The Last Week In Photos

My Last Figure Drawing (not satisfied with her face, but otherwise quite proud of the results):

day one

day two

day three

day four

day five

First Charcoal Portrait:


likenesses (my and Jaimie's work)

Last Gusta Pizza (I did promise):


Other delicious things from this month’s adventures:

table wine (the good kind)

gnocchi with soft cheese and white truffle oil

homemade raspberry daiquiris

soon-to-be insalata caprese

Piemontese red


olive oil

And The David:

to see his sheer size

I never said I was mature


Reflections and Other Images

Today is my last full Monday in Florence. Having just finished another ‘first day’ of figure drawing (this week we’re doing portraits in charcoal – of real people) I gave myself a little time to reflect on my last three weeks here. I’m sure I’ve said this already – but, it’s been an absolute whirlwind of art, tourism, eating, and making friends. I feel like I’ve barely had time for a nap! There’s going to be time for sleep when I’m home, right?

I haven’t been able to update as often as I would have liked, but this week instead of glueing myself to the Internet, I’ve been going to sketch classes:

first sketch class

second week

Going to the Pitti Palace and surrounding gardens for some drawing practice with my new friend, Iona:

Iona sketches a big ol' naked dude

Gallery in the Palazzo Pitti

sketch of lounging park goer

And eating some delicious food (and gelato, because it’s in its own category) – unfortunately I haven’t taken any pictures of these places, but I’ll remedy that situation for my next post, so you’ll have to settle for google pics:

GustaPizza's signature pizza

La Carraia Gelateria

Regarding what I’ve learned, I can already tell that my eye is getting better and my hand is improving as well. This afternoon I noticed I could commit to a line and draw back from the paper to look, only to see that I was more delicate, deliberate, quick and accurate with my pencil. This may seem a little silly, but having done this every day for weeks straight, I can tell you it’s nice to be less frustrated with my work than I am satisfied with what I’ve accomplished! On Friday I think I’ll post a day-by-day picture set of my last figure drawing, so we can all see what work is done in three hours every day, for five days.

This is last Thursday’s figure – the only sitting pose that we labored over. What a trial that was!

All this improvement and frustration and concentration and general *hard work* adds up. I am so glad to have taken a chance on myself, and to have put myself out there! There’s a lot of value in trying something new, whether it is living alone, traveling abroad, or taking a class in something you’ve never really tried before! That’s my advice for today: do something new. You might surprise yourself with how capable you are!

And if nothing else comes of it, you’ll meet new people with new perspectives and experience:

From left: Iona, Sam, and me!

That’s enough for today! You’ll hear from me on Friday!

Getting to know Firenze

not sure how, but the Medici accountant is morphing into Nicholas Cage

I don’t know how I do it, standing up for nine-ish hours everyday drawing and having the energy to explore, but I do. Somehoooooow. It’s been a bit too long since my last post, but I’ve been spending some time with Florence!

Here are some things you might see here:

1. Gelato. Everywhere. There may just be a scrumptious opportunity on every corner, but you have to search out the good stuff. Never buy two scoops for more than €2.
2. Cafes. Also everywhere. Sometimes in the same space as a gelateria. They have other options, but the only good thing is coffee. And there’s a spectrum of quality even within that. Unfortunately I don’t know the best coffee in town, because I do not partake, so I judge a place on its atmosphere. Or, you know, a wireless signal. If you’re ordering anything else (ex: Coke) you’re probably American.
3. Internationals. I don’t mean tourists (although there are many of those too). You are just as likely to run into a Brit as you are an Italian, if not more so. According to my cousin Charles, who has lived here for 40-some years, Florence is the smallest international city by population in the world, so the people you see everyday are most likely from out of town. I think more people speak English than they do in any other non-English country I’ve been to, and I’ve been to so seriously touristy places!
4. Picturesque landmarks. There are many ugly parts of Florence, but the majority of the inner city by the Arno is gorgeous. The tourist destinations and preserved sites are definitely worth the wait, or the money or whatever you think you’re giving up when you’re traveling. On Monday I visited the Boboli Gardens with a couple friends from school and got some pictures which may illustrate my point:

(You may get the Duomo from all of the angles by the end of my stay, fair warning.)

5. Amazing architecture still in use, that may also be covered in art dating back as far as the Renaissance. There are paintings on almost every street, including my little alley way, of the Madonna and Child. Juxtaposed with the grime of streetlife, you get quite a scene. Apparently Florence’s skyline hasn’t so hanged since the fifties, so the view from any apartment building can still get a sight of the surrounding hills.

Things I’ve experienced:

– platform-heeled bicyclists
– leather shops, everywhere
– grandmas riding Vespas
– hen parties in front of the duomo
– gypsies
– baby blue capri suits on men
– street art
– babies in Armani
– tights for men
– amazing food, both from dining out and from the local grocer
– street performers pre-performance

I could write more, but then I’d be sitting here until closing! If you have any question of my travels or would like to request pics or suggest destinations, feel free to comment! Now, to sit and relax and enjoy a little Internet before I head out into the rainy afternoon!


Of long days and late nights, or, Figure Drawing May Kill You But You’ll Like It

Whew. I finally have an hour or so to sit down and relax!

These last couple of days have been both extremely rewarding and extremely exhausting. Combining jet lag, living without A/C, late nights and 6+ hours of drawing a day will get to you. Yes, I’ve been drawing all day every day since Monday morning at 9 am, which has been paired nicely with evenings out with my family before they moved on to Rome, as well a some sight-seeing and getting to know my roommates.


Duomo interior

But, classes are just as amazing as Florence itself. The students – some with minimal experience – are all learning through the sight-size method used by artists since the Renaissance (artists who drew or painted their subjects proportionally). The idea is to stand far enough away that the entirety of the subject of your art will fit comfortably on the page/canvas and from there you can measure quite precisely the proportions of your work because of its closeness to reality. This theory comes from the idea that art should be looked at feet away as opposed to up close (which may be what you’ll find to be the norm in a crowded museum), which may remind you of the Impressionists:

Monet in Venice

Look at any Monet, like this study done in Venice, up close and you’ll get rainbow vomit. Not very sorry for that visual. However, stand back ten feet and you’re looking at a lovely study of light.

I quite enjoy the method because it is that – methodical, and requires organizing yourself, maintaining a routine and paying very close attention to detail.

my work with charcoal next to the real thing

The potential issue with drawing sight-size is – you must continue to stand back around 4-9 feet to look at your subject, and then walk forward to make a mark on the page. You can’t look around your easel to see if you’re doing it right, because it doesn’t look the same from nearly ten feet closer! So, I may have walked miles already, but not around the city… Just back and forth across the studio.

life drawing

Despite my fatigue, I will continue to persevere to live the life here in Florence, starting with a gelato on the way to my flat before I head off to an evening lecture in art history! Looks like a long day ahead, and it’s already four!

I’ll leave you with my first figure drawing, and hopefully will have an update at the end of the weekend!

first drawing with sight-size

Days One & Two: Florence

Hello world!

It’s me again, having embarked on my next foreign adventure: Florence, Italy.

Here’s what’s happening – as of yesterday afternoon (continental Europe time), I am in Florence for a month! I am taking a drawing course at Charles Cecil Studios nearby, and am staying with students of the school while I’m here.

Here are the facts:

I speak *zero* Italian.
I have never taken a formal drawing course in my life.
I have never stayed abroad all by my lonesome. Done it without parents, done it in a non-English speaking country, but never without other students who I had met beforehand.

Believe me, it’s not an introvert’s ideal situation, despite how excited I am to have this opportunity. Regarding my acceptance into a prestigious art school, yes, I know somebody who knows somebody, etc. etc. I am cousins with the founder of the school, who has been so gracious to offer the children in the family drawing lessons. Being the youngest one in my family, I am the last to have this opportunity! I have no idea of the talent I will be surrounded by, and I have no idea how prepared I am.

Did I mention I’m also not incredibly spontaneous? Well, there you are.

My first day, though, was great. We touched down in Florence and enjoyed an evening of extremely (incredibly, amazingly) fine cuisine due to my mother’s presence in Florence my first couple days here. We ate at the Borgo San Jacopo near Ponte Vecchio, the bridge famous for its accompanying buildings suspended over the Fiume. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. If you have questions about the food, leave a comment! I will tell you though, that the last picture is a tomato ice cream with chocolate “crunchies” and banana. It was indeed bizarre. But awesome, too!

foie gras wafers with apple sorbet and caramel accents
I don't even remember what this was called but it was my favorite dish
tomato ice cream

After dinner we noticed a chamber orchestra playing on the Ponte Vecchio and after further investigation we learned that someone had booked the bridge for the night (!!!) – what a ridiculously Italian thing to hear Vivaldi drifting down the river as the skies darkened and the streets lit up with nightlife.

Ponte Vecchio

Today was a lesson in going with the flow.

Having had minimal contact with my soon-to-be roomies, I informed them I would be showing up at 11am today planning to move in. Funnily enough, my roommates were no-shows, but my cousin appeared on his bicycle and offered to take me and my family out to dinner tonight! Eventually, (1.5 hours later) I was able to get into the flat and get a key.

the view from my flat

(Tip: if you’re staying in a foreign country for more than a week, I recommend getting international phone service, and even a wifi hotspot on your phone if you’re the type to be glued to the Internet – or blogging, as I planned on doing very frequently. As I have neither, this will be sure to be an interesting month.)

And now I’ve unpacked and plan to find an Internet cafe and perhaps a few photo ops before heading to Santa Spirito, if I’m reading my map correctly. Tomorrow is my first drawing class, so there’ll be a post as soon as possible!

Ponte Vecchio

“I walk into an empty ro-oo-om and suddenly my heart goes bo-oo-om – there must be an angel playing with my heart, yeah!”

Since it’s Sunday and I have a peppy Eurythmics song stuck in my head, I thought it would be a good time to post what I’ve been up to lately, considering how I’ve been neglecting that a bit, lately.

Since my last post, which I will designate to the weekend of March 17, lots and lots of happenings have been happening! (Surprise!) And, as things go, life has sped up so fast that all of us over in London are scrambling to get our acts together as the semester draws to a close (a very, very abrupt close). I will be leaving on the 16th for Barcelona, the plan at this point, although life is still up in the air when planning trips with other college students. I’ll be spending a couple days there before making my way up to Munich, where I’ll see my lovely friends Devan and Nora who are studying there for the year, and I’ll be camping on Devan’s floor until my mom flys in and we get the heck out of town! Next will be a whirlwind of travel through Switzerland (Zurich and Interlaken – and maybe even GRINDELWALD, for those Harry Potter fans out there), where I’ll be shoved onto a train to Stresa, Italy and meet my dad. The next week will be spent in Northern Italy with the Dad and his fiancée, Cathie. I’ll be back in London (Heathrow) on the 6th of May, and will be back in DC within ten hours of getting on my flight to Dulles (if all goes well).

BUT! Back to the past! As much fun as my weekend with Molly was, I quickly returned to the real world of required theatre nights and art journalling and listening to my Contemporary Britain professor say words and doodle intricate designs on my notes. Life is so hard! The week after Molly’s departure, the class went to the National Theatre and saw a physical theatre performance called Can We Talk About This?, a verbatim play about censorship, freedom, and hypocrisy in Islam, how when interpreted a certain way it can oppress its own followers, and has begun to override world politics because people are so afraid to offend. The play was a little odd because the performers were hopping around and doing really complex choreography throughout most of the monologues, but over all had a very impactful result. At the beginning of the play, the audience was asked whether they felt “morally superior” to the Taliban, to which only 50% of the audience raised their hands. I’m not about to go into the details and theory behind that, because I don’t have the eloquence to do so, but hopefully you get the point.

The following weekend I journeyed way up north to Finchley, which took much too long because the Northern Line was closed and I had to take replacement bus services all the way. I made it though, and just in time for a writing workshop at a church community center (this was for my independent study project). There was much talk about social networking and blogging (which I’ve got down pat – too many blogs to count!) but there was also a bit about self-publishing, competitions, and sites to submit to to get noticed, which was cool. I learned a little bit – and I got a small bit of fiction out of it, so all in all a good day. I felt good about my writing after leaving the group, and maybe even a little inspired – I wrote all the way back to my flat. Also, buses are therapeutic and I wish we had double-deckers in DC.

The next week was a whirlwind! Story of my life. We had our music history papers due in class on Wednesday, and immediately after, Willa, Kaley and I rushed out to the Adelphi Theatre and saw a matinee of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, starring Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton (YES, IMELDA STAUNTON.) It was a fantastic performance and a great stress-relieving adventure after the last several nights of writing ten pages on Scottish folk music. I didn’t know how much of that show I could sing by heart. The story was set in – I want to say – 1930’s England instead of the original 19th century setting, and it all seems to take place in a factory, as the ensemble tells the tale. It was pretty magical, even if the three of us were stuck up in the rafters.

Can't believe these two were in the matinee on a Wednesday! I'm so lucky.

The class saw another performance on Friday night, which took forever to get out to, and with the day we’d had in class, it was a bit much! We’d been out to Shoreditch with our art professor, Giovanni, and looked at a bunch of modern art, including some poorly executed conceptual art and other stuff at the White Cube and Whitechapel galleries. Reasons to Be Cheerful was a bit of disability theatre over in Hackney, which used the music of Ian Dury and the Blockheads to tell a story about coming-of-age and learning through personal struggle. It was a cute play, and used differently abled actors but did not place them as the centerpiece of the play, just included them, which was awesome. However, I was not in the mood to hear a 3-song encore after the play ended at 9:55pm.

Nadia Albina and Gary Robson dance around to "Blockheads" by Ian Dury and the Blockheads

On Sunday a group of us accidentally saw The Hunger Games instead of The Woman in Black at a massive theatre in Shepherd’s Bush, and I got a pair of sandals, before heading over to Southwark to see the Sam Wanamaker Festival at the Globe Theatre, an even hosted by the Globe where all the best talent from the UK’s best arts schools come together and put on scenes from Shakepeare and his contemporaries. Our class got to stand up front and center, and saw some really awesome scenes by talent who may be famous one day! It was an action-packed day, and just the beginning of an action-packed week.

On Tuesday, I gave a presentation on multicultural theatre in London for my – you guessed it – Theatre In London class, and turned in my art journal that evening before Contemporary Britain, where we talked about the Jack the Ripper case and the Cray twins, two urban legends that are as much a part of London as the history of the monarchy. I’m excited to get my art journal back, because it’s got a lot of good notes and doodles, and quite a bit of space left that I can use to journal about what I find on my travels in the next couple weeks.

Duchamp's "Fountain"

We had our art history final in class the next day, wherein we essayed about Duchamp’s “Fountain,” Dalí’s “Mountain Lake,” Manet’s “Bar at the Folies-Bergère”, as well as comparisons between Mondrian and Fontana, Millet and Van Eyck, and Oldenburg and Pistoletto.

Manet's "Bar at the Folies-Bergere"

It was a good, satisfying exam, and I heard from everyone that they felt the same. I guess these means I learned a lot? Ha.

Thursday night was a bit of a crazy one. Combined with the celebratory vibe of finishing up 1/4 classes, and the knowledge that we didn’t have class the next morning, the group had a bit too much fun. The good, generally safe kind, involving Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, rum and ginger beer, and dance playlists. The following day, Louise and I shopped for weather-appropriate attire for travel after London, with major success, I must admit.

Got a deal for this lovely dress, which I think I'll be wearing quite a lot this summer!

The following day we completed our “challenge” for our Theatre in London class, by going to see a play called ” adapted for children with autism. It was so much fun, and interesting to see how that sort of disability theatre compared with Reasons to be Cheerful. Last night Julia, Monroe, and Nate hosted a seder for Passover, which was lots of fun, and then there was Mario Kart and hanging out until the wee hours. Today, I plan on booking a flight from London to Barcelona, from Barcelona to Munich, booking a couple nights in a hostel, and working a bit on last-minute homework and talking to the rents. Perhaps going to the Notting Hill Arts Club, after? Should be a good day.

My next update will probably have more solid plans, which both you and I look forward to, I expect! Thanks for reading!