Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Discovering the world of Steampunk

Last weekend steampunk aficionados from around Europe met at Fond-de-Gras in Luxembourg for the annual Steampunk convention in Luxembourg.

"Steam-what?", I hear you say.

In Wikipedia's words: "Steampunk refers to a sub-genre of science fiction and sometimes fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery."

Think of a world set in Victorian England or the Wild West with inspiration from Jules Verne's books and similar stories come to life.

This particular convention is the only one of its kind in Luxembourg and has been taking place at Fond-de-Gras for a few years now.

It is the perfect location, as it has traces of the country's mining past and an old steam-powered train is put back in service for the occasion.

Tophats, goggles, feathered hats and metal wings
The event is getting bigger but is still small enough to make it cosy, with many people dressing up in steampunk fashion, concerts in 19th century style, small food stations and lots of steampunk merchandise to admire and buy.

Batman joined the fun
The good thing about this event, from a sketcher's perspective and other than all the interesting things you find there, is that the people who dress up come to see and be seen, which means they don't mind being photographed or sketched.

As we sat at one of the tables eating delicious scones with jam and clotted cream, I had my pick of subjects. As always, I used my stealth technique at first, but people looked so interesting that I really wanted to be able to have a more direct approach to my subject

Looked just like a lady waiting for her tea in a 19th century London tea room
Luckily, we had very friendly table companions and I asked a gentleman if he minded my making his portrait. He kindly obliged and I must say he was a very patient model.

His name is John Blacksteam and he is one of the founders of the steampunk community in Switzerland. I'm not sure whether it is his real name or a stage name, but it suits him.

He had a very interesting face, complemented by a surprising hat
Maybe we'll meet again at next year's steampunk convention and I'll do another portrait of him.

It sure is fun sketching people in steampunk fashion. It almost feels like stepping back in time.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Holiday in Portugal - exploring beaches

Alentejo's coast has beautifully dramatic landscape with many small beaches at the bottom of big rock formations ; all very photogenic and, if you stop to think about it, potentially dangerous.

People need to keep an eye on the tide and the rocks need to be controlled for stability.

One of the small beaches in Porto Covo
Between two dips into the waves of the Atlantic I whipped out the sketchbook and pens to  draw my fellow sunbathers.

I was surprised at the number of women going topless. I don't know whether that is a new trend in Portugal or whether they were mainly tourists.

I felt a bit like a Peeping Tom when sketching them, but, hey, that's part of the urban sketching experience, too, haha.

Beach people are great subjects
I love how relaxed and carefree people look...

His position reminded me of a pasha
...but above all I love the ocean! If I had the beach nearby, I would probably visit the ocean all the time.

The water in Santo Antré beach was stunningly colourful

Sadly, our trip had to end. But we still made a few stops on our way back home, thus extending our Alentejo experience.

I managed to squeeze in one last sketch at Santiago do Cacém...

There were many cats around
... and a wobbly one in the car. 

Not too bad, considering the bumpy road
Any occasion to sketch is a good one. I challenged myself to fill the whole sketchbook, remember?

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Holiday in Portugal - além do Tejo

In the middle of all the family gatherings, we planned a trip to the south of Portugal. No, not Algarve, Alentejo. More specifically the part near the Atlantic coast, the Costa Vicentina and thereabouts

We spent a few days in a casa de campo (country house) not too far from the coast, where we could experience a bit more of the Alentejo, in the middle of its vast open countryside of hills and plains, cork oaks and big country houses, its hot weather and clear star-filled nights.

A typical Alentejo scenery
Alentejo has a lot to offer. Quaint little villages to explore, interesting museums, etc. We went to the Museu da Farinha (museum of flour) in São Domingos, a family-run museum, where our guide was the heir to an old converted mill. It was a pleasure to listen to his childhood stories of times past.

A small selection of what you can see at the Museu da Farinha
Vila Nova de Milfontes was for me the occasion to see the ocean for the first time this year. Here you can actually choose between bathing in the ocean or, if you prefer calmer waters, in the Mira river.

One of my favourite things about Alentejo is its very characteristic use of colour in architecture. You typically have little white houses with coloured borders around the windows, doors and main walls. Lots of bright yellows, blues, greens, etc. Even churches have adopted this style. 

I just stopped mid-track and had to quickly sketch this quaint little church
Adopting the Alentejo rhythm also means to take it slow and have leisurely siestas during the strongest heat of the day.

Luckily the hotel our country house was attached to had a swimming pool with beautiful parasols, so we could enjoy the hot afternoons chaparro-syle.

Under these parasols, it almost felt like we were in the tropics
Or we could choose to lie down in the hammock, slowly rocked by a pleasant breeze.

Not easy to get proportions right when lying down in a hammock
Stay tuned for more Alentejo impressions soon.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Holiday in Portugal - family gatherings and lots of food

Even before my arrival, my holiday promised to be busier than my work schedule, full with lunches, dinners and other social events with the extended family. It's far from a complaint. I love to spend time with my aunts, uncles and cousins.

I would also love to be able to sketch them all. But since they are a pretty lively bunch they won't stop quiet for me to do so.

It usually goes something like this:

My aunt Lucinda is very conveniently sitting next to me, so I take out my sketchbook and pen, and discreetly start sketching her. Maybe it is because I only see her so often, but somehow I always forget that she is one of the people with most facial expressions per second I know. 

She complained that I made her look old
So, obviously, the result is inconclusive. It does, however, attract my aunt Maria's attention who requests that I make a portrait of her next. A very willing subject, she manages to hold still for the 10 minutes I need to sketch her. Hurray! 

Great model and amazing cook!
The dog is resting, perfect subject to sketch next. Alas! I barely have the time to start on the head that he changes position. As if he knew what I was up to, he keeps moving and changing position. Even the dog won't cooperate when he is resting!

Rex, the restless dog
So when animated subjects are this taxing, what do you do? Focus your attention on the other usual suspect at the table: the watermelon, a much more cooperative subject if you don't wait too long. In the blink on an eye it is half gone! 

Can't blame anyone for wanting some of this delicious watermelon
It is so much more relaxing to sketch inanimate objects At least they won't run away. Or will they?

I won this one at a raffle

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Holiday in Portugal - long way home

As pretty much every year, I went on summer holiday to Portugal, where part of my family is and my parents have a house.

Like most Luso-descendants, I have a great love for Portugal. I always look forward to spending some time in this beautiful country and discovering a bit more of my roots.

Unlike my parents, I have given up driving the 2000 km to get there already a few years ago and prefer to take the plane. It's far less tiring and less of a hassle.

There are, however, unforseen events, like the 1.5 hour delay I was announced when I checked in my luggage. Bummer.

It was a great occasion to start the Stillman & Birn sketchbook I got from Stephanie Bower, though. My goal was to fill it during my vacation, so with so much time on my hands, I started with scenes from the airport.

I don't know about other sketchers, but the first few drawings in a new sketchbook are usually a bit disappointing, so I'm only posting a small selection here.

Lines of people checking their phones before boarding the plane
I changed seats a couple of times, looking for something or someone interesting to sketch. I ended up sitting in front of an elderly French couple who were very conveniently distracted by their book and phone.

He had a very sketchable face
Below you can see their feet. I love making the occasional sketch of what I see when I look down.

Like my new trousers?
I used to prefer to sit by the window on the plane, but lately I have realised that the "sketchable view" is actually less interesting there. This time I was sitting by the alley, with a great view of a man playing Tetris. 

As I was sketching him, I kept looking at his game and feeling gradually nervous for him. He kept arriving perilously close to losing, but then always seemed to manage to get back at a safer level.

I was almost as engrossed in watching him play as I was in sketching him. I never thought it could be interesting to watch someone else play Tetris.

His Tetris skills were impressive
When I arrived in Lisbon, I had the luxury of finding my family waiting for me to take me to our second home. Here is a sketch of the back view of the house, the one in the patio.

The ghosts of laundries past
My mother chose to hang the laundry halfway through my sketch, which slightly annoying at first, but a happy accident in the end. Home sweet home indeed.