Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Provence workshop, a continuation

"Silver-tinged Olive Grove"
Near Croagnes, Provence, France

Jury duty has kept me from writing more about my trip to Provence, France, for an art workshop. A few more days and my civic responsibilities will be done. Meanwhile, I find that like the trip, I don't want the writing to end either! So what you get today is our final morning of plein air painting. Yet to come is our show on Friday evening and our departure to Ireland on Saturday morning.

For years I have done daily exercise, which I believe (along with luck) has resulted in my ability to remain active in retirement. So Joan and I would rise very early each morning and take a long walk before breakfast. There were several narrow unpaved roads to choose from, but we identified this walk as our favorite.

The beginning of our favorite walk

We would exit our home for the week and go around the back to this tiny road between village walls. Les Bassacs is on a hill, so we walked down into a small valley filled with vineyards and orchards.

Across the valley the small village of Croagnes was perched on a hill. The town is made up of a church and a few wonderful stone houses with a cemetery on the hillside. We understand the residents don't appreciate artists with easels, but no one complained about our walks.

The town of Croagnes with its pretty church as seen from the valley below Les Bassacs

Another fork in the road had this view of our home as we looked back from the dirt road. This memory is begging to be painted.

Our home in the early morning light

Friday was our final day of the workshop. David drove the van a few miles to an olive grove just past Croagnes. Maggie said this grove would be a challenge in painting greens. I thought, whoa, this IS a challenge. Maggie said not to think green, think blue/purple or yellow/orange. I actually got so literal on my paintings that what you see isn't green. We also would be doing two paintings simultaneously as the sun came and went behind clouds. The painting at the top of this post is my cloudy sky painting. You can compare it to my sunny sky painting here. What you will see is less warm color in the cloudy painting, especially in the foreground. Mostly we had sun, so I had about 25 minutes to work on the cloudy sky painting.

The two paintings rest on the easel in the olive grove

My view for the cloudy sky painting

Here is Joan's painting done in oils -- really lovely. Joan was painting about 20 feet away from me.

The olive grove
(c) Joan Kendall

I was happy with what I had accomplished this morning and in the workshop. David came in the van to take us to our final lunch together as a group. We relaxed and then it was into the studio for individual conferences with Maggie, cleanup, and preparation for our evening "Vernisagge."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

More plein air painting at the Provence workshop

"Almost Heaven"
Saint Saturnin Les Apt
Church in sunshine

"Late Day at Saint Saturnin Les Apt"
Church in sunshine

Painting at Saint Saturnin Les Apt after our picnic dinner
Cloudy day painting on the easel and sunny day painting below

Tonight we would enjoy a picnic so we could paint in the late day light . David ferried us to a town just a few miles from Les Bassac over narrow country roads, pointing out the vineyards at the winery that is the source of our lovely table white and red wines. We arrived around 4 p.m. on a hillside across from an active church and the remains of the walls from a chateau that housed the towns. The remains sit high above a gorge containing the town reservoir. This narrow strip of hillside drops hundreds of feet on the other side as well. In more peaceful centuries, the town has moved down the hill where there are luscious red rooftops to tempt an artist skilled in perspective.

Joan and I decided we had to climb down our hill, cross the top of the dam, and walk up the narrow cliffs to the church. Joan and I got a real bonus. The church was open with a couple touring the inside so we walked in. The church is a lovely old place with original paintings, simple chairs set up for service, and a small altar. It was obvious that the locals worship here to this day. A woman appeared and waved a large key, letting us know that she was locking up now.

We had a mixed lighting situation. Maggie told us we must be prepared to do two paintings simultaneously, one cloudy and one sunny as the colors and relationships will be very different. I got ambitious and started a large cloudy painting. Oops, there goes the sun, so I grabbed another piece of paper and without any lines, used Maggie's lesson on carving out the negative shapes and dark shadows to begin a sunshine painting. Whenever the light changed, which was frequently, I grabbed the other painting and continued to work.

Maggie got to teach me on the spot, which I appreciated. The clouds kept covering the sun, then breaking. We could easily discuss the differences in color and relationships. The first painting at the top of the post is my sunshine painting and the third photo shows it resting on the ground under my cloudy skies painting. Already the light and shadows were changed in this photo from the time I began the sunny painting.

If you are considering painting plein air and wonder about setup, the third photo shows you what I take in the foreground (the stool and other easel belong to others):
  • Sun Eden easel (I left the very large backpack at home as I needed to travel light), purchased online
  • Kiva backpack, very light and folds into itself when empty to become a lightweight purse on a strap (great when I shipped my art supplies to Joan), purchased at an outdoor sports store; the easel sticks up above the top and I pull the flap over it
  • Homee half palette to hold tube paints placed on the easel tray; once filled, I wrapped it inside a plastic bag and hand carried it upright to the locations, purchased online.
  • AquaTote collapsible plastic cloth bucket to hold my water, which I carried in to disposable water bottles in pockets on the side of the backpack; I hung the bucket by the handles from a hook under the easel tray, purchased online
  • Various sizes of Arches 140 lb. cold pressed watercolor blocks (equivalent to quarter and half sheets); I found the half sheet size nice for doing simultaneous paintings when I divided it with masking tape; the blocks eliminate the need to carry a support
  • Small selection of brushes in a homemade roll-up cloth brush holder.
  • Camera, drawing implements, kneaded eraser, sketchbook, tube paints, masking tape
  • Layers of outer clothing
  • At home I might add a three-legged stool, though I generally prefer to paint standing up
I packed the painting supplies and my clothing in one piece of luggage, the size one up from a carryon, for checking on the airplane, thus my limited wardrobe in the photos. We did some laundry by hand and hung small items on a little rack in Joan's room and larger items on the clothesline.

Eventually we took time out for a lovely picnic of puff pastry with break crumbs, cheese, tomatoes, and garlic; couscous; carrot salad; local cheeses and breads; and vanilla mousee accompanied by the local wine. The area had a huge cement picnic table and some of us smaller folks looked like Lilliputians perched on it.

Marie awaits our picnic dinner

It was back to painting and I began a second clear sky painting, never able to return to the large cloudy painting because of the sky conditions. The second painting is the second piece at the top of the post. You can even see the difference in lighting situations between the first sunny painting begun about 4:30 and the second one begun about 7:30. I leave you with a third lighting condition that I never got to paint. I took this photo as we were preparing to leave for the evening. The Artmobile rolled downhill filled with a group of contented and tired artists.

Soft evening light -- a future painting?

Friday, July 22, 2011

More on the workshop in Provence

"Ochre Quarry at Rest"
Near Roussignon, France

"Nature's Colors"
Ochre Quarry near Roussignon, France

On Wednesday, we left Les Bassacs at 8:30 to travel to the small village of Goult. We had a choice to paint in the cemetary or the village, and Maggie demoed using the interesting shapes of the topiary trees and the monuments to create a shape painting filled with light and shadow.

One topiary tree is visible beside the right-most monument
Cemetery at Goult, France

Most people went out and painted in the village, but Joan and I parked ourselves in the shade in the cemetery. This was my crash and burn morning, and Maggie had to talk me through it! Here is Joan's wonderful painting.

The cemetery in Goult
(c) by Joan Kendall

Joan would tell you this is a departure from her more realistic oils, and Maggie deemed it very successful. That afternoon we could shop in the city of Apt or stay at the village. We chose to stay at the village, rest, read, do laundry, and sketch. About 9 p.m. we adjourned to the studio after dinner where Maggie presented a slide show of works by some of the masters.

Entrance to the village house where David and Liz hosted our workshop

Thursday was a hoot. Kind of like being a hog in hog heaven. Picture 10 artists clambering around an ochre quarry where in past centuries miners dug pigments to make artists' oils and watercolors. The quarry is near Roussignon, a town that is very golden reddish from the rocks used to build the village. Ochre is a yellow/brown/red/purple pigment derived from clay containing mineral oxide. This quarry has been abandoned for some time because much of the paint today is produced chemically, rather than using the natural pigments. The old quarry was a maze of unusual shapes, canyons, and hills, and trees have taken root in places.

Ochre Quarry near Roussignon

We clambered over it. This is one of the reasons I joked about art as an extreme sport. We reveled in it.

Artists selecting a spot to paint.

Marie, Sally, and Michelle join me with expressions of joy

Love those purples

After climbing over the quarry, we set up our easels and began to paint. I had my six colors which did not include ochre or burnt sienna, colors that abounded. No problem; we mixed our own. I strongly considered grabbing some of the dirt and dropping it on my wet surface, but feared I might make a complete mess. The two paintings at the top of this post were done on location at the quarry. The top one was the first one I painted and took a couple hours. The second one I painted in under 30 minutes. The workshop reinforced for me that painting one subject multiple times helped me really know that subject. Subsequent paintings were much easier for me. As a group we took home some very exciting work when David arrived at 12:30 to take us back home for lunch.

Joan and Trish Adams, coordinator and artist extraordinaire, take time out from painting

Trisha Adams was the organizer for this workshop and she did a superb job. She is kind, upbeat, and accommodating. She is also a very successful artist and instructor. I was impressed with the caliber of people who took this workshop from Maggie Siner. Go here to see Trish's art and accomplishments. Trish painted this gem in the quarry.

Ochre Quarry
(c) by Trisha Adams

I leave you at midday as we enjoyed our fabulous meal of the freshest ingredients prepared and served by David, Liz and their capable helper.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

More on the landscape workshop

"Heavenly Light"
Bonnieux, France

Michelle in Bonnieux where Joan and I painted the light and shadows on the church

Each painting session began with a ride in the van to our location. Joan and I fondly dubbed it the Artmobile. Loaded with easels, each painters supplies, and the painters, the Artmobile headed out over the tiny roads of Provence to deliver us to the location where we would paint for several hours. Here are Joan and I ready to board.

On Monday we were challenged with rain, an unusual event in this Meditteranean climate in July. We went to the village of Murs in the morning to paint looking up at the village. The lesson was on how to paint on a gray day. The difference is stunning -- there are no shadows, but there are some indications of light and dark planes. After one false start and some advice from Maggie, I completed this light sketch. At one point we had to secure our easel and paintings and take cover in a stand of trees until the rain lightened up. Maggie is spare with detail and this painting has a bit more than she would have painted.

"Rainy Day Mondays"
Murs, France

Marie from Paris paints the walled city of Murs on a rainy day

With the challenge of rain for the afternoon, Maggie decided to paint either in the studio or on the grounds of our home. She offered to set up a still life, which Joan and I decided to paint. I learned a lot from this little exercise. I was busy carefully using my dowel stick to draw the still life when Maggie came by and told me to stop because the result would look like a coloring book. She said the reason we take drawing lessons is we have the knowledge to branch out. She demoed creating just the negative shapes with her brush and oil paint. I was reminded of Michelangelo saying the figure was in the marble and he just removed the parts that were not the figure. I first protested that I couldn't do this in watercolor, but Maggie insisted I could, and I did. Though this sketch is much too light for a finished piece, it is painterly and I like it. The evening ended late after Maggie gave a lecture on color, just in time for our next day's challenge.

A study of light and shadow on a still life

The following day dawned with bright sunshine so it was off to the walled village of Bonnieux to learn about the color of light and its complementary shadow color. As we watched Maggie do a quick demo of the village portal, it was obvious that the sun would be brutal, so Joan and I selected a shady spot in a park. Here we painted one small portion of the old church. The painting is displayed at the top of this post. Maggie told me this was quite a successful piece. Maggie had us start with an underpainting of light and shadow shapes and then add bits of color to define the textural qualities. I followed her directions using yellow/orange for the light and blue/red for the shadows. I had time to look over the village wall and enjoy the valley filled with lavender fields, so very Provence.

A view of the lavender fields and mountains from Bonnieux

After lunch and a brief rest, we piled into the Artmobile for our journey to Piberny, between the villages of Lacoste and Bonnieux. We would be left her from 3:30 to about 9, with a lovely picnic. David, our host and a superb artist, stayed to paint that afternoon. We stood looking up at Bonnieux on one side and the mountain range that includes Mont Ventoux of Tour de France fame on the other side. We were in vineyards and orchards. I made a failed attempt at painting a large landscape and quit before I finished. Maggie explained that I did not limit the scene enough. Lesson learned! My friend Joan was far more successful, doing a beautiful vista that included the vineyards.

(c) by Joan Kendall

After our lovely picnic in the cherry orchard, everyone spread out to do a painting under fading light. I did a 15-minute sketch of Bonnieux which Maggie really liked and would later include in our show, even though it was not complete. She said you can get away with that with watercolor. We drove back to Les Bassacs in soft evening light.

Bonnieux from Piberny where we painted and had a picnic

A 15 minute sketch of Bonniex from our picnic spot

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Landscape painting workshop in Provence, France

A study of the recessional planes at the Wall of Lioux
where I erroneously made the trees on the top of the cliff too dark

At our orientation on Saturday, Maggie laid out the daily plans and her expectations for us. Our original correspondence told us the workshop would be intensive and to plan any touring before or after. We would be taken twice a day to painting locations where we painted for four hours each time. In between we feasted on the best food I had had in over 3 months! In the evening we often spent time in the studio after dinner for a presentation or critique from Maggie.

Variations to the schedule included picnic dinners on Tuesday and Thursday on location so we could paint later in the evening. Wednesday we would have the afternoon free to shop in the town of Apt or stay at the house. Friday we would paint in the morning, have individual meetings with Maggie in the afternoon, and clean the studio in preparation for our art reception where we displayed our most successful work.

Maggie told it like it is. Bring your toilet paper; there are no bathrooms in most of the areas where we paint. David left us with drinking water. Joan and I ended up being mostly under hydrated all week in our efforts to avoid bushes as much as possible. I joked about art being an extreme sport, but of course, I exaggerate.

As we prepared our palettes, Maggie instructed us to load them with just 6 colors, a warm and cool of red, blue, and yellow. That would be sum total of paints used for any work done during the week. Like many watercolor painters, I own lots of colors and in truth, use very few. I found that when I sent my art supplies to Joan before I left on my bicycle tour that I had left out two necessary colors: cadmium yellow and raw umber. For the first few sessions I made do with Hanza Yellow and Burnt Umber and struggled mightily with mixing good greens. Then I had an "ahhah" moment and I asked David, a fine artist, if he had any of the paint I needed. He nicely found me two small Winsor Newton tubes of the paint and life was good. I replaced them for him later in the week.

Sunday morning at 8:30 under clear blue skies, we headed down the road in David's van to lavender fields where we learned to capture the planes of recession in the landscape. Maggie started with the basics and would work up to the more complex. We did many simple studies of the fields and surrounding mountains, turning our easels in different directions as we practiced seeing the subtle changes in value and color as the landscape receded. Maggie would come by with encouragement and also with statements such as, "I don't believe this" when we missed the mark. "Seeing" would prove to be very important all week. Maggie asked us to leave out the lavender fields as they were too distracting for this exercise. I kept pinching myself to make sure I was really painting in such a breathtaking setting in Provence.

Maggie sets up her easel for the demo

One of our many views where we completed studies

One of my successful studies
Another successful study

Our late day session was the Wall of Lioux, about a half hour into the mountains on very narrow roads. The drives to and from our locations were such a pleasure. First I practiced more simple planes of recessions, trying mightily not to do opaque studies after watching all the oil painters. Maggie helped me with a demo on my paper, even though she does not paint in watercolor.

My view

Loosely painted study of my distant view

Then I moved on to the more complex study of the wall, which is an amazing geological phenomenon and almost unbelievable in a painting. There is a village snuggled up to one part of the wall and not visible where we painted. The painted study at the top of the page is a dramatic part of the wall.

Our day ended with a delicious dinner and critique.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Painter's Journey: "The last for which the first was made..."

"Sunlit Olive Grove"
Near Croagnes, Provence, France

Yesterday I returned home after being on the road for 108 days. Since flying to the East Coast on March 30th, I attended a family wedding on the beach at Hilton Head; completed a solo tandem bicycle tour with Bob from Key West, FL, to Portland, ME; and with artist friend, Joan, attended an art workshop in Provence, France, and visited Ireland. My art is my response to life. This morning I found myself asking, "Why do I travel?" Perhaps because I am the first-born of seven children to Vermont parents, and unlike most in the family, I lived in a half dozen places in several states before the family became firmly anchored in my parents' native Vermont when I was 8 years of age. After my marriage we moved several times, eventually settling in California. The answer to my question: I crave the challenge of getting outside my comfort zone, likely fostered by my earliest life experiences.

My bicycle tour is documented here. Bob and I wrote daily of our adventures and misadventures as we pedalled 52 of the 74 days we were on the road moving at bike speed through the history of this country, learning that which is similar and that which is unique in 2081 miles of riding a fully loaded tandem bicycle. Slowly accents morphed, scenery changed, and good people crossed our paths. I did a bit of sketching in ink and watercolor and surely more will emerge in time.

Day 49: 10 miles south of Woodbridge, VA,
making our way north to Portland, Me, from Key West, FL
Photo by Mike Miller

We arrived in Portland, ME, on June 19th, and it was time to think about that workshop in Provence that I agreed to attend with Joan, the latest in our annual art treks. Joan and I met at a watercolor workshop in Maine nine years ago, and she has long since moved on to painting in oils with great skill. The Maggie Siner workshop would be made up of oil painters and we had to go through a jury process to attend. Would a lone watercolorist be accepted? I realize now that not only did Maggie and Trish, her able administrator, consider our level of accomplishment in art, but also the energy and zest for life we would bring to the group. This would be a very active workshop with no tolerance for whiners.

You can read about Maggie, a tiny dynamo, superb artist, and successful teacher, and her landscape workshop here. Joan and I arrived at Marseille Airport after an overnight flight from JFK via Dublin, arriving in France at 9:30 am on July 2. We were picked up at the airport at noon by David, the owner of the workshop location, and were greeted with fruit, cheese, and wine in the tiny hamlet of Les Bassacs in the Luberon region of Provence at 2 pm. At 4:30 pm we were sitting in the studio for our briefing from Maggie. This would be an intensive art experience and save for one morning while painting in a cemetery in Goult wondering if I would ever successfully incorporate all this wonderful art instruction into my medium, I was on an art high. Over the next several posts, I will describe the workshop experience.

Our home in Les Bassacs, Provence
The website

The painting at the top of this post was done on the final morning in an olive orchard near Croagnes, and I consider it my most successful piece. Maggie's instruction on the planes of recession in the landscape and the color of light and shadow had finally come together for me. Joan and I left the following morning for a delightful five-day stay in Dublin with a terrific sense of accomplishment and memories that would last a lifetime.

Our early morning view of the Luberon Valley
from our patio breakfast table on the morning of departure