Disney Sketch Crawl #8 – Ringing in the New Year

Got to the park in time to see Main Street open today – only because it opens later during January and February (or so an employee told me). I made a beeline for the Mickey beignets (gotta start a sketch crawl with the right fuel) and as I munched those, I did this line drawing of New Orleans Square. Still an overwhelming amount of detail. Learn to edit!

I swore today I’d do half line drawings and half value studies since value is still my weak point. I thought the thatched awnings of Adventureland would prove a good subject for the latter and they were. I kind of ran out of steam though, so this one lacks some finesse.

Of course when that drawing was done, my hand was a claw from gripping the pencil so hard (my brain thinks pressing harder = greater accuracy I guess) but I powered through another value study over in Frontierland at the shooting gallery. The drawing tilts drunkenly because I was holding it on my lap at an angle and ended up making it look like it was drawn on the Titanic.

Finally, I’d spent a little too long on drawings two and three, so I had to rush this last line drawing – half an hour in Downtown Disney. Thus the lazy, lopsided ellipses.

Disney Sketch Crawl #7 – Last one of 2016

I nearly blew it today. I found out after getting to the park that if I’d chosen to go tomorrow, I’d have been turned away at the gate. I’d completely forgotten to check the blackout dates for pass holders, and starting the 16th, passholders are SOL as Disney prioritizes the top-dollar-paying guests. So whew – glad I followed through on my usual Thursday routine.

Anyhoo, it was nice and quiet today. Overcast, chilly, enough people to make it feel energized without making it horrific. Because of that, I think I had a pretty good day, except for my cheap-o Stabilo markers drying out on me after one drawing!

I began at the French Market, fueling my efforts with candy-cane Mickey beignets.

…went on to the Haunted Mansion…

…and finished up on Main Street.

With no sun, I had no option to work on value studies. Still, these sometimes over-busy line drawings were worth it for letting me practice my composition and perspective. And that’s it 2016! The next DisneySketch we see, it’ll be 2017!

Disney Sketch Crawl #6 – Value studies are scary

I wasn’t too excited about what I did on this day (yesterday), mainly because I found myself resisting both the need to work on value and the desire to once again do what I know. I did some of both, with so-so results. In some part, I blame the fact that it took me two hours (instead of the usual 45 min) to get to Disneyland thanks to some fool who caused an accident on the freeway. By the time I got there, I was already tired and grouchy and even more so when my plans for breakfast at the Carnation Cafe were foiled by my late arrival. Gah!

I was forced to have a coffee and blueberry muffin from the Jolly Holiday cafe, which fueled this ill-composed drawing of the view from the outdoor seating area.

I liked the idea of the tree framing the view, but I can’t imagine why I plunked it right in the middle of the composition. I also tried once more to use my black, middle gray and light gray pens, but once again kind of lost control of the darker tones.

I moved on next to a value study of Walt and Mickey.

No, it's not Hitler.

I like certain aspects of this, but was confused about how much of the background to try to include and I stopped working on it early because I could feel my neck getting sunburned. I left the exposed bench I was on and found a shadier spot outside the Village Haus in Fantasyland. There, I fell back on my line skills to make the most successful sketch of the day.

It’s amazing how quickly it feels late during fall and winter! By 1:30 it felt like 5 pm. The angle of the sun made the light feel weak and yellow-filtered which made me feel rushed as I was drawing, like I was racing nightfall. Anyway, excuses aside, I wrapped up the day at California Adventure with these two value studies: a shop window and a pretend sound stage.

All in all, I’m not thrilled with what I produced, but glad that I put in the time. Here’s hoping it pays off in future sketch crawls.

Disney Sketch Crawl #5 – Halloween Hell

I had no idea going in that I’d be dealing with teeming hordes of park goers. Middle of the week, middle of October – how bad could it be? The worst.

By 10 am, the park was jam-packed and the fast passes were already for mid-afternoon. Not that I was there to ride anything, thank god. If I’d been one of the poor schmoes who made that day part of a big yearly vacation, I’d have been pissed because I doubt anyone really had much fun that day. Even the lines to the churro wagons were ten deep.

I can usually find a quiet spot to draw, but on a day like that there was no way to escape the throngs of stressed-out seekers of fun and my drawings show it. Eventually I fled to California Adventure, which wasn’t nearly as busy as the Magic Kingdom.

New Orleans Square

Radiator Springs, California Adventure

Boudin, California Adventure

Disneyland Sketch Crawl #4 – Now With Stabilo Markers!

An old friend and former professor suggested I try Stabilo markers next time I ventured out for a day of sketching and I’m so glad I did!

I bought three tones – light gray, medium gray and black, and thus far I can only control the lightest one. It looks a lot like pencil but has the advantage of not smearing when I set my hand on it. For a first go, I think these were fairly successful despite the too-strong medium gray area of the one. Next time I plan to start with the medium gray and attempt to cultivate a lighter touch.

Frontierland seen from the Mark Twain paddle boat.

New Orleans Square

Tomorrowland

Matterhorn from Tomorrowland

Amsterdam Journal Day 6: Queens and Canal Tours

Last day! Unreal how quickly time passes when you’re enjoying yourself. And when jet lag keeps you awake night after night.

Nick’s work was done today so once more I had companionship for my jaunt through the city. The plan was to see the Catherine the Great exhibit at Amsterdam’s annex of the Hermitage and so we opted for a fairly quick breakfast at Bagels and Beans.

I went there the day I visited the Rembrandt museum; it’s situated right across from a flea market that’s been there in some form or another, for hundreds of years. Its current incarnation is basically a shabby collection of cheaply made hippie clothing and tourist tschotchkes with the occasional spread of garage sale junk.

In case you forgot your stoner clothes.

Despite its unpoetic name (and strong sulfur smell – what is it that makes places in Amsterdam smell like farts?) I liked Bagels and Beans. Casual, friendly service, affordable bagel sandwiches. We fortified with bagels and lox, then continued on to The Hermitage. The building isn’t exactly as impressive as the one in St. Petersburg. The museum was established inside a former home for indigent old women and looks fairly institutional.

One cool aspect of it leftover from its days as a home was its kitchen. Dating from 1725, its main feature is a row of huge brick cauldrons they used for cooking mass amounts of something stewy. They things are so tall, they were three-step wooden step stools next to them so the kitchen staff could get high enough to stir their contents.

When you gotta make enough gruel to feed an army.

The Catherine the Great exhibit was a good one, despite its centerpiece being only a copy of her diamond-encrusted crown.

I suppose security for the real thing would have to be insane, but it’s always cooler to see the actual artifact. Like Cleopatra, Catherine wasn’t exactly a great beauty; oval face, thin lips, biggish nose – a stop on the audio tour even had a quote by her saying people often told her she was ugly. Also like Cleopatra, she didn’t let her looks hold her back and used her charisma and intelligence to hold her own with the other monarchs of the world and to rule an entire nation.

Not every girl is besties with Voltaire.

Having little use for her weakling tsar husband, she seized power and began working her way through a series of lovers. She had two sons by men decidedly not her husband, but no one gave her any grief about it, and she routinely gifted her paramours with things like jewels and palaces. It’s incredible that within such a macho culture, a woman was able to do all she did, but then and now, she’s a hero to the Russian people.

Along with the Catherine exhibit, The Hermitage had an exhibit of Japanese outsider art that was both disturbing and phenomenal.

The power of outsider art is in my view, two-fold: its obsessiveness and its lack of self-consciousness. The two make for some really creative expressions.

By mid-afternoon our dogs were barking, so we mixed things up with a canal tour. We hopped an Uber to the boat dock which confirmed that driving in Amsterdam is nuts. The driver clearly didn’t want to take us exactly where we wanted to go, since he encouraged us to hop out blocks away from our destination. We should have listened to him, because TripAdvisor steered us to the middle of the Red Light district where there was nary a boat in sight. (Maybe auto-correct thought we’d asked for an “anal” as opposed to a “canal” tour?)

Anyway, we walked all the way back to the main docking area and caught an hour-long tour on a small open boat. The skipper was an Amsterdam native with a wry sense of humor. (Upon asking if English was OK for him to speak to everyone there, he quipped that we being from California, probably spoke Spanish.) The weather was cool, breezy and overcast, and the ride took us through the old city and among the three newer canals that date to the 17th century.

My favorite part of the tour was seeing all the houseboats along the canals. I could totally see living like that. There are some really beautiful little places, all equipped with cute little tugboats to travel around the city in.

Space age houseboat.

My second favorite part was coming across this boat full of people in their 60′s who were tooling around the Amstel in big, lazy circles singing at the top of their lungs. Clearly they were having a ball. At the sight of them the driver said, “And here I bring you to the part of Amsterdam where the idiots come.”

Other cool boat-related sights: a group of people having a picnic in a small boat with their dog watching the passing boat traffic; a guy steering his small craft with one hand and sipping a glass of wine with the other; a group of college kids jammed into a tiny boat sunk so low in the water, their shoulders hovered mere inches above it. Remarkable? Nope, just another day in Amsterdam.

It was after three when we got done with the boat tour and despite our flagging energy, we were determined to make it to a craft brewery called Brouwerij’t ij. The place was 3 km away and so we tried (and failed) to find an Uber. We then tried hiring a bike taxi but the guy wanted 25 euros. We ended up walking and it turned out to be a classic Nick “it’s not really that far” kind of walk. Meaning at the end you basically want to fall on your face and never get up.

The trek did let us see a different side of Amsterdam; a more real side. It took us through regular neighborhoods – perhaps a little on the low-rent side – that were much quieter than the center of town. Streets where you don’t risk death by bicyclist at every turn. Finally in the distance, we saw it: the windmill! That’s the main reason we wanted to visit this brewery, that it was set within a windmill. As it turned out, the tasting room was more to the side of rather than inside the windmill. Oh well, it was still cool.

We were starving by then, and partook of some brewery snacks: sausages, raw beef sausages and cheese along with our beer. Once again, the beer was really too mild in taste for us. What they call an IPA I’d call a mild ale. Their higher ABV offerings were better, but still anemic by US standards. Even so, it’s cool to see the American craft beer scene taking over the world.

Soft cheese, raw beef sausage (don't hate) and incredible grilled sausage.

Though we managed to stay awake long enough to sample the beer and sausages, by 4:30 we were beat. We grabbed an Uber back to the hotel (another good experience. Overall, barring one grouchy dude in a Mercedes, the Uber drivers were nice people and the average fare was around 5 euros) and slept until 8.

We very nearly blew off our last night in Amsterdam, being so utterly wiped out, but we forced ourselves to get up for one last long walk. We headed to a fish n chips place called The Chippy, again in a non-tourist part of town. Cool joint, blah food. Nick fared OK with a chicken curry meat pie, but their chef was apparently allergic to salt, and my fish n chips’ main flavor was a slight tinge of grease. Around 10 we walked slowly back to the hotel, absorbing everything we could in architecture and atmosphere along the way.

Call a cop. Someone stole the back half of this car.

Is this really a sight anyone needs to see?

Amsterdam, you definitely make an impression. Quirky, diverse, raunchy and historic, you’re one of Europe’s most interesting cities. Wish we’d gotten to know each other sooner.

Amsterdam Journal Day 5: Napoleon, New Shirts and Nutella

I write now with what’s left of my energy after six hours of walking and only four hours of sleep.

Jet lag hit hard last night again and I didn’t get any sleep until around 4 am. Unwise as it is, once I’d had breakfast with Nick (A hopelessly burned pancake. They apologized but didn’t offer to take it off the bill.) and seen him off to work, I crashed out again – or tried to – until 12:45. Housekeeping here at the hard-boiled hotel sounds like an eight-limbed one man band, which doesn’t make for great sleep.

Despite the noise, I could have slept all day, but forced myself up and out and through the steady, chilling drizzle to the Royal Palace. It was modest as royal palaces go, a squarish building with a ring of tourable rooms.

Absolutely miniscule by the usual palace standards.

What I learned there was that Amsterdam was built up and controlled by merchants until Napoleon’s brother, Louis Napoleon (What must that be like, being the brother of the conqueror of the free world? Probably like being Donnie Wahlberg.) was planted on the throne as a puppet king with a penchant for Empire furnishings.

One day he'll be a REAL boy.

Along with learning how Louis Napoleon magically transformed a civic hall into his own private beach house, the Palace’s main takeaway right now is an exhibit of official portraits, among which were these awful paintings of pin-headed women.

The nobles weren't a very good-looking bunch.

The Royal Palace thoroughly explored, I took a quick eclair break (and found these HUGE tubs of Nutella. Why don’t we have those in the ‘States?)

11 pounds of Nutella. Sounds about right.

…and then went to H&M to fill out the gaps in my travel wardrobe. Somehow, I managed to under pack and set myself up for going two days without a clean shirt. The only solution? Wasting valuable tourist time shopping for something cheap and comfortable.

H&M are certainly cheap, hence why I chose them. The problem was, everything they had that looked remotely like something I’d wear only came in small and extra small. Clearly all the other fat Americans beat this fat American to the punch. I finally dug up a couple of things I hope fit me. I also sprang for an umbrella. One of those lame cheapie ones you get from a tschotchke shop. Hope it lasts one more day.

Shopping left me with little more than an hour to see the Amsterdam Museum so I hustled up the road and bought me a ticket to four floors of fairly interesting Amsterdam trivia. The most interesting factoid I brought with me was that the city’s built on hundreds—nay, thousands—of pilings. That would explain the bendy architecture I suppose? The most interesting artifact I saw was this:

The Red Light district would no doubt find a secondary use for it.

No, it’s not a sex aid. Maids used it to spray water so they could clean high-reaching windows.

Walking around both the Royal Palace and the Amsterdam Museum, I couldn’t help thinking how the Dutch are still so relaxed, even in this era of International terrorism. In neither place were bags searched or people made to relinquish them. And unlike the U.S., there were no metal detectors or any other kind of obvious security measures. Clearly, despite what happened recently in Brussels, they’re retaining their social optimism. Maybe it’s the elephants?

Five pm signaled the end of the day for me and the start of the dinner search. By then my legs were complaining and my back was being a total asshole so I should have just grabbed the nearest thing and had done with it. Instead, I walked up and down and all around, still looking for the perfect gem. I never found it.

As anti-tapas as I am, I got stuck at a tapas place around the corner from the hotel. It was called Joselito, named after the winsome Andalucian film and singing star-turned drug and gun runner.

From before his smuggling days.

I ordered bread with tomato, endive salad and meatballs. The salad and meatballs were unremarkable but edible; the bread weirdly enough, was nothing but wet raw tomatoes smashed onto untoasted brown bread.

It was a soggy and bland as it sounds.

Now I’m in for the night and listening to some weirdo screaming his head off a couple of doors down. Wtf?? Sounds like a cross between someone who’s had too many magic mushrooms and a hysterical sports fan.

Amsterdam Day 4: How to Die a Penniless Artist

Before I begin, I forgot to post this before – one of the typical oddities I like to discover in strange cities: an ash tray awning.

Such concern for ashes I've never seen.

OK. Another day on my own. First on the solitary agenda, the Rembrandt House. Rembrandt bought the house for 13,000 guilders back in the day when the average person only earned 300 guilders a year. He paid for it though. Or rather, he didn’t. He financed the house and a number of years into the loan he defaulted and the house and everything in it was repossessed. D’oh!

The HOA hated this billboard.

Today the multistory house is a museum with rooms recreated as close as they can get to the way they were when Rembrandt owned it. The rooms were small by our standards and the doors low. Rembrandt had a fascinating collection of exotic items he used as references, a print shop, and a nice airy studio. Once again I was floored by the idiocy of tourists as they had be repeatedly told not to sit on the fragile 16th century chairs.

Rembrandt's cheeky fireplace and endangered furniture.

Rembrandt's portrait busts and stuffed alligator.

Poor Rembrandt. Just another example of a genius dying broke and being given a pauper’s burial. (His remains were actually destroyed and anonymously disposed of.)

After the Rembrandt House I’d wanted to hit the Anne Frank house but the GPS let me down again as I wasted time trying to find my way to Rembrandt Square. I grabbed a bagel and a latte near an impromptu craft market so’s to avoid wasting more time with lunch, and at long last ran across my objective. At least it was worth the trouble. The square was dominated by an imposing (and flattering – it’s decidedly svelte) statue of the painter surrounded by–among other things–the men of his famous Night Watch.

Rembrandt and his posse.

At four o’clock it was too late to get to Anne Frank at my direction-challenged snail’s pace so I opted for the Museum of Bags and Purses, which was just around the corner. This was a quirky kind of thing, a nice change of pace from all the heavy-duty history. Many of the exhibits were unphotographable thanks to dim lighting (to protect the fabrics and other materials) but I did get a few pictures such as this weird goat skin pouch worn on a belt from the 16th century:

Looks like a wearable goiter.

these cool Lucite bags:

This cute little mouse bag:

And this purse based on the work of artist James Jean.

Now I just need to find the shoe museum.

Evening dinner report – cloudy with a chance of Indian Food.

Amsterdam Journal Day 3.5: Stamppot!!

Every day presents a new dinner dilemma. How not to waste another great opportunity for savory excellence?

The evening bore witness to even more walking as we sought out traditional Dutch cuisine. We found it at a little alleyway joint near the Amsterdam museum called Tomaz. The specialty there is a bowl full of stodge called “Stamppot,” a mixture of Dutch beef stew, cabbage and mashed potatoes. It was definitely flavorful, although I prefer the Polish version of the dish (bigos.)

Stamppot

Bigos

Beer tourism was on the dessert menu and we went to a couple of different places hoping to try the local craft offerings. The first was disappointing—a place called Hoppy Days that billed itself as a beer bar, but then had only three beers total, all Italian beers with no flavor.

No molto benne.

We next went to Bierproeflokaal in de Wildeman, where the situation was better but where a couple of chain smokers nearly overwhelmed us with clouds of (for once) cigarette smoke. In that case, inside seating was better for our health.

Like chimneys they were.

Is that beer? I can't see through the smoke.

Late night for us old timers – out till 10 pm. Whooo!!
Of course, we paid the price for drinking that much beer. Jet lag set in with a vengeance and we were both awake from around 2:30 on.

Amsterdam Journal Day 3: Checks Yourself Before you Rijks Yourself

Rain! It was pouring this morning. Coming from the land of constant sun, we had no umbrellas and had to borrow one from the hotel. We walked to a little place called Omelegg, a rustic little bistro. Guess what they specialize in? I ate an omelette with Dutch spicy bacon (which it wasn’t), mushrooms and farmer’s cheese while 1920′s music played (“If you knew Susie like I know Susie…”) and Nick had a local dish called Shakira? Skapscrunch? Cap’n Crunch? (Shakshuka! I had to look it up.) It’s eggs in some kind of spicy tomato sauce.

Omelegg's rustic interior

An omelette and Nick's Shakalaka

After breakfast, Nick had to hang with the guys at Guerrilla Games so I caught a taxi to the Rijkmuseum (15 euros for a 2 mile ride! Geezus.) and on the way me and the cab driver got down to Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer.” Once again, I’m in a musical time warp. The driver told me two things: that it shouldn’t be raining in August, and he’s sick of almost hitting people on bikes playing Pokemon GO.

He dropped me at the Rijkmuseum - drove right up onto the sidewalk to let me out since the city was unwise and didn’t build a drop-off lane. It was still quiet at 9 am, and once again my early-birdness was rewarded. When I left a few hours later, the line wrapped around the inside and went right out the door.

Fools! That'll show you to sleep in.

The Rijksmuseum (pronounced “Wrecks-museum) is a great but overwhelming place. If you start out carefully examining every display, by the end you’ll be staggering past artistic masterpieces like one of the city’s highly medicated street musicians. I paced myself by focusing on my favorites–detailed Northern Renaissance portraits and medieval wooden sculptures. The latter can be pretty creepy, but you can’t help but bow down to the skill needed to make them. Oh, and speaking of creepy, they had some interesting reliquaries…

St. Thekla, the patron saint of googly eyes.

St. Vitus, patron saint of small washtubs.

St. Frederick, patron saint of metal headgear.

…and some hilarious paintings of the Virgin and Child.

Six-pack Jesus, I'm so far away without you.

Air quotes Jesus.

Jesus eating peanuts.

Aside from various images of Messianic hilarity, another unlooked-for benefit of visiting the museum was being exposed yet again to a visitor with horrendous body odor. This guy made the one from the day before smell like a metric foot-ton of lavender sachets. I swear, it was hard to see the artwork when this guy was in the room because his stench permeated galleries 20 by 20 foot with 12 foot ceilings. I did all I could to avoid him, but somehow he kept finding me and announcing his presence with the eye-watering sour smell of decay.

I needed a literal breather so I went to the park that sits between the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum and had a mediocre latte from one of the little stands along the path. It’s a great place to people watch and pass the time if you don’t mind dive-bombing pigeons and being engulfed by pot smoke.

Not wanting a contact high, I went and stood in line at the MoCo (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art) to see its inaugural Banksy/Warhol exhibit. The museum’s inside a gorgeous old villa and honestly, I was more impressed with the building than the art show. I like Warhol, but his work can be absorbed as quickly as a Campbell’s soup can (which I guess was his intention. Warhol was about surfaces, not depth.) and Banksy’s occasionally amusing, but makes ugly art. Ah well. Now I can say I’ve been there.

Still prefer Andy over Banksy.

Banksy takeover.

I wrapped up the museum marathon with the Design museum. As usual, the modern collection made me yawn, but the design side was pretty interesting, especially a special exhibit they have going now of the Amsterdam School. This was a creative movement from the 1920s that echoed the nouveau/arts and crafts movement I love so much. Lots of beautiful stained glass, organic furnishings, beautiful fluid textiles, etc.

Beautiful. 1920's bronze and wooden clocks.

Scary. Fake fur vagina coffin.

Three museums was all my phone could stand so I hoofed it back to the hotel on aching feet. The stupid GPS wouldn’t update in real time and believe me, I suffered before I finally ran into the hotel. At least I didn’t get into a taxi right around the corner from it and look like a weirdo like I did in Munich.

Stupid, high-maintenance Americans.