fine people and learning, for instance, about psicofarmacologização (yeah!), Lisbon Psych Fest (unfortunately over by now, but be on the lookout for the next year’s edition), the escalavardo, a mongoose-like beast that sucks the blood out of the chickens in the heights of Monchique, and how to properly pour green sparkly wine – do it from a height, to take some of the rougher gas away.
Welcome back any time Lourenço!
The 18th of April was the International Day for Monuments and Sites. Several groups of Urban Sketchers Portugal met that day in cities with historical interest to celebrate the date. As I was going south for work, it was a perfect opportunity to get to know Silves from a different perspective – that of a sketcher.
I got there early in the afternoon, but the sketching had been going on since the morning, mostly around the bridge over the Arade and the southern slope of the historical burg, between the river and the castle. A couple of dancers and a photographer chimed in to the town gate square for a photography session with the wall and the urban features as background.
The most visible feature of the monuments and fortifications of the town is the red sandstone of which it’s made. The stones in the ramparts cover up a core of taipa, rammed earth concrete, which makes the walls of Silves a case study in rammed earth endurance. It is left to interpretation whether the walls were historically painted or left bare, but the chromatic contrast between the red sandstone and the whitewashed houses really builds up the atmosphere of Silves.
The town has its own Archaeological Museum featuring exhibits from the paleolithic, all the way through the Roman occupation and the Islamic Iberia and up to the Christian Reconquista, culminating in a few pieces of 16th and 17th century ceramic. By then the town had lost its main role as the center of Algarve, in part due to the diminishing of the river stream and also because the Reconquista was over, so the town became less strategic over time.
No sketch meeting is complete with a joyful dinner and a couple of pleasant conversations. I was thrilled to meet so many new faces and to be reunited to a few old faces.
We spent the rest of the evening in the Archaeological Museum, watching a few presentations from experienced sketchers, their journeys and their stories.
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.