People make art for many reasons: to catalyze social change, to capture a visual experience, to create a new world. The list goes on and on. During my semester abroad, I’ve been drawing from life in order to capture memories. When I look back at my sketches from Spain, want to remember where I was when I was drawing – who I was with – what I was eating – what the weather was like – how my eyes spent a solid hour unraveling the architecture of a building or the appearance of a stranger – everything that defines a moment. In attempting to capture such memories of my time abroad, I’ve found that I focus on two subjects: places and people.
I love the clean lines of buildings’ architecture and the cozy interiors of my favorite places – and the ambiance of a location can really represent an experience. Here are some of the places that I’ve been frequenting:
This is a sketch of the library at La Universidad de Pablo de Olavide, the Spanish university that I am taking classes at. The library is not as nice as Swem (I found a huge spiderweb in the stacks) but it’s a nice quiet place to study during the day. I’m taking Advanced Spanish I, Civilization and Spanish Culture, Contemporary History of Spain, and Sevilla and the Community; all of my classes are in Spanish. So, yes, my Spanish is improving a lot! Hopefully my sketch captions will be entirely in Spanish by the end of the semester!
This is a segment of the Plaza de España – I am proud of the way that this sketch came out, and I think that it captures the beauty of the place well. The buildings are actually far more detailed than I depict them here; that is one of the major challenges of drawing, after all: what needs to be explicitly drawn, and what needs to just be implied? Expect to see many more sketches of the Plaza – it’s wonderfully warm during the day, and it’s a great source of inspiration.
Here’s a look behind the bar at Café de Indias. As I sketch more, I’m starting to play around with leaving parts of a sketch unfinished. In this case, I like the way that some of the chairs are left as contours and the rest of the drawing is more complete – after all, sketching is all about process.
Photographs also capture memories, but sometimes not as well – I find that it’s much easier to be passive about taking photos of locations. Snap! I’ve got a picture of that castle over there. Snap! Snap! Snap! I’ve got 3 more.
For me, photography becomes artistic when I stop being passive and start to engage with the subject. I think the most important question is: what’s the essence of this visual experience and how can I capture that better? I’m just starting to dabble in photography, but here are a few photos where I felt like I really captured the feeling of a place:
This is the main altar in Córdoba’s Mezquita – when I first saw this, I basically thought “#@$%!! this is gorgeous!” I usually try to avoid taking generic straight-on shots that almost every tourist leaves a place with, but in this case I think that this photo captures the indulgent, insanely detailed beauty of this space well.
I took this photograph on my first trip to Plaza de España. I think it captures what I love most about the Plaza: the open space, the colors, and the warmth of the sun on a perfectly clear day. There are little seated areas around the perimeter of the Plaza where I like to study; this photo was taken from one of those places.
I went to visit el Parque de María Luisa as the sun was beginning to set – unfortunately, the park’s trees obscured most of the gold sunlight so that most of the place was in shadow. I decided to play “hunt for the golden light” (yes, this is a new game) and stumbled upon this awesome ray of light. I circled this bush like a crazy person for a while before settling on this composition. This lighting reminds me of early morning runs at Camp Varsity during high school!
The two photos above are from my trip to Morocco. They were taken in Chefchaouen, a picturesque city nestled in the Rif mountains. It was something out of a fairytale; the buildings were all whitewashed with blue details, purple shadows, and pale yellow highlights. The city was just as beautiful as the mountains that surrounded it. I wish I had been able to paint there.
Places are meant to be lived in! I love drawing ‘people in their natural habitats,’ though it is hard to catch someone sitting still long enough for me to draw them.
The sketches above were drawn on the train ride to Córdoba. It was hard to find something to draw because the scenery was moving by so quickly outside. The man sitting next to me was writing, and I was too close to draw him without being super creepy. Instead, I caught his reflection in the window! I have also drawn a self portrait, though the likeness is limited and my eyes are a good deal smaller in real life. (Artistic freedom!) I wish I could have caught more of the scenery, though.
I snooped on these two men in Café de Indias one afternoon. They were awful models, and they left before I was done drawing them! The head of the man on the left is completely made up. That being said, I think that the drawing turned out well. I can definitely tell that I am improving as I draw more. I’m excited to see where my sketches will go from here!
Photographs of people are both easier and harder than drawing people. On one hand, you can snap a photograph and run in a way that you can’t do with drawing. On the other hand, people can usually tell when you are trying to creepily take a photo of them. Moreover, the click of my camera’s shutter is louder than the scratching of pen on paper.
Despite these difficulties, I love gathering images of people I see in new places. It’s so nice to put a face to a location, to try and capture a little of the people who live in a place. After all, a place is more than a location on map of a city full of cold, stone buildings – it’s someone’s home.
This accordion player was on the Roman Bridge in Córdoba. I should have stopped and said ‘hi’ – and thanked him for this incredible photograph!
This is one of my favorite photographs that I’ve taken thus far. I was walking in el Parque de María Luisa when these kids saw my camera and asked for a photo. This is what happened. I’m just in awe…how COOL are they!? After I took the photo, I showed it to them, and they were asking me something in fast, mumbled Spanish. I have no idea what they wanted – I can only assume that they thought the photo would come out as a Polaroid. I wish I had some way to share this gem with them! As it is, I guess I’ll just save all of the awesomeness for myself.
I snapped a photo of this man reading the newspaper in Chefchaouen. I love the idea that while tourists are oohing and aahing over a new, beautiful location and having something like a life changing experience, it’s just a normal day for the natives. What was this man doing that morning? What’s the newspaper say? Does he frequent that bench? It’s fun to wonder.
I adore these photos from the daily market in Tetuán – the colorful produce makes them visually interesting, but the people give them depth. The idea of buying your food from a market – no, selling produce to make ends meet – is such a foreign concept to me. Walking through the crowded streets snapping pictures of these strangers makes me acutely aware of the fact that I am a tourist, and these people are graciously sharing a bit of their life with me. It’s a humbling and thought-provoking realization.
So those are a few of the visual memories I’ve made of my adventures! I’d be interested to hear how you all like to capture experiences – photos? Drawings? Journals? Memorabilia? And as always, thanks for reading.