Last Sunday we went for a walk in the Tegeler Forst, near Tegel Lake in the north-west of Berlin. The weather was a bit cold and damp, but the walk was very pleasant. We met several other hikers, including a man walking his two cats 🙂
We didn’t see many animals, except birds; but we saw many footprints in the soft mud of the trail:
The first paw print is very likely from one of the cats we saw – a wild cat is much less likely. The two following hoof prints are from deer, either young red deer or roe deer. The fourth paw print could be from a raccoon, that has been introduced in Germany a century ago and that I already observed in the city last year. The last two paw prints are likely from a dog and a fox. I think that the last one is a fox, because there is free space between the palmar pad and the toe pads.
Any experienced eye can say more? Let me/us know in the comments 🙂
At the last concert I attended as audience member, I happened to think about my love for observing. I loved to be for once in the audience instead of on the stage; to have the privilege to be still, to receive music without the need to interact with the musicians, except by clapping and cheering after each piece. The moment I loved most was after the concert when I stood near the stage, looking at the drummers packing up their gear: concentrated, efficient, relaxed after the show. I didn’t feel the need to interact with them, it would have been an interruption, even if I approached the stage with the wish to greet one of them. After a while he noticed me and walked over for a quick greeting, then had to come back to his instruments. I felt like a birdwatcher, briefly approached by a curious bird. I then wondered how I could ask (or even pretend) attention and recognition, when I feel so blessed as I get little or none of it. Maybe it’s because this is how I make sure to get sincere attention, instead of artificially-induced positive feedback.
I thought that attending a concert is one of the many setups where I am not the centre of attention, and not even an active participant in a communication. I felt the same positive sensations when I was observing wildlife during my university studies, and I realise that it was the strongest reason for me to enter the wildlife management field: this ability to disappear from the eyes of the animals, while working behind the scenes for their well-being. Well, sometimes they did notice me, like “Gina”, a female red deer rescue, who loved human attention, especially when it came in form of food 🙂
I felt a similar heartfelt call when I met Maria Montessori’s concept of observation and her way of enabling children to learn by themselves, by stimulating their curiosity rather than actively keeping their attention on activities designed by myself. Even my friends sometimes make me the wonderful present of their spontaneous life, free from interactions with me. With my closest friends I notice that we have communication phases and observation phases, and we found our way to stay near each other with the possibility, but without the obligation, to interact. I feel it is a true mark of respectful closeness.
I have even experimented this mindset by standing near an intersection for several traffic light cycles. For ten minutes, the traffic lights lost for me the usual meaning of “Wait! Walk!” and my attention moved to the approaching cars, bikes and pedestrians. I watched how impatient each of them was, how some people scanned the surroundings while waiting and others kept their attention on the traffic lights; how some children on bikes negotiated the intersection with careful attention; how few people noticed me while others didn’t. At the orchestra’s rehearsals, it happens that I have significant gaps in my notes, or I plainly have nothing to play for a whole piece: wonderful! Time to disappear and observe! Time to watch other musicians and better understand which parts are hard for each instrument; time to better hear each one of them in the sum of sounds; time to enjoy their concentrated faces.
I sometimes think there is something odd in my fascination for this kind of disappearance. At the same time I find very healthy to practice invisibility and experience the world without being the centre of it, at least for a little while.
Any of you made similar experiences? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
Today I went to my favourite library with my sketchbook and looked for a book with a lot ot pictures of mammals, as I wanted to put into practice a few tips from John Muir Laws’ lesson. Here are the results:
I observed attentively before starting with the drawing, and then drew the outline very fast (1 or 2 minutes maximum). I didn’t use the eraser, just drew more lines. I tried to notice proportions, so that few pencil strokes could suggest the species, without the help of colour or surrounding habitat.
I am quite happy with the result, given that it’s the first time I draw most of these species in a realistic way (I have drew some in cartoon style before). My next step is to work on the outline, adding details (fur texture, eyes, precise shapes of legs/head/body/tail, 3D suggestion through line width). Stay tuned for next posts!
I enjoyed experimenting with watercolour. I was initially worried of doing mistakes that I could not correct, but instead felt a lightness in filling large areas so fast, with a light touch of the brush, and see how I could move paint around thanks to water. I added pencil details after the paint had dried a bit, so in some areas the wet paint diluted the pencil and made very rich colours.
I’m happy with the right side of the drawing, I consider the colors right and the pencil addition quite balanced; the left side was too lightly painted and I used a lot of pencil, a bit too much. The proportions of dark and light areas on the left side are also not so similar to the picture, maybe because I started painting when I had observed the picture too quickly (especially that part).
Overall I am satisfied with this painting, it gives me a positive sensation and it motivates me to try again! I liked the speed of the paint part and the combination with pencil. The video and slides give a lot more information and techniques, so I’ll consult them in the future to pick new tips and improve. I hope I inspired you to grab a pencil and try this yourself! I’d love to hear your feedback on the post and hopefully see your own paintings 🙂
A few days ago I went to Berlin aquarium with my sketchbook, I ended up staying in for 4 hours, one of which by the Arapaimas:
They are huge freshwater fish, growing up to 2m long (exceptionally 3 or 4) and weighing over 100kg. They moved around with little or no movements of their fins, like living submarines. Many people looked at them for a minute or two, fascinated by their size, but then walked away. I decided to stay and draw them, as they moved so slowly. I was therefore able to see them interact with each other and with other fish in the pool, and had a lot of fun when they flocked to observe people who sat next to their glass for longer than a minute – it was a very slow (5min? more?) alteration in their swimming patterns, from random to focused, so that in five or more passes near the person they finally stood with their head oriented to them, in a group of six and more. One guy leaning on the glass, busy on his phone, didn’t notice the slow formation of that fish crowd until other people pointed them to him, and he turned around to see the curious arapaimas then disperse with a powerful move of their caudal fins. One fish came to me to check my drawing kit, I showed it every piece closer to the glass, it observed everything and then swam slowly away.
I tried to draw and note as much as I could (in Italian – it goes faster for me!) and, as John Muir Laws suggests, to describe details, even if they seem obvious, and note questions. For example I observed the pattern of pink spots of several fishes and imagined if it could be a pattern that changes with age. I was not able to draw the texture of fins and head, so I described it in the notes. I liked spending that time immersed in observation. It felt a way of respecting these animals, even if they are living in unnatural conditions, hopefully pleasant for them anyway.
Today I started reading a new novel that I picked from the French section of my local library – “Ni d’Ève ni d’Adam“, by Amélie Nothomb. After reading several books in English and Italian, mostly in the efficient and clean, almost steel-like prose of technical explanations, I met a rich, singing, poetic French first-person narrative. It gave me more joy than usual, as if I came back home – and I attempted to find out why.
In general, I particularly like reading novels in French because I find that this language can convey so many nuances of expression, it seems to possess such a vast colour palette. When I read in Italian, I can’t find the same depth, not because Italian doesn’t allow it, but because I don’t feel that Italian and French (nor German or English) are completely interchangeable on all topics. I consider them like musical instruments, with their own structure and voice, that makes them especially able to convey the sense and emotions of a piece of music written specifically for them, or their equivalents. You can spot that when you compare Paganini’s Caprices with their piano “translation” written by Franz Liszt:
It also made me compare the musicality of a language in a given text with the movement of an animal. There are texts who move around swiftly and graciously like leopards, without any noise from their steps. Some texts sound exact and articulate like insect legs, moved with precision, almost mechanical in their appearance. Some other texts move around with the cute awkwardness of a foal, that tries hard not to trip, but that shows the seed of its future elegance. I like to pick up a random book from the library and discover, page after page, which kind of movement it has chosen to embody. The topic doesn’t matter much, because I am reading to discover how other people decided to express their thoughts, and this alone fulfills my curiosity.
To finish, here is the step-by-step (literally!) analysis of horse walk, because it matches with how I sometimes feel when I read a book: it is not about the destination of that walk, nor about the context, but it is my analysis of its components one by one, even if they don’t make sense alone – but when I get out of this “analysis mode” and I go back to the full picture, at the expected reading speed, I spot so many more details. Enjoy!