Monday, November 7, 2011

November Blues and Grays

I remember when our friend and former neighbor Anita proclaimed passionately to us "je déteste le mois de Novembre!" We were surprised by her vehemence and at the time we all broke into laughter. I had never considered any particular month to be more or less vile than any other. She went on to explain that in November there is often quite a lot of fog and many gray days. She finds that kind of weather disorienting and a bit depressing. I had reason to remember the conversation this week as most of our days were overcast, chilly and incredibly uninviting.  As you can see from my opening photo, however, we had one notable exception. Friday dawned bright and cheerful. We practically leaped up from under our cozy quilt and raced out into our sunny day. One thing to be said for a spate of gray is that the contrasting day can be appreciated with almost religious fervor.

I took far too many photos and believe it or not, I have been very moderate in the ones I've actually posted. This forest walk, which I've blogged about many times never ceases to inspire me. This day was a particularly wonderful one and we found ourselves entirely uninterrupted as we traversed the ancient trail. The entrance-way is always so enchanting to me. I never get inured to its charm and magic.

Because so many leaves have fallen, the sun illuminated the pathway, making a colorful tunnel, which I call the rabbit hole.

The fallen leaves make for a pleasant surface to walk upon and add to the warm glowing atmosphere.

The colors of the leaves that remain are intensified and become incandescent in light.

Can you can notice the wooden platform, now in disrepair, at the center of this photo? There once was a treehouse in this large oak tree. The forest is a marvelous place for children to play. Safe and magical. When Rick recently had an old friend come stay with us, his two pre-adolescent boys spent hours here building forts and digging tunnels.

I found a sign along the route that expressed perfectly just how I was feeling. What a glorious day.

I collected a few leaves to take back to the studio from the leaf soup found on the pathways.

There are a few places along the way that open out to the countryside below. We sat down with our faces towards the sun and basked, enjoying the warmth, the sounds of the wind in the dry leaves, the birds singing in their hiding places and the gentle lowing of cows in the fields below. We didn't say a word. It was deeply relaxing, like a natural meditation and just those few minutes continued to nurture my soul throughout the gray days that again ensued.

I don't feel exactly like Anita, even on the grayest of days in November. I do like all the time that opens up for me, after our clients have left us. We do have one businessman who comes practically every week and stays at least three nights and sometimes as many as five. He's like our new roommate. He is very pleasant, not too chatty and appreciative of everything. He's also gone all day long to work, so he is certainly the perfect kind of roommate.


There do need to be strategies for eliminating the blues from wintery days and particularly nights, as days are short and evenings could seem endless. I nurtured myself in several ways these chilly evenings. Sitting next to a cozy fire, I re-watched the Marcel Pagnol trilogy: Marius, Fanny and César. These are truly classic films, created in the early thirties, just after the talkies came into being. The impact this story had on French culture and cinema can hardly be overstated. There are some lines that almost everyone here can quote by heart. If you remember, as I think I've mentioned here before, it was for these films that Alice Waters named her famous Berkeley, California restaurant Chez Panisse and even named her daughter after the main female character, Fanny. Here's just a taste from the first in the trilogy. The acting is, in my opinion, incredible.


Another way we nurtured our souls during evenings was to begin reading The Shadow of the Wind, by Carolos Ruiz Zafrón out loud to each other. Does reading/listening to beautifully crafted prose fill you with a sense of well-being, the way it does me? Here is the opening paragraph, a mysterious painting in words:

"A secret's worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept. My first thought on waking was to tell my best friend about the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Tomás Aguilar was a classmate who devoted his free time and his talent to the invention of wonderfully ingenious but bizarre contraptions such as the aerostatic dart or the dynamo spinning top. I pictured us both, equipped with torches and compasses, uncovering the mysteries of those bibliographic catacombs. Who better than Tomás to share my secret? Then, remembering my promise, I decided that circumstances advised me to adopt what in detective novels is termed a different 'modus operandi'. At noon I approached my father to quiz him about the book and about Julián Carax - both of which must be famous, I assumed. My plan was to get my hands on the complete works and read them all by the end of the week. To my surprise, I discovered that my father, a natural-born librarian and a walking lexicon of publishers' catalogs and oddities, had never heard of The Shadow of the Wind or Julián Carax. Intrigued, he examined the printing history on the back of the title page for clues."

The story takes place in Barcelona and the city itself becomes a major character. One thing I respect tremendously about Carlos Zafrón is that he has steadfastly refused to sell the film rights to his story, which has a tremendous following all around the world. He said in an interview with The World Book Club that he felt it would be a betrayal to his readership and that anyway he already had enough money. He got a standing ovation.


Of course the daylight hours are easily spent in the atelier. I had fun working with some chine collé this week, following a technique I learned from Georges. Taking a very thin piece of Japanese rice paper, I applied some permanent ink to the sheet, which was cut to the size of an etching plate. After the ink had dried, I printed the plate, this one a slightly abstract image of the Pyrenees mountains, and glued the paper on top, which added some abstract color to the image. I have been suffering over this plate for months, liking parts of it and being very displeased with other bits. This gives me a way back in. I intend to try a few more ideas, but I'm liking the direction it's going.

Another plate, my Paris street scene, has been on my desk for even longer. I've been trying to get everything the way I like it and it hasn't been easy. Originally I created it as two plates, one for all the color (applied à la poupée) and one for the black drawing. To apply the color this way takes at least a quarter of an hour per pass. Being a bit lazy and impatient with that laborious process, I also tried the chine collé technique on this one.

The color came out much more abstractly than I had intended, but in a way I like the freedom of it too. Georges, who arrives later today on a train from Paris, has bought me some more Japanese paper and I intend to try a lot more of this gratifying process in the coming week.


I also made some progress on Jos' website and logo which I was charged to create for him. He is currently in New York in his off-Broadway production of Samuel Beckett's Fragments and his manager insisted that he really DOES have to get his website done and have some kind of card to give out. We struggled so hard with an image to represent him, since the work he does runs the gamut from acting to directing, from slapstick to classic serious theater. He's a teacher, consultant, actor and director. I began with an image of his face and he really didn't like that, as no one expression could really capture the whole message. He requested a paper airplane as he liked the idea of the folding and the flight as a metaphor for his work; besides which airplanes are a personal passion of his. He also wanted a kind of abstract feeling. He especially likes the work of Paul Klee. My original effort had very straight lines, but he wanted something a bit messier looking. Here's the result we were all rather pleased with. A simple plane, mapped with a Kleesque pattern with lines distressed and a cartoonish flight line. It's fun and a bit mysterious if you don't have all the background, which is just how he liked it.


And finally my journal. (Somehow I thought I would have nothing to say this week, now I feel I must be trying your patience!) Another thing inspired by our sunny walk in the woods was beginning a nature journal to record some thoughts and images from around the neighborhood. I like this idea so much, although I generally lose steam. We shall see. This week, so far I haven't missed a day since i began it.


I took down my dried hydrangeas from the cellar and arranged them for the entryway. Our garden has nothing more to offer us until next year. I like the dried flowers, they feel so seasonal and they will last at least until Christmas, I hope, before I grow tired of them.


  1. Nancy, as always, your pictures are wonderfully interesting. Makes me too think of Alice !
    Creating a logo is a big adventure and I find the one you show both new and simple, full of energy, and we can wonder who and where the target is.
    I keep wondering when you can find time to make so many things at the same.
    I like very much your "journal".

  2. Pressed for time this morning , but I'll come back later for a thorough wallow in your tunnels in the woods and the chine colle.

    PS I'm afraid you did win not a print, but the 2 who did are most deserving of something to cheer them. :-)

  3. What a gorgeous and inspiring post! I love the chine collé technique and your journal. gorgeous!