After La Sagrada Família and Parc Güell, it was time to see another Gaudí masterpiece. This one an apartment building in the Eixample district. This is Casa Milà!
Casa Milà was derided and criticized when it was first completed for the Milà family in 1912. It was given the name La Pedrera, “the stone quarry” by early critics.
Casa Milà was certainly tops my list of Barcelona architecture to see and sketch. It is also one of the most visited attractions in the city, Gaudí ‘s La Sagrada Família is the number one most visited site in Catalunya. And considering the annal numbers of tourists that visit Barcelona is over 30 million! Because of this I prebooked my ticket for 9:30.
I walked from my attic flat in the Gràcia neighborhood and 25 minutes later I was at Casa Milà. I found a place to sit across the Passeig de Gràcia from this amazing building and started sketching. I can say that Casa Milà is truly a challenging subject to sketch because there are not many straight lines and it’s facade undulates back-and-forth almost like an ocean wave. Gaudí was really inspired by nature as my audio guide later informed me.
There were already lines of tourist with and without tickets where I got into the equally long line for tickets holders.
Once inside I stared up from the canyon of a courtyard into the clear blue Catalonian sky. This was akin the the experience of looking up into the ceiling a grand cathedral only this time Gaudí was proving a frame for nature. Gaudí was inspired by nature and standing and looking up toward the sky reminded me of a slot canyon in southern Utah or hiking up the Virgin River in the Narrows at Zion National Park. Here Gaudí was provided an escape from the overcrowded Passeig de Gràcia which seemed a world away here in the courtyard.
An elevator took me to the rooftop where the famous”chimneys” awaited. As well as the many other tourists photographing the chimneys and the cityscape. I wondered what it would been like if all of those people had sketchbooks instead of smart phones. It was hard not to walk around the roof without getting in the way of someone’s photograph and I found it a little challenging to sketch because of people standing in front of your own viewpoint. It was not really a calm crowd that I think this roof engenders. I could just imagine that the only sound would be the traffic below and the movement of pencil on paper above, now that’s my idea of peaceful!
These are called the guardians and some have suggested that they may have influenced George Lucas on some of the designs in Star Wars. Stormtroopers do bear a resemblance.
I got two chimney sketches off and then headed down into the attic where Gaudí’s other work was highlighted. Then down another story to a floor that contained four apartments, one of which was on display. And then further down a few flights of stairs spits you out into the gift shop and then into the thriving throng of Passeig de Gràcia.
With a backwards glance at Gaudi’s amazing work I headed down Passeig de Gràcia to explore more of the Catalan Capital.
After spending the morning at La Sagrada Familia, I headed up to the hills to see another one of Gaudi’s work. This time it was the village Parc Güell.
Parc Güell was a nice counterpoint to the massiveness of Gaudi’s unfinished church. Parc Güell seems to be built into its wooded surroundings. And my bird list was growing: singing blackbird, alpine swift flying above, barn swallow, hoopoe, a hovering kestrel, and the nonnative monk parakeets where nest building in the palms.
But I was not here to just to watch the avian life. I was also here to look for a dragon!
Judging by the hordes of tourists taking selfies and group photos with the dragon, I was not the only one looking! The dragon, knows as el drac is one of the most popular sights at Parc Güell. It was a challenge to sketch the mosaic figure because of the constant stream of tourists posing with it. So I had to take a sit and wait approach to capturing this dragon in my sketchbook and hoping the the dark looming clouds would not unleash their torrent.
El drac poses with yet another tourist. Must be hard for a dragon to hold a smile all day long.
It started to rain, so I took refuse in the Hypostyle Room and it’s forests of columns reminiscent of the massive forest of columns in the nave of La Sagrada Famila. This covered spaced was conceived to be used as a market for the estate. It was a perfect place to to take shelter from the passing showers and do a sketch.
You can barely make out Parc Güell through the thick forest of tourists.
I sketched the the two-toned tower of the Porter’s Lodge while the tourist groups also took shelter from the downpour and they got some selfie stick use to the extreme.
On Friday morning I showed up on the Nativity Facade of the church to take a tour of the inside of the most visited site in all of Barcelona. By selecting an early tour, I was hoping to avoid the crowds. No such luck. It seems to be tourist season all year round, even in the “shoulder” season of April.
Because I had pre-booked my ticket, the line was short and I had to go through a security check point that was up to the standards of any worthy international airport. All of my belongings went through the x-ray machine, the guard at the other end was only interested in my sketching bag. He took my sling pack and opened it and examined my pencil bag. I showed him my collection of pens and pencils. He was really interested in the small leather case that carried three sizes of tubes. These puzzled the security agent and I had to pull the tubes apart to show him that they were merely travel watercolor brushes. This didn’t seem to impress him. So I told him that they were Escoda brushes that were made in Barcelona. This seemed to impress him even less! To think that you couldn’t smuggle three Catalonian brushes into Barcelona’s most famous church!
He took away my pens, pencils, brushes, and paints meaning that I had no way to sketch within the glorious church. I am not a religion person but this seems like sacrilege!
So I had to settle for taking photos (iPhones and not sketchbooks seems to be the common currency here in this unfinished masterpiece). So all of my sketches of the statues on the Passion Facade where done from photos. Blasphemy!
Well maybe having my sketching kit wasn’t such a bad thing. How on earth could I capture this in a sketch?!
Later in the day I did a few sketches of what I have seen and photographed. I would have preferred to have used pencils, pens, and paper to sketch in real time but the security guard left this sketching bird flightless.
While I would have preferred to sketch “from life” even taking the time to sketch from a photograph helps me the “see” and understand Gaudi’s masterpiece.
Travel can be such a discombobulating experience. Your body doesn’t seem to recognize the passage across many timezones. When really it wants to take a nap on Pacific Coast Time.
Jet lag is the necessary evil we all must endure if we want to explore our planet from west to east or north to south. It is a deal we make with our internal body clocks as we throw time up in the air like a handful of big leaf maple shimaras, not really knowing where they are going to fall.
As such we must almost write off the first few days in the new time zone as a wash. But I was determined to sketch through the weariness and mild hallucinations of jet- set time travel.
I started off right by not getting much sleep the night before my journey to Catalunya as my airport shuttle arrived at 4:45 AM. What’s the point of sleeping if your just going to get up anyway? I falsely reasoned.
My flight boarded at 6:30 AM but half way through boarding, they halted the process because, “ they were doing some maintenance at the back of the plane. “ I later found out that one of the three lavatories was out of order. The captain advised us not to drink much water!
I used this delay as an excuse to do a quick sketch of the chariot that would be taking me to Miami, a Boeing 737-800.
Indeed it was a quick sketch because my boarding group was called and I shuffled off, zombie-like, towards gate 56A. Oh well, I’d have to add a little color and text later.
After a few attempts at a catnap I was excited to find an expandable painting easel in the chair back in front of me right at eye level! And it perfectly fit my small landscape sketchbook! My only question was, “Now why isn’t everyone else sketching and painting in their sketchbooks?” Seemed like a perfectly rational inquiry to me.
After Miami I was to catch a redeye to Barcelona and after taking a taxi into the the Gracia neighborhood and checking into my terrace apartment, I planned to unpack my sketching bag and head out five blocks to the southeast and attempt the impossible: capturing Gaudí’s unfinished psychedelic masterwork, La Sagrada Familia into the pages of my watercolor sketchbook. And doing it all on a few hours of sleep.