The main cities we visited were London, Paris, Florence, and Rome, and spent about a week in each place. I had a small sketchbook that I kept with me at all times and, of course, a camera! I will spare you all the landmark pictures because we all know what the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben look like. I want to share the things that inspired me and took my breath away.
While in London we had the privilege of staying at a friend's flat while they were out of town. Couldn't be more thankful! We watched their dog while they were gone, so I sketched little Molly while we all rested after our first long day of site seeing.
|"Metamorphosis of Narcissus"|
While I was there trying to look at the art and not just walk by, I tried reading some of the plaques next to the art to see if that would help me understand. Some of the just talk about the artist and don't necessarily guide me in viewing the art, but a few of them gave some insight into the artists thought process while creating the piece, and you know what I found!? They have some deep, philosophical thoughts floating around in their heads! I really shouldn't be surprised by that (and really, I'm not), but somehow those deep, profound thoughts don't always come across in their art, and the artist misses out in sharing these thoughts with the viewer. It's kind of sad. I decided I want to make more of an effort to view and understand modern art because I know I'm missing out on some really great, thoughtful art!
We also went to the Victoria Albert Museum in London to see the Beatrix Potter exhibit. I would have loved to spend the day exploring the rest of the museum, but it was our last day in London and time was running out, so we had to pick what we wanted to see and not see. The Potter exhibit was small and humble, with just one short hallway of her art, sketches and letters, but it was quiet and dim in there which set a nice, calm mood to view the art...in my opinion. You can tell from her sketches how delicate of a hand she had, it's just beautiful. I will always love and admire Beatrix Potter...sigh.
We also made a random Bookstore discovery while walking around London. I don't remember the name of this place or where to find it, but this shop was FULL of first edition classic children's literature. I was blown away!! We went in and it smelled like old books (sigh). I couldn't believe all these 100 year old books were sitting here waiting to be picked up and read! I also couldn't believe I could actually pick them up, I thought they might fall apart in my hands. They prices certainly matched their value...way too much to buy one to bring home. But I got to look at first editions of Alice in Wonderland, Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, etc. GAH! I still can't believe it...definitely a highlight moment. We weren't allowed to take pictures inside, so I snapped a few of the front window display...that will have to be enough I guess.
We took The Chunnel from London to Paris and I sketched this interesting looking man while he read.
Paris was beautiful, with great weather, especially compared to London. Although, May was unusually rainy this year, so we still got some rainy days, but it didn't ruin any plans. We spent a mere 2 days in the Louvre. Definetely not enough, but at the same time, way too much. By the end of the second day I was simply overwhelmed and I couldn't even look at any more art...there's just so much! Honestly I could spend a year exploring that place and looking at all the art, and I could talk about it for weeks, but since we both don't have that kind of time, I'll give you a few highlights from my 2 day run through (if that's possible).
First of all, I just have to mention the Mona Lisa. I apologize to anyone who really wants to see it in person, because I was one of them, but I was thoroughly unimpressed, and for the first time I realized how much we have hyped up this painting. I do not for a second deny it's mastery and beauty, but this is one of the most famous paintings in the world! And why? I don't know. Do you? Honestly, I was way more impressed by some of the other work I saw in the museum and throughout Europe. Plus you couldn't get closer than 10 feet from the painting, it is behind glass with a horrid glare, and it is so crowded around it you can't even stand and enjoy it in peace. I took a picture of everyone taking pictures just to see how silly it was to even try and get close to look at it. We left after 5 minutes...I'd rather spend my time look at art I can actually look at.
On a more inspiring note, out of all the many, many, MANY rooms in the Louvre, there was one room that was filled with some of my favorites, of course, Romantic painters... :) David, Ingres, Géricault, Delacroix were just some. Liberty Leading the People was probably my favorite...if I had to pick.
One of the surprising inspirations I found at the Louvre were the French and Italian sculptures. I've never paid much attention to sculptures, but my eyes were opened when I spent some time in this area of the museum and even did some sketching. I don't have much to say about them because I haven't studied sculpture as an art form. All I know is they were gorgeous and I couldn't stop looking at them!
My favorite sculpture was called L'Hiver (The Winter). So mysterious and intriguing! Love it!
Ok, ok ONE Eiffel Tower picture...but only because we hung out on the grass and sketched it for awhile. During this break a little boy who only spoke French kept coming up to me and trying to tell me things. Finally he ran to his parents and ran back and pointed at my sketchbook and said "Beautiful" in a very cute French accent. :) Made my day.
We also spent some time enjoying the Seine River, watching the "Batobus" go by and observing some of the young people hanging out by the river. Lots of affection and love going on in France, that's for sure.
I also got to meet with an illustrator friend who was living there for a year with her husband. I started following Lindsey Manwell's Blog a long time ago because I loved her illustrations, and when we decided we were going to Europe I mentioned that I was coming and she proposed a coffee/lunch date! It was awesome to be able to connect with other (American!) illustrators while I was across the world in a foreign land. This was the first time I had ever met Lindsey in person and then I got to see her again at the SCBWI Summer Conference just 3 months later! What a treat!
And how could I go to Paris and NOT visit Monet's house in Giverny?! This was probably my favorite day of the whole trip. We took the train from Paris out to the small town of Vernon and then took a bus to an even smaller town called Giverny, where Monet lived and worked. He designed his own flower garden and the famous lily pond. Is was absolutely breath-taking.
I spent about an hour sitting by the pond sketching with some other watercolor artists. It was great weather and not too crowded. The perfect day! And so inspiring to actually visit the home where such a great artist created his masterpieces. If I only had a backyard like this, I'd be a great artist too...if only... ;)
That pretty much sums up France, at least artistically. There was so much more that we did and saw, but those were the most inspirational and energizing things for me.
Next we flew to Florence. My favorite city that we visited, for it's small, quaintness and warm, homey feel. I loved walked through the narrow streets and absorbing all the decorative doorways and windows and great architecture. A city that truly values art. A lot of our time was spent site-seeing, wine tours, and eating gelato and spaghetti, but we did visit a bunch of museums too. Alas, most of them didn't allow pictures inside. While in Europe, there were 2 things I HAD to do. One was to see the Sistine Chapel (which we did in Rome, more on that later) and the other was to see Michelangelo's David, which we also did (no pictures allowed). I didn't realize how small the museum was that the David was in, so we walked into the second room and suddenly there it was! I wasn't even prepared for it mentally before seeing it, so it caught me off-guard and was a bit overwhelming. It definitely commanded your attention with it's enormous size! It was beautiful and, again I spent some time sketching it. The ultimate life drawing study tool! I did get a picture of the "fake" David outside...not quite as impressive, but maybe that's just because I saw the real one first. But still pretty awesome in general. I sat near by in a small sculpture courtyard and sketched on one of our days in Florence. There was so much time running around seeing things that is was always nice to stop and sit and sketch or journal every once in awhile to take everything in and make sure I'm capturing everything I want to remember.
My second favorite day of the whole trip was when we took a day trip to the East coast of Italy, to a place called Cinque Terra. Amazing coastline with rolling, vineyard-covered hills right up to the edge with a tiny, colorful town right on the water. The closest thing I've seen to a place like this is along the Northern coast of California near Monterey and Big Sur, but this was about 10x better, if that's possible. So inspiring and awesome. We hiked up in the hills (above the clouds!! So cool!) for the day and enjoyed the beautiful towns on the water. It was a nice day out in nature after spending so much time in the middle of the city.
Then we were off to Rome, our last leg of the trip, and by this time starting to get a little home-sick. It's crazy that even with all this amazing, inspirational art and architecture all around me and seeing so many new and interesting things, I still missed home. Don't get me wrong, I was having the time of my life in Europe and wanted to see more and more, but there is something to be said about being somewhere that is familiar with people that you know and love, and I was missing it. So our time in Rome was full of mixed emotions, but still just as amazing as every other city. I was particularly amazed by the Colosseum and all it's history. Just incredible! (we went back to out hostel that night and watched Gladiator...) It was also pretty incredible to be in a place with so much history and to see things that were so old and still standing!
I loved seeing the Trevi Fountain and all it's intricacies. Especially how the design of the fountain molded into the architecture of the building, making it all one big piece of art. Awesome.
During our trip we visited several churches, all spectacular in their own ways. I had my favorites and my husband had his, we ranked them in different categories and on and on. We could do it all day. BUT as hard as it is to give a definitive favorite, I'd have to say the Basilica of St. John Lateran blew me away because of it's magnificent and HUGE sculptures of the Apostles that lined the main hallway. Each sculpture captured the personality and essence of each Apostle and they were all so dynamic and full of life, I thought they might move, or see their gowns flow! But, the thing that blew my mind the most was when I went home and researched the artist who did these sculptures and discovered that they were all done by several different artists and at different times! I would have sworn they were all done by the same artist. Crazy!
Our last day in Rome was spent at the Vatican. Like the Louvre, I could have spent a year in there just looking at and sketching all the art. This was another place that impressed me with it's sculptures, there were literally hallways upon hallways lined with sculptures, and rooms that were filled with busts, every one of them different! I took tons of reference pictures that I will draw from for practice. A great way to learn to draw different faces!
And of course I have to share some famous sculptures that I loved to see in person, most of which I learned about in art history classes and started spouting off all that I've learned to my husband like a true art geek (I did this all throughout the trip, so by this time he was used to it).
I took this picture from another room and had to zoom way in because the room was blocked off :( so I only got a distant glimpse of this one.
"Laocoon and His Sons". I've always loved this piece. Every time I see if I think back to 7th grade when we read The Trojan War. Every student had a character's part to read. My part was Laocoon. A very short part, but I've always remember that character, as small of a part as it was.
I have also always had a special place in my heart for the Pieta. Sadly it is now behind glass and you can't get very close to it because apparently some "crazy" person (as it was described to us) climbed up to it and started chiseling away as Jesus' foot.
FINALLY, the last thing we did at the Vatican before heading off to the airport was to see the Sistine Chapel. As I said, this was one of the two things I HAD to do on our trip. It was beautiful and breathe-taking and emotionally stirring. With all that art covering the walls you'd think it was bigger, but it is quite small. The most famous image of God and Adam reaching out to touch was surprisingly small to me. I think the thing that most caught my attention was the art on the front wall of the Last Judgement. It covers the entire wall and there is so much happening, you could look at it for days and days and continually see new things. It's very graphic and tells so much, I wouldn't even know where to begin. We sat in their for awhile, just taking everything in. Apparently it is always jam packed in there, but it wasn't too bad that day. The most frustrating thing was that you can't take pictures. I thought it had something to do with the flash ruining the art, but I found out it has nothing to do with that. The Sistine Chapel was copyrighted by the people who paid for it's restoration. So every time someone buys a postcard or post of the Sistine Chapel, they get the profit to help "pay" for all the money they put into it to clean it up. It amazes me how much business is involved in all of this when it is supposed to be a place of worship and spiritual growth. But such is life I guess.
So we left Rome (sketched a half sleeping girl on the train to the airport), headed back to London for a day (spent the day in Oxford, another awesome place that I recommend visiting!) and then flew back home. After a month of exploring and traveling, I was full of inspiration and eagerness to create. My creative cup was overflowing and my traveling bug was satisfied...for now. Of course there is so much we didn't see and so much that I want to revisit. Some day...some day...until then I will sip from my creative cup and continually look back at all my reference pictures to bring back memories and get inspired. I was blessed to be able to go for so long, and I am so grateful. I have the best job in the world!!