Monday, April 11, 2011

Week 46: Better than Summer

Misty morning view to fields of colza below the village

Why is it that both winter and summer tend to seem so long, while spring and fall have come and gone long before we've had enough of them? I like best the transition moments of the year. Spring is on the top of my list since, after all, summer and fall are still ahead; so much still to anticipate. Summer heat can really wear me out, but the temperatures we've had this week, high 70s, are in that perfect range. All our trees have leafed out in virgin green and the birds are crazy with the joy of renewal and regeneration. We saw some of our year-long resident black birds bringing bits of fluff and twigs up to the church steeple and squeezing their way in through a small vent hole at the very top. Their eggs will be safe and secure.

It's the same every April. We long to get the summer garden going. In California most everything is in the ground by now. Here, however, conventional wisdom says that anything which is tender must wait until after May 15th to be planted. It is up to and including that date that the Saints of Frost (Jack Frost to us) might visit. This month it's all about potatoes and onions and lettuce, the last only if you protect it with a tunnel.

Garden man's neat rows and immaculate garden plot 

Lettuce is covered in the evening

Next week the temperature is predicted to plunge by 10º. It will be back to sweaters and evening fires. I hope we haven't jumped the gun. This week we planted the sweet pea seeds that my California friend Carolyn sent me many weeks ago. There I can picture the extravagant blooms already perfuming the air. In California they are generally planted in the fall or winter and are enjoyed very early in the season, dying off quickly when the weather turns hot. Here it's an entirely different story. Sweet peas are very frost sensitive, so must be planted when the weather has definitively changed. They bloom all summer long. I really adore them. I think they are among my very favorite flowers. Carolyn has sent me pinks and violets. I can hardly wait for my first big bouquet. If you want a real treat, visit her garden at  Rose Notes, she is a rose expert and has written books on the subject. Her website and garden are glorious.


Speaking of blogs and treats, my friend Janet, from The Empty Nest surprised and honored us this week with a post about her latest gorgeous creation, Mademoiselle Montmirail inspired by the colors of Maison Conti. Janet is a very talented designer and seamstress who makes, among other things, fantastic couture aprons. Is she not just the most beautiful apron you've ever seen? In fact apron is too pedestrian a word for her. We need to invent some new label. Thank you Janet! I could not be more delighted. Janet has an Etsy Store which is well worth a long visit.


We had so much wanted to spend most of our week on the coast of Brittany visiting our friend David, who is in France for a short visit, and to see our friends Françoise and Bernard. It was not to be. We had to get prepared for an exhibition in London that I will be participating in. I am leaving on Tuesday to hand-carry six works for submission, so all must be framed, labeled, well-packed and ready to go by tomorrow.

Rick is quite good at making frames but cutting mats with clean corners is very much a different challenge. It requires tools we don't own. We had taken our prints to Paris last week for framing and were flabbergasted to learn that the lead time was four to six weeks for a simple frame. We can rarely think that far in advance. We brought everything back home and decided to try to find someone relatively local. Since we leave in the middle of nowhere, it's sometimes a challenge to locate specialized items close to home. We decided to look for someone who could cuts the mats and glass for us and Rick could make the frames and put it all together. We found someone in Nogent Le Rotrou, a bit closer than Le Mans, who was able to supply us within a day. He was friendly and accommodating. We were quite delighted to have found a new contact.

We were a bit discouraged to discover that one of the prints was slightly warped. It's hard to dry etching paper so that it is perfectly flat when dry, but our new friend had a professional secret for solving this problem which he was happy to share with us. I thought you might find it handy someday yourself. So here goes:

Take a warped print and re-wet the paper on the backside with a sponge. You can be quite generous with the water. This seemed a bit frightening at first, but it works like a charm. You allow the paper to expand under a piece of glass or plastic for a twenty minutes or so.

You then attach it with brown kraft tape to the back of your mat. Put this under your picture glass with some weight on top and allow the paper to dry. It will be as straight and tight as a drum.

We were happy with the results and met our deadline.

I will be submitting three prints and three oil paintings. The other two prints look nice in their frames as well:


I did a wood block print for a change of pace from my etching and its oil inks, acid and solvents. It was a pleasant non-toxic variation on printmaking. I used to do this Japanese moku hanga technique frequently when we lived in California, but now that we have a press I haven't ventured back to it before this week. I discovered that my etching supplier in London also sells Japanese plywood blocks which are ideal for cutting out the design. There is one block for each color and a key block, pictured below, which has the lines of the drawing. The paper is registered by means of a couple of slots cut into the bottom of each plate.

You use a knife to cut around the shapes of your drawing and then gouge out the non printing parts.

I had five plates, as there were four colors and the key block. The rice paper for printing is dampened and left for several hours or over night. It's important to set up the printing area well to allow you to quickly print one color after the other so the paper will not dry before you're finished. You mix all your water-based inks and have them ready to go. You paint the color on the plates with brushes and then burnish with a baren, which is a padded disk covered by a large bamboo leaf. The  equipment is very beautiful and sensual in the using. The process is rhythmic and ritualized.

I have printed the first three colors in the photo below and have left to print the bright pink of the flower centers and to overprint the key block drawing.

It's a first attempt, with some faults which need cleaning up and I can test various colors, but all in all it worked out fairly well. The key line drawing could be cut thinner, though for my purposes I think I like the weight of the line as it is.


We are all nurtured by different things. For me, I receive my biggest dose of that sense of well-being through my eyes. Beautiful things calm and delight me. This morning when I woke up and crawled out of bed, this golden shaft of light greeted me. I just happened to have my camera at hand, which isn't usually the case. It's generally on another floor, and I am rarely in the mood to go hunt for it. But today there it was and I snapped this pretty, simple image. Something so small can make the whole day seem to go in the right direction.

And here's another, while I was at it, looking out toward the boulangerie.  Our wisteria is just beginning to explode. 


A note to my Facebook readers and followers: I understand from my beloved sister that my blog is still posting every week to the Facebook page I made and then abandoned almost a year ago. I no longer have a FB account and I assumed that when I signed myself off, my page would exit with me. Apparently it lives on in a virtual vacuum and my blog automatically posts there as well. Liz tells me I have lovely comments from many people. I have not read a one of them, nor do I have access to them. To all who must think I am very rude, I apologize and say, thank you so much for visiting, reading and commenting. I would love to hear from you. If you come directly to my blog page and leave a comment here, I will be able to know what you've been saying!


  1. Good Morning Nancy,

    Spring seems to be taking forever to settle in here in Virginia. One day it is 78F and the next day it is 47F confusing for us let alone the flowers,trees and birds.

    I love getting an up close and personal look at your creative process in your studio.

    In elementary school, I was lucky enough to have a fabulous forward thinking art teacher, Mr. Jansen.

    He taught us things like birds eye view, fashion sketching, architectural drawing, layered finger painting and block etchings. I loved working with the cutting tools and inks.

    The budgets for classes like those have long since been sad.

    Thanks for the sweet comments about my apron. You provided lot's of colorful inspiration.

    Good luck at the exhibition and remember to have some fun also.

    Hello to Rick!

    Janet xox

  2. The apron is stunning! I SOOO love your prints! The one with the butterflies looks amazing!
    Miss you! Can wait to come visit!
    Enjoy your trip to London!