Sketching Paraty, Brazil : Silhouette and Subdivide
The second stop on our tour of Brazil was the little town of Paraty, where the USK symposium was held. Paraty is a port dating back to colonial times. I hear it was the launching point for ships full of gold heading to Spain. Today there is continual boat traffic taking visitors up and down the coast on sightseeing cruises.
The part of the town used by tourists can’t be much than ten square blocks. The whole thing has been restored with cute white plaster houses, clay tile roofs and cobblestone streets. There are three big churches for this tiny village, but otherwise it’s all gift shops, small galleries, restaurants and hotels. Beyond a series of chained off streets keeping out everyday traffic there is a normal Brazilian town with the businesses you’d expect in a tourist destination. Bike rentals, the boat tour operators, t-shirt shops and hostels.
On the tourist side, everything is a kind of artificial quaintness. On the real world side, it’s a little more gritty. Normally I wouldn’t pick this town for a sketching location. You’re not going to see any ‘real life’ going on here. But for our purposes, it was an ideal setting. We were able to wander around at all hours, getting from spot to spot in minutes, essentially taking over the entire town for our private sketching party. Quite a different experience from last year’s symposium set against the hustle of Barcelona.
This made it the most productive USK event I’ve been to – in terms of getting my own sketching done outside of my ‘work day’ teaching.
Each morning of the workshop some of the keener painters would be up early. We had about a hour between breakfast and first classes to get a sketch in. Some of the extraordinarily keen would get up before breakfast and paint, then stop back for those Brazilan cheesey puff ball things that the hotel puts out every morning.
The first day many of the international instructors ended up sketching right outside the hotel, just sitting in the street and catching new people as they got up and out. Eventually we had half of the symposium sitting in the street, getting right down to why we were there – obsessive sketching!
One of the fun stories from Paraty. Local people passing by on the way to work would naturally ask what was going on. This day we could say we had sketchers on the bridge from India, Scotland, Iran, Sweden, Australia, the USA, the UK, and Canada – painting together, learning from each other and having fun.
Sketching out in the world, you are always seeing something unexpected. The streets flooding with sea water at high tide was fairly unexpected. But so was this horse strolling through the flood. What happened next was less unexpected. What would be the worst thing a horse could do while splashing by you in a muddy street? Yes, that happened.
This is my first sketch done in Paraty, in the courtyard of our hotel. I think regular readers of my blog will see what I mean by the phrase Silhouette and Subdivide. It’s all encapsulated in this image here.
(For the history of this thought process, go back to my Direct to Watercolor series of posts).
The common strategy behind all of these rapid sketches is to look for the largest silhouette shapes in front of you – such as the broad leaf palms or the egg shapes of the clay pots. Place them down in a single brush stroke. Once you have the composition (it only takes moments to make a few big shapes), you can then look at each shape and see how it can be subdivided with the darker tones of shadows.
This is the logical followup to the ‘colored sketching’ exercise Tea, Milk and Honey that I teach beginners. After you TMH over a few dozen (well, maybe more) sketches, you’ll find you don’t really need the drawing any longer (if you don’t want). My how-to book on Urban Sketching goes back further, to the very beginning of this learning curve, starting with how to see silhouettes and shadows when drawing.