Sunday, January 29, 2012

Oil Painting

I've always enjoyed oil paint. It's so luscious and the colors are clear. It's lots of fun to push it around a canvas, and if you have the time you can rework it infinitely. Although it takes insanely long to dry, I much prefer it to acrylic which is more practical but just plain less beautiful. I had considered working in various mediums this week but in the end I didn't really want to switch to anything else. 

This is my last week with faces. I have drawn over 100 of them during the month. I found it such a wonderful exercise for myself to have a discrete focus. The human face is endlessly fascinating. At the same time, when you spend so many hours looking at just one thing, you do begin to get a sense for its structure. My two hours of drawing a day pass very quickly, and those moments have become practically my favorite time of the day. Next week I will begin with another subject and cycle through several media again.

I didn't do quite as many oil painting faces each day. They take a bit longer to accomplish. Here is a sampling. If you'd like to see the whole set, you can find them here.


We have been spending quite a lot of time in Paris these last few weeks. We left home again on Friday to pass the weekend helping out and to celebrate Quinn's birthday. He turned 3 on Friday. When we left the house the sky was robin's egg blue and the day was warm like early spring. Passing through the forest of Montmirail, I had to stop and take a few photos of the sun filtering through the bare trees. It was one of those days that makes you want to sing.

By the end of the weekend it seemed that winter had finally descended on our corner of the world. The thermometer has taken a plunge downwards, well below freezing.


Quinn had several birthday events. We participated in his pancake birthday breakfast party with his friend Lizzie.

We've spent the weekend putting together a new bed for Quinn, rearranging furniture, folding baby clothes, making bumpers for the cradle and recovering a couple of chairs. Never a dull moment!

Sunday, January 22, 2012


This week I worked with watercolors. I found it the most challenging medium so far. It is very unforgiving. I tend to get a little precious and too realistic which doesn't work well unless you are quite experienced. I therefore developed a faster and looser method involving usually wetting the paper first and drawing faces directly with the brush. I limited my palette. It was quick and fun. I usually painted at least ten in two hours, although I didn't save them all. Here are samples from each day:

You can view the whole series here.


We went to Paris at the end of last week to stay with Quinn while Emily and Jos had a night away at a nearby spa. It was their last opportunity before the baby arrives. We helped a bit with preparations. While we were there, we all took a stroll to Parc de la Villette which I have written about before. It is not far from Emily's house and it is a great place to give Quinn an opportunity to practice on his new "early rider" bike (what a great invention!) In a section of this huge urban park, one I had never noticed before, there are many huge mirrors installed among the trees. We were there right at dusk and had a lot of fun playing hide and seek behind trees and reflections of trees. It was quite enchanting.

Back at home one evening we had thick fog which made the world outside our windows even more magical than usual. The village lights come on just before sunset and they reflected off the stone and softened the atmosphere, making golden accents amidst the purple haze.

Each night on these winter evenings, Rick builds a cozy fire in our wood stove. It warms the entire third floor apartment. We settle down for a quiet evening at home.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Pen & Ink Faces

This week I continued to give myself a couple of hours a day of drawing time. I concentrated on pen and ink portraits. At first I was sure that I would find it much more difficult than working with pastels, as shape seems easier to me than line, but after a few false starts I got into the swing and really enjoyed myself, drawing about 6 faces each day. With pastels you can keep adding color and changing the position of things. The medium allows a lot of fussing without any damage to the paper or the image. On the other hand, pen and ink is completely unforgiving. A line drawn is a line that remains. I found that the trick for me was that instead of starting with an oval shape for the head, as I usually do, I began with the nose and worked outward in all directions from there, trying to view the face like a map and putting the elements in the right place in relationship to one another. It is a very right-brain kind of exercise, which certainly is a pleasant place to park your brain for awhile. I find I really lose track of time and everything else when I am able to get into that particular mode. It also tends to color the rest of my day in an extremely positive way. I find myself seeing things more vividly.

Here's a sample from each day. I did not sketch the faces first with pencil which means that they felt more direct and came out bolder. I used several different nibs with regular old fashioned pens dipped into ink. Mechanical or technical pens, although much easier to use, do not give the same character to the lines.

You can find the entire series of faces here.


It was an exceptionally lovely week with glorious sunrises every day. I took this photo of the sun just coming up over the hills at 9AM one morning. When I lived in California, I rarely focused on the length of days. Here it is much more dramatic. During the longest days of summer the sun begins to lighten the sky close to 5AM and it isn't completely dark until almost 11PM. These days it's dark until quite late in the morning. One feels much less enthusiasm for getting up early. Sunrise is rarely glimpsed in the summer months, so I do enjoy these shorter days when I can watch the low beams of sunlight cover the landscape in a peach-colored glow. This is the view from my new workstation upstairs. We already note that the sunrise is moving east from its solstice position midway along the ridge line of the house it is just to the left of here.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Making Faces

One of my biggest challenges in life is to focus on just one activity long enough to get good at doing it. Everything beautiful inspires me. I want to draw, paint and make prints in each style of every artist I admire. I want to make artist's books, art dolls, sew clothing, make mobiles, do embroidery, quilting and applique. I long to redecorate our house, replant the garden, not to mention learning to speak better French, write short stories, read a lot more books and cook fantastic gourmet meals. I need to exercise more, visit more exotic places, follow cultural events in Paris better, keep in touch with family and friends more regularly. You get the picture. I never have trouble finding ways to spend my days.

A worthwhile New Year's resolution for me is based on finding limitations, narrowing my focus and restricting my daily activities. With that in mind, I have decided to lock myself in my atelier for two hours every morning and concentrate on only one subject for a month at a time. I don't take phone calls, answer the doorbell, listen to music or talk to anyone at all during that time. My first subject of focus is the human face. My aim is not to paint realistic portraits, but rather to understand faces, catch an impression and create whimsical interpretations. I want to get looser than I normally do.

The discipline of this first week turned out to be wonderfully enjoyable and inspirational for me. I drew at least four heads each day and had quite a lot of fun doing it. I noticed that focusing on faces in the studio made me really look at the faces I saw during the rest of my day. I noticed the way the light played on the planes of the face and closely regarded the shapes of the shadows. I also saw little imaginary faces almost everywhere: in the folds of fabric, the leaves of plants and the tiles on the floor. Best of all, when I closed my eyes at night I saw lots of brightly colored faces in many moods and contexts. 

This week I worked with pastels, a medium I love, because of the bright colors, but one I haven't much explored in the past. I used turpentine to melt, smear and blend the pastels. It was almost like working with paint.

Next week I will try another medium and continue to draw faces. Here are some examples from each day:

If you wish to see the complete set, you can find them here.

One of the artist's blogs I follow is Cathy Cullis. She has a very creative mind, and is always coming up with interesting ideas and projects. She's multi-talented too, so I enjoy seeing what she is working on. In early December she posted a long list of artistic projects for the new year and asked others to report on what their ideas are for the coming year. Her projects for 2012 are explained here.

As an antidote to my morning focus, in the afternoons I worked on an etching that has no faces at all:


Since Georges is using the atelier quite a lot lately, I have set up a new work station upstairs for when I want to be alone and concentrate. It is right by my favorite sunny window, with its expansive view over the roofs to the countryside beyond.


In more general news from the village, this week we were on the fringe of a huge storm that swept over northern Europe, with gale force winds. In Belgium and the north coast of France there were floods and winds that wreaked tremendous havoc. We got just a kiss from that system in the form of some rainy days and dramatic howling winds. My new years resolutions did not include going out in those conditions. There were several days, however, that offered beautiful moments for walks. Friday afternoon, it was so warm in the sun that it could have been April.

One thing that I always look at and notice are clouds. They are quite wonderful in this part of the world. They move so quickly across the sky. It's an endlessly changing show.

We are located on the highest point of land in our department. The name of our town in Latin means, more or less, the marvelous view. And it is lovely to gaze out over the rural landscape below the city walls.

When we take our tour around town, we try to stay in he sun. This little path, shaded by great trees on either side, is one exception we make, as the path is grassy and inviting.