Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Necropolis de Colon - Havana

This huge cemetery is entirely consistent with the architecture of Havana, complete with strong old-world Spanish character (complete with the Moorish influences) and some wonderful Art Deco, however the difference is that the structures in the Necropolis are in very good condition.

More than that, it prompted curiosity about the cultural attitudes around death and how its accommodation with the socialist/communist politics of Cuba's modern state.  Many of the monuments reminded me of the old churches I saw in Spain while walking the Camino in Spain and especially the spires of the Sagrada de Famila in Barcelona.

We visited early in the trip, before my sketch valves opened and I was able to loosen up and up and  have fun, I was still in that stiff, documentarian mode.  I almost never complete, much less revisit, my sketchbook drawings.  But had it been later in the trip, I would have had more fun with some with circular perspective.  I think it was in the back of my mind, but didn't surface until a few days later  at the Plaza de Catedral.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Visit Havana - Draw Cars

Havana is famous for its 1950's cars.  Some of the Urban Sketchers gurus have done some wonderful studies of these industrial design marvels.  At first they were fascinating, but then I started to think of them as a cliche, at least in terms of sketching.  That, and the best locations to draw them, at taxi stands, were out in the hot sun with nowhere to sit in the shade nearby.

We did have several rides in these old beasts.  Yes - beasts.  The tourist convertibles were in prime condition and I was left wondering if US relations are ever restored that they might get bought up and repatriated.   Maybe Jay Leno will buy up 30 or 40 of the best convertibles some afternoon.  The rest - as you might expect they are in rough shape, incredibly noisy and belching clouds of blue smoke.   And it's not just riding in them - the noise and fumes, even though the traffic is sparse, made walking along main roads very tiring.  And our ride in a collectivo taxi to the beach from Vinales was nothing short of exhausting, from the noise alone.

I was also left with many questions, as I was about the country and its history.  How in the world had they kept these machines running without replacement parts? - I've given up on cars less than 10 years old.  What is the cost of gas?  Those cars were gas hogs 60 years ago when new, and with sloppy cylinders what are the miles per quart of engine oil?  The radical, jet plane, styling must have been extremely expensive for Detroit to re-tool from year to year.  A golden age of marketing.

There were newer cars on the road - more in Vinales that Havana, and I wondered how they would be serviced in this age of electronic components and proprietary dealer computers.  There is a huge market opportunity for simple, easily repaired, Chinese or Indian vehicles growing in Cuba.  Or, better yet, bicycles, in Havana.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

The World is Round - Circular Perspective

About a week into my trip to Cuba my sketching valves opened and I started to loosen up and have fun.  I had done a couple of aerial perspectives and without much planning, sat down and generated this sketch.

Part of it was loosening up my hand by drawing for a week, but probably of more influence was the visits to the collective print studio - Taller Experimental de Garfica de la Habana, which is just off the Plaza de la Catedral.  Those visits had me thinking about representing what I saw, or even using what I was sketching as a starting point for composition  and moving away from strict documentation of the subject.  A breakthrough for me, as it was really fun to do and adds a fresh approach to my repertoire.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Havana Printshop Collective

While in Havana, I stopped into this collective printmaking workshop several times.  Some days there were musicians playing Cuban music to the patrons of the restaurants just outside the workshop. ( Taller is Spanish for workshop)  But the really cool thing was that I was welcome to just hang out.  I kept going back because of the friendly vibe, but  also to check into the progress of some of the artist's works in progress.  It was inspiring, but because of it's superb technical competency, but also the edgy character, which is something I hadn't expected.

But the cool thing, was that it had immediate influence on how I filled the pages of my sketchbook.  One day, without much thought, I found myself approaching my sketchbook in a different way - a little break-though for me of moving away from documentation to interpretation.

Thanks so much, Jorge, Dania, Ian and Darian.  I've been having a little pipe dream of returning with the deliberate purpose of working an studying at the Taller.  There's hope yet that I might become an artist.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Don't Throw Orthographic Projection Out with the Bathwater

I have been thinking about drawing in technical terms lately - imagining birds-eyes views (aerial view), curved or circular perspectives and so forth.

The day I encountered Roberto Fabelo's sculpture in one of Havana's major plazas, I thought I'd treat it like an architectural drawing and do it in plan and each side as an elevation (orthographic projection).  So here it is, the plan view in the centre with each elevation adjacent to it. Although as I look at it, I realize I got the two side views mixed up - proof, maybe, that its not so easy.

And then while adding some colour I decided to take some liberties and depart from the bronze of the sculpture in keeping with real roosters.

One more tiny step towards interpreting what I see, breaking away from rigid documentation.  As you might gather, I was taken by the sculpture and Roberto Fabelo's gift to me, was putting it there to have the fun of studying it.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Mass in Havana

When traveling I often walk into a local church to attend the service.  I've had some amazing experiences including a couple of full-on gospel congregations in Chicago and New York City.  There was a large catholic church between  the casa particular, where I was staying, and the old town, so it was a natural to drop in on that Sunday morning.  I wish I understood Spanish as Fidel Castro had died just two days before and I think that was what the homily was about.

Sketching in a church is not much different from sketching anywhere - no-one notices, and you have opportunity not just to draw the church but to study people sitting relatively still.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

I never met a boat I didn't want to draw

Havana Harbour is a huge, well protected industrial port.  Cargo and military ships, stationary cranes, even mammoth cruise ships in and out daily.  However there are several dozen small fishing boats moored along the west approach.  These are predominantly inboards with tillers and the colour scheme seems to be the red, white and blue of the Cuban flag.  

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Draw Like a Bird

Catedral Plaza - Havana
Creperie Oasis Neva - Havana (highly recommended for lunch btw)
Plaza San Francisco -  Havana

I've been throwing some different approaches into my sketch repertoire recently.  I  have a professional fascination with urban spaces and often do aerial perspectives - aka bird's eye views, of the designs of public places that I'm proposing.  I long regarded these drafting table drawings as technical and somehow not "urban sketchy", but this fall realized that they are a really valid way of understanding and documenting places.  This vantage point describes the whole space in a way that one, or even several, conventional views cannot.  

And its fun to do.

Mental gymnastics - exercising my perspective muscles. 

Documenting what I can see, but not directly in the way I see it.  A creative bridge to creating designed or imaginary places.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Vinales Cuba

Vinales is located about 150 kilometres west of Havana.  It is an agricultural and tourism hub and seems to be prospering from both.  The main street is lined with restaurants and it seems like half the colourful bungalows that make up the town have "Casa Particular" (bed and breakfast) signs displayed.

This sketch is of a couple of restaurants on a side street, where there was a constant stream of farm vehicles, from tractors to horse drawn 2 wheeled carts, wandering dogs, chickens and local inhabitants bumping into each other and stopping to chat.

I perched on a low wall, out of the sun, out of danger of pigeon droppings from above and soaked it all in as I least until a taxi drop through the puddle in front of me and nearly ruined my work!  Note to self: don't sit in front of puddles.

Monday, 12 December 2016

A Day at the Beach

I spent a few days in Vinales - a rural town in the north central countryside about 150 kilometres from Havana.  Its a vibrant farming area - tobacco, coffee and sugar cane, but also a centre for tourism.  There is a very fine beach on the north coast called Cayo Juntas which is a full day trip by "collectiveo" taxi.  I was one of eight passengers in a Willys  (famous for its world war 2 "jeeps") station wagon that was probably 60 years old.  It was a deafening, rough ride that took 2 hours belching oily exhaust along the 60 kilometres to the coast. The road was in very poor condition so our driver was forced to gear down to a crawl and wander all over avoiding potholes.

Our driver pulled in under some trees behind the beach and we were free to walk along miles of white sand and find a place to sit, sketch and swim.  Several other taxis showed up and a spear fisherman delivered a dozen fresh fish for them to roast over a fire.  The drivers seemed to make a fine day of it visiting and sharing mechanical skills under several of their ancient car's hoods.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Your Man in Habana

I'm just back home from a couple of weeks in Cuba.  I spent most of the time in Havana and sketched every day as there were endless interesting subjects begging to be studied.

This was done early on in the trip and is the view looking back at the Vedado district of the city from the waterfront walkway known as the Malceon.  One of the famous buildings in view ids the Nacional Hotel, scene of many dramatic events in the history of pre-revolutionary Cuba.

The consistent clear skies and direct light brought out the tropical colours, but the high humidity often lead to accidental blooms and bleeds as the paint was slow to dry, even with the heat.