Simultaneous Sketching (a New Artform?)

When my son, Beck, was quite little I taught him the fine art of drawing monsters, mostly to show him what was lurking under his bed at night. While sitting on my lap trembling (hey, it was his idea!), we created a whole new concept in artistic teamwork: Simultaneous sketching. One piece of paper and three hands (to be fair, one of mine was tied behind my back). I’ll leave it up to you to determine who contributed what.

I think Beck wandered off during the drawing below, or I hid his pencils, or something):

After the lesson, I nudged, alright shoved, the little bird out of the nest. Here’s his final exam:

Honestly, I’d rather find one of my monsters under the bed than his.

Amiens Cathedral – Sketches of Our First

Tim Bjella Sketches - Amiens, France

It’s date night with my wife, Robyn, out for sushi and a movie. So, I asked her if she remembered the first cathedral we ever visited together in our travels over the years, because that is what architects talk about. That, and curling (the sport, not the irons).

For those of you on the edge of your seats, the cathedral in the small town of Amiens, France was our first. Not the biggest, not the best, but it holds a special place in our hearts. Why? Because the hotel in which we stayed that night had its very own shower in the room! We still had to walk down the corridor to use the toilet and sink, but who cares when you have your own shower.

“Say Robyn, do you remember the cathedral in Amiens?”

“No.”

“You know, the one where our hotel room had a shower?”

“Oh yeah, that one. I’ll never forget that.”

Memories are funny. They often piggyback on one another and you cannot separate them.


not simply a church,
but a pathway to heaven,
God? This thing is big!


Amiens Cathedral, France

Tim Bjella Sketches - Amiens Cathedral

Tim Bjella Sketches - Amiens Cathedral

Tim Bjella Sketches - Amiens, France

Amiens Canal

Amiens, France - Tim and Robyn Bjella
Isn’t it romantic? Two young kids, Robyn and Tim Bjella, backpacking through Europe – 1990.

Color vs. Monochrome – Sketching the Desert Southwest

Occasionally I’ll dab some color on a monochrome sketch. I’m not sure which I prefer, the integrity of a raw sketch, or the vibrancy of added color. Any opinions? These are sketches from Arizona and southern California.

Tim Bjella Sketches - Desert Southwest

Tim Bjella Sketches - Desert Southwest

Tim Bjella Sketches - Desert Southwest

Arizona Shack

Tim Bjella Sketches - Serra Museum, San Diego
Serra Museum, San Diego

 

Sorta Makes Me Want to Live in a Monastery

Tim Bjella Sketches - Le Mont Saint Michel

The island of Le Mont Saint Michel, France, leads the pack of the world’s most picturesque monasteries. I’ll have to add sketching the others to my bucket list. Hmm… never been to Tibet.

Can’t Get Enough Monastery Humor…

A young monk arrives at the monastery. He is assigned to help the other monks copy the old canons and laws by hand. He notices that all of the monks are copying from copies, not from the original manuscript.

Tim Bjella Sketches - Le Mont Saint MichelSo, the new monk goes to the head abbot to question this, pointing out that if someone had made even a small error in the first copy, it would never have been noticed! In fact, that error would be replicated in all of the subsequent copies.

The head monk, says, “We have been copying from the copies for centuries, but you make a good point, my son.” He goes down into the dark caves underneath the monastery where the original manuscripts are archived in a locked vault that hasn’t been opened for hundreds of years.

Hours go by and nobody sees the old abbot. The young monk gets worried and goes down to look for him. He sees him banging his head against the wall and wailing, “We missed the “R” ! , we missed the “R” !” He is crying uncontrollably. The young monk asks the old abbot, “What’s wrong, father?” With a choking voice, the old abbot replies, “The word was… CELEBRATE !!!

Le Mont Saint Michel Sunset

Tim Bjella Sketches - Le Mont Saint Michel

Sometimes Lazy Works

The sketch above was my second attempt to capture the essence of this extraordinary place. Partway through I downshifted into lazy gear and decided to skip drawing the foreground. Laziness is apparently a virtue as it resulted in an unexpectedly dynamic composition. Compare this sketch to my earlier one at the top of the page. That sketch emphasizes the charming, scenic character of the place, whereas the latter sketch captures the architectural spirit. Same pencil, two different interpretations of the same subject. I wish I could say that that was my intent. Lesson learned: What you leave out is as important as what you put in.

I needed more time here. Maybe not a lifetime as a monk, but at least enough for a few more sketches. Or, maybe Haiku?

Off to an abbey,
For a life, calm and serene,
Live it up now, boy!

Tim Bjella Sketches - Le Mont Saint Michel
A one minute speed-sketch of Le Mont Saint Michel
Remember when men's shorts were shorter than women's? Let's hope we never see those days again.
Remember when men’s shorts were shorter than women’s? Let’s hope we never see those days again. Robyn and Tim Bjella at Le Mont Saint Michel, 1990.

Sketched and Sketching in Firenze

Firenze Sketching - Robyn Bjella Street Portrait
Robyn Bjella, Firenze, Italy

You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a street artist in Firenze, Italy. And because of some warp in space-time, both “yes” and “no” mean “si” – and “si” means, “I’ll pay anything you ask, if you would only sketch me. Please, please sketch me.”

All the while, in the back of your mind you are thinking, “Is he going to draw a portrait or caricature? But, of course you do it anyway, knowing your loving and supportive husband will be watching in the background, along with hordes of passing strangers, definitely not pointing and sniggering.

Firenze Sketching - Robyn Bjella Street Portrait

Twenty minutes of pretending to be whomever it is the artist is sketching, and it is fini.

As you can see, the portrait turned out not entirely unlike Robyn, but not quite like her either. The artist was very talented, but portraits are unforgiving. I believe ‘portrait’ in French means ‘perfect subtlety’. If a single line is slightly off or a curve is a bit pronounced, voila, the subject is someone else. I guess that explains all the hoopla over the Mona Lisa, a painting I never (gasp) really appreciated, even after seeing it in person.

image

Well, technically I saw it, about as well as Helen Keller. It’s a tiny painting, much smaller than you imagine. See if you can spot it in the photo above. The painting is shielded behind bulletproof glass, reflecting just enough glare to obscure the painting’s finer detail (all of its detail, really). No worries, though. You won’t be bothered by the glorious detail because you are kept back ten feet by a wood railing (undoubtedly to protect the bulletproof glass), and then another ten feet by stanchions that protect the wood railing that protects the bulletproof glass that protects the painting. I think Dr. Seuss wrote a book about that. Or was it a song?

But it doesn’t end there. There’s still the throng of tourists, likely paid by the museum to keep you away from the lovely stanchions. I think there are guard dogs and lasers, too, but I couldn’t get close enough to see. Remember to bring binoculars and a ladder. And, a sharp stick to prod the crowd.

Mona Lisa at the Louvre
Mona Lisa at the Louvre – Look ma, it’s so close I can almost touch it!

It goes to show the French have a sublime sense of humor. Notice in the photo above how they tease you with a beautiful lunch table right beneath the painting, but you can’t eat there. I bet when lunchtime rolls around, the curators plop their brown bags on the table and gaze into Mona’s eyes for an hour, to the melodious background music of “Down in front!” Incidentally, the designers of this display are also renowned for their abattoirs.

imageDon’t be dismayed, however. The louvre is filled with other great, yet more accessible, art. Quite frankly, the Mona Lisa is just not that much of a babe anyway (you know you were thinking it. I just said it). Some experts believe it’s a self portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, with longer hair. If you visit Paris, you could safely give her/him a miss. Spend an hour with a croissant and a Sports Illustrated outside a cafe instead. Time better spent.

If you disregard my advice, at least don’t miss my favorite painting. We stumbled upon it on our first trip to Paris. I have never been the same since. See kids, museums can be fun!

Louvre Painting

Sorry about the detour. This post was about Firenze, right? OK, back to Italy…

We thanked the nice artist for the future memory, more so than the portrait (somehow it got lost on the way home), and went off to do some sketching of our own. What better subject than the picturesque Ponte Vecchio – much easier than sketching portraits. It almost sketches itself. Robyn’s sketch turned out better than mine, but at least I didn’t have to sit for half an hour with good posture.

Robyn Bjella - Sketching Firenze

Robyn Bjella Sketch - Firenze Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio by Robyn Bjella
Tim Bjella Sketches - Firenze Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio by Tim Bjella

Just Another Walk in the Desert…

Tim Bjella Sketches - Desert Southwest

Flipping through these old sketches reminded me of a night hike through the desert of Arizona (not to be confused with my once daily hikes through the desserts of Arizona. Those were more like pilgrimages, frankly).

Walking along a gravel road with a few friends on a dark, moonless night, mesmerized by the brilliant stars, I was startled by a sound behind me. What was that? Was that a rattle? What could possibly rattle in the middle of a desert? Did someone leave a small baby lying around? …Oh. Whipping around like Clint Eastwood without the chiseled chin, drawing my Colt 45 lookalike flashlight, I pulled the trigger and there in the beam, not five feet away, was a coiled rattlesnake – not just a rattlesnake, but the rattlesnake I had unknowingly stepped right over just moments before.

After the shock wore off and my eyeballs retracted back into their sockets, I slowly backed away, palms outstretched, saying, “Good doggie, gooooooood doggie” (because rattlesnakes are really just long, thin puppies). Go ahead and laugh. I’d like to know what you would do.

RattlesnakeThankfully, the snake had shown remarkable restraint, choosing not to strike at my exposed fleshy bits, and I returned the favor, not biting it, either. Fair’s fair.

However, what may have actually saved me (and it) was the cool fall weather. Apparently, snakes become sluggish when cold and slither onto warm roads to soak up the leftover heat of the day. I probably stepped over the snake before its delayed senses even knew I was there. Yet, I prefer to believe the snake sensed a kindred spirit and let me off with a warning. Goooooood snake.

Tim Bjella Sketch - Arizona Desert

Pen vs. Pencil, a Sketching Cage Match (Without the Cage)

With some credit also due his mother, the Renaissance hill town of Urbino, Italy gave birth to the renowned, Raphael (the painter, not the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle).

In homage to both Raphael’s, here are two of my sketches, one of pencil using a light hand ala Raphael the painter, the other of ink with the heavier hand of a Ninja Turtle. Let the match begin and may the best man, or cartoon reptile, win (betcha thought turtles were amphibians)!

Tim Bjella Sketches - Urbino Italy
Contender #1 – ala Raphael the Painter, using a Prismacolor Black Pencil
Urbino
The subject – Urbino, a classic hill town in Italy
Tim Bjella Sketches - Urbino Italy
Contender #2 – ala Raphael the Ninja Turtle using a Sharpie Ultra-Fine Pen

 

And the winner is …………………….. ?    Raphael!

(didn’t see that coming, did you?)

 

Robyn Bjella doing her best Raphael, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle impression. Her heart just wasn't in it.
Robyn Bjella, doing her best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle impression. Her heart just wasn’t in it.
image
That’s more like it!

A Great Place to Go, to Get to Someplace Else

Like pirates, boats and booty? Try Saint Malo – a medieval port town in northern France. Once the smarmy haunt of pirates (but not Johnny Depp, smarmy), there are still masts everywhere (but newer masts, and no sign of Johnny).

Tim Bjella Sketches - Fishing Boat at Saint Malo

Saint Malo - Tim Bjella
Tim Bjella, typical tourist

Robyn and I passed through Saint Malo back in 1990, a stepping stone on our way to the picturesque, but oh-so-touristy, Mont Saint Michel. We stopped here mainly to pick up some cheese and a loaf of French bread. After searching everywhere without success, a helpful Frenchman suggested, “We just call it bread here.”

Robyn Bjella - Saint Malo
Robyn Bjella, taking a break from taking a break

Saint Malo has great beaches, but cold water. It is a nice place to spend a few hours walking the ramparts and sketching the boats before moving on to somewhere else, possibly somewhere with more Johnny, and booty.

Tim Bjella Sketches - St. Malo, France

St-Malo
A loooooooooooooooong jetty protects the harbor

Amazingly, this town was reduced to rubble during World War II by an Allied mortar attack intended to oust thousands of reported Nazis who were barricaded within. Turns out the reports were incorrect. There were fewer than a hundred. Oops.

A Nice Walk Along the Breaker

A stroll along the ramparts (or jetty, or wall, or… well, you can walk on top of just about everything here)