Saturday, December 27, 2008

Life begins at...

Take heart. Everyone in this picture, except one, is well over 50. And we are as silly as ever.

A few faithful friends trooped down to Toulouse to see Handspring's riveting production of the Monteverdi opera, Il Ritorno d'Ulisse. After the show, we crossed town to down oysters at Antoine's restaurant. Oysters had all been consumed, but nevertheless Antoine uncorked a few bottles of wine and threw together a veritable feast. He also bolted the doors and refused to release us until 3:30 am.

Here is the review of the Venice production of the opera from the International Herald Tribune.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

La Mer et les Rochers

Late on Monday afternoon, I found an alarming message from my model Clare on my answer phone. She was snowed in and couldn't free up her car to come and model for the group.

Aargh! This meant that I would have to stand in the for the model as it was too late to cancel the evening. Then I thought of a neighbouring pal and called him up. Could he/would he fill in for Clare? Caught off guard and lacking an excuse, he agreed.

"It's very different drawing a man," I told the group. "Drawing a woman is like capturing a poem on paper. With men, one has to study the anatomy, the skeletal structure, the muscle groups, the angular shapes. The male body is more about power..."

Jean-Louis sighed. "It's the difference between drawing the sea and the rocks."

I struggled with these sketches and threw them all in the bin. That extra fatty layer on women really helps fudge anatomical mistakes. But today I looked at them again and think they're not too bad. Struggling can make a drawing more interesting.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Original spirit

Some of my favourite drawings of models are done in the blink of an eye. But now I am wanting to work some of these sketches up into oil paintings. My first effort was a mess, but here is my second effort. Better.

In tomorrow's drawing session, I am going to sketch directly onto canvas. It's difficult to repeat the initial energy of a study.

Dragon redux

Yesterday I got a fan email from Tamara, a grown up kid who loved my book Emma's Dragon Hunt, published about twenty-five years ago.

Well thank you Tamara.

Here is my favourite review of this book sent to me soon after publication by Happy Moselle:

Did your grandpa rily do that trik? Do you rily live in Japan? I rily like your story. Please make anothr stor abot a dragen.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Seaside sketchbook

The vielle ville of Villefranche-sur-Mer is exquisite, but I have battled with the colourful palette painting here demands. In the Lot, the houses are stone and for the most part, the shutters are either grey or brown. The landscape is green, green and more green.

Here the houses are every shade of yellow and red and some are even blue and turquoise, and the sea is emerald, blue, pink, grey, silver and even gold depending on the time of day.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea...

A little escape to a late summer in southeast France: a painting holiday in Villefranche sur Mer. View is from the small apartment of lovely new friends (students from a 2008 watercolour workshop) in the old town.

Bad weather caught up with me today so tomorrow its off to Italy...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

One-eyed gargoyle

Sushicat lost an eye this summer. He gets a kick out of spooking unsuspecting tourists, posing as a gargoyle.

Cat naps

Here are some of my drawings from last Monday's sketch evening. Alisa was actually wearing a two piece bathing suit, but I ignored it. It is very important for the model to feel comfortable posing in front of a group of painters. If the models are self-conscious, they make the whole evening uncomfortable and awkward for everyone else. But as I have not been running these evenings very long, I can't often find experienced models to pose for us.

This was the first time Alisa had posed, and she was terrific. She was very relaxed: almost like a cat stretched out next to the fireplace

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Oh Happy Days!

Four years ago I flew back to the US to vote the day before the election, and fell asleep as the returns were still coming in, secure that the country was turning blue, but woke up to four more years of W. I packed up my apartment and bags and moved to the country of cheese eating surrender monkeys. (OK ok, the fact that my lovely apartment had been turned into a windowless cellar had something to do with it.)

Last night I didn't take any chances and stayed up till 5:30 am. I chewed my fingernails to the bone, worried that inherent racists and tax-stingy plutocrats would sway the election, no matter what they or the polls said.

This morning I woke up singing and am sitting here in front of my computer looking at the photos on The New York Times website, tears streaming down my cheeks! This is the happiest I've been since I voted for Madiba!

It's pissing with rain here but my day is full of sunshine! Wish I was there to celebrate.


Friday, October 31, 2008

Third time lucky- hooray!

I have done the jacket for this picture book three times now. I still prefer the first jacket I did- the wintery scene on the front cover contrasting with the warm African memory of boys playing soccer on the back cover, but the editors found the image too sad. The story is about a young Somalian refugee, and being a fellow African, I wanted to emphasize his homesickness and alienation. I spent a year at the University of London, and all the southern Africans in my residence used to sit together eating our stodgy toads-in-the-hole and fish'nchips, commiserating over the long cold grey English winter days.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Local traffic jam

One of my watercolour students sent me this shot taken on a bike ride after class one evening. No point in being in a rush on these small roads.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bookbinding workshop (that's reliure in French)

Last Sunday I took an afternoon bookbinding workshop offered by an ex-watercolour student, Anne-Marie Mamet. She and her husband Jean-Pierre, have quit Paris for the peace and calm of country life, and opened an French/English bookshop in the lovely village of Salviac, not far from me.

In the left photograph, a student is sewing a signature together. She will later, hammer the spine into a nice round shape, glue on headbands, boards, and a cover chosen from Anne-Marie's colourful array of patterned paper. Anne-Marie is on the right. She often works late into the night restoring old books, always accompanied by the faithful Bono.

Anne-Marie and I are discussing joining forces next summer. On the last afternoon of each class, students could bind their exercises or small paintings into a book: a nice practical momento of their time here.

Schmaltzy photo

Every blogger with a beast in the house has to post at least one schmaltzy photo of him. Here's mine.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

2008 Vendange

On Sunday morning, locals were roused from sleep by my neighbour Eugene Monteil (aka Monsieur Monmouton) to harvest his grapes. By 5:30 that evening, I had to remind my aching back and cramped thighs that being invited to the vendange is an honour.

And it is. We were rewarded that night with the annual feast of traditional homemade fare prepared by Eugene's sister, Bertholine, a judge who recessed her court in the Comores to dish up chicken noodle soup, melon, patés, beetroot/egg salad, grilled Aveyron sausage, cassoulet, cheeses, green salad, and finally fruit salad and cakes. Ah yes, and to aid the digestion of our replete tummies, a generous glass of prune- the local firewater distilled from plums.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

War Horse

Adrian Kohler, who made the wonderful puppets for the National Theatre's production of War Horse, was at art school with me in Cape Town. The horses are astonishingly lifelike and reduce every member of the audience to tears by the end of the performance.

The production is in its second run, and anyone who visits London and misses the chance to see it will sorely regret it.

Click to see an interview with Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler, and the horses in action.

What to teach a child prodigy

A few weeks ago I received an email from Singapore from a mother who wanted to bring her young daughter, Dawn Quon, to study with me. Dawn has not only executed large vibrant paintings, but had solo exhibitions and raised thousands of dollars for children's charities all over southeast Asia. She was 8 when she painted this picture.

My response: just keep her working. She is doing just fine on her own. But at the same time, I have offered to host her if she wants to come and paint in southwest France.

"Naughty" jacket

I sold this art, originally done for the cover for The Day We Danced in Underpants, last summer. I have just found this copy, and am pleased that I photographed it before letting it go.

It was rejected as being too risqué. Love it! Here again is the cover that was published:

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Harriet Quimby

This is why I haven't been able to post much lately. I am really behind on the illustrations for a picture book about the aviatrix Harriet Quimby. She was the first woman in America to get her pilot's license, and the first woman to fly across the English Channel. But the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank a day later and the disaster knocked Harriet's feat off the front page. Soon after, she herself was killed while flying in an airshow, so it's a rather somber tale. It's my job to make the book compelling with stunning illustrations...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tone, and regret

This is another of my favourite watercolourists:
John Knapp-Fischer, who painted mostly in Wales but also in the Cape (South Africa). I use his work often to demonstrate the importance of tone in the composition and drama of a work.

I had the chance to buy a triptych of his small sketches in Cape Town years ago but didn't, and have been regretting it ever since. Now when I am drawn to a piece of work, if I have the money, I buy it.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Preparing for the show

Members of the English painting group were adding last touches and matts to their works last night, getting ready for the show in the gallery on Friday night. I took a few candid shots.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Old friends

Wonderful how old friends resurface in one's life. I knew Petra when I was an art student almost 35 years ago and we reconnected in England last year. Every year towards the end of summer, Petra and her group of acolytes travel to Spain, Greece or Morocco to paint together. This year she brought them to Rignac for two weeks. Twelve people are painting the village inside out: houses, church, alleys, cows, goats, chickens, ducks, Rignacois, pots, gardens, trees, electrical boxes, dumpsters: everything is fodder to their relentless scribbling pencils and swishing brushes.
In the evening, the group convenes for wine and the days oevres are analysed, discussed and crited before dinner. Locals will be invited to the group show on Friday and have their chance to throw in their two cents.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Panic, frustration, amusement

Checking over my website today, I was horrified to see a large naked Lucien Freud style man on my More Watercolour Portraits of Children page. I realised that I had named and uploaded a life drawing study using the file name of a little boy I had painted, so had unwittingly replaced the image. It has taken me the better part of an afternoon to find another copy of the original portrait, change the file name, and upload it. I am really too old for this website stuff and have been sweating bloody bullets correcting my site! At least the drawing is relatively discreet.

Price tags...

Last night my local town, Gramat, had a marché nocturne for several invited artists and artisans. The old covered market hall was swept clean of vegetable debris and tables were set up. The weather, after several overcast and chilly days, blessed us with a golden late summer evening. It was the first event of its kind in Gramat, and we were all suprised by the large number of people wandering the square and town, including many lively children. Dramatic sparks blazed as an ironworker constructed a sculpture of objets trouvés, a wood turner produced delicate bowls and mustard spoons, while next to me a bookbinder sewed pages together on an old wooden apparatus. We had all been asked to demonstrate our various crafts, so I painted impromptu watercolour coqs, butterflies, cats, cows, goats and even a crocodile dragon at the request of small (and even not so small) children on cut card bookmarks.

I sold a few children's books and posters, but no art. There was a fair amount of muttering over my prices. This is always a difficult decision for artists, and I price my work fairly intuitively. If I think a painting or drawing is special, I want to be sure that the purchaser values the work as much as I do, so I make them stretch themselves a bit financially to obtain it. If I don't have a special attachment to a piece, I am ready to let it go fairly cheaply. I find the painting of the church, which I did in one of my classes last year as a demonstration, rather pedestrian so was willing to let it go for 125 euros. The drawing of the man, however, is much more interesting, so I priced it at 275 euros. They are about the same size.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Virtual Summer

Not much of a summer for me this year. I am working flat out. So Lucy Willis beach scenes are especially appealing. She is one of my favourite watercolourists- very carefully observed and sensitively painted records of international travel as well as portraiture, architecture, figures and still lives. Have a look at her website:

Friday, August 15, 2008

A call from the past...

Phone rang early this morning. It was Annie, who lived with my family in New Orleans as our jeune fille au pair. Annie and her husband live in New Caledonia, but are in France for the summer and were passing through. I tracked Annie down through the Protestant Church in Perpignan about ten years ago, where her dad was the pastor. Annie was supposed to revive my French- I had been fluent as a little girl in Paris. I remember being pretty resistant and must have been a terrible charge, but something must have rubbed off on me because here I am living in Rignac, and talking a blue French streak.


On the way home from collecting my pictures from the exhibition in St Yrieix, I stopped to visit Marqueyssac, the magical gardens spread over a limestone bluff above the Dordogne. From here one takes in the whole fabulous panorama of the Dordogne river, the castles of Beynac and Castelnau, and the villages of Domme and La Roque Gageac. As the light faded, the full moon was aided by thousands of candles lining the convoluted paths of this Italian inspired garden. A group of musicians strummed Jango Reinhart compilations on the grassy promenade, and near the pavilion, an organ grinder with a rich voice filled the night with his sad songs of failed love.

Marqueyssac will definitely be on the itinerary next year for a painting workshop.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Launching of the Virtual Gallery

I am finally beginning to upload some work from my Barn Gallery to my Virtual Gallery, starting with the Boudoir Haiku (life drawing studies) because they are what interest me most at the moment.

More to follow on a regular basis.

The art is all for sale and prices range between 125 and 750 euros.

Here is the webpage:

And here are photos from the Real Gallery.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Humble Pie

The day dawned grey and cloudy, but I was excited as I packed up my paints and brushes and set off for Thegra, a local village that was having a painting day. This is a common event in rural France. Several of us paid our 8 euro registration fee at the table in front of the church and then separated to various parts of the village to set up our easels. I chose a view of the town from the middle of a field. We gathered together for a communal lunch at one, and then hurried back to our oevres: we had to finish by 4:30! I hadn't counted on the sun breaking through the clouds and by four pm I was epuissée, but relatively happy with my day's work. After the local children seranaded us with songs, the speeches started and finally prizes were awarded. We all got a prize: 1st prize down to 8th prize. Then came Most Original, Most Popular, Youngest Painter, Oldest Painter, and finally Honorable Mention- which was awarded to me along with a pass to the local labyrinth. Champagne was handed out to all present, which made the humble pie a little easier to swallow.