Thursday, 27 November 2014

Castellers: Monkeys Climbing Human Towers


As well as the fire-breathing dragons, I witnessed another rather unusual spectacle while I was in Sitges. They have a strange competition. I had been told about it, but was so lucky to be there to see it for myself.

It was a Sunday afternoon. Crowds began to gather in the centre of the old town. Then the teams arrived from three local areas. As far as I could gather, despite the acrobatics, they were just ordinary people.



The idea was to create 'human towers' and compete to see which team could get the highest. The base was created by a massive rugby-scrum of people all pushing in to stabilise the core. Then people climbed up over them to balance on each other's shoulders. A small child was always the last to go up, light enough to perch at the top.

This was the first tower. They 
paraded through the crowds in the square, the scrum shuffling along beneath:



But this first tower was just a warm-up. After that, the competition started in earnest and the teams took it in turns to do a much higher tower, first with two people on each layer, then four...

The higher they were, the bigger the bases needed to be to support them. They began forming a second scrum on the shoulders of the first! As they got really high, competing teams would help, adding extra people to each other's scrums, so the towers would be surrounded by a massive crowd of people, all leaning forward on each other's shoulders. 



People at the centre of the second scrum, reached up their arms and supported the bottoms of the people on the next layer up:



The 'monkeys' were the little children. You can see one above, standing on the top scrum, about to climb up. On the big towers, two or three children would climb up at once. In order to fulfil the rules, the monkeys had to not only get to the top, but then circle round the pinnacle, clambering over the top tier of people, before climbing down again.

Each team did three towers, getting taller and wider each time. 
I was just wondering what would happen if one collapsed, when one began to crumble before my eyes!




It was very shocking to see and one older man in particular was very upset afterwards (I wondered if it was him who had first given way) but, amazing, nobody seem to get harmed. 

Talking to a local in the crowd, I learnt that they give a signal if collapse is a possibility, to allow them to do it in a controlled manner, bending their knees and crumpling inwards, rather than falling sideways. The scrum braces to take the impact and nobody hits the ground.

At the end of the competition, there was a clear winner. There was a tense hush during the building of their final tower. The other two groups both got involved on the ground level and the team were very excited when they were done, so their tower was obviously pushing the boundaries.

The event finished with the three teams making lots of smaller towers again, all at once:




Then there was a fantastic celebratory dance. The children rode on the adult's shoulders as they danced around the square while everyone sang and chanted and waved. Wonderful.


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The 'Stars on Canvas' Auction Results - Wow!!


Thank you SO much to all those who bid on my little bear canvas. On the final morning of the Stars on Canvas auction, I looked to see how it was going and he was still at £74, so I was blown away yesterday when I discovered that he finally sold for £296.45! That's fantastic, isn't it? It's loads more than I expected, as the last one I did, an illustration from Class Two at the Zoo, sold for £155, so I am delighted.


I don't know who got my little, growly bear in the end, but I am sure he has gone to a good home. If you bought him, thank you, and thank you to everyone who bid on all the various canvases. Let's hope The Willow Foundation made shed-loads of spondoolies!

Monday, 24 November 2014

The Urban Sketcher by Marc Taro Holmes



My postman rang the doorbell on Friday afternoon, dragging me all the way down 2 flights of stairs from my attic studio. Nevertheless, I love it when that happens, as it means a parcel. Sure enough, he handed over a big brown package for me to sign for. The paperwork said it was from the USA, which gave me a clue.

I opened it with glee and I was right - it was the new Urban Sketching book by my friend Marc Taro Holmes:


Marc promised to send me a copy to review a while ago, but his publishers have taken their time sending it out and I had almost forgotten it was coming, which made it all the more exciting to finally be unwrapping it.

Unfortunately,I am too busy right now to get stuck into it: I must force myself to get on with some work instead, but I thought I would show you, to whet your appetite.

A quick flick through was enough to tell me that it would be good. Marc is such a highly skilled sketcher, I'd expect nothing less. I always knew him as a brilliant watercolourist but, when I spent time with him in Brazil this summer, I saw him in action with a pen for the first time. How irritating to discover that he is a brilliant speed-draughtsman too :-D


Anyway, this book covers both, which is great. I will look at it properly and let you know what I make of it as soon as I can!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Getting Singed in Sitges


I never got around to telling you about my fun and games I had while I was staying in Sitges, for my Barcelona school tour. I was really lucky, as my stay just happened to coincide with a big festival - one of the main annual events for Sitges, the Sante Tecla



I've been to a few festival parades in my time, but I've never encountered anything quite like the Sitges one before so, though I've been back ages now, I still want to tell you about it and show you what I drew. 


I packed my sketch-bits and walked the 20 minutes into the old town on that particular evening, to check it out. As I arrived, odd things were beginning to appear in the streets, like the lovely blue dragon above. People seemed to be heading in one general direction, so I followed the giant below, trying to draw it on the move, as we made our way through the streets. Very tricky, trying not to trip up!


I got the chance to add colour when we got to the starting-point of the parade as there was a bit of a wait, while everybody got into position. Loads of local people saw me drawing and came up to chat. Then suddenly we were off!


The parade was hugely long, with all sorts of different elements, including different troupes of dancers in colourful, traditional costumes, drumming groups from various towns...



...acrobatic characters, musicians, people in huge papier-mache heads, religious elements, cute little children with hoops covered in paper ribbons, and much, much more. They wound very slowly through the old streets, stopping every so often for 2 or 3 minutes so the dancers could do a turn. I captured what I could, mostly at the stopping points. 


Most people lined the streets, but I figured it would be easier to draw if I walked along with the parade, weaving in and out. I spotted another dragon, so thought I'd sketch him (below). I was totally unprepared for what would happen next.

I didn't realise that fire was a big theme of the festival. There were a couple of dozen demons in the parade, brandishing big sticks with fireworks attached at the ends. A head demon went round lighting them all and the street was suddenly filled with fizzing and banging


The firework sticks whizzed round like catherine-wheels and watchers, including me, had to run out of the way as we were showered with the sparks. Then the head demon lit more fireworks inside the dragon's mouth and tail. What had gone before was nothing...


All hell broke loose, pretty literally. The fire-sticks spun and whizzed and exploded. The dragon truly breathed fire! Everyone around was shot with the sparks. Running and screaming was all part of the fun it seemed.


When the fireworks died away, I thought that was it and went back in close to carry on drawing, but no - the chief demon went round again - they had enough fireworks to reload again and again. The narrow streets filled with smoke! Here is the blue dragon I spotted in the street before it all began:




To escape the smoke and get a calmer drawing opportunity, I ran further forwards in the parade and found these guys: the Moixiganga Men. They would march normally will their long candles then, as soon as the parade did its little pause, they would climb up and do this balancing act, holding the pose as they walked on for a couple of minutes. The only way to draw it was to walk in front of them backwards, with my sketchbook held up, frantically scribbling, once again hoping not to trip.




I built it up over 3 or 4 goes and, once they saw me, one of their number walked behind me to make sure I was not going to fall. I did the painting while walking along too, which really fascinated them. I drew what it looked like behind as well. In the sketch above, you can just make out the head of the man that's stretch out in the rear view below - between the top man's legs


At one point, I thought things had finished, as the parade suddenly broke up and all participants all got a drink from whichever bar was at hand, but it turned out the parade had just stopped for a beer break! Ten minutes later, things reformed and we were off again! Here I am with the some of the Moixiganga Men, my sketch half-finished still:



I had another shot of strange and interesting sketching at the weekend, as there was another odd but spectacular custom, but I'll tell you about that next time, as I have rambled on way too long as it is.