Wednesday 23 May 2018

Sketching In The South

I've been off to warmer climes recently - not just once, but twice!  I had a holiday in Soller, Mallorca at the end of April, followed by a 5-day sketching trip to Lisbon.  What luck!  It's been quite a change for me sketching in such bright sunlight, and sketching lots of buildings and exotic trees.

Mallorca was an active holiday - lots of walking in the countryside around Soller.  The landscape in the area is pretty spectacular - it's a World Heritage Site described as a cultural landscape with "the near-perfect symbiosis between the action of human beings and nature, which has occurred for centuries".  It is this integration between human intervention and nature that makes it such an interesting landscape - it is described as "a merging of culture, traditions, aesthetics, spirituality and identity". 

The Barranc de Biniaraix is one of the best places to see this unique landscape.  It's a ravine running from the valley floor all the way up to a high plain and the mountain tops. The most obvious features are dry stone walling, terracing and the cobbled stone path which threads its way up through the terraces of olive groves to the top.  Not easy to sketch, but I gave it a go.
This is a wild landscape that has been tamed by humans, fashioned into terraces of olive groves by the building of walling and irrigation systems.

As you struggle up the steep slope, you can see how there is a constant battle going on between humans and nature, with some of the walling crumbling under the forces of erosion, and the riverbeds and canals all dried up lower down.
I had a go at trying to sketch the terracing and the olive trees, but couldn't do it justice.

I was more successful with my sketches of individual olive trees.  This one was done in pencil at the end of a long walk.  I loved the chunkiness of the trunk contrasting with the delicacy of the foliage and the twigs.
And towards the top of the Barranc, there is more natural vegetation, like this brave pine tree growing on the edge of the cliff.

I did this sketch to remind me of the layers of vegetation - the olive groves sitting within the natural landscape of  the pines and mountains.  I love the darkness of the olive trunks under the pale unruly olive leaves.

The Barranc is a major feature, but the coastline of North-West Mallorca is spectacular.  One day we walked to Cala Tuente - a place where no coach buses may go (the road is too steep and twisty).  This is a fine, strenuous walk in the heat, again mostly on cobbled pathway.  The landscape is a mix of cultivated terraces and native plants until you get over the coastal ridge where nature takes over in more rugged terrain, and you get spectacular views like this.

The town of Soller was no less interesting, but I only managed a few sketches. Like this charcoal one, near where we were staying.
And this part of an old mill (next door to Bar Melino, which was a nice spot!)
And even in Soller, the close relationship people have with nature was clear, with so many pot plants lining the narrow residential streets, framing the well-polished cobblestones.

Lisbon was a much more urban scene - quite a different kettle of fish (sardines, of course, haha).  It is such a big city and we were sketching in only one small part of it - the area in and around the waterfront. Even this limited area is quite diverse in character, with several quite different neighbourhoods.   There were six of us staying in a lovely apartment.  Our first stop was a visit to the World Heritage Site at Belem (the Belem Tower and the Monastery of the Hieronymites (Jeronimos).  However, I took the wrong train to Belem and had to walk back along the waterfront to the Tower where I found some welcome shade for sketching, and a view of the Tower that I liked.
By this time the queue for the Monastery was too long (I wasn't going to wait in the sun for an hour and a half), so I decided to head for the tropical botanic garden nearby.  I thought it looked a bit neglected, but it was quiet and I was determined to do a couple of sketches.  I managed to find a bench in the shade eventually.  I wanted to bring a peacock into the pic as I'd been listening to several of them mewling as I wandered through the garden.
After lunch I managed to get into the Monastery and did a couple of sketches, but they're not very exciting. The architectural style is Portuguese late Gothic, termed 'Manueline', and I find it a little fussy for my taste.  And it was very busy etc.

Another day I spent in the Alfama area, where our apartment was, and I walked up to the Portas do Sol beside the castle and did this pencil and charcoal sketch.  It was very busy here too but no-one noticed me standing in the shady corner.
It's surprising that the Alfama is not part of any World Heritage Site as it's the oldest part of Lisbon (the earthquake destroyed the main centre) and you feel a certain timelessness there. 

The Alfama is a maze of narrow streets, a vibrant community, full of life during the day and in the evening.  While I was sketching this scene (left) shops were opening up and people were putting out shelves of fruit and veg for sale.  Tour guides were walking through with their parties, and old ladies and old men were setting themselves up to sell their home-made cherry wine.

Other spaces were quieter, more residential in character.  Like this quiet breathing space. 
And here was another quiet, cool flight of steps where you could just make out the sea in the distance.
I was noticing the shadows and the colours of reflected light on the walls of the buildings, but neither of these spots was comfortable to sit for long and so I added colour to these two sketches later, back in the apartment where I sheltered from the midday sun.

In the busier streets there was less shelter from the sun.  I loved the dark tree trunks against the bright house walls, like this one.

And when I was able to find a spot to look down on the townscape, there were some wider views, like this.
Other days were spent walking around and sketching - here's a selection - and I have lots of photos of details such as tiling and street patterning.

 I thought the city quite beautiful, with a strong artistic tradition, and, of course, references to sardines everywhere.  Definitely worth visiting.

What shall I do with all these sketches?  Ahhh....that will require more thought!