17 October 2013

My day in Paris

What a ridiculous concept--one day in Paris! In retrospect, I should have just said "I'm taking the rest of the week" (considering the 11-hour flight to get there!) and stayed until Thursday, but...I didn't, so I made the most of it. Here is my Paris Story...

Before I get on with that, though, here is my "Booking-com" review: Hotel des 3 Colleges, in the Latin Quarter near the Sorbonne, very tiny room, but clean and with all the basic amenities for a good price. Obviously, however, created for a smaller breed of (wo)man than exists nowadays. The hallways were so narrow you could hardly pull your suitcase through them; and I know I mentioned the shower before, but I really couldn't believe it. It was so small that I had to wash my hair standing upright, because there was not enough room inside to bend over and hang my head down. Good water pressure, though, and oodles of hot water, plus a supplied hairdryer and quite nice toiletries. No complaints!

Up at 7:30, a quick breakfast in that glass-enclosed cafe you can see on the ground floor next to the front doors, and then a taxi (no more Metro mishaps!) door to door from the hotel to Le Musée d'Orsay.

It was "free Sunday" at the museum, and the lines to get in were really long, so I splurged and bought myself a ticket so I could go in by the side door with a much smaller group of people. That put me ahead of most of the crowd for most of the day, which was great.

The Orsay is a former train station, redone as a museum, and it is beautiful inside and out. Inside, you're not technically supposed to take any photos, but they do wink at taking them from the platform up on the 5th floor, high above the entire museum, so I snapped a couple:

Under all those panels at either side are individual galleries that you wander in and out of to this central area, and each gallery has a different era, or a different theme. It's amazing how much art is actually in this museum, since if you look at it from this vantage, it just looks like a bunch of sculptures on the central floor. There are five floors, however, and extensive rooms at one end that continue on forever.

I spent five and a half hours and I feel like I got a good look at most of the collection, though I could go back and back and back to revisit. I loved that there were so many groups of quite young schoolchildren with their teachers, sitting like this one and getting an explanation of the art they were seeing. They were quite attentive and well-behaved, too! Much more so than we foreign tourists, who persisted in taking photos where we weren't supposed to!

I wish that I had taken my sketchbook and made notes of everything I saw, but I didn't want to be weighed down with anything while walking, standing and looking, so I didn't. But there were a few "highlights" pictures for me, which I will show here (not photographs I took, but off the web).

This floral picture by Van Gogh, Fritillaries in a Bronze Vase, was completely new to me--I had never seen even a photograph of it--so I was delighted to become acquainted with it.

I also had never seen this one, and I loved the border he painted around half of it:

It was a treat to see some Degas dancers in person, since they are so delicate that sometimes they don't translate well in photographs:

I also love the paintings of Alfred Sisley, and the Orsay has so many of them, of which this is one beautiful example:

And I have never been much of a fan of Seurat or the Pointilism guys, but I had never seen this giant one he did of the circus, and its fresh, limited palette and the simple joy in the faces of the audience was delightful:

I could fill up pages with everything I saw that I want to remember, but I'll leave it to you to go take an online tour of the Orsay. Here is a good documentary view; and here is a short overview with Rick Steves. If you get to Paris, don't miss it!

After about four hours, I took myself upstairs to the café behind the clock, and had a leisurely lunch. I took a few photos from the balcony outside--some panoramas of the city--and then after another hour and a half to see the final things I had missed, I set off on the second half of my day, which I will detail tomorrow...

16 October 2013

Paris for 42 hours...no, 39 hours...

Saturday morning, we all arose bright and early at Bandouille to say our goodbyes, and Drew drove me to the train station in Poitiers.

We got there with more than an hour to spare, but there are a couple of things I didn't know about catching a train in France. To back up a bit to the beginning of the week...when I arrived from L.A. at Charles de Gaulle, I had a two-hour wait in between my plane and the train from Paris to Poitiers. I found the signboard, I eventually discovered the platform, I went down and got onto the train sitting next to the platform, and then...I sat there for the 10 minutes until we left, wondering if I was really on the right train. Since many, many trains leave that station, and since I hadn't found anyone to confirm for me that it was indeed "my" train, this was understandable.

Once I found my seat, I asked the guy across from me and the girl next to me if they spoke English, but they didn't--quite superciliously not in the case of the man! About 30 minutes into the ride, the girl fell asleep, having laid her open book over the top of her ticket, which was lying on the table. To the horror of the man across from me, I reached out and scooched her ticket out from under her book to see what it said! Fortunately, it told me what I wanted to know--that I was NOT going somewhere unanticipated, but was on the train to La Rochelle, which stopped in Poitiers. Whew!

I tell this story to point up that I didn't learn what I needed to know about boarding French trains by that experience. So, the two things you need to know are,

  1. You wait inside the terminal until about 20 minutes before your train is due to leave, at which point they post on the LED screen at which platform your train will board. Then you hastily make your way to that platform. That part, I got.
  2. Once you are down on the platform, there is a much smaller LED screen that shows you where you are supposed to stand. Along the edge of the platform, up high, are boards with letters of the alphabet on them. If you look at the little LED screen, it tells you that if you are in car 19, you should be standing at Letter H. If you are in car 3, you should be standing at Letter B.
So--I got down onto the platform at Poitiers, not knowing this crucial piece of information, and the train pulled in. After asking two different guards where I should be and being told "Labás!" ("down there"--very helpful), I finally started looking at the numbers next to the doors on the cars, and realized that I was standing in front of car 19 when I wanted to be on car 3. Now, theoretically, you can climb on a train anywhere--but have you ever tried to pull a very large piece of luggage on wheels along the very narrow aisle of 16 train cars? No. So instead, once I realized where I should be, I started booking it along the platform. I made it level with car #4, and...the doors closed. I pushed the button on the door, and the conductor person standing behind the little window waved me off. And then the train pulled away. Without me.

I won't say that weeping ensued, but it was a near thing. I went back up to the terminal and into the ticket office, and negotiated, in my poor French, to change my ticket for the next train to Paris Montparnasse, which left two hours later. Then I went to the café and consoled myself with a pain au chocolat and waited for the next one, next to which I positioned myself correctly.

All this is to explain that instead of getting to Paris by 1:30 and, after checking in at my hotel, heading immediately to l'Orangerie to see me some post-Impressionist paintings, I instead arrived about 4:00, and by the time I had caught a cab to the hotel and checked in, it was getting late. The hotel concierge helpfully directed me to the closest Metro station and told me where to get off to go to said museum, but forgot that I then needed to get on a different Metro line to complete my journey, so when I emerged from the Metro, I was totally and completely lost. After wandering the streets for awhile trying to get my bearings (and not to panic), I ran into a big group of people speaking English who had just left the Louvre. Which is on the opposite side of the Seine from where I wanted to be. So, instead I walked six more blocks to the Louvre. Which had just closed.

The Louvre from within the Pyramid
I walked out into the central courtyard anyway, to see the pyramid, and then it started to rain. Hard. So, I walked back to the Metro, got on the wrong train (what is it with me and trains today?), got off that one and onto another one, and 400 steps up and down later, I found my hotel again. I got into the smallest shower stall I have ever encountered in life (seriously, a 12-year-old girl would have been cramped in there, and we all know I am considerably larger than that), and collapsed into bed to watch The Simpsons (in French) for an hour; but I was so hungry that I got up again, got dressed, and went out to find a restaurant. I managed to order my dinner completely in French, and was quite pleased with myself at that small accomplishment. That was the end of a very long day.

Tomorrow...my one full day in Paris!

15 October 2013

Wrap-up: Bandouille

So many things left undocumented, so here is a wrap-up of a few I didn't mention before, plus a summary of the things I learned and will hopefully profit by in my future practice of watercolor.

One of Bix and Drew's sources of income is their lake, which is apparently a paradise for fishermen. I never have gotten the concept of catch-and-release (as a vegetarian, I appreciate that the fish are allowed to live, but it still seems kinda mean), but apparently it's wildly desirable for someone to catch a great big fish, pose with it for a picture to prove you did so, and then throw it back. To that end, the lake is stocked with carp and pike, and Bandouille has a steady stream of fishermen who pitch tents at the far end of the lake and use a small mobile home for showers and food storage while they pursue their dream. Here is one of them with the VERY large catfish he caught:

You can understand why no one is wild to go swimming in the lake, given a possible encounter with one of these! You can see them leaping for mosquitoes near dusk--it's quite a sight.

Drew, who was the source of much amusement throughout the week with his clever stories, was gently mocking the fishermen's methods of attracting the fish to them--I believe he compared them to Robin Hood in a musical, as the protocol was to stand at the edge of the lake and fling or actually shoot the "bait" with a bow-and-arrow-like contraption into the water, which resulted in much posturing and arm-swinging. With this in mind, I risked the wrath of a Paris museum guard to take this photo of the fishermen's prototype at the Musée d'Orsay for Drew; this one is younger and less pink, of course! (and the fishermen were wearing pants)

We had some lovely walks along the country road outside Bandouille's gate, where we gathered materials from the hedgerows to paint...

met these lovely fellows...

and saw sights such as this field...

We laughed a LOT, and, as I said before, had absolutely lovely meals. Some highlights:

  • The discovery of celeriac, which can be used like a potato but which has a completely different flavor (good as "frites," also mashed together with potatoes, and then formed into patties for potato/celeriac pancakes!);
  • The tinned but nonetheless divine green olives;
  • Pickled cabbage and beetroot;
  • Chocolate cake, also with beetroot! (made it moist);
  • Yogurt--it said "Yoplait" on the container but was nothing like ours--smoother, creamier, without that jello-like stiffness;
  • Croissants, of course, and bread!
  • French coffee--strong and milky;
  • Bix's vegetable tart, which was so delectable that I must try to reproduce it soon;
  • Wine!

We were definitely well-fed.

Here we are, lined up in front of our artwork hung on a line, and behind the table with our waiting dinner (including the aforementioned celeriac pancakes):

Giovanna, Jane, Cristina, me, and our host, Drew.

And here is a summary of some of the techniques Jane (and Bixxy!) taught us:
  • Washes: smooth, graduated, wet on dry, wet in wet, dropping in color;
  • Additions: Salt or bleach (to create blooms in the paint); grating watercolor pencil onto a wash using sandpaper to introduce other colors and blooms;
  • Flecks: spattering using a paintbrush or a toothbrush, into wet or onto dry;
  • Highlights: Reserving whites, scratching out, lifting;
  • Textures: using "cling film" (Saran wrap) or foil to create patterns;
  • Painting only with water and then flowing color in;
  • Underpainting and layering of washes to create glazes
Here is Giovanna, using the cling film.

But the most important thing of all that I came away with: FRIENDSHIPS. I so loved getting to know Drew and Bixxy, the lovely Jane, the lively Cristina, the charming Giovanna. We didn't let language be a barrier, and I hope distance won't be one either, as we continue to share our art and our thoughts with one another at a geographical remove but no less sincerely. The place couldn't have been a lovelier setting for a holiday, but it is the people that make it memorable, and all my memories are good ones! Thanks to all of you.

And now, for me, on to Paris!

14 October 2013


On Friday morning, we went to the weekly outdoor market in the town of Thouars, which had lovely vistas of vegetables and fruit, also clothes, books, shoes, cheeses, and other miscellaneous stuff. Bixxy and I wandered around photographing it all, and then went into a couple of shops for some French souvenirs for me, while Jane, Cristina and Giovanna got a coffee and then roamed the town on a separate trajectory.

I got Bix to ask the attractive young man (why didn't I take a photo?!) behind this pasta counter whether he had hand-lettered these signs, but he said that his partner, who was absent for a few moments, had done so. Bix then proceeded to tell him that I was a famous movie title designer from Los Angeles who wanted to know what font it was, so then he wanted a photo with me.

There was just something so beautiful about the presentation of the produce at this open-air market...maybe it was just the novelty of the handwritten signs in French...

I loved these islands of flowers put up to direct traffic around the circles and corners:

We all met up at Le Café des Arts for lunch out, and sketched on the placemats while we waited for our salads.

I tried my hand at this portrait of Bixxy, who was looking down doing her own sketch of the salt cellar. The salt cellar possibly looked more like itself...

And of course there was a cat...

This was my last full day (it all went so fast!), so after our outing it was back to the studio to pursue various projects. We worked over the top of underwashes we had done the day before, and also experimented with three-part washes to mimic the lake horizon in an abstract bleed of sky, water, and trees along the bank between. Here is one of those that I did:

And here is the lovely picture of a dovecote (from our trip to Bressuire) that Jane painted over the top of a wash she had done the night before, photographed here in process and then later when complete, with some of her other work:

More later...

13 October 2013


Thursday morning we really got into using what we had learned.

With centuries of stuff lying around, Bixxy came up with about a dozen ancient rusty keys for us to use as models from which to paint. First Jane demonstrated painting a key wet on dry and washing over the top, and then she showed us how you could do a wash as a first layer, let it dry, and then add the key on top, so that your whites become whatever color the underwash was. It's like glazing in oil paint--who knew you could do it with watercolor? Here is a picture of Jane's, to show just how soppy wet the paper is while she is working:

As Jane puts it, you have to be brave and "whack it in" when you're working with water and color. You can't be afraid you're going to ruin your picture, and in fact even if you do think it's ruined at some point, just keep doing stuff (add more, try some flecks, turn the paper a different way to control the run, all working quickly!) and it may save it and/or make it better! She was proven right many times during the week.

Here are the two keys that I did. The first is painted with a small brush, wet on dry, using thick coats of paint on the key, and leaving white highlights. Then (before the paint dries) you wet a big mop brush and run it all over the paper around the key, in a clear water wash. After that, you take your brush and selectively touch the key at the points where you want it to bleed, and you bleed out color into the clear water to create the color wash. You decide where you want to keep your hard edges and where you want them soft, and you do both by deciding where to touch the key and where to leave it alone. At that point, if you want more color in your wash, you can also drop color directly into the wash. I was pleased with how the color ran at the bottom on this one, as if the rust was running off the actual key.

For this second key, I created a smoothly graduated wash of yellow and orange. I waited for it to dry (meaning, in that very damp climate, that I had prepared the wash a few hours before!) and then I drew and painted the key on top of it. You can see that wherever I left "whites" or highlights, the paper is actually the color of the underlying wash--pale yellow or pale orange. (But it's amazing how bright they are, isn't it?) After that, I went around the key again with water and bled the colors of the key out over the paper, and also dropped in a little more of the yellow and orange to intensify the background where the water from bleeding the image had washed away the color. And of course, you can control how you want the paint to run and bleed--I tilted the paper up on its side so the paint bled out sideways from the key instead of going downward as it did on the previous version.

Tomorrow I'll show you a beautiful painting of a dovecote that Jane made by preparing a wash ahead of time and then creating the painting over the top as a second layer.

On Thursday afternoon, we had yet another village outing, this time to Saint Loup Lamairé, to see the sights and take reference photos for future paintings. There is nothing more picturesque than a European village, and this one was no exception, having a villa, a tower, some cyclamen-carpeted woods, lots of quaint streets, and a weir! Here they are...

These cyclamen are not planted, they are naturally occurring, like bluebells in England--gorgeous!

There's Jane, shooting every angle with her little camera, and that's the dovecote in the background.

That's Bix with me, standing in the "sweet spot" for painters of this town. And of course, I go nowhere without finding a friendly cat. This one liked Cristina a bit better, so while she played with it, I photographed it.

Hopefully you will see some of these scenes (and more) crop up in future paintings par moi!