Oude Kerk Amsterdam: The Garden Which is The Nearest to God

Oude Kerk Amsterdam Taturo Atzu The Garden Which is the Nearest to God

I have an insatiable thirst for new ways to experience Amsterdam, my adopted home. While browsing Instagram, I saw glimpses of a shining white platform atop the Oude Kerk in the red light district, offering city views I’d never seen before. I knew I had to go and see it for myself.

“The Garden Which is the Nearest to God” is a temporary installation by Japanese artist Taturo Aztu, who “…is internationally renowned for his temporary art projects which transform our experiences of monuments, statues and architecture.

Radically altering our perceptions, his installations provide public and intimate access to elements within our urban environment.”

The installation itself is a roof terrace centered around the weather vane and bell tower of the Oude Kerk Amsterdam, for this summer only.

Oude Kerk Amsterdam Taturo Aztu roof terrace installation

The Oude Kerk (Old Church) is the oldest building in Amsterdam, founded as a tiny wooden chapel in the 13th century. Generations of prominent city residents were buried here, including Rembrandt’s wife and muse Saska van Uylenburgh. It’s undergone three massive restorations since the 1950s.

The architectural, organizational and logistical complexity of putting such an large scale project on such a historic monument boggles my mind. I have to applaud the ambition—and execution—of it.

What is truly special about Aztu’s “Garden” are the amazing city views. There aren’t many tall buildings in Amsterdam, and especially not in the oldest part of the city known as De Wallen. Most visitors know this as the notorious Red Light District.

View overlooking Amsterdam city center from Oude Kerk Amsterdam Taturo Aztu

I went with my friend Angel on a clear, bright sunny day. We could see all the way across the historic city center (yes, it really is that small!) to Central Station and to A’Dam Toren across the river in Amsterdam Noord (both on the upper left of the photo).

For a part of the city with mostly four-story buildings, this is pretty damn cool!

View of Amsterdam historic city center De Wallen from Oude Kerk Amsterdam

I loved looking out on the busy Oudezijds Voorburgwal (try saying that 10 times fast!), the main artery of the Red Light District.

View of Oudezijds Voorburgwal from Oude Kerk AmsterdamFrom a distance and in the sunshine, it loses its neon-lit seediness and could be any charming, picturesque Amsterdam canal.

View of Dutch canal houses from Oude Kerk Amsterdam

It’s also a rare treat to see the characteristic gables that crown Amsterdam’s canal houses practically at eye level. A feast of details for those who love that kind of thing, as I do.

White wall Oude Kerk Amsterdam Taturo Aztu

I love a good wall to take portraits against, and the best one in Amsterdam right now is this one on top of the Oude Kerk. Thank you Taturo Aztu!

Solo portrait at Oude Kerk Amsterdam Taturo Aztu installation

With sunshine reflected off its pristine whiteness, it creates the best natural lighting ever.

Oude Kerk Amsterdam clock tower

While waiting for the clock to strike three, we spent the time chatting, taking pictures and sunbathing. It feels pretty special to be this close to the oldest clock tower in the city when it chimes its hourly tune.

“The Garden Which is the Nearest to God” by Taturo Aztu is at the Oude Kerk Amsterdam until the 6th of September 2015. Book tickets online at the Oude Kerk website.

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New York street art: The Bushwick Collective

Turns out my Lower East Side street art walk was just an appetizer. I had to have more street art… more, more, more! After some research, I discovered that in terms of the highest concentration of street art, the industrial area of Bushwick in Brooklyn was one of the best places for New York street art—if not the best.

I booked another street art walk with Graff Tours to see The Bushwick Collective, an initiative that has transformed a barren area of concrete warehouses and brick walls into a sprawling outdoor art gallery.

Brooklyn street art The Bushwick Collective

Street artists from all over the world come to The Bushwick Collective to do what they do best—create art. Perhaps having such a big legal zone for graffiti means you lose some things—that spirit of rebellious defiance , or maybe that moment of surprise that comes when a piece of street art pops out in the midst of all that urban grit.

But in exchange, artists get the luxury of time and space. For us lucky bystanders, that translates into sheer scale…

Brooklyn street art The Bushwick Collective awesome mural


and some truly amazing detail.

Brooklyn street art The Bushwick Collective family


It’s easy to just stroll the wide, empty streets of the Bushwick Collective and lose yourself in all this street art. Almost literally, in Tala’s case!

Brooklyn street art The Bushwick Collective toadstool baby


This post doesn’t even cover half of what the Bushwick Collective has to offer. New walls come up often and the area is still changing. It was hard to choose my favorites, but here’s my attempt. Wanna see?

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New York street art: Lower East Side

What I’ve been most excited to blog about from our recent New York trip can be summed up in two words: street art!

I went on my first street art walk in Granada, Spain in 2006, and since then I’ve been hooked. Historically, graffiti may not have originated in the Big Apple, but New York’s urban hip-hop culture in the 70s and 80s definitely helped shape graffiti as we know it. Seeing the city’s street art was a must-do for me; in a way, being in New York felt a lot like being in the birthplace of modern graffiti.

Most of today’s post comes from a New York street art walk I booked with Graff Tours, which I highly recommend if street art is your thing. I also ended up going back to the Lower East Side on a few other days and spotting a few pieces on my own.

New York street art Lower East Side Maya Hayuk mural

My favorite comes first: a piece by Brooklyn-based artist Maya Hayuk (who’s also on Instagram). Symmetry, pattern and jaw-dropping color? Yes please! This is only part of a mural that takes up a huge wall off the Bowery. Different artists are invited to paint on the wall each season, so this might not even be there anymore.

New York street art Lower East Side Maya Hayuk drips

Love those drips and splatters on the gravel, too.

New York street art Lower East Side Shepard Fairey Obey

Some street artists have reached worldwide renown, such as Shepard Fairey (best known for his OBEY sticker campaign and iconic Obama poster)…

New York street art Lower East Side Space Invader Snow White

… and the modern mosaics of Space Invader (or is he just Invader now?).

New York street art Lower East Side throwups

But for every former graffiti punk who’s turned “legit” and achieved global fame, there are thousands more in relative obscurity, telling their stories in spray paint, ink, yarn, paper, paste, stickers, stencils and more. And they’re worth discovering, too.

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Paris museums: Modern art at Centre Georges Pompidou

Once you’ve ticked the obligatory tourist boxes, Paris really begins to open up. Though it’s within walking distance of the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay, the Centre Georges Pompidou seems to get only a fraction of the crowds that besiege its neighboring museum heavyweights.

None of those for me this time around. I decided to dedicate an entire afternoon to the Centre Pompidou’s high-tech urban architecture and vast collection of modern and contemporary art.

Paris Centre Georges Pompidou

The most striking thing about the building, obviously, is the glass-encased escalator that snakes up and across the facade. Architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers designed the building so that all facilities for public movement and technical equipment would be funneled (their word was “centrifuged”) outside, leaving the inside floors completely free and usable.

Paris Centre Georges Pompidou with stroller

Because I had Tala with me in a stroller, I didn’t get to ride the famous escalators. Boo. But that’s okay. What wasn’t okay was wrestling with the effects of a nasty oyster, leaving me in a less than ideal mindset to, ehem, digest all that modern and contemporary (and, let’s face it, hard to understand) art.

So there I was with a baby, dashing to the bathroom every half hour, soaked in a cold sweat and feeling pukey. But never underestimate the power of art to penetrate even the worst of oyster-induced agonies. Here are few of my favorite works from the museum’s collection, and—I’ll save the best for last—the most spectacularly unmissable thing about the Centre Pompidou.

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Hand lettering project: Sketches to final artwork

Yesterday, I blogged about the hand lettering class on Skillshare that’s been my main creative outlet this fall. I shared the inspiration behind the phrase I chose to work on, which was a song lyric from the ’80s fantasy film Labyrinth.

Today I want to show you how the inspiration I gathered evolved into sketches, and eventually, into a final inked drawing. Letterer Mary Kate McDevitt goes through these steps in detail and packs lots of tips and tricks into her video lessons. So I highly recommend signing up for the class if you want to learn more about the whole process!

After soaking up visual inspiration, it was time to prop up my mood boards in front of me, put pencil to paper and warm up by trying out different styles of lettering.

Lettering warmups

I hadn’t drawn anything in months, so my first warmup (on the left) was painful. Personally, I found my first attempt quite atrocious. “Que horror!” I thought to myself in dismay while rubbing my aching hand. “Maybe hand lettering isn’t for me?”

But soon I discovered why it’s called a warmup—muscles need to loosen up and get used to producing letters. If you look from left to right, you’ll see my succeeding warmups improved. After a few tries, I was able to start playing around with elements from my inspiration boards, like gems, jewels and floating or tumbling letters.


The next step was to sketch small, quick thumbnails to try out a few possible layouts. At this point, I decided to contain the entire phrase in a tilted globe to convey the idea of a turning world.

Rough sketches

Then I chose the most promising thumbnails to refine and develop in more detail.

Refined sketchThis was my first detailed sketch. Patience is not one of my virtues, so it still shocks me to think I spent almost three straight hours working on this—drawing, erasing and redrawing, over and over again. I like to obsess over little details (something my watercolor teacher hated), so drawing all these tiny jewels felt almost therapeutic for me.

Final pencil sketchOnce I reached a refined sketch that I was happy with, I laid a sheet of tracing paper over it and retraced it (no way was I going to draw the whole thing from scratch!). Thanks to feedback from Mary Kate and my Skillshare classmates, I knew that everything south of the banner was pretty solid—I just had to work on the top half of the globe to make the words more readable and fit together better.

After lots of trial and error, retracing and redrawing, it was finally time to commit—to do the final inking.

Oh you turned my world you precious thing final

And here it is: my final inked hand-lettered quote! I want to print it out and put it up in Tala’s room, so I’m eyeing Mary Kate’s class on how to add color, texture and finishing touches.

It all seems easy when I sum everything up in one post, but this took more effort and time than I expected—an hour here, two hours there, carved out and compounded over weeks. I wouldn’t have been as patient if I hadn’t watched the videos of Mary Kate developing her own artwork with such care and attention to detail.

What do you think of my attempt at hand lettering? I’d love to know!

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