If I got to choose what I would do on my last day, there is a good chance I would ask for three hours at a good flea market on a sunny day with friends, because that is just about my idea of heaven.
One of my favorite quotes is from director Robert Bresson: “Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.” For me, a flea market is not about shopping per se but about a feeling I sometimes have that something – in this place where there are worlds inside of worlds jammed up against other worlds and time is all over the place – is waiting for me to find it: to make it visible.
Because while Bresson is clearly speaking of the act of creating, this can take many forms. It might be film, drawing, or artistic endeavours, but it can also be cooking a memorable meal or putting together an iconic look or saying or doing the needed thing at the right moment. It can be the ability to look at a jumbled-up box under a messy table and see the one piece of treasure there, the one thing that needs to be found.
I have been lucky enough to visit art museums in many cities. This is consistently one of my favorites. There are other museums that have more, but in a way that is the point. The Louvre, the National Gallery, and their like are amazing, but they are too large to really take in and emotionally digest what you find there. This is where Zurich’s Kunsthaus is different. Yes, it has relatively little in the way of old masters and prehistoric whatnot and many of the things that make other world museums so dynamic, but what it has is truly choice and can be experienced in an afternoon. It is just the right amount of beauty to be taken in, felt, remembered, and treasured.
Van Gogh, Rodin, Chagall, Picasso, Monet, Beckman, Ernst, Kandinsky, Giacometti, Klee, Rousseau, Matisse, and on and on. Just as important is what it doesn’t have: a mad crush of bodies getting between you and the experience. Most museums in major cities are in a constant state of crush, with flashing cameras and hordes of tourists mobbing a handful of well known works, making it very difficult to savor any of the experience. In Zurich, there is dignity, [read more]
We recently spent two weeks in north-central France, in a town called Montargis, with Gab’s old friend Jean-Pierre. These are pages from my illustrated journal that I did while there.
The first, best piece of advice I ever received about keeping an illustrated or sketchbook journal was to always, always travel with your supplies and be prepared. I take mine everywhere: walks, restaurants, museums, doctor’s offices, even church – a great place for meditative drawing. If you carry what you need with you along with your sketchbook, you will always be ready to draw at a moment’s notice, no excuses and more importantly, be ready to use small amounts of time where you might ordinarily be staring into space (traffic jams, airplanes, etc.)
If you have never kept a portable studio like this before, don’t worry. Everyone is going to work with different materials to suit their own style and needs, and you may not know what these are until you have tried it for awhile. Also, buying all new supplies can be expensive, although it is perfectly possible to keep a visual diary with little more than a good pen and a glue stick. Just get what you can and add to it when you can. For instance, I couldn’t really afford a whole set of good water color crayons in one go, so I buy one or two whenever [read more]
We spent a week in Budapest. I figure I averaged a little over a page a day which doesn’t sound too great, except that is the eternal visual journal work dilemma: do you sit still and draw or move on and explore new things? Do you create an image of your authentic Hungarian meal, or do you eat it while it is still hot? I am getting better at putting in rough lines and filling them in while waiting forever in airports and train stations. The journey – all of the journeys – continue.
Just wrapping up the final journal for 2014. It hasn’t stopped me from beginning the new one for 2015. Basically, the amount of journals that I am working on at any time expands to meet my addiction to sketchbooks as needed. These pages are some from my trip to Vienna in September.
Off the west coast of Wales is an island called Skomer, one of the most strange and beautiful places I have ever seen. In the summer it is inhabited by hundreds of thousands of sea birds, many rabbits, and very few humans. A limited number of day visitors come and go by ferry; no more than 14 guests are allowed to stay overnight.
It is a place of crazy, senseless beauty but for me the most luxurious part of the visit is the silence, except it isn’t really silence: the cries of a million birds can be pretty raucous. It’s just that there are almost no human noises. Walk away from the hostel after the last ferry leaves taking the day visitors and you are quite alone. No cars, no telephones, internet, screens, television, restaurants, or gift shops. Time there is about cultivating and going into this silence that isn’t really silence.
You sit down on the grass over a cliff to watch a fulmar, that graceful, snowy cousin of the albatross, soar in circles as it catches a thermal. An hour goes by, and you rise feeling still and grounded and fed by something you didn’t know you were hungry for [read more]
On the last Saturday of every month, there is a street market in Uplands. Back in the day the Uplands was home to Dylan Thomas. Now it is where you can find local produce, handmade crafts, homemade brews, live music, and a fun, festive walk around.
This is the booth for Teifi Farmhouse Cheese. Their multi-award cheese is a Dutch style gouda type made from raw milk at a small dairy at Glynhynod Farm. They also distill their own fine gin.
Goozeberry Hill is a local crafts studio that produces charming stamped, vintage spoons and other cutlery.
Every time I see The Flower Hive, they have beautiful things that you just can’t find at your grocery store. Special, hand formed bouquets of organically grown flowers with a little wildness.
Lori at Lori Loves Bags uses tiny dried blossoms, moss, and other gossamer-like plants to make ethereal earrings and pendants. She also makes bracelets using vintage beads that are one-of-a-kind.
Dylans Bookstore is a longtime Swansea treasure run by Jeff Towns, Dylan Thomas scholar. In addition to its home base in Mumbles, it goes around in a van and offers Welsh titles, second-hand reading, antiquarian books, and miscellaneous treasure, such as a home decorating magazine from [read more]
Something I never get used to – in the best possible way – are the castles scattered around the Welsh countryside. As an American I am pretty much bowled over by anything from the 19th century; ruins from the 12th leave me slackjawed. The natives, not so much, and as far as I can tell only notice them when American friends are visiting.
Six miles from my apartment in Swansea is Oystermouth Castle, in the village of Mumbles. It dates from 1106 when it was built by the Earl of Warwick. Like most castles in Wales it was a stronghold for English, would-be rulers who oppressed the local population. They were bitterly hated and over the centuries the castle fell back and forth between the British interlopers and the Welsh rebels who regularly ousted them. It remained in private hands until 1927.
In 2010, the castle underwent extensive renovations. Included was a glass floor 30 feet above the ground, which provides a viewing platform for the windows of a chapel that was added in the 1320s, and is today called Alina’s Chapel. The stained glass has been gone for centuries but today, looking through the arched windows, you can [read more]
I have worn vintage clothing for many years, and it never fails to disturb when I see something labelled “vintage fashion” that dates from, say, the 1970s. (Even more horrifying, the 1980s being considered vintage in any unironic way.) Me, I am too mired in the esthetic of the 1930s and early ’40s to get hot and bothered about clothes that came after, but I have a lot of love for looks from an earlier era: many’s the time I’ve worn a 19th century piece with Levis and cowboy boots. Here is a selection of great looks from an older, and cooler, time from the gazillions of cabinet photos I have collected over the years. (Shoes, be sure and notice the shoes.)