Basel, February 2020

In the streets of Basel, you can hear your own footsteps.

There are fountains.

Gemsberg, Basel Old Town

In the hour and half that it took me to draw this picture, people made use of the fountain. Someone came out of one of the adjacent houses and filled a watering can. A woman helped a child to stand on the white marble edge and then to walk cautiously on the iron bars across the water. The child dipped her hands in the flowing water and drank. She played with the water that came from the spouts. Then the woman and the child returned to their bicycles, and continued their ascent of the hill. Elderly people, climbing the hill, paused here to rest. A runner lent over the water and sluiced his face, before pacing on up the slope towards me.

This part of town is very old. Basel has the fine custom of telling you a little about each street, on the street sign. The one for Gemsberg says:

“Zum Gemsberg, 1661 erstmals erwähnter Hausname”

So this street was named after a house which stood here in 1661. [German speakers reading this: please correct me if I got that wrong!]

The house on the right has an inscription in magnificent script. My German-speaking consultant enables me to state with some confidence that this reads as “In 1563 [this house was created] by joining together two houses: “To the Fridberg” and “To the Slifstein”, both mentioned in 1300-1322″

“Fridberg” might mean “Tranquil mountain” and “Slifstein” might mean polishing stone, or polished stone. Perhaps these were people’s names. I learned at the Basel Paper Mill that in those times smooth stones were used to polish paper, so may be Herr or Frau Slifstein was a paper polisher. But that’s just surmise.

Caption beneath a reproduction of a glazing hammer, Basel Paper Mill.

Here’s work in progress on the drawing.

Later I tackled a tough assignment: Basel Cathedral, “Basler Münster”.

This is a magnificent medieval construction, the present building dates from about 1500. It is a real challenge for the Urban Sketcher. Each edge is decorated. Each corner hosts a saint, or often two. Every planar surface has decoration, low relief, a statue. Not content with simply a sundial, they added also a clock. And on top of all this, the two towers are by no means identical. They each support a forest of spires, some octagonal. The main spire on the right seems to have curving edges, unless that was a cunning optical illusion. Even the roof is decorated with a pleasing coloured diamond pattern in tiles. I did my best, but those medieval stonemasons got the better of me.

To the left of the door is St George and the Dragon, a very realistic statue which I had to put in. St George’s horse prances on firm plinth. St George himself wields a real metal lance, copper or some copper-containing alloy, since it is green. The dragon, some distance away, balancing on a precarious shelf, is clearly endangered by the thrust of the lance. It’s a dynamic and three dimensional scene.

Here is work in progress.

I made more sketches around the city:

On the long journey home, I sketched the people, and my luggage.

France: Paris and the South, Jan 2020

Here is a corner of St Eustache, near Les Halles in central Paris.

St Eustache was built between 1532 and 1632. I drew it standing in the pedestrian area near Les Halles, as people flowed by. I enjoyed the fact that there were huge chimneys on the church, shown high up on the left edge of the picture.

The sky was overcast. It was a Monday. A group of lively young people were hanging about, calling to each other.

Meeting point for Public Calm

This pedestrian area was one of those liminal zones: between public and private, not quite a pavement, not quite a plaza, partly a thoroughfare, partly a resting zone. As a result, the social rules were ambiguous. People were hanging around, people were passing through. Evidently there have been incidents. A large poster said: “City of Paris, Meeting Point, Public Calm. The operatives of the City of Paris in charge of Public Calm welcome your feedback and comments between 6pm and 6:30pm, Monday to Friday. To report an incident (“incivilité”) call 3975 or go to Paris.fr/incivilité”.

I was intrigued by the idea of City operatives charged with “public calm” (“tranquillité publique”), and wonder how and whether it works.

Here’s another sketch in the same area. This the “Bourse de Commerce”, the Commodities Exchange. It’s now the former Commodities Exchange, with massive building work going on to convert it into a contemporary art space. The architect for the conversion is Tadao Ando.

Bourse de Commerce, with crane and hoardings.

This was a sketch as I was waiting for the swimming pool to open.

I did some people-sketching in a café and in waiting areas on the trip. I am on a mission to get more people into my drawings, so I practice.

I walked across to the Left Bank, searching for “Maison Charbonnel”, the home of the maker of the etching ink that I favour. The place was there, on the Quai Montebello, just across the river from Notre Dame. However, because of the Métro strikes, or because of the weather or for some other reason or no reason atall, the shop was closed “until the 3rd of February”.

I drew a picture of Notre Dame.

Notre Dame, West front, from St Michel.

This took about one hour 35 minutes. The temperature was 7 degrees C.

Then I took sanctuary in a marvellous art shop I found: “Magasin Sennelier”, 3 Quai Voltaire. I was served by a gentleman who might have been there since the 1950s. He was pleased to tell me he knew L. Cornelissen & Son of London, and Green and Stone, and he knew Mr Rowney, of Daler Rowney paints, personally. Or had done. Sennelier paints were superior, I was authoritatively, if not entirely objectively, informed.

In the South I made a pen sketch of a vast canyon:

Blanc-Martel hiking trail, start point.

And here’s a quick sketch in the library, before dinner:

Corner of the library

Cathedrals in the Shires: Hereford and Worcester, with Kilpeck and Tewksbury

Here is Worcester Cathedral.

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I sketched this view from the cloisters, which were glazed and enclosed. I did, however, find a chair, and a convenient inverted dustbin on which to place my tools.

The other Cathedral we visited this trip was Hereford:

Hereford

Here I had an unrestricted view from the Chapter House garden, which was very peaceful and lovely.

We also visited a small church, Kilpeck, which is very ancient:

In this church there were viking carvings.

If you are in the area I recommend also Tewkesbury Abbey, which though not a cathedral is an inspiring and welcoming place. I had a terrible cold, and lacked the energy to make anything except a small indoor picture.

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I must mention the excellent deli in Tewksbury High Street, Miss Muffet. We just had a sandwich, but suddenly I remembered what sandwiches are supposed to taste like. And for all its quality control and high-class ingredients, Pret in London cannot hope to match the Tewksbury offer: fresh home-made bread, pastrami just cut, and cracking piccalilli. Here’s the view from the window. Good food takes time.

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Canterbury Cathedral Cloisters

There’s a lot of restoration work going on at Canterbury Cathedral at the moment. The ceiling of the main nave was covered up, and one of the towers was wrapped in scaffolding. Also, it being Sunday, a part of the nave was occupied, reasonably enough, with a service. There was much to see, notably the quiet and dimly lit crypt, where there are huge strong pillars, marvellous mathematical curves and stone carvings which delighted the medievalist amongst us.

 

I drew a picture from the cloisters.

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It was perhaps unwise to start drawing those ogee* arches with their crocketing**, but I accepted the challenge. The building in the background is The Old Palace, which is the main residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was built between 1193 and 1228, and has been modified and restored since, most recently in 2006.

I drew this picture sitting on the stone surrounds of the cloisters.

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Here are some maps to show where I was drawing.

 

Here is work in progress. The drawing took an hour, pen and ink and watercolour on location.

 

*ogee arches are arches with those fine points

**crocketing is the series of knobs which are often seen on spires and arches of gothic style buildings

Lincoln Cathedral

Here is a sketch of Lincoln Cathedral tower, drawn from the cloisters.

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Lincoln Cathedral was originally built in 1072, as part of William the Conqueror’s programme of cathedral-building in England after his 1066 invasion.

It was partly destroyed in an earthquake in 1185. It might be more accurate to say that parts of the cathedral fell down at the time of the earthquake. The cathedral had construction faults, and the earthquake may well have triggered a collapse that was in any case imminent. The earthquake was something like 4 or 5 on the Richter scale. It’s interesting to note that such (natural) earthquakes are quite common in the UK and seem to happen every two years or so.

Then it was rebuilt in the current ornate style in around 1200.

We went on a tour. Here are some of my very quick sketches as our guide, Paul, took us around the cathedral.

After the tour I went to the cloisters and finished my picture of the tower. Here is work in progress.

We went to Lincoln by train. It was pouring with rain but we still enjoyed the cathedral. We shall go back when we can see the sun pouring through the stained glass windows.

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See also my post on Durham Cathedral.

 

Durham Cathedral

Here is Durham Cathedral, drawn from the shelter of the cloisters.

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It was raining, on and off, in between periods of bright sunshine. This took about 1½ hours, in the Jackson’s watercolour sketchbook.

Durham Cathedral was built in 1093AD, and is a shrine to St Cuthbert. The extraordinary stonework is all original. Even more impressive is the roof.  There is a stone roof which is up there and has been up there for nearly 1000 years. The engineering! The artistry! The courage! The organisation!

The place is active. Evensong is sung. Flowers are arranged. The shrine is venerated. Around the simple tomb of St Cuthbert, people sit, in awe, at the age of the place, at the stillness, at the soaring architecture, at the thought of the simple monk whose remains lie here.

I too sat on the polished wood seat. Flowers stems were scattered on the floor, a pick-a-stick of blossoming stalks, in the process of being placed into the vase, one by one, by a careful woman. The snapped flower stems smelt of woodland. Or perhaps that was the furniture polish.  A loudspeaker announced….something, the sound echoing and incomprehensible. And because it’s Durham, suddenly I was in conversation with the woman arranging the flowers. The modern stained glass window, just visible from the shrine, is in memory of a student. It looks towards the university, which is to the North. Even though it’s North facing, the glass gleams.

Here is work in progress on the outdoor picture:

Here’s where I was:

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The indoor pictures are in my new “Traveler’s Company” watercolour sketchbook.

The Durham University website has an article on the window dedicated to Sara Pilkington.