Skansen is an amazing open air museum. The sheer size of it is mind-blowing – 75 acres – one of the largest in the world. Just the entrance itself is so beautiful that I had to stop and take a breath. And sketch. The small figure with a backpack was meant to be Lou, my husband, added later for scale.
Inside the experience just gets better and better. A small 19th century Swedish town is situated on a hill. Shops, a post office, an inn, a church (kyrka), a couple of farms with goats and pigs, businesses, a tobacco-growing patch, all complete with shopkeepers and artisans in traditional dress doing the work, showing skills, talking about history and answering questions in multiple languages.
The people working there really impressed me – they looked so authentic, their faces (if not modern dental work) really belonged to the time. So I asked a young woman combing wool (in the sketch above) whether they were actors type casted. She explained to me that people working these jobs are not actors, but are historians and researchers working for the museum. Their duties also include educating the public by doing and demonstrating.
This Stockholm adventure was turning out pretty awesome, not withstanding a hotel room the size of a matchbox. But it reached a new height on August 19 when I met with Nina Johansson to sketch in Gamla Stan – the Old Town.
This is Nina in the sketch! We found this little passageway where we could reach the opposite walls if we extended our arms to the sides. We hoped we would not be disturbed by hordes of tourists. We were wrong. Apparently this was a very important alley and FOUR tours traipsed over us in half an hour we spent there. They were VERY excited to find us there and took numerous photos of us. Two of the tours were English speaking, one Russian, and one – unfamiliar language.
One of the tour guides shared that she lives here in Gamla Stan. The basement of her building is very old indeed – 12th century. Her actual building is much more modern – 1600’s. Just imagine! From another tour guide I learned that this alley – Skeppar Olofs – was already built in 1587, that’s the first known mention of it in the records. It was named after captain Olof who was an important figure in Swedish Navy.
The reason Nina and I only had a half an hour in Skeppar Olofs Grand was that we were meeting Ed Harker at Stortorget – the Big Square. Ed is a sketcher from Bath, England. It turned to be a truly international sketch-meet. We had a great time sitting in a cafe and sketching Stortorget. My view was Swedish Academy and Nobel Museum – the very place where they decide the Nobel prizes every year since 1901.
Stockholm is one of the very few European cities that did not get bombed into oblivion during WWII. The old buildings and stone paved streets are still there, intact for centuries, they can take you back in time like a time machine. Many date back to 1600’s, with some going as far back as 12th century.
I sketched this sitting in a cafe on the intersection of three streets, Norra Bankogrand is the street in the sketch. It leads to the piers, there between the buildings, and Baltic sea.
Stockholm has a different palette than any other city I’ve been to. It is all painted in natural earth colors. I heard this is a city ordinance of some sort. So I found myself using a lot of yellow ochre, sienna and umber. And my favorite – Palette Gray.
I was sitting in this cafe with my coffee and my sketchbook, working on my drawing, and somehow this made people think that I was local. I was asked directions, lol. In one case a family talking to me happened to be from Chicago, and we had a little laugh about it. Amazingly, I did know – this once – how to get where they wanted to go.
I have just come back! Stockholm is amazing!
But let me start from the beginning. About a year ago The Husband was invited to present at Stockholm University. The topic – Empathy – was his specialty, and of course he said yes. I too said “But of course!” meaning that I was going too, and surprised him only a little.
Now, a year later, we are just back having spent 11 days in Stockholm. And what a tour that was! I will try to tell the story with my sketches.
SAS airline surprised us by being unusually on time! In the last 10 years I don’t remember anything starting or ending at the promised time where air travel was concerned! The second surprise was that the food was almost edible. Still, there were some peculiarities – strange raggedy curtains between classes (we of course flew the “chopped liver” class.)
This is Södertörn högskola – South Stockholm University – where The Husband was a keynote speaker. This giant amazing bazalt rock is the centerpiece of the campus. The conference “What is Empathy and what do we need it for?” was multidisciplinary, which means that, while it was overrun by philosophers, there were also psychiatrists, psychologists, psychoanalysts, people with the whole alphabet after their names and one artist.
The title of my husband’s talk was “A Heideggerian Approach to Empathy: Befindlichkeit is not Enough.” You can read it again, I’ll wait. But it would not make any more sense than the first time. The talk however was amusing and very entertaining, he made me laugh. I skipped the rest of the presentations (they spent three days convincing each other that empathy is important and we ought to have more of it.) Instead I went sketching, which was the whole point of going to Stockholm.
I have more sketches, but as I am learning any sketching expedition comes with after the show part: sketches have to be tagged, dated, locations cleared, text added where needed, pages cleaned, color corrected or added. Then all need to be scanned and filed. So I will be showing more sketches of Stockholm in subsequent posts until I run out sketches or out of patience, whichever comes first.
I am finishing up the book. Again. I already finished it in the last post having drawn the last portrait. Then I finished it up the second time by going over every page, cleaning up, restoring lost contrast, applying fixatif, and in some cases doing some serious revamping. Like I completely changed the original self portrait on the intro page to this one. Several other earlier portraits got changed fairly dramatically as well. Then I finished the book for the third time writing titles for each portrait, signing and dating everything. I have significantly underestimated the amount of finishing work I had to do. Besides I am a little tired of the whole thing by now – it is time to really finish it one of these days. Now the only thing left to do is the cover. I hope to have the book sent off to the Art House by the end of the week.
Meet my husband Lou!
None of this would have been possible if it weren’t for my husband. There would be no project, no 40 portraits, no sketchbook. For four and a half months my husband supported me, cheers me on, left me alone, reminded me to bring my camera when we went someplace, admired my half-finished productions, and was saintly patient.
He shopped for groceries and cooked chicken korma, and I drew.
He cleaned bathrooms, and I drew.
Laundry would only get done when we literally ran out of things to wear, and I drew.
Dust-bunnies grew bigger than the cat, and I drew.
General life was postponed until after the sun-down so I could draw.
I could speak of nothing else, but references, bone structures, face modeling, expressions, skin tone, paper quality and lack of daylight – and he listened.
This was very much a team effort. He even wrote my artist’s bio for me to accompany the sketchbook. So it is only fair that his name should appear in the book. I dedicate this book to Lou, my husband. I love you!
And so, boys and girls, this is the last page, #40 of 40. The project is complete.
Oh, there are still a few things: the cover, the table of contents, cleaning smudges, restoring contrast on several pages, applying fixative… but all this is post-production.
I was making up a missed class in George’s Drawing Workshop and was there on Monday which is not my regular day. That’s when I met Tim, another student. The moment I saw the amazing planes and bone structure of his head and face, the Burne Hogarth’s drama of his posture I knew I had to draw him.
Tim kindly agreed to be photographed. As I was seating him at his drawing horse (Tim is too tall for me to photograph him standing) I heard commotion, giggles and noise behind me, and George was calling “Be careful, Alex! Be careful!” I only had about 10 minutes between classes and wasn’t going to get distracted to figure out what the ruckus was about. So I proceeded with taking pictures. Then the class started again, and I never figured out the mystery… Although I have some ideas.
#39 of 40. Graphite, Moleskine Cahier sketchbook
In other news…
This blog was named among the top 50 Drawing Blogs by the Guide to Art Schools – 50 Best Drawing Blogs list. Pencil Scribbles is number 3! Right after Rob Carey’s Kunst-by-Rob – Rob is an inspiration and a friend/blogger. The write-up they did on me is embarrassingly nice:
Pencil Scribbles: This self-taught artist started drawing in 2009 and is already inspiring with her realistic, detailed pencil portraits. Zonis already achieves in her work what the true expressive artist strives for: the subject in all its glory infused with a little bit of herself.
- Our favorite post! Geb 1-27-10
I am surprised and honored. How did they possibly find me in my backwater of the blogosphere? Who knows, but they did. And I can now display this badge
My father pointed out to me that I have more men than women in my book. So I set out to look for women to draw. Where can I find a diverse group of women sympathetic to my cause? In the WomanMade Gallery, of course! The WomanMade Gallery was founded by Beate Minkowsky in 1992 to promote and support women artists. Once a month the gallery hosts an art group, called aptly Her Group, where women artists can get together, show and share their art, and talk. I even facilitated this group for about a year in 2002. That’s where I headed.
Just as I expected, my sisters in art showed me great support and understanding, I got an overarching permission to shoot away as much as I wanted. The meeting yielded a lot of good references.
Henny DuBois is an art photographer. She makes photo collages surrealistic in nature and exquisite in execution. Photographing a photographer is a challenge, I could see Henny calculating my shot – note the way she looks at me. In the split second before the shutter went off she had probably assessed light conditions, angles, shutter speed, aperture and depth and found them questionable. And I agree – the light, the staging, the quality of the camera, the photographer’s skills – all of that was far from optimal. But the expression was priceless.
#38 of 40. Graphite, Moleskine Cahier sketchbook
Dan is Shelly’s friend and schoolmate. Dan is a third year student in Loyola University, he majors in Computer Science and plays classical violin. To put it shortly, everybody knows – Dan is brilliant. And being a sweetheart that he is, he agrees. “I has brilliance,” he stated in reply to my daughter on Facebook.
#37 of 40. Graphite, Moleskine Cahier sketchbook
Alicia is another one of the wonderful strangers I met in my neighborhood. Back on a beautiful Sunday in October my husband and I went for a walk and having reached the farthest point were sitting on our favorite bench. A family of three was walking towards us, probably returning from a church – all dressed up and looking very proper. The woman looked remarkably interesting, but even though I had my camera with me I felt too shy somehow to do something about it.
But I must have been still staring, because to my surprise the woman walked up to me and gave me her card. “You look like nice people,” she said, “here’s my number if you need your house cleaned or any other help.” At this point I had no excuse. “Would you let me take your picture for a portrait?” I asked and proceeded to explain this whole business of 40 portraits. The entire family was greatly entertained. “Mama – the art model!” the son was laughing. Alicia herself was so amused by this concept that she doubled over in laughter, my first shot showed a nice brick building behind her. But we all pulled ourselves together and managed to take a few more shots, now with Alicia in them.
Time and again during these months of collecting faces for portraits I have seen this happening. The amazing, wonderful, remarkable people I see cannot comprehend why anyone would want to do their portraits. Is it because they do not realize how beautiful they are? Is it because they are not movie stars, but instead clean houses or work in garages? At my vet’s clinic there is a receptionist who has eyes of St. Frances, but she declined a portrait. “Nobody wants my mug shot,” she told me with conviction. Well, I do! But I couldn’t persuade her.
Alicia and I had a hug and parted friends. I haven’t seen her since, except for this portrait, but I may still. We live in the same neighborhood.
#36 of 40. Graphite, Moleskine Cahier sketchbook