Friday Night: Two Friends in a Prague Pub, watercolor by Maria Praha

Czech Sketchbook: An Illustrated Guide to a Foreigner’s Prague

Maria Praha's sketches and paintings capture the joys -- and difficulties -- of an expat living in the Czech capital

Maria Praha was born in the former USSR in 1972; an English teacher and interpreter, she relocated to Prague in 2012 via a small town outside Tel Aviv and has been portraying the Czech capital in paper, ink, and watercolor ever since.

Her sketches are a meditation on the expat experience, capturing everything from Czech traditions to busy street scenes as well as unflinching glimpses of modern Prague.

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View of Prague from Střelecký ostrov, watercolor

“Moving to Prague was extremely challenging since I had to answer questions [about] who I am, what I am going to do, where I want to be,” she says.

“It was a serious identity crisis and painting, drawing every day was very important, especially when I received positive feedback from people around me – it signaled that I am in the right place.”

Praha’s sketches have been featured at Days of Jerusalem in Prague as well as an exhibit at the Kafka House. She has several works in private collections in the US, Israel, and Russia and is currently offering art workshops, drawing tours, and artist retreats in Prague and the Czech Republic.

View from Náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad.

She says of sketching the parks, cafés, and people of Prague: “Art saved me. I had something to concentrate on, to anticipate, to enjoy. Going out to sketch allowed me to immerse [myself] in the atmosphere of a new place. I also made many wonderful friends: people who wanted to join me when I went out to sketch.”

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Her work speaks to the unique challenges many of us face as foreigners in the Czech Republic. She says it has given her access to what can feel like a closed-off society:

“Prague is a creature, it can show us its polished touristy side, we can see its ugly side, too. But only when it trusts you enough it will open up and you will be able to see the real Prague: gentle, funny, and wise.”

Café Vanille at Náměstí Míru tram stop.

Combining the tradition of both the contemporary urban sketch and the more historical approach of fauvists such as Raoul Dufy with the playful edge of Russian illustrator Alisa Yufa, Praha’s work reflects on the importance of patience in both life and art.

“Listen to yourself, take some time to be alone, to wander around, be a flaneur, enjoy little things first, the big ones will follow. It takes time. With some places and cultures, ‘the click’ will happen immediately. With others, you will need to work for it.”

Černín Palace Garden next to the Loreta.

Below are some additional drawings, extraordinary renderings of ordinary moments in Prague, by Maria Praha, who adopted this alias as her artistic identity upon relocating to the Czech lands.

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“Moving to Prague I started a completely new life. In Jewish tradition changing places and especially names can change a person’s fate; it’s said in Hebrew ‘you change the place – you change your luck.’

Senovážné náměstí, Prague.
My daughter, who was 9 at the time we moved, had a lot of difficulties to adapt, and I drew comics about our experience.
Being able to draw people inspires me. Every person has a story, and while drawing, I always think: “What do I want to tell?”
Sketching Prague…offers the possibility to see the city much deeper than when simply walking around or taking pictures.
Cafés are great. Sometimes I go to a touristy place or a café that only locals know like this one where local musicians rehearse swing and jazz.
I love my sketch-based illustrations, too: this one from Letná, with two women in burkas on a bench in front of a nude statue, was considered a provocation by many.
On a Prague-bound train from Teplice.
Summer in Prague.
My friend’s cat. I didn’t want to draw the safety net, but she insisted.
A girl having lunch at a pub in Prague.
A girl I saw at the annual “Witch Burning” (Pálení čarodějnic) event in Prague’s Malá Strana.
Café Neustadt, Prague.
Letní Letná circus festival.
A sketch of the rooftops I see from my balcony.

Connect with Marie Praha on Facebook and Instagram.

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