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As mentioned in my last few posts, I just got back from a river cruise down the Danube with my mom. One of the ways that I processed what I’d seen in each city was to spend the afternoon on the boat painting. I snapped a ton of photos on my iPad on the morning tour, then worked from those pics to do some quick watercolor sketches. I did one from each port, and I suspect that I’ll end up creating some more within the coming weeks if other work doesn’t take over (always a big “if”). In order to not have to check paints in my luggage that could get lost or have paint tubes burst and ruin all my clothes, I opted for a watercolor palette. I have very little experience with watercolor, since it doesn’t have the “gush” factor that I so love about oil and acrylic, but I thought it’d be easy to transport and wouldn’t take up much space, and it’d be easy to take the sketches back with me since the paint would be dry immediately. I also figured it be fun to experiment with something new. So each day, I set about to try to do a different style for each port. I really only ended up doing 2 styles. I found myself having a hard time not tightening up, and staying loose and expressive. I think that’s because I’ve been so focused on the realist paintings lately. I kept trying to let go, but didn’t have much luck. This may have also been partly to do with the fact that I was working on 6″ x 8″ paper – it made me feel constrained.

sketching on the boat

Regardless, here is what I came up with along the way:

First stop was Nuremberg. A really great entry port to our adventure. Quaint, colorful, friendly. As we first entered the city, this was our view:

Nuremberg watercolor

Our second day, we hit Regensburg. It was definitely my favorite place on the trip. It was absolutely charming; unpretentious despite having some spectacular old buildings. I loved the narrow, twisty streets. In addition to the regular tour, we opted to add on a tour focusing on the Jewish history from the medieval to the present – some of it horrific, some, at least in part, hopeful. I created this painting of the door into St. Peter’s Cathedral:

Regensburg watercolor

I also wanted to post this photo that I took that is probably my favorite of the trip. I love all the square spaces in it – the two colors on the wall, the vent, the corridor on the right, the grate on the ground and the smaller squares within that grate, and each individual stone and the larger square that encompasses them. Visually, there’s something really interesting about that. But more importantly, the gold stones are “stumbling blocks.” Each one bears the name of a Jewish person who had lived or worked in the building where the blocks were located who was sent to a concentration camp during WWII, and they’re scattered around the city:

Regensburg - Stumbling Blocks

After Regensburg, we moved on to Passau. Again, quite pretty with lots of color, but fairly touristy feeling. Still, we had a good time, and poked our head into a cafe for a latte. In the cafe, there was a little courtyard behind it where we sat and sipped…until a rat wandered out from under the little platform our table and chairs were on. Then we quickly finished and took off, lol:

Passau watercolor

After 3 days of slow travel through the loch system and through very straight water and flat land, we finally hit the Wachau Valley. I swear the heavens opened and the angels started singing. Seriously, I didn’t realize how much I was missing mountains until we hit Austria. My mom was in the shower and I started yelling at her, “Mom, there’s a curve in the river, come see it!” The series of curves eventually took us to Krems, where we visited Gottweig Abbey, which I did not actually paint. But when our bus pulled back up to the boat, we discovered we were actually in Tulln at that point. In Tulln, there’s an extraordinary group of sculptures by Russian sculptor Mihail Nogin of Attila the Hun meeting his new bride, Gudrun (the statues are said to be placed at the site where they met). As I was starting to become known aboard the boat as “the artist,” one of the other passengers teased, “Quick, paint it!” Which I took as a challenge. I ran out of time that day to actually paint it, but I did not knock out a quick sketch of Gudrun:

Tulln sculpture of Gudrun sketch

Next, we hit my least favorite city on our tour: Vienna. I found it overwhelming, like a giant, but older and more ornate, version of New York City. I’m not a big city girl. I feel claustrophobic with all those buildings pressing in on me. There’s no room to breathe and you’re constantly bumping into people, and the buildings, in their splendor, felt gaudy to me. You’re wealthy and important. We get it. I prefer the extravagance of nature in the spring. What I did enjoy though, was watching the 10 -15 fiaker (the carriage rides) barkers caring for the horses between rides while trying to entice people to go for a tour of the city. I took about eleventy-twelve million photos, so expect to see more paintings like this one in the future:

Carriage horses watercolor step 3

Last stop on our adventure was Budapest, my second favorite city on our tour. It was a lovely blend of Regensburg and Passau, but with a splash of Vienna tossed in for good measure. The Pest side is closer in similarity to Vienna, but with an abundance of gardens and greenery so that you don’t feel so penned in. The Buda side rises up on the other side of the Danube and has more the old world charm of the German towns we visited. For the sketch for this stop, I focused on the interior of the St. Matthias Cathedral. Not as bright and resplendent as some of the other cathedrals we visited (like Passau’s, which was INSANE), but lovely nonetheless:

Budapest watercolor

Anyway, that’s my trip from the painter’s viewpoint. A couple more observations in another post or two, then I promise I’ll shut up about my fabulous and glamorous vacation (wink). But one last thing. Remember how I said I made friends with a bunch of the boat’s staff? One waiter, Aleksandar (from Romania), was so excited by watching me paint that he decided to try a little drawing himself. We traded. I gave him the Gudrun drawing, and he gave me this, in exchange:

Aleksandar's drawing