Monday, March 14, 2011

Week 42: Kings, Artisans, Atletes and Vintners

The distinctive roof line of the castle of Chambord

All of us here had a productive week at home. I continued with my artistic deadlines while Rick completed a handyman project that has been awaiting our attention for quite some time. Farid was content to spend his days biking around the countryside or doing some reading and writing. At the weekend we had a few adventures.

Outside my studio is a brick wall. Let me just say here that after about 200 or 300 years you can fully expect that the mortar is going to start disintegrating...In the before photo below, you can see that there is nothing much between the bricks. I don't know how long it had been that way, but certainly as long as we have lived here. The deceptive thing is that even though it looks as if only air exists in those cracks, for the last three years, particularly in the cold weather, sand has been sifting down and making untidy little piles on the floor below. As can be imagined, this was less than desirable and rather annoying. Rick has now repointed the wall, by adding a new layer of mortar between the bricks. Doesn't it look better? The mortar is made by mixing sand with lime and a bit of water. The water creates a chemical reaction in the lime, which calcifies when dry, making for a nice hard bond which should last another 200 years or so. It's the traditional way. Small things like this can make life seem so much more reasonable.

 wall outside the studio

I have mostly been spending my time painting during the last few weeks. I have covered six canvases with six entirely different styles and imagery. It has been a kind of experiment to see where I can go with this. I do love my printmaking but sometimes I crave simple, bright, unrestrained and thick color (always a big struggle when etching). It was a kind of printmakers rebellion. This week I went back to etching like a repentant philanderer and created a whole group of new etchings both large and small.

inking bench with some of my current projects

In the end there was only one out of the six paintings that I feel satisfied with. I had meant to make this one much less sketchy and vague, but as I was working along I found myself allowing a lot of the underpainting and drawing to show. I liked its spirit.

at the beach

With my printmaking I always seem to be struggling with how best to add color. It's difficult to do it well. Either you must make several plates, one for each color you want, or if you print a la poupée, (adding colors one by one to discrete areas on one plate), you must be able to be very careful, patient and slow. Not virtues I naturally possess. It is easy to have color turn muddy on the print. I suddenly had a brainstorm for a new technique...this is my second invention for color application with etching. I'm sure others have thought of it, but if they have I haven't heard it from them. When one spends a lot of time meditating or dreaming about these issues, inspiration does occasionally strike like lightning. In this case I had the idea that instead of using aquatint to hold the color, which sometimes turns out rather disappointingly, I could create an image with a great deal of line work texture, giving the plate enough places to hold the ink. This woman in a hat was the image that came into my mind, so I began with this as an experiment. All these colors are added to one plate. I was mostly pleased with the basic idea, although obviously there are some faults. This is simply a hard ground with lots of lines. I plan to see where I can take this technique.

girl with a hat

For this village scene below I used another idea for adding color. I made one plate with aquatint areas to color a la poupée and another plate with the line drawing. I made this one several months ago and have never been able to print it entirely to my satisfaction. I tried it again this week using another new technique. I passed it through the press twice, allowing the colors to become very pale by the second pass. I like the more subtle colors.

village by the river

I also made a series of eight tiny little water birds with the idea of puting them together into a book. Each plate is 2" square and each bird got 2 plates, one for the drawing, one for the color background. Here are a few from the series. They were a lot of fun to create. I do rather like working small.

common loon

snow goose



Farid was very keen to go to a basketball game in France. He has an interest in understanding how the European basketball league functions. He represents a young American player who will soon become a pro. Apparently college basketball players from Europe (think Tony Parker and Joakim Noah) are routinely scouted for American professional teams, and American players are hired to play European basketball. It turns out that Le Mans has a very nice big new arena and there was a game being played there this weekend. Rick and Farid got tickets and went off to enjoy some French basketball.

The home team, Le Mans, was playing Limoges. Apparently both teams had several American players and players as young as 19 and as old as 35. Farid heard the coach speaking English to his team and apparently the score was called out in English as well. The stadium held approximately 3000 spectators and they estimated it was 2/3 full.

team line up. Players were from all over the map

Farid was impressed with the quality of the venue and game. He had seen a basketball game in Barcelona but reports that the French version seemed more professional to him.

 Farid watches the action

We've never attended a sports event in France, so this was a treat for Rick. It's great to know we have such a nice venue close to us. And it turns out they're constructing a football stadium in Le Mans as well. I guess soon we'll be on the map for some top quality sports teams right here in our own backyard! In the basketball contest, Le Man's team was the winner.

Farid had never been to the Loire Valley, so we took him to see the most famous château of all, Chambord. It's quite a pleasant drive south from Montmirail to the valley. The further south we traveled, the more signs of spring appeared in the landscape, a garden full of daffodils in bloom, fruit trees abloom in various shades of white and pink, bright yellow forsythia, all a week or two in advance of our area.

Rick and Farid in front of the extravagant Chambord castle

Chambord was a hunting lodge for the kings of France. It was reconstructed in the 16th century by François I with design help from Leonardo da Vinci, who was his court guest at the time. This is the biggest château in France and one of the most ornate.

Chambord castle reflected in the river

We shared our visit with few others. Early spring is an excellent time to visit the Loire Valley castles, especially if the day is fine. Our day was neither too cold nor rainy, however we didn't see the sunshine. A gray cover kept the landscape rather somber and atmospheric.

We all agreed that a walk around the grounds was more appealing than a tour through the inteior of the château, so we followed a path which lead around the back of the castle, following the river and branching off in many directions. There is a huge forest surrounding Chambord, as in old, and we really enjoyed the scenery and stroll.

an ancient bridge on the grounds of Chambord castle


What is a visit to the Loire Valley without a wine tasting? California has some very fancy wineries and wine tasting is a favored activity for tourists and locals alike. Here in France the wineries are often more humble, but I wouldn't say the same about the wine itself! In my opinion, nothing beats a nice light French red, and the Loire Valley is the home of some of the best quaffers.

Vines in Cheverny

We passed by a winery we knew in Cheverny. They make both red and white and we tasted two of each. The whites are crisp and dry, the reds light and easy to drink. We bought a case with some of each and headed back home just as the sky opened up. It rained all evening, sometimes in torrents, but we had a lovely peaceful day behind us and a nice glass of wine in front of us.

The boys pontificate on one of the whites


This afternoon we head for Paris. We'll show Farid some our favorite corners. Later in the week he'll catch his flight home. Meanwhile Jos' one-man show, The Art of Laughter, opens at the Rond Point Theater, one of the nicest in Paris. We all have tickets. More on all that in next week's post.

Larger than life advertisements for Jos' show are on kiosks all over Paris

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