Spent Monday night painting with my group as usual in the studio. We had
a fabulous model who has posed for us in the past but sadly doesn't
want to anymore. She has a fabulous body, very powerful for a woman with
As it was my birthday, I bought two bottles of Blanquette de Limoux
for our break and baked an apple nut cake, but I didn't have enough eggs so softened the batter
with a little cream and ended up with a soupy mess. But the group had
caught wind of the event and surprised me with a delicious homemade
chocolate cake and two bottles of champagne-the real thing. Can't beat
the French for style.
A perfect birthday in spite of grey sky and drizzle. Merci mes amis!
Rounded up a few locals into my studio for a dinner to help ease me into my sixth decade...sheesh. Couldn't bring myself to getting much of a meal together- too much stressing about the bloody driving exams... so made a big pot of fish and mussel chowder supplemented with foie gras, good champagne, cheeses and a green salad, and followed by creme caramel and fruit salad. Think I got away with it: merriment spilled into the wee hours.
Karen Lynn Williams and I got to know each other when we were paired up by our editor, Dorothy Briley, to do a book together. Karen and Steve, her husband, lived and worked in Malawi as Peace Corps volunteers, and Karen had written Galimoto. We have continued to work together on several projects and have visited each other in Haiti, New York and most recently in France where I persuaded Karen to join my life drawing class.
Here is her account of the evening: The Nude
Figure drawing class, France
It is the delicate features;
Nose and mouth and brows
Which the artist sees.
The model, naked
wears a studied malaise
larger than life, she is “full”
a kind word.
Look at her fingers,
The artist says,
beautiful and the wisps of curl
about her face, beautiful
breasts full to her waist
if one could see
the waist in her folds.
The artist does not see the scar;
the nude has had her stomach
shrunken(for a short time
as these things seem to go)
the folds of flesh cascade to
thighs larger than two of mine,
The artist says
try a wash, fill it with color,
you see the design
there on her robe interesting, no?
the turn of her neck,
the angle of her chin.
Five minute poses
like a poem, no?
the artist says
a new pose
the figure turns away
arms thrown up, head tilted
bold angle and arc of her back
draw the eye
to light at play with the dark twist of her neck
to form lines thick and thin in turn
flow across the page
the back a soft milk white roundness
the texture of the nude
her arms swing down
and a slender finger tip dips just so
toward the dusk silk pillow on the floor.
I was debating with my friend Basil once about whether subject or style was more important in a painting. I was arguing that any subject, in skilled hands, could be elevated into something of merit: think Cezanne's apples, Morandi's pots, and Caravaggio's natures mortes.
I have also been struggling recently to push myself beyond what I refer to as "so what?" work. Robert Genn used my note to him on this subject as one of his letters: http://clicks.robertgenn.com/so-what.php
To this end, I have been reworking old pieces to see if through persistence and play, I can make anything of them.
Reworking forms and adding some texture, contrast and detail has helped, but now I look at this picture and all I see is some throwback to the 60's. Time to move on.
We spend one morning in my watercolour workshop focusing on textures and how to achieve different ones using various methods of repelling and resisting pigments, stenciling, stamping, blotting up, spraying, using dry and wet brushes of different shapes, etc.
In the afternoon, I lead everyone through a fantasy painting. There are three approaches to painting: from direct observation, using reference, and pure imagination. The latter is the most difficult to teach and do, to my mind, so I lead everyone through various initial steps to acheive a purely invented but three dimensional landscape, acheiving a sense of space and distance using the studies we made in the morning
The paintings inevitably end up rather kitsche and are my least favourite of the week, but nevertheless serve a useful purpose and I find myself constantly referring back to this exercise the following week when we are painting in the field.
I refer to this day of superficial effects as my Bob Ross Day. Bob Ross was an extremely successful American artist, in financial terms, who demonstrated on television shows how to paint instant art to impress your family and friends...
In my watercolour class, we spend one day studying and working on tone. I get the students to mix up a bistre, a mixture of all the primary colours to get dark browns and blacks to work with, and then I set up a composition using old pots and kettles that I find in local flea markets.
I had ended up with some straightforward exercises that were a fairly dull, so I then jazzed them up by swashing more dark washes here and there, covering them with kitchen film wrap that I then scrunched up, and left to dry.
I am sure Morandi would turn in his grave if he knew I refered to the these exercises as Morandi Day...
This is another still texture/edges/colour/composition still life study I painted for my class over the summer. The upper right corner was a bit of a muddy mess, so I have just drawn in another sunflower and some foliage which has improved it, but the problem is the poor composition: the large sunflower in the middle of the picture. Always a mistake.
I might cut the paper down and just save the artichokes and peaches which I rather like. It's important to figure out why something doesn't work before moving on.
Not always easy finding models in rural areas, but we were lucky enough to find a lovely new one recently. Marjolein is of Dutch and Indonesian parentage and has elegant long limbs and a lovely golden skin. She has also modeled professionally before and falls naturally into beautiful poses.
I am still battling to find my way in "art", but drawing and painting the human form comes closest to summoning the presence of my muse. Only when I am totally immersed in
and absorbed in work, even a very simple sketch, does she allow
something magical to happen and I become aware of a faint heartbeat and
gentle breath emanating from my brush.
My delight at seeing workmen removing the old handmade tiles from the witchy little barn next the stream was short lived as I realised that they were not preparing to repair the roof, but to demolish the barn itself.
For years, my students and I have been painting this centuries old Quercy barn, a hundred meters or so from my studio. The owners, who live in Paris, claim not to have the money to repair the barn and have been badgering our mayor for permission to pull it down. He resisted for years, until the roof became in danger of collapsing.
My friend Petra Röhr-Roendahl painted the sketch, below.
RIP little barn. At least you will remain in our drawings and thoughts.
This was one of the scenes I scheduled for the second week of my watercolour workshop. Domme is a bastide town that sits on an impregnable bluff above the Dordogne River (or so the inhabitants thought, until they were surprised by an attack by the Protestants during the One Hundred Year's War who scaled the cliffs.)
September and October are my favourite months here, with warm sunny days and crisp nights. The painting is mine. Note the little yellow kayaks.
My heart did a little flipflop when I spotted this camper car in the parking lot at Domme. I couldn't resist tiptoeing around the van and peering in through the chintz curtains at the neatly arranged kitchen and table that could be lowered and rearranged into a bed. Then I cheekily stuck my card under the windshield wiper with a note, asking them to contact me if they ever decide to sell it. I feel like the wallflower sitting next to the phone on a Saturday evening.
I gave up New York in early 2005 to see if I could live happily year round in a small village in southwest France. I hoped, by getting away from the constant bombardment of big city distractions, to be able to focus on my own creative work. I see this blog as a bit of a record of this time in my life.