(More than…) Two Years in Torino

"Le cose belle sono lente." –Pane e Tulipani

Category: not Italy

Cintiq review

In my last post, I promised to update either my progress on the color comps for Princess Carla of Spaniel or the new Cintiq Pro 16 (a draw-on-screen monitor).

I’ll start with the Cintiq. It’s revolutionary for me, even with its steep learning curve.

First I must list the difficulties, which are fairly well known by now to the digital art community: It has issues with Mac Sierra, with connections and drivers, and with getting the promised 4K screen resolution. For a complete list of problems and fixes, see the Wacom Reddit  board, though Wacom has its own discussion board as well.

I don’t have the Sierra problem because I never upgraded to it, preferring to preserve as much RAM as possible. I will probably have to eventually, but hopefully by then the compatibility issues will be ironed out.

I am, however, having the resolution problem. I’m stuck at 1440 resolution. I have a MacBook Retina Display, which should support 4K.  But I don’t have a USB-C port, and that’s what the Cintiq Pros are set up to use. The Wacom link, an adapter which was included in the box because Wacom knew how new USB-C ports are, doesn’t support 4K. At least not officially. Some people have been able to make it work by ordering special MiniDisplay cables, but I have had no success with that route. Wacom Reddit has more information if you’re trying to troubleshoot this issue, and meanwhile, if I am able to make mine work, I’ll post an update.

And I must say that the sleek Cintiq monitor does look rather silly with three long, bulky cables sticking out of it and sprawling all over the table, just to make it work. It looks very jury-rigged.

Those caveats aside, however, having a pen display is absolutely an enormous boost to a digital art setup.

Even at just 16″, the workspace feels much bigger than my 13″ laptop, and besides I don’t have to keep juggling apps around a tiny screen to look at reference material or watch tutorials. Now I have one maximized screen just for my artwork!

And even at 1440 resolution, I’m able to work quite well enough for a beginner.

The new pen works very well and even has an eraser on the other end. I have yet to figure out its relation to the eraser function in Photoshop, but I will discover it eventually. I have set my pen controls to display toggle (to switch quickly from the display to my computer monitor and back) and radial menu (a pop up on screen menu in which you can store your favorite shortcuts). Both of these have made the tablet much easier to use.

The first few days I was a bit disoriented because things kept popping up on the wrong monitor and I didn’t know how to toggle, but slowly I’m getting the hang of it.

And today I figured out how to make the font on the Cintiq big enough to read. The fix is not in Photoshop, but in the Mac display scaling preferences. I had been afraid to touch those because I thought it would decrease my display resolution even more, but apparently it doesn’t.

But the absolute best thing, and the reason I got this device to begin with, is that now I can draw, lasso, and use all the other precise tools included with Photoshop with the same precision I would a pencil and paper. If you’ve ever used an Intuos, the small black drawing tablet with no screen, you know what I’m talking about. It feels like you’re drawing with your non-dominant hand, or worse. I got better at drawing with it over the year that I used it, but there’s no comparison between an Intuos and a Cintiq if your drawing style is about manual dexterity.

So, now I’ve got the Cintiq setup and I’m back to working on color comps for Princess Carla of Spaniel. I’ll post an update when I’m a bit further along.

The new Cintiq Pro 16 with my first color comp for Princess Carla of Spaniel in progress. 

 

 

Spaniel drawing update

Here’s a short update on the fancy animal assignment from the last post: I’ve been working on it whenever I get a chance, and have now finished the tonal study. To do this, I scanned and combined my favorite two drawings and then worked out the values in Photoshop.

The awkward black lines in the study are drawing corrections done on an Intuos pro tablet. The point at this stage was never to have an elegant, finished drawing, but these lines are particularly rudimentary and I leave them in to emphasize that it’s really hard to draw accurately on a small tablet. But I’ve finally sprung for a Cintiq draw-on-screen monitor and it should arrive tomorrow. Yay!

Anyway, the tonal study showed me that I needed to further “flesh out” the dog’s paws, so to speak. That has been today’s work. When I used to paint oil portraits, back in the pre-digital era, I’d take a couple hundred photos and make sketches to think out various aspects of the painting. Illustration is by nature imaginary, but I still like my drawings to look correct and believable. That requires a ton of photo reference and detailed studies. Sometimes I wish I had an in home menagerie!

Another part of today’s work has been to start thinking about mother-of-the-bride’s dresses for July, but after trying on everything I own that might work, I must confess I much prefer drawing Velasquez dresses to shopping for one for myself.

Once I get the Cintiq up and running, or get to the color comps for this assignment (whichever comes first), I’ll post an update. And there are more steps to go after that. But I like the way this assignment is making me stretch.

Princess Carla of Spaniel with torsoIMG_5980

Princess Carla of Spaniel

It has been a while since I’ve posted. I’m working a lot on illustration and am now much more comfortable with Photoshop, but have little original work to show for all this study, so I recently joined a group that gives assignments. Here is the first:  Find an atmospheric portrait and combine it with an animal.

I immediately thought of Velasquez, and as I looked at his portraits, I thought, What do they remind me of? Why, King Charles Spaniels, obviously! (Perhaps that’s not so surprising considering that Velasquez painted at least one King Charles Spaniel into a royal family portrait. People do tend to look like their dogs.)

I started out this assignment thinking I’d use Las Meninas, but when I did a Google search I immediately found that someone had already done a few spoofs of that extremely famous image with a dog’s head, and besides the light is coming from a less conventional direction in that painting. So I decided on another image of the same princess, here:

Velasquez, The Infanta Margherita, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna

I’m not sure I can post the main spaniel reference photo I used since it’s probably someone else’s intellectual property, but needless to say I had a ton of spaniel photos.

After various attempts, I finally settled on one main head pose and expression:

Princess Carla of Spaniel, by me

This is an interesting assignment because it forces you to think of such unconventional questions as, how much puppy belly is appropriate to show in a corseted dress? How do you make shoulders that look human enough to retain the main lines of the dress while looking doggy enough not to suggest a straight cut and paste? How do you put earrings on a dog? How much of the full length portrait should be incorporated into the assignment and what to do with that other paw? (Not to mention that I cut off the near one, which was part of the drawing, in the photo.) And how do you adapt the reference material in a way that maintains form over mere photographic realism? I must say I was quite pleased with the ready transitions from necklace to dog collar and spaniel ears to 17th c. Spanish hair, though.

The idea is to do a finished digital image in color. I should have a Cintiq (tablet that allows the user to draw directly on screen) soon, but as of now I still don’t have one, so doing this assignment on a tiny Intuos tablet is going to be a challenge. I’m going to try it nonetheless.

And obviously I’m posting here to hold myself accountable. If you like this sort of thing, stay tuned…

Illustration resources

This is the post I was going to write before I got sidetracked with Thanksgiving. Though Two Years in Torino is primarily about life as an American in Italy, I think it’s only natural that as I live in Torino longer and longer (way beyond two years, it looks like), not all of my life will be consciously expat. As such, most of these illustration resources are American, but if you’re just itching for some bureaucratic irony and humor from the bel paese, I have one more Accademia Albertina update to publish soon. Also, some day, I hope that my illustration interest and my interest in things Italian will truly intersect.

But for now I have a lot of technical information about art to digest, quickly, and so this year I am taking the efficient, if somewhat lonely route of art self-study online. Online schools seem to be a pronounced trend in the US, and while I might not recommend online study for an 18-year-old getting his or her first degree, as a middle-aged expat self-study has a lot to offer: for starters, convenience of time and place, choice of specialized syllabi, and prices that allow for experimentation. (Note: the link, which actually argues that not even young people should go to art school, leads to yet more online resources.)

I’m not even sure how I first found all these schools and resources that I am about to list (I think I may have begun with Will Terry’s channel on YouTube), but I will say that once you discover a couple of these artists, they tend to lead to one another in a serendipitous rabbit trail. Most of these artists are entrepreneurial in outlook, and therefore they are open to other streams of income than book illustration. For instance, Will has branched out from children’s book illustration to Comi-cons (comics conventions), and has just published a book of his own fan art.

Another thing these artists seem to have in common is an acquaintance with animated film studios. They may not all have worked for one, but the style of modern animation has at the very least contributed to their visual vocabulary. I say this because digital animation is more of a recent discovery for me, and it wasn’t until I saw such films as Up!, Brave and Big Hero Six that I was truly convinced of the potential of digital animation, particularly the lighting. (I watch a lot of animated films during those long flights to the US.)

When I got interested in children’s book illustration again, Comic-cons and Disney films were not exactly what I had in mind, and yet I do think it’s important to understand the trends. I can take in bits of this knowledge and inform my own art.

And lastly, I appreciate that all of these artists have been willing to share some of what they have learned. They do not operate under a scarcity mentality. Instead they assume that the more knowledge is available, the more new opportunities for artists will open up. More art for everyone, more jobs for artists!

So, here’s my list of resources:

First of all, Photoshop is the industry standard software for illustrators. (Ironically, Adobe Illustrator is more for logo design and other projects that require a vector format.) I found a Photoshop offer that allowed me to get just Photoshop and Lightroom (English version) for about $10/month. I don’t know how long it will be available, but even if you are the most traditional of artists, your illustration work has to be camera ready, and Photoshop offers editing tools. How far you take your editing, and their painting tools, is up to you.

Also, although for now I work on a small Wacom Intuos tablet, I want to eventually buy a Wacom Cintiq, which allows you to draw directly on the screen. Both of these devices plug into a regular computer and use a stylus, but since the Intuos requires you to look at a screen while drawing on a separate tablet, it produces certain hand/eye coordination problems that, although they do improve with practice, never quite go away. I spent 50 years developing my drawing hand, and a Cintiq would allow me to fully preserve it in digital form. One reason for my delay in buying a Cintiq, by the way, is that I am waiting to see if an updated version of the 22″ model is released soon.

Now that I’ve listed the materials needed, there is the matter of developing the specialized skills required to use them well. Though I only discovered it somewhat recently, there is at least one excellent, free site that will walk you through the basics of digital painting in Photoshop as well as the fundamentals of drawing and painting. Let’s face it, Photoshop is an overwhelming program when you first encounter it, and you can waste hours trying to resolve seemingly minuscule problems. Matt Kohr’s Ctrl + Paint is clear, concise, and while he doesn’t always still have the practice downloads mentioned in his videos (some videos are several years old and have been moved to the site from elsewhere), you can usually take a screenshot (cmd + shift + 3 on a Mac) and make one yourself. Ctrl + Paint is a great first stop. He also offers paid content, which I haven’t tried yet. And just a note: I usually use Safari, but I find his site works better on Firefox.

My paid instruction source of the moment is SVS Learn.com. The classes seem to be available every so often as real time courses with instructor feedback, and thereafter are preserved for download or streaming. The main instructors are Will Terry and Jake Parker (founder of Inktober). Will and Jake give digital instruction, but never emphasize digital tricks over fundamentals. In fact, most of their courses are just as helpful for traditional media. Their specialty is children’s books, and to some degree, comics and graphic novels. They and other artists present courses on such topics as Painting Color and Light, Developing Interesting Character Designs, Perspective, How to Make Money in Illustration, and many others. I currently have a streaming subscription for $15/month that allows me to watch anything on the site and download the workbooks and other digital aids that accompany the courses. I really have learned a lot. And another nice thing about their site is that they allow you to leave and come back with no hassle (haven’t tried it yet, but that’s what it says on the site). They seem to understand that artists are struggling enough just to stay afloat, so they let you pick and choose what you need.

Branching out from SVS, I have also discovered such sites as Noah Bradley’s Art Camp and Chris Oatley’s Oatley Academy. Yet another paid online art education site is Schoolism. I haven’t joined any of those yet, but they do look like they might be promising. If anyone has experience that they would like to share, or knows other sites of similar quality, I would love to hear from you.

And what 21st century artist’s resource list would be complete without Pinterest? Artists use all the social media sites–Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr being some of the more common ones–but the lure of Pinterest is the ability to make your own collections of other artists’ work and reference material, not just your own. When you’re starting out, Pinterest can be a helpful way to organize all the different sources of inspiration you want to keep track of. My account goes through periodic growth spurts and has now exploded to over 1000 pins. Oops!

For inspiration and general knowledge about the industry, I have enjoyed not only Will’s and Jake’s YouTube channels, but also Chris Oatley’s Artcast. Now that I am home alone a lot, I often listen to You Tube or podcasts while I do housework. Some of them are art-related and some have nothing to do with art, but that’s another blog post.

And finally, I have found some rather fun animation resources on TED and even Khan Academy.

 

My illustration adventure has only just started, and yet I’m really itching to get to the point where I can produce something that reflects not just technical art skills, but a mature vision. I think this may be a typical problem with starting a career in midlife. When you’re young, you have tons of energy and learn easily, but little life experience. At my age, you know your own interests and you have tons of experience you want to get out on paper or screen, but need to get your skills caught up quickly. I think a combination of humble and agile mind, and yet confidence about what you are trying to do, are optimal. But most of all, this job requires practice. So that’s what I am going to do now. Hope this helps someone, and thanks for reading!

Thrifting and memory

Some of the items Nancy and I remembered. A couple, like the coat (which my grandmother would have worn) and the little stove, were not exact matches, but they were so close that they stirred memory nonetheless. The roaster (middle), however, I just threw in for fun! 

For the whole past month I’ve been visiting family in the US, but during the last week of our trip my mom and I visited a cousin and her family in Louisiana, which is an entirely new state for me.

My cousin Nancy used to live across the street from me and for a while we went to the same school. So she and her friends were the first teenagers I knew. I admired them to the extent that, as we were looking at her old high school cheerleading photos, my mom said, “Who is this on the end?” and I answered immediately with the girl’s first and last name.  My mom, rightly startled because I can’t remember people she told me about five minutes ago, said, “How do you know that?!”

“I memorized the yearbook in first grade,” I replied

Nancy now has a grandson, whom we all love to dote on, but when he left to go back home with Nancy’s daughter, she and I decided to go on some adventures.

First we went to a catfish and crawdad shop in a converted gas station. The only thing converted about it, though, was that the gas pumps didn’t work anymore. It wasn’t gentrified. Deer corn was piled up in the corner next to the camouflage hats. The bubble gum machine sold gun and brass knuckle-shaped plastic trinkets. Workmen were lined up in their blue coveralls to order lunch. I was wearing a sleeveless housedress and pearls. I had thought we were going to a tearoom! I decided to ignore myself and hope everyone else would too.

After our lunch, Nancy and I drove to a nearby town to look at antique shops we had read about in a tourist article. After walking up and down the only downtown street, we decided that the chamber of commerce had written the article in an attempt to create a destination by psyching out local residents, but just as we were leaving, we walked into a shop with a vintage 50s Westinghouse roaster out front. This is where the fun began.

The downtown being half vacant, the antique/junk shop occupied the entire building: three floors worth of small back offices. The displays ranged from the bizarre (gaudily re-decorated objects and paintings) to the delightful (which is what this post is about).

Nancy and I had just started walking through the rooms when we started recognizing things. “Who does this hat remind you of?” Nancy asked, as she tried on a pillbox hat with a short net veil.

“Grandmother!” My grandmother sewed, so we were always dressed well.

Then came the treadle sewing machine, the 60s dress patterns, the Tupperware cake caddy and grocery store dish sets, the wooden purses decoupaged with mushrooms, the maxi dress with blous-y sleeves–the memories went on and on.  “Who had this, your mom or mine?” and one of us or the other would remember. Most startling were the items which I had utterly forgotten until I saw them lying on a table, for example a set of plastic thermal bowls I used to eat Cream of Wheat out of at my grandmother’s house before I was old enough to go to preschool. I may have been as young as two. Sometimes Grandmother would put ice cream in the Cream of Wheat to cool it down.

Nothing that we looked at in the store was valuable. Most of it probably came from other people’s grandmothers’ houses. But running across totally forgotten items which formed a part of one’s earliest childhood memories was disconcertingly intimate. Each time one of us confirmed the other’s hunch, it was as if we had opened a hidden door in the attic of memory, with its stories attached. This game held the same kind of intrigue as the first mystery novel I ever read, in second grade. Which, by the way, I inherited from Nancy.

Once Nancy was almost like the older sister I never had. Until our children grew up, we still saw one another at least every Christmas, but now that we have spread out into the next generation it’s very hard to visit. I only wish my younger sister had been there was well. Nancy was very kind to drive me all over her city and show me where she and her family live their lives, for context. I got to see my 89-year-old aunt, Nancy’s mom. For a little while, past and present felt as if they were finally together in the same room.

On pilgrimage to Northumberland

Main house at Hethpool (photo by Fern Smith)

A couple of weeks ago I was preparing for our summer trip to the US when I got an email from an old NYC friend saying, “I’m writing to invite you to spend a few days with me in the north of England this summer.”

How could I pass up an invitation like that? So I soon I found myself in Northumberland, immersed in the successive waves of early medieval history amidst the bleating of sheep.

Scottish borderYeavering Bell and Ad Gevrin

Top: The Scottish border is a sheep fence overlooked on either side by prehistoric hill forts. Bottom: Atop another hill fort, Yeavering Bell, looking down on the site of one of the seats of the Saxon kings of Northumbria, Ad Gevrin (lighter field in foreground).

My friend Amy had been to Northumberland before, so it was she to introduced me to such personages as the Saxon king Edwin, his queen Aethelburga, the Roman missionary Paulinus, St. Aidan, and St. Cuthbert. We hiked along St. Cuthbert’s way to the Scottish border one day, and the next we climbed Yeavering Bell, one of the myriad Cheviot Hills topped by ancient hill forts. Down below Yeavering Bell one can see the field where Ad Gefrin, the local residence of King Edwin, once stood. There Paulinus baptized the local residents in the adjacent River Glen. These stories come to us from The Venerable Bede, who lived at the nearby Jarrow monastery.

Lindisfarne priory ruins Lindisfarne Celtic crossIMG_3906

Lindisfarne: (Top) The Norman priory’s only remaining cross rib vault. (Middle) A relatively modern grave marker modeled after a traditional Celtic market cross. (Bottom) The ruins of the Norman priory as seen from above at the Heugh.

On another day we walked at low tide to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, where the Celtic St. Aidan, on land granted by the Saxon king Oswald, founded a monastery. Riding on the popularity of Aidan’s successor St. Cuthbert, the monks (or their bishop, Eadfirth) produced the splendid Lindisfarne Gospels, now housed in the British Library in London. Not long after the manuscript was finished, however, the Saxon monastery was attacked by Vikings (several times), causing the surviving monks to move St. Cuthbert’s relics to Durham.

The next centuries brought more invasions, and a successive Norman priory based on the new gothic Cathedral at Durham, on the site of the original Saxon church. This monastery, too, flourished for a time until the Scottish border wars reduced its viability. Eventually Henry VIII suppressed it and it fell into ruin. Its most recent pilgrims have been the Romantics, such as the painter William Turner, and modern tourists.

Lindisfarne flats with Amy

As Amy and I hiked stretches of St. Cuthbert’s Way and walked across the mud flats from Lindisfarne, we were each making a sort of personal pilgrimage. For one thing, we were renewing a friendship that had been interrupted by distance and difficulties in both our cases. We shared our spiritual journeys, at least partly by attending each other’s Sunday services, which turned out to be remarkably similar.

And lastly, we shared our (for me newfound) delight in the country life of the English/Scottish borderlands–a life of bare windswept hills and spritzing rains, in which stone houses face away from tiny lanes and towards wild-ish gardens; a sporting culture of walkers, riders, dogs and sheep (and more sheep); and naturally, huge breakfasts and an occasional summer fire with evening tea.

And finally, despite being almost 100% British in ancestry and having forebears from Northumberland, this was my first ever trip to the UK. As I surveyed the parishioners with their raincoats, wooly hair and apple-rose cheeks during the local Anglican service at St. Gregory’s, I decided that they were taller and blonder than myself. But as I admired their needlepoint kneelers with Saxon-inspired designs, and chatted with them over coffee afterwards (instant, but their hospitality earned them a likewise instant indulgence), and listened to them recount the long history of their church, I decided we were kindred spirits nonetheless.

St. Gregory'sSt. Gregory's cancel 2St. gregory magi in kilts

(Top) The exterior of St. Gregory’s church: with its traditional churchyard. (Middle) The long presbytery at St. Gregory’s, which I discovered was typical of English churches in the late 13th C. (Bottom) A bas relief of the Three Magi, in kilts!

A very small country and some art tourism

IMG_2787
The apse mosaic at the basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, near Ravenna

I finally got my driver’s license in early December, and I’m very much enjoying the ability to drive. I love my little manual transmission Fiat Punto and have already been on a few road trips in it. But most of them didn’t lend themselves to blog posts.

Last weekend Sarie needed to travel to San Marino to take a course for her job (she teaches English to children). If you’ve ever played geography games, you may know that San Marino is one of those tiny European countries like Luxembourg, Monaco and Vatican City (which is really another thing altogether). At the last minute (I had been in the US until late Thursday), I decided to go along too. I was curious about seeing a new country, and besides San Marino was close to Ravenna, which I have wanted to revisit since 1984.

I had always imagined San Marino as some sort of elegant enclave. It’s supposed to be the oldest sovereign state and republic in the world, with its origins in a Pre-Constantinian monastery. What I found, when we got there, was a very clean, walled city with lots of jewellery and weapons shops, perched on a steep cliff and surrounded by hilly, modern suburbs. The San Marinese have a sense of pride at not being Italian (even though they speak Italian and are culturally similar), a lot of police checkpoints, and the ability to navigate steep hairpin turns at great speed. They are supposedly free of a lot of the problems that plague the surrounding Italian state, such as national debt and unemployment. In all the grocery stores and gas stations, I noticed signs accepting a clever credit/discount card that allows citizens to pay less than tourists.

Unfortunately a badly-timed 24 hour bug ate Sarie’s course and a most of my sightseeing time. But we did make it up the mountain to see the fortress capital of San Marino, and we saw two of the famous mosaic churches of Ravenna on the way home.

IMG_2759IMG_2764IMG_2756

 Street scenes and a view of the countryside,  from the fortress capital of the country of San Marino 

The mosaics of Ravenna have been favourite artworks of mine since I noticed the portrait of the Byzantine Empress Theodora in an art book as a teen. I was delighted when my first ever trip to Italy in 1984 included a short stop in Ravenna and I found myself in front of this very mosaic in the church of San Vitale. More recently, I’ve taken an interest in the mosaic floors that seem to lie somewhere beneath every early Christian church in Italy. And Ravenna has no less than eight UNESCO world heritage sites, all but one of which feature fabulous early Christian mosaics. This was why I offered to drive Sarie to San Marino!

As we started our drive home through Ravenna on Sunday morning, with very little time and a still-weak Sarie, we chose just two of those sites, Sant’Apollinare in Classe and San Vitale. Sarie sat and I wandered.

First we drove to Sant’Apollinare in Classe, just outside the city. I had recently done a presentation that included the apse mosaic there. It features the first archbishop of Ravenna (Classe is a suburb of Ravenna) standing in a field of green, surrounded by stylised trees and sheep. Three of the sheep are Peter, James and John. Floating above them is a jewelled cross with the face of Christ at its intersection and encircled by in a blue orb, a hand coming out of the gold clouds above, and other figures in the sky who are labelled as Moses and Elijah. Recognise the scene? It’s the Transfiguration. The Christians of Ravenna were preaching through artwork against the then-common heresy of Arianism, which denied the divine nature of Christ. Depicting Jesus in a symbolic cross form in a gold sky emphasised his divinity.

The whole scene lends itself perfectly to mosaic tile. The mosaics seem to be freshly restored, and the gold glittered from various angles as I walked around the basilica. Sant’Apollinare is an active church, so there was a mass going on in one of the side chapels. And we were there on none other than the feast of the Transfiguration.

IMG_2792IMG_2815IMG_2823

The apse mosaics of San Vitale with one of the hemispheric side chapels, a floor mosaic composed of earlier pieces, and the exterior of the octagonal church

It was a little harder to remain calm at San Vitale. Once I entered the city, I realised that I was completely surrounded by splendid mosaics in a great walking city, which I had come back to see in detail after 30 years and now couldn’t (also, you have to buy a ticket to four sites at once). But I could also relate to how weak Sarie must feel after a stomach virus, and was also thinking it might be hard to get home if I came down with the virus during the remaining four-hour drive. So I controlled my sightseeing ambitions and enjoyed what was right in front of me.

Even the octagonal form of San Vitale is exquisite. It’s not a basilica form. The apse (where the mosaics are) is encircled by seven hemispherical domes with galleries behind. Joining all the side chapels is a large dome with what looks like a Baroque ceiling painting. Some of the chapel fresco decorations have been restored, seemingly to give an idea of what it must have looked like in the past. Otherwise only traces of paint are visible.

Despite the stomach virus, missing the course, and limited opportunities for sightseeing, Sarie and I enjoyed the drive. She’s increasingly independent, which is right at her age, and being in the car together gave us time to talk about a variety of things, not least of which was the insanity of Italian driving. We saw a lot of regional landscape as we crossed the country, and gaped at a train station that looked like a pleated paper IKEA lampshade, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. We never saw the Adriatic, and never got to eat in any of the cozy restaurants along the way, but we were happy to see what we did.

Disclaimer: It has been a long time since I took art history, so I’m not 100% sure I have all my architectural terms right. Also, in order to travel light, I took these photos with my old iPhone, so they’re not the greatest. And finally, yes, I know my spellcheck is stuck on British English!

Stedelijk Museum

I’m just adding a few more photos from the Amsterdam trip, now that I’ve had some time to do some other things. These are from the Stedelijk Museum. I find that modern art museums make fun places to goof off with a camera, even if I do have problems with focusing in low light. But I’m too lazy to look up all the names of the artists, so I’m only going to list the ones I know (see bottom):

DSC_0366 DSC_0342 DSC_0343 DSC_0353 DSC_0347 DSC_0349 DSC_0335 DSC_0391 DSC_0363 DSC_0380 DSC_0379 DSC_0382 DSC_0364 DSC_0369 DSC_0397 DSC_0370

1. Textile by unknown (to me) artist. 2. Mondrian paintings 3. Malevich (I can still hear one of my old painting teachers, Richard Olsen, rapturously exclaiming in his Milwaukee smoker’s rasp, “Ah, Malevich! His use of negative space is perfect!” 4-7. Karel Appel 8. Frank Stella, no doubt 9-11. Examples from the product design galleries 12. Sam Francis 13. Unknown (to me) painter 14-15. Examples of graphic design 16. Chairs. Uh, oh.  I really should know this.  I think the one on the left is by the Finnish designer Alvar Aalto?

Haarlem

I visited the picturesque town of Haarlem (for which Harlem in New York City is named) twice; once by myself and once with Sarie and Alberto. Unfortunately Sarie didn’t feel well when she went, but she and Alberto did get to visit my favorite thing about Haarlem, the Corrie Ten Boom house. The tour group was crowded that day and I had already been, so I decided to stay outside and allow others to go in. I went to an archeology museum instead.

On the previous trip, when I took the Corrie Ten Boom tour, the docent was a lively and trim woman who was a good bit shorter than the average Dutch person. She had been a little girl during the war and remembered the last, hard winter in which the townspeople ate sugar beets and tulip bulbs because there were no rations left. People starved in the streets. And of course, those were the people who hadn’t been rounded up and shipped off to prison or concentration camps.

She told Corrie’s story with conviction and faith. She was clearly a believer. When she told about Corrie’s analogy of our lives being the back of a tapestry, the front of which is only known to God, I teared up.

And yes, I got to step into the Hiding Place!

It wasn’t just a museum tour. It was really a pilgrimage. Now I can now imagine really well how things must have looked as the story unfolded at the little house on Baarteljestraat. In the museum, they only allowed photos in Corrie’s bedroom, and mine didn’t come out so well, so I’m going to link to the museum’s website instead.

On my first visit to Haarlem, I also went to the Frans Hals Museum.  Frans Hals is the 17th C. Dutch Old Master famous for his quick knife-like paint strokes and his ability to catch a spontaneous smile or gesture in oils (quite a feat before photography, and truly, still a feat).

Below I’ve posted some photos of the characteristic brick buildings of Haarlem (starting with the Corrie Ten Boom house), the Frans Hals Museum, and finally St. Bavo’s, the town church.  I can’t find our copy of Meindert DeJong’s Shadrach at the moment (though it was one of Sarie’s favorite books and the first chapter book she ever read), but I seem to recall that the young protagonist, Davy, talked about St. Bavo’s, and I’m wondering if the book is set near Haarlem.  If anyone remembers or can check, I’d love to know!

DSC_0316DSC_0258DSC_0259DSC_0455 DSC_0262 DSC_0312
Above: Typical brick side streets of houses and other buildings with stained glass, lace curtains, transoms above the windows, and usually a bit of decorative white trim.  The streets are graced with flowers, and entire families go out for errands on their bicycles. In the second photo down, you can see the exterior of St. Bavo’s Church on the left.

DSC_0286 DSC_0274 DSC_0273 DSC_0269 DSC_0290 DSC_0291 DSC_0294

Above: Scenes from the Frans Hals Museum.  The leather wall covering in the second photo is typical of 17th C. Holland.  The three photos at the bottom are a mock up of the meal painted in Hals’s Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Civic Guard.  All wax, I suppose! Or at least, the food isn’t real!

DSC_0454 DSC_0446 DSC_0435 DSC_0442

Above: St. Bavo’s and its famous organ, on which Mendelssohn, and Handel, and the ten-year-old Mozart played.  Like many Dutch churches, it started out as a Catholic church and then was converted during the Reformation. The white interior with columns is very typical, too. (I think Sarie took these photos.)

DSC_0458

And finally–oh, why not!  Medieval shoes from the archeology museum.  How did they find all these, I wonder?

Dutch interiors

DSC_0200

The exterior of the Willet-Holthuysen home, which has an extra-wide facade and a servants’ entrance below

The Dutch, as you may know, are famous for their interiors.  And as one Dutch docent noted, for one of the world’s tallest nationalities, they live in some of the smallest spaces of any country (even the houses of the rich aren’t so large as elsewhere).  So I suppose they make every bit count.

I visited several different house museums while in Amsterdam.  One, the Willet-Holthuysen home, was decorated according to the style of its Victorian owners, while another, the 17th C. Geelvinck-Hinlopen home, was eclectic but included original elements.  And sometimes I’d just run into a viewable kitchen in a museum that wasn’t a house museum at all.

The pattern of most of these houses was that of an upper class family. They were usually on the Herengracht, which means something like Canal of the Aristocracy (or at least merchants). Usually Dutch houses were quite narrow, two or three windows across and four stories high, but the rich merchants sometimes bought two lots, affording a door and two windows (one room each) on either side.

A common layout included a library on the right side of the entrance, a parlor on the left, and a dining room in the back. Sometimes the dining room would have a low ceiling, which allowed for a sort of mezzanine-level linen and china pantry above. In the back of the house, overlooking the garden, was a sunroom or conservatory. The family’s bedrooms were upstairs, and the female servants slept in the attic.  Downstairs there was a servant’s entrance below the front steps, which led to pantries, male servant’s quarters, and the kitchen. Two of the houses I saw also had a carriage house behind the garden, facing the opposite block, but that was only for the richest people.

Below are some examples of the rooms in the family quarters.  Then scroll down for more explanation:

DSC_0218 DSC_0224 DSC_0193 DSC_0172

Libraries and parlors

Bottom two photos: 1) A typical style of 17th C. curio cabinet.  The inserts were sometimes made of ebony, and sometimes merely painted black.  2) What do you know?  A painting by Bouguereau (top)!

DSC_0226 DSC_0178

Dining rooms

DSC_0192 DSC_0190 DSC_0182 DSC_0234 DSC_0238

Conservatories

Over the course of the week, I realized that while sometimes the formal rooms felt a bit stuffy, I always liked the kitchens, which were intended only for servants to use. They too had their common features: Tiles on walls and floors, brass fixtures hanging from pegs or the ceiling, assorted earthenware jugs, windows (often facing the back) over wooden cabinets, a stone sink in the corner, built-in cabinets to hold china, a large table in the center of the room,  some kind of large stove/oven combination (open fireplace or wood stove) along one of the walls. One house had a tap built into the stove to take advantage of the heat for hot water, and another had a small room between the kitchen and the garden outside for messy jobs such as cleaning fish.  I’d also frequently see a small marble sink built into the wall of the servants’ hallway. One home had a shed by the back door for powdered wigs!

Below are some, but not all, of the kitchens I observed over the course of the week. The one at the bottom you may recognize from the last post. It’s Rembrandt’s kitchen.

And below the kitchens, there are two last photos and comments.

DSC_0248 DSC_0233 DSC_0232 DSC_0166 DSC_0168 DSC_0165 DSC_0125

And finally, I saw some magnificent examples of Dutch dollhouses as well. They often included perfectly detailed miniature tea services, books, and linen cabinets.  Some were scaled-down versions of their owners’ houses. Here is a small sample, including an elegant home, some kitchen implements, and a more modest home.

DSC_0305DSC_0278DSC_0254

Up next:  A different kind of house museum altogether!