Yesterday I managed to throw down a quick drawing at the Trevi fountain before becoming overwhelmed by sun and jetlag. This morning, chipper and well-rested, I packed up my gear to head over to the Vatican. A block from my hotel, I stepped off the too-high curb and crumpled to the ground as tendons thwanged unnaturally in my ankle. Fortunately I had the self-control to get up, hobble back up the hill to the hotel and tell the desk clerk to send me up some ice.
My outer ankle had quickly developed a lump the size of a Mallomar but after three hours in bed, pack on, hoof on pillow pile (RICE- rest, ice, compression, elevation) the patient is still pink and healthy looking and my toes waggle freely so amputation can probably be postponed. I am going to be here for a couple of more weeks so I think I’ll curb my lust for the Sistine Chapel and take it easy.
Was it the Pope, cursing me? Michelangelo pegging me for an interloper? A frustrated cobble-stone-layer who, wishing he too could be watercoloring of a Monday, decided to thwart brush wielding tourists of the future?
The irony: I was crossing the road (or trying to) to check out a place that rents Vespas. Maybe it was just as well I took my spill in my sandals, rather than scraping off several layers of skin and a handful of teeth while zooming around the Coliseum on a two stroke bike.
I have constrained my drawing to my hotel’s neighborhood which in Rome
is not much of a liability. One could spend the rest of one’s life
drawing this city — the architecture is so rich and organic, the light
is wonderful, the juxtapositions are endlessly diverse. I did this
first piece during an exorbitant pasta lunch (more than $50 for a handful of
pasta and a cappuccino) at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant. Slumped low,
my hoof propped up on another chair, I strained to see the view over
A few blocks away on the Via Veneto, I discovered this marvelous
church. Beneath is a wonderfully macabre series of crypts, room after
room of Benedictine monks’ dismembered skeletons arranged into
sculptures and decorations — piles of skulls, chandeliers made of
tailbones, shoulder blade rosettes and baldacchinos made of pelvises.
Long lines of teenaged American girls file in and out, squealing “Ew,
gross!” and “Creeeeepy!”. I found it quite beautiful and touching, so
many 17th century bones committed to remind one of the temporary nature
of life on this planet, “As you were so once was I ; as I am so shall
It was impossible to draw down there among the crowds so I retired to
the Church of the Immaculate above and drew its back room as the light
slowly faded and my watercolor box disappeared into the gloom. At one
point, a nut brown monk came over and wished me “Pace” but I was
already suffused with peace.
On the Piazza Barberini, I started to draw an old cinema surrounded by
lovely crumbling facades when a big white panel van pulled right up in
front of me and blocked my view. Instead I worked on another building,
listening with one ear to two slurring Englishwomen at the next table
who were drinking huge vasefuls of lager and snapping pix of each other
and emailing them to pals back home. Eventually my friends, the Pratts,
came and joined me and I laid down my pen.
Annie Pratt is a believer in homeopathic medicine and prescribed some
Arnica to me. The next morning my ankle was a lot less swollen and,
after various meetings on casting and production, we headed off to
visit the Colosseum and the rest of ruined Rome. It was blazing hot and
crowded and I couldn’t bring myself to tackle drawings of the broken
columns. En route, my pocket was picked on the subway; the bastards
made off with about $100. Sprained ankle, thieving gypsies, John
Roberts … I wonder what sort of bad luck I’ll face today.
I’m not the tourist type. My neighborhood in New York is always
overrun by people wearing comfortable clothes and cameras clutching
guide books and asking “Scusi, where Greenwich Village?” I am always gracious but wish they would walk a little faster and get a clue.
But in Rome, do as the Romanians do. Get a guide book, a map, and start
blundering around town. Nonetheless, despite my backpack, my folding
stool, my sandals, and my sweaty, parched ways, I try to pretend not to
be desperately foreign. Of course, I fail. Waiters address me in
English, vendors hawk after me with postcards and foot high replicas of
My self-loathing came to an end in Vatican City. When I lined up with
the rest of the unwashed and finally reached the portal of St.Peter’s,
I was so overcome by the beauty and splendor of the place that I just
let go and gawked. Wow. The plundered marble and bronze of the Coliseum
is mind-bpoggling lavish.. And then, waiting until the end of the day
to avoid the lines, I swept through the Vatican Museum to the Sistine
Chapel, discovering amazing things I’d never known along the way. The
map room, hundreds of yards long and encrusted with thousands of
perfect paintings worked into the walls and ceilings, the Raphael
frescoes (how could the Pope manage the hubris to command such geniuses
to paint his apartment floor to ceiling, wall after wall? Here he is a
single guy with the most ornate, Baroque pad in the universe.. How did
he sleep in there at night? It’s awesome), and then finally the
Sistine. I have read books about it, seen endless reproductions and
thought I grasped Michelangelo’s accomplishment. But to be confronted
by so much epic scenery, so many perfect, enormous bodies…; whether he painted it alone or with a crew, it’s an incredible, deeply moving feat.
I gush. I can’t help it. Despite my cynicism and my discomfort with the
Papacy’s greed, I may have to go again. My name is Danny and I’m a
tourist (don’t tell my boss — I am here working after all).
Two Roman drawings that took a while. The first about an hour, the
second, close to it,
I was moved by police three times during the first which screwed up my
sight lines a bit. The second I’m less happy with, too many stylized
people, less observed, more illustrative, too much blue underpainting,
but, whatever, it was fun to do.
Rome is just insanely great to draw because of all the details and textures and juxtapositions. Work is
This wonderful building is on the corner of my block. It sits on top of its own little hill, surrounded by gardens. I pass it most days and finally took the time, on two separate occasions, to study it in detail.
This city is so full of surprises. Turn a corner and a wonderful composition or juxtaposition will just jump out. This one suddenly appeared between the trees as I was hiking out to eat dinner; branches parted like a curtain to reveal this vista backed by the setting sun.
Another view that popped out; this one seen from above from a hill. These little temples must have been restored in the Roman fashion; the little tubby demons are so sweet.
The Borghese Gardens have a giant air ballon in the style of the Gondolfier Brothers. It rises silently in the air for fifteen minute trips from which one can see the whole city. Nothing in Rome is more than six stories so the big landmarks pop out across the landscape. I have now been here long enough to identify the Vatican, the Victor Emanuel Monument, the various piazzas, the Coliseum, etc.
A little bit of color, exaggerated, as it was painted in the failing light of an ending day.
I’m finally getting the hang of tires. Wheels have always confounded me when I draw cars and stuff but as I say, in Europe, I’m finally getting the hang of tyres.
Notice the small brown mini dots on this drawing? That’s because when I start doing and drawing of something so complicated or big or whatever that I get nervous, I take a few measurements with an outstretched arm and a pen and then make little marks to indicate where things fall.
Despite all that, this drawing, made as people were rushing to work at 9 am and I had to get my ass moving for a 10 o’clock meeting, is lopsided and misisng all sorts of bits that didn’t end up fitting on the page.
Another drawing done in decline, lopsided, colored like a coloring book and full of cheats to fit stuff in. When I slow my ass way way down, I can draw things like that Vespa up above. When I rush and people hang over my shoulder and I’m roasting in the sun, Things get bleak. I know that about myself and yet I keep doing it. Sometime I can save a drawing afterwards with loads of crosshatching but it’s a lost cause, a charade, not in the moment. But, then, later in the afternoon, during the wardrobe fitting, waiting for our actors to change, I drew the Vespa which I’m pretty happy with, particularly the tyres. So even when the knack hides, it resurfaces. So shut up and do another drawing.