Please let me know what you think!
Scandinavian folk tales are full of magical creatures, elves and trolls and tricksters, many of them pretty scary little folk. But in Copenhagen there's a magical world that is nothing but endless, colorful delight. The Tivoli Gardens, dating to the mid 1800's, (and the original inspiration for Walt Disney's own magical kingdom) was for us, when we visited in 2019, a revelation. We expected an amusement park - what we found was a veritable city in a city, a place of beauty, nature, fun, excitement, pleasure, and peaceful repose.
I've chosen one scene from a sketchbook full of Tivoli sketches - the Chinese pagoda set above a pretty lake, chock-a-bloc with a wild roller coaster that skims the air overhead, surrounded by an amazing botanical garden of beautiful old trees. The range of offerings at Tivoli is extraordinary - everywhere there are fun things for kids and families, lovely paths for leisurely strolls, pretty places to sit, cafes and restaurants and snacks of all sorts. We did our best to see it all, including a concert with a major pop star (sorry - I forget who) in a central open amphitheater, but I'm sure we were only getting started. We went back again just before we left, so we could see the place at night with all the sparkling lights.
I started the finished scene with a tree and the roller coaster, two unforgettable parts of the experience of being there. That roller coaster swooshed right above our heads! And I can't emphasize enough the beauty of the natural part of Tivoli - so many gorgeous trees. The cap of the pagoda is, of course, a major feature of the landscape and of my composition - it focuses the eye, allowing a viewer's gaze to travel in a circle around the rest of the scene. I like the perky shape too, with the lower lines almost like a smile. After these two stages, I added smaller details, including a cast of visitors of various types and ages. Then, at the end, a bit of magic icing - colorful stars to match the stars in the eyes of kids and grownups at the Tivoli Gardens.
Please let me know what you think!
French food markets are a category of pleasure that transcends easy description. Indoor or outdoor, a French market is French culture on full display: a communal love of eating and sharing, pride in growing and producing great food, family gatherings and business traditions, artistry of display and attention to every meticulous detail. In this new scene I'm spotlighting the fabulous Les Halles de Lyon, a true wonderland of taste, sight, and smell that is at once a venerable French market and the food court of your dreams.
My on-site sketch was done on an October trip starting in Strasbourg, traveling through Alsace into Burgundy with Lyon as a vital linchpin of the trip. We knew Lyon was considered one of the meccas of French cuisine, but Les Halles still managed to take us by surprise. It is new rather than old, in a shiny new building (2004) and billed as a 'haut-lieu des papilles' (a pilgrimage site for the taste buds.) Les Halles de Lyon is named for Paul Bocuse, favorite son of Lyon, and also pays homage to the famous woman chefs who did so much to put Lyon on the food map (Les Meres de Lyon).
Once inside, your battle begins, and what a battle. There is NOTHING in that jewelry store of culinary excellence that will not tempt you or make you ravenous. Every aisle sparkles with good taste(s).
My progress through the scene started as always with blocks of color defining the space, but I couldn't wait to get to the sausages! This merchant, Maison Gast, is one of a number of Alsatian vendors at Les Halles, specializing in choucroute (a hearty pile of pork and sauerkraut) and all that goes with it. Their display is so colorful and beautiful it's hard not to walk away with your arms spilling with sausage.
The tables in the foreground of my sketch refer to another specialty of the Lyon market - seafood. Wine too, of course - this is Burgundy. Lunch is a perfect time to visit, for one's own pleasure, but also to see the conviviality of groups laughing and chatting, digging into heaping platters of oysters, shrimp, lobster, and crab, or sharing perfectly arranged boards of cheese and charcuterie.
Have you been to Lyon? I'd love to hear what you think!
In late October, in the midst of negotiations of house sales and purchases, Rick and I escaped to the coast of Maine for a week. It was a wonderful respite, very safe and isolated in this time of Covid concerns. Our cottage looked out on a peaceful inlet, and when we weren't busy eating lobsters, we explored small towns and byways in the area. Here's a view of one of them, Boothbay Harbor, tucked up against the hills and overlooking the working waterfront.
My sketch, done with chilly fingers, is quick and efficient. I may have skipped over a building or two, but the cozy picturesque cluster of church, homes, and practical structures for Maine's lobster industry is all there. Lobster pot markers bob out in the water, as they do in all Maine coastal towns.
I started painting the scene with bands of blue and green to establish values, and then began filling in the warm tones of the foreground structures. The church, the focal point of the view, carries the highest dark and light values.
The final scene, before I cropped it and added my signature, shows a serene but hard-working town in a beautiful, typical Maine coastal world.
Have you been to Maine? What are your thoughts and memories? Leave a comment and let me know!
England will, no doubt, always be there despite Brexit and other world upheavals. My newest scene celebrates the splendid show that is London: iconic Big Ben, bright red double-decker buses, historic Tower of London, and the London Eye, all lined up above the stately Thames. I did my sketch on an August day in 2017, standing on one bridge looking down the river across several others, keeping an eye on the weather that as often as not requires an umbrella.
I wanted this to be a relatively simple scene, in part to counter the weighty gravitas of some of these landmarks. It's part of my style in any case; a slight wink and nudge, especially at grand architecture that takes itself a mite too seriously. I wanted the British flag in the picture, but as I don't always think of the details when I'm doing the sketch, it was lucky to find I had two of them ready and waiting!
To begin I blocked out the basic neutral colors - blue/gray sky, gray bridge, green foliage, plus a brighter blue barge as a peripheral accent. Next, a deep teal for the river and stronger colors for the main characters. When I painted the tour boats, which on the Thames are predominantly white, it became clear that two were too many, that they were too much of a feature and took away from the point of the scene. So - the beauty of art as opposed to photography - I just took one out. That is, in fact, one of the best aspects of my approach to drawing and painting these scenes: they are accurate to the reality and spirit of a place, but I feel free to take liberties to enhance and emphasize my take on it. I get so many nice comments on the freedom of my style - that flexibility is part of it.
Art is a lot of things, but for working artists it has to be a business, with the organization and attention to non-artistic details that that implies. Being creative about the business as well as the art is the challenge and, if done right, kind of fun. I've been updating my online shops so thought to share one aspect of my process and ideas - posting images. Because of the pandemic there is little chance for face-to-face sales so online business is very important. I'll include my shop links at the end.
My main business is prints and cards from my original artwork, all starting with freehand drawing, so images are of prime importance. I sell my archival fine art prints with pride and need to assure my customers that they will be a long-lasting pleasure - getting that quality across is essential. I post straightforward images, alone and with simple frames (below), but it helps to show how they can look in a home environment. I don't have to create the environments - great templates with clean, contemporary options are available for purchase.
My signature is a loose, fresh, somewhat whimsical style that pairs line drawing with colorful freehand digital color. By including environments I can show how well my designs work to liven up and complement a home. When people purchase my prints for themselves and as gifts it allows them to imagine how they'll look framed and in place. I've posted a gallery of 'environment' images below - I'd love your comments and suggestions. Which work best, what do you like, what's not working?
Shop my secure sites (and watch for updates)
Long, meandering strolls in grand museums, eyes and mind open, soaking it all in, are an impossible dream at the moment. The memories however, are wonderful. This new scene is of a favorite, the Dora Pamphili in Rome. It's a quirky place, crammed with treasures and no doubt ill-gotten goods, collected by a family of powerful popes in the late Renaissance. The masterpiece of the place is the astounding portrait of Innocent X by Velasquez. Throughout you find classical paintings and sculpture crowded onto the walls and piled on shelves. You have to pay attention or you miss some of the jewels - an exquisite little Caravaggio, an unusual Raphael, etc, etc.
I couldn't resist this lineup of old Romans when I saw them huddled together as if whispering judgment on passing museumgoers. Stern as they are, they humanize the grand imposing space around them. The first color I added is a rich raspberry color, meant to refer to the red walls that are a vogue for classical galleries.
The next steps: opening up the door to the next room, and 'painting' the paintings. It's fun to make new versions of old paintings, giving them a bit of whimsy while staying fairly true to color and subject. Then details of shading on the busts and the sarcophagus, subtle but important, and the veining in the marble columns.
If you've been to the Dora Pamphili, let me know what you think! If you haven't, plan to go - someday!
This scene is one of many from my 2018 Rome sketchbook. Find more finished scenes of Italy and other beautiful places on my 'International Series' page as well as at www.etsy.com/shop/LinesandPlaces, and Shopify shop.macgregor-art.com/collections/international-series-of-fine-art-prints. Ciao - be well and happy.
All my work is pretty upbeat and lighthearted, but my 'Goofy' cats are meant to be nothing but fun, for me and for anybody who loves cats or just likes a bit of a smile. They have a lot in common with real cats - they emerge from my pen with ideas of their own about personality and attitude, and I just try to follow along and bring out their 'cat-essence.'
I recently set up a Society6 site to offer these cats on a variety of products that I don't have to make (whew!) I give them names when I post them there. My blue cat is called, logically, 'Blue', and the other one here is 'Honey'
She took a bit more doing, with the details of the accents on her coat. I named the cat at the top 'Charlie' - I love his attitude and he looks great on a clock!
Visit the site - leave me a comment and tell me what you think! society6.com/macgregorart
Restrictions are starting to ease a bit around the world; it will still be awhile, but travel doesn't seem as much of a fantasy as it did. My thoughts turned this week to Spain, a country that has been very hard hit by the virus. My new scene is of the great Alhambra in the Andalusian city of Granada, a fascinating place I've been to twice and hope to see again. The majestic presence of the Alhambra on the mountain above the city conjures up imaginings of romance, history, mystery, and intrigue, most of which are more or less true. It was the last stronghold of Islam in Spain (thus Europe) falling in 1492 to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Gardens, fountains, towers, exquisite tiled rooms, intricate domed ceilings: The Alhambra is a wonder to behold (and enormous - it takes a full day to just begin to understand it)
For my sketch I stood in the narrow valley below the Alhambra, in the ancient neighborhood known as the Albaicin, (both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites) The steep streets of the Albaicin are worth the climb for the views across the valley to the Alhambra, especially at night when it is lit and glowing. View restaurants abound in the Albaicin, but the small cafes in the sketch offer simple menus of drinks and tapas.
I started the color with the red of the buildings (Alhambra means 'Red Castle) and the green of the great sheet of foliage that drops from the crest to the valley below. I then started defining the scene with smaller features - rock wall, buildings, cafe features.
The final 'in progress' scene has the basics of sidewalk and cafe details which help to set the perspective and the depth of the space. The finished scene at the top of the post shows the finishing touches of shadowing and highlights, and people in the scene.
I took a group to Granada as part of a Spain/Andalusia tour in 2017. We had such a wonderful time I may try to organize another similar trip, but one way or another Granada and the Alhambra are high on my list of places to visit again.
It seems hard to believe at the moment, but someday we will be able to travel again, and Paris will still be there waiting for us. Paris is as locked down as the rest of the world right now, with very strict restrictions on movement and travel. In January this year I stood high on a windy Montmartre hill, trying to catch the sense of space and distance as the city gives way to the hills beyond. As I stood there I watched a couple of residents enter the beautiful building at top left with its leafy mantle - if you have to stay put, I imagine that is a very nice confinement.
My scene, as always, starts with the original black and white drawing. My first steps with the digital color process I use is to set basic blocks of foundation color, not so different from conventional media. One of the meditative 'tasks' of this way of working is when I begin to cut and shape those basic blocks to define shapes into specific architectural features and styles. In this case, I wanted to coax out the 'Paris-ness' of the neighborhood - the details of the roofs, the chimneys, the iconic window railings - while also accentuating the precipitous fall of the Montmartre landscape.
Part of the pleasure of Paris, no matter the 'quartier' or neighborhood, is the sense of unified, often Haussmann-derived, elegance, peppered with quirky minutiae that make each building its own source of aesthetic joy. Building materials vary - limestone, brick, stucco - to give a play of color and texture to any random scene. Montmartre was once, not so long ago, a village outside Paris proper - there are still glimpses in the simpler houses, like the white one on the left side beyond the bigger brick house.
I'll have this scene in my International Series soon, and hope to have it as part of my Paris collection of prints at the Slow Galerie in Paris as soon as the world opens up again.
Please leave a comment - I'd love to hear your thoughts.
The last time I posted on this blog I was thinking of Italy's plight, but now we're all in this together. I hope you are all well, that you're staying home and staying safe, taking care of yourselves, and being mindful of the welfare of others at this strange time. I want to share the daily routine I began a few weeks ago, 'StayHome-Sketch-a-Day, where every morning I post a fresh drawing on Instagram and Facebook.
Here's the first one, prompted by a Sunday morning and the thought that now we would have to learn from our cats, Toby and Rembrandt, to be good indoor creatures. We would get more sleep, eat regular meals, take breaks when needed, and be content to sit quietly and let the world go by outside the door.
As time has gone by, I've tried to focus on the blessings of this confinement, because I certainly have a great many - a place to work at home (though I miss my studio and the people at the BOK building) and a pocket city garden with sunshine and fresh air. Enforced leisure and daily drawing has given me space and reason to zero in on the details, the things that truly 'spark joy' in my life.
We're lucky too, to live in a city and a neighborhood with lots of good food and creative ways to stock the cupboard while also supporting restaurants and small businesses that need to keep going. We miss being there in person, but this won't last forever, and in the meantime we're eating a lot of good bread (especially) and are doing some unusually ambitious cooking of our own.
It's only been a month, but we had one life-changing experience when our sweet, charming cat Toby, took a sudden turn for the worse and we had to let him go. He was 17 years old but always had the heart of a kitten. Rembrandt (at right), also 17, shy and insecure, is still, to date, going strong - he's sticking close to me these days. In the background of his picture you can see some of my Philadelphia scenes on the wall.
If you're already following, thanks for the nice comments and for your support. My daily sketches are posted at @macgregorartdesigns on Instagram and on Facebook at MacGregorArt.
Let me know your thoughts!
Artist/Designer/Illustrator - Drawing is my way to see and think about life in all its dimensions, color, meanings, and pleasures