A Trail of Travelling Art

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Outside the Basilica of St. Babila there is a man with deep brown eyes, an empty cup and less than ten toes. He smiled at the sketch of San Babila for a while after I walked away, and then quietly slipped it into his pocket.

By: Sarah Rose De Villiers

Some people leave ribbons of footprints, clouds of floating notes or paths of broken hearts. I prefer to leave a trail of scribbled art.

I’m a Rhodes University student and I’m living in Milan for three months as an English tutor to an Italian family.

So while I’m here, I’m spending my spare time exploring the city. I’m sketching the stories, scenes and souls that I see and then giving the artworks away. This is how I’ve learned to draw and it’s how I like to live.

A magnificent statue stands in the entrance of Brera Academy, so I sketched the fairy-holding figure and turned the page into a paper plane. Before I could decide what to do with it, it blew off the balcony and landed on top of a pillar.

Although I can’t speak any Italian, I’m experiencing the city in the language of images, art and adventure. I’m documenting part of the journey by telling the story of the sketches I give away on my Facebook page.

Maybe it’s absurd, but I’ve found that dark marks on an empty page can inspire smiles, conversations and a language beyond words. While the sketches that express my appreciation are scruffy and free, they draw interesting people to me.

More than that, these traces of art seem to draw something out of people – glistening eyes, sincere smiles and a quick glimpse of their heart. So I keep sketching and sharing these little bits of art in the hope that I can leave a trail of love while I explore this part of Italy and travel through my life.

I somehow ended up in a Giotto exhibition, where I sketched while the audioguide spilled enriching information about a timeless artist. A group of young school kids were being taken around the exhibit, and they crowded around me to watch a black pen scratch across a little white page. When their teacher called them into the next part of the display, some of the children lingered a little longer to introduce themselves to me. At the end of the exhibit I gave the sketch to their teacher, who laughed as she tried to hush a chorus of “Thank you’s” from an excited group of grateful humans
While I waited outside Santa Marie Della Grazie for the tour of Da Vinci’s Last Supper, I sketched the church again.After we raced through the pretty place and I’d sketched some faces from the magnificent mural, the tour guide asked if I was studying art. I told her I wasn’t, but gave her this scruffy sketch.The woman who sees Leonardo’s mural everyday said: “Thank you! You have made emotion in me!” and gave me a beautiful hug.
The woman who helped organise my tutoring job in Milan treated me to a delicious cup of chocolate and chats. This little sketch now sits on the table in her entrance hall and waits for a glass frame so that the other side, which is a sketched study of another art exhibition, can also be displayed
I gave this sketch to the laughing man who served me a lovely coffee and little treat at a cafe in the corner of the park.These pretty birds loved the crumbs of cake and tartlets, and flittered under the changing trees.
Museo del Novecento houses the most phenomenal collection of contemporary art, and I left my sketched study of the works with the woman behind the ticket counter
He was asking for money but I gave him a drawing instead. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but the language of laughter and smiles said everything

Museo Pac –Padiglione d’arte contemporanea, has a truly twisted mural on its outside wall.So I gave this sketch to the lady behind the counter after getting my ticket for an exhibition of radical architecture. She was radically entertained
A man who works for UNICEF sat beside me on a bench and he shared more wisdom than I could capture in words.We parted ways promising to improve our spaces and troubled places.
In Gallerie d’Italia, there’s a breathtaking exhibition of Franceso Hayez (famous for his paintings of The Kiss), and incredible contemporary art.Art students are granted free entry. Although I’m not technically studying art, I got in for free (twice) and had to show my gratitude.The ticket guy behind the counter couldn’t have been more excited or appreciative.
On Friday night the most stylishly Italian woman I could imagine came for supper.I had to sketch her look the following morning. She was tremendously excited about a photo of the sketch, that of course I gave her the collection of colours and lines.
Inside Il Duomo, St Bartholomew flayed is a sculpture that stands with his skin draped over his shoulders and wrapped around his waist.It’s a phenomenal testimony to man and marble, time and talent. I did this little sketch for the woman I’m working for – it’s her favourite sculpture in the cathdral and it was the perfect excuse to spend time in the ribcage of the city
An obligatory selfie and self portrait while I explore Milan.
I somehow ended up in a Giotto exhibition, where I sketched while the audioguide spilled enriching information about a timeless artist. A group of young school kids were being taken around the exhibit, and they crowded around me to watch a black pen scratch across a little white page. When their teacher called them into the next part of the display, some of the children lingered a little longer to introduce themselves to me. At the end of the exhibit I gave the sketch to their teacher, who laughed as she tried to hush a chorus of “Thank you’s” from an excited group of grateful humans
A magnificent statue stands in the entrance of Brera Academy, so I sketched the fairy-holding figure and turned the page into a paper plane. Before I could decide what to do with it, it blew off the blacony and landed on top of a pillar.
Outside the Basilica of St. Babila there is a man with deep brown eyes, an empty cup and less than ten toes. He smiled at the sketch of San Babila for a while after I walked away, and then quietely slipped it into his pocket.

by Sarah Rose De Villiers. Follow her art on the ARTicles by Sarah Rose de Villiers Facebook page.

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