Saturday, December 18, 2010

Peace and Joy

Blistering cold in Rignac, but as long as I press rolled towels at the bottom of the door to keep out draughts and the woodstove chock-a-block, the barn is pretty toasty.

Ventured out for an art exhibition on the causse.

But now am home, fat and sleepy and bearsnug under the quilts. Cats on the pillows and dogs on my feet. We're staying hidden until spring.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hands and feet

I don't really do any teaching in the Monday evening drawing class unless someone asks me to review their work. But one thing I mentioned last week was that the ends of arms and legs need to be resolved in well observed and drawn hands and feet.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fête de truffes

As if there weren't enough feasts at this time of the year... My good friend Elisabeth invited me to the Truffle Festival in Cuzance on Saturday. We spent the whole afternoon contending with

• Toast with truffle butter and champagne
• Velouté with truffles
• Foie Gras with truffles and Sauterne
• Omelette with truffles in a millefeuilles pastry shell
• Duck breast with truffled mashed potatoes and Cahors wine
• Cabecou and salad
• Petit Fours and coffee

Oink oink...or rather groin groin...

Monday, December 06, 2010


Was rousted from bed this morning by a phone call from someone in St Céré. She has my new pants that I threw by mistake into the garbage three weeks ago!

Sheesh. Not sure that I want them back... but I need to take her some flowers to thank her.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


I came across an interesting word recently: neoteny. The dictionary defines it as "the retention of juvenile features in the adult animal." It struck a chord as throughout my adult life, I seem to have irritated and subsequently been dismissed by some serious acquaintances for my playful disposition.

But according to Stuart Brown in his Ted Talk, playfulness is not only important in creation, but can be vital for survival.

In my experience, intellectual and artistic posturing often is deployed to cover up derivative and mediocre thinking. True creativity and thought requires fresh and honest endeavour.

"It takes a very long time to become young." –– Picasso

"The rich and the idlers seek the new, the extraordinary, the extravagant and the scandalous. I have contented these people with all the many bizarre things that come into my head. The less they understand, the more they admire it. By amusing myself with all these games, all this nonsense, all these picture puzzles, I became famous. I am only a public entertainer who has understood his time." ––Picasso

Friday, November 19, 2010

Emily and Carlo Sketches

I started Early - Took my Dog -
And visited the Sea -
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me -

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I believe the expression is...


I went to St Céré to buy a couple of pairs of winter corduroy pants in the market. Then I took the mushrooms that I had collected the previous day to a pharmacy to see if they were edible. The pharmacist said that they wouldn't kill me, but that they weren't particularly good to eat, so I dropped them in the rubbish bin on my way to lunch at the Lieu Commun.

When I arrived, my packet of mushrooms was still in my basket. I had thrown my new pairs of pants into the locked trash can. After lunch, with blushing cheeks, I explained to the women at the Mairie that I had mixed up my packages and asked if I could somehow retrieve my bag of pants. But the bin is a pretty sophisticated contraption that looks a bit like US Mailbox: everything drops down into a three meter deep waste container underground. Nevertheless two big strapping men came to see if we could fish out my plastic bag. Suddenly we were surrounded by twenty town inspectors showing off their new disposal system and wanting to know what we were doing. And I had to explain to them all what I had done...

Next time, and unfortunately there will probably be a next time, I will be content to just lose the pants, and save some face. (The flowers are just to make me feel better.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Evening Walk

My dizziness is finally dissipating and I have been going for long afternoon walks with Thabo using my two walking sticks to stabilise me. I am not quite ready to return to Gym Tonique. The poles come in handy when tramping across uneven slushy fields. Temperature is in the 60's, which is great, except we have suddenly been inundated with flies as all their natural predators like lizards and bats have gone to sleep for the winter.

Found this circle of large mushrooms which I carefully picked and brought home. Will take them to the pharmacy tomorrow to see if they are edible.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


A few evenings ago, I got up from my bed and the room swirled around me so violently that I had to grab a chair to prevent myself from falling over. The next morning and following few days showed no improvement, so I asked a friend to drive me to the doctor.

After taking my blood pressure, the doctor held my head in his hands and performed a few brusque manoevres, pushing me onto the bed on the right, lifting me upright, then throwing me to the left, pausing to peer intently into my eyes between moves. He then sent me home and said that I was OK, but that if the effects continued another few days that he would send me to an ear/nose/throat specialist.

Mystified I came home and did some research on the Internet. I had Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), an inner ear disorder caused by calcium crystals, or ear rocks, floating into areas that interfere with one's sense of equilibrium. YouTube had some short videos on the Epley Manoevre, which should set me right after a few days. Whew.

Keep this mind if you have this experience. It's not necessarily the dreaded brain t–––r.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Instinct vs fiddling

My pictures are pegged on washing lines in my studio. One of these pictures were reworked and three are untouched. When I enter the room, the fresh ones are striking, the reworked one has turned into sentimental mush. Sometimes one needs to overwork and destroy to learn.

" The artist need not know very much; best of all let him work instinctively and paint as naturally as he breathes or walks. " – Emil Nolde

(The last one is a fiddly effete one, in case it isn't obvious.)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Line by Line

I have just discovered this wonderful drawing series on The New York Times website. Do check it out.


A series on learning the basics of drawing, presented by the artist and author James McMullan. Line By Line begins with installments on line, perspective, proportion and structure, and continues from there, using examples from art history to illuminate specific issues. Pencil and paper recommended.

Mirror Man

This is not a sculpture.

It's the artist Gustav Troger, who seems to wander around the world inside his glass suit.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Big Draw

While in London last week, I discovered that October is the month of The Big Draw, promoted by the Campaign for Drawing. All the museums were taking part with cool workshops. My friend Adrian and I attended one at the National Gallery on chiaroscuro. Paintings of Caravaggio, like the one at left, were projected onto a screen as the moderator explained the term: dramatic strong contrast between light and shade. Then two models appeared, appropriately dressed, and took up positions at a table with a glass of wine and grapes, imitating the painting projected behind them, and posed for 45 minutes, lighted by a bright spot, while we sketched them in pencil or charcoal. My sketch is below.
ater that day I went to two more workshops at the National Portrait Gallery and spent Saturday with my friend Jude at the British Museum. One of the workshops there involved drawing real artifacts that we could handle, examine and draw in the way that archeologists document them. We also attended an interview by Alaisdair Sooke with of one of Picasso's models, Sylvette David.

Have a look at the Big Draw website. I have registered La Sirène du Causse's Monday night life drawing group and yesterday received a package about how to set up an event. Will have to do that next October.

Friday, October 15, 2010

First the Chilean mineworkers...

and now the Pipster!

Journalist and neighbour Ron always leaves his tubby and ancient little mutt Pipi with me when he goes off on a shoot, this time in Ghana. She's the light of his life.

On Wednesday evening, she disappeared without trace. I searched the village, put up posters, and notified the gendarmerie.

This morning my marvelous beast Thabo started barking at 5am and wouldn't stop. I finally went down to investigate the commotion and heard high pitched barking from a neighbouring field. At the bottom of a shallow well, shivering in the dark was one terrifed and very smelly little Pipster.

Hallelujah may the Lord be Praised!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Life drawing resumes

The Monday evening life drawing group has started up again after a summer break.

Often at the end of the evening, I am unhappy with everything I have done and toss it all into the fire, but I try to restrain myself because sometimes after a few days (and some distance from actually observing and trying to draw the model), a drawing or painting just takes on an independent life, and dare I say... charm...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Moulin de Cougnaguet

The weather was a bit iffy so I was worried about where the class could paint in case of a downpour, and then suddenly in the middle of the night I thought of the Moulin de Cougnaguet, a fortified mill on the l'Ouysse river, built in the fourteenth century by Cistercian monks. It milled flour commercially until 1959, and it is still fully functioning. You can see the interior here.

The weather cleared as the day passed, so we were able to enjoy a lovely picnic on the island, enhanced by generous servings of prune, the local firewater made from plums, dolled out by the guardian.

My painting is below.
Just before we packed up to leave, one member of the group noticed the reflection of the mill in the water. It would have made an interesting composition, if we had remembered to bring our waders.


Last year it was tomatoes, this year I have nothing but pumpkins in my vegetable patch- about forty of the little suckers. Some are too heavy to heave into my wheelbarrow. They make delicious soup however if you braise chunks in olive oil, butter, onions, garlic, sweet curry powder and fresh ginger. When tender add chicken stock and season and blend with one of those contraptions you stick in the pot. Garnish with a dash of cream and some freshly chopped chives. Delicious (though I don't think I will be able to swallow another spoonful this season...sigh.)

Friday, September 24, 2010


I always feel a little guilty when I eat the subject of a painting.

This is a still life I set up for my watercolour painting class two weeks ago. I chose the eggplant for the tonal contrast, the pumpkin because of the interesting seed pattern and warm colour, and the radishes because of their red-white colour gradation and also their long white tails are a good example of when to use drawing gum.

My finished demonstration is below.

The next day we started lunch with radishes eaten with butter and sea salt (the French way), and ginger-pumpkin soup.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Great week

Enthusiastic and interesting watercolour students from three continents, fresh local produce at meals, good weather = a great workshop.

One of the best things about my workshop is just the opportunity for people to meet and converse with each other. This was a particularly successful group and a good time was had by all, especially me.

Next week, everyone having mastered the watercolour technique... we eschew the barn/studio to work en plein air.

Friday, September 03, 2010


A couple of weeks ago, I looked for a favourite necklace of old large blue glass trade beads strung either side of an antique silver Arabian amulet. It was an indulgent purchase acquired in Nairobi, where I had just spent a week teaching at the International School

Then last week I hunted high and low for my GPS system before setting off for a few days camping on the beach.

When I got home, irritated by my untidy habits which I deemed responsible, I decided to do a thorough spring clean. I didn't expect to find the GPS system which I am pretty sure was knicked out of my car which I never lock, but I did expect to find the necklace.

Twelve years ago, I was expelled from class after my yoga teacher couldn't find some jewelry in her apartment, the class venue. At first I was devastated, but after a few sleeplesss nights, became enraged by the teacher's certainty that I was the culprit. I wrote her a dramatic note claiming that she had accused, tried and convicted an innocent person who had no recourse to prove her innocence, and that the experience had served to confirm my abhorrence of the death penalty! She eventually found the missing pieces and apologised.

I think I know who took my necklace and it's my turn to feel violated by a stranger that I briefly housed. I am forcing myself to remember that I might be wrong, that I might suddenly open a drawer looking for a hankerchief and see it curled amongst rolled up leg warmers. But somehow life isn't quite that neat.

Not sure what the lesson is here, if there is one. Attachment? Bourgeois pettiness? Naivité? Who knows. You just gotta roll with the punches and move on sometimes.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Woke up at seven this morning and cycled into Soulac-sur-Mer. It was market day. There was a wonderful selection of fresh fish and shellfish, the specialty of course being local oysters. (Apparently the "R" rule no longer holds sway in July and August.) Then I visited the the lovely little church that was dug out of a sand dune a hundred years or so ago, downed a kir, and wobbled home on my bicycle and collapsed into the hammock.

Spent this afternoon swimming, in spite of Thabo's constantly trying to drag me out of the waves and onto the safety of the beach. And trying to capture the shimmering late August afternoon sea in watercolour.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Camping à la Catherine

• Unfortunately, my car needed a new fuel pump.
• Fortunately, my wonderful mechanic Lalo was able to fix things temporarily with a screwdriver.

• Unfortunately, someone seems to have knicked the GPS out of my car.

• Fortunately, friend Ronnie lent me his navigation system.

• Unfortunately, my car doesn’t have a cigarette lighter and the GPS ran out of juice just as we got to Bordeaux, the tricky bit of the journey.

• Fortunately, we got here anyway and I was able to pitch my tent just before dark in a quiet spot in the pine forest and Thabo and I were able to take a lovely walk on the beach.

• Unfortunately, the batteries in my lamp were dead.

• Fortunately, my cell phone has a flashlight.

• Unfortunately, I forgot a camp chair and table, air mattress, pillow and bog roll.

• Fortunately, I brought a hammock.

• Unfortunately I didn’t have any rope. And a rock band started up in a disco on the other side of the trees soon after dark.

• Fortunately I did remember to bring fresh white peaches for breakfast, coffee, a coffee press AND a kettle!

• Unfortunately, I forgot a mug…and so it goes.

Nevertheless, as you can see from the picture, it's GORGEOUS here and Thabo and I are having a blast!

Friday, August 13, 2010

A good day

Well, today I Fedexed off the illustrations for After the Kill to the States and finished the portrait of a young friend.

There comes a point when you just have to put down the brush, wrap everything up in brown paper and string and dust off your hands.

Whether it's been a good day or not is up to posterity, as they say.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

August 10

I think I could be justly accused of cherry-picking when it comes to religion.

Yesterday was the eleventh anniversary of my father's death. Every year at midnight on the eve of August 10, I light a candle, a Yahrzeit candle, that burns for 24 hours, so each time I pass through the room the next day I think of my father.

The flame is an appropriate metaphor. It radiates heat and light and is eventually extinguished, yet is not really alive. Like a memory.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Painting Day in Thegra

Yesterday I was asked to participate in the jury for the annual painting competition in Thegra. I was immediately drawn to this colourful painting. "This painter is visually impaired so we will need to give him a prize too," said the organizer. "But I think it's beautiful!" I replied.

I gave it top marks. It was also the selection of the other professional painter on the jury, but we were over-ruled by the members of the town council who preferred a carefully rendered sepia drawing of a stone building. Chacun à son goût.