Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Adventures with Wendy and Margot

snowman drawn by Quinn

Here in France we're still shivering. In Australia things are a bit different. Our printmaking clients and now friends, Margot and Wendy from Melbourne, like to come to France in January, leaving the hot Australian summer behind and heading right smack into the middle of European winter. They stayed with us the first year we were open, doing printmaking for a week in the studio, and they have come every other year since. This week brought them back to us again.

They certainly got what they bargained for, arriving in France on the day of the huge snowstorm.

photo by Wendy

Walking around the snowy village is very picturesque.

photo by Margot

Mid-week the weather warmed up significantly and the snow began to melt quickly.


There were blue sky moments, when one could take a genuine sunbath and really warm up. There were also moments of rain.

Throughout the week, Rick kept the home fires burning.

Margot's preferred occupation was reading next to the chimney.

Early in the week, Rick took Margot and Wendy down to the Loire Valley to have a look around. The goal was to gaze out over the river. Amboise has a lovely view.

Standing in front of Leonardo da Vinci's house in Amboise. Photo by Margot

View over the Loire River from the château at Amboise. Photo by Margot.

looking out the window at the château at Amboise. Photo by Wendy.

After these few more recreational days, Wendy got to work in the studio. She had it in mind to create a series of small plates inspired by the snowy landscape. She has a wonderful little notebook which she carries with her constantly, sketching ideas, thoughts, germs of projects. She uses her camera as a sketch book as well, just as I do, capturing fragments, reference material for images to come.

I really enjoy having printmaking friends in the studio. I love to see how other artists develop ideas and create their images. It was an extremely pleasant week for me.

Photo by Margot

Margot acted as consultant and sounding board for Wendy's ideas and images. Each one was thought through. They are a highly successful team!

Ideas began coming quickly. The only question was how many of them Wendy would have time to realize before the week was up. The snow became the overriding theme for Wendy's plates, but other sub-themes emerged, such as a very sparky little dog in a coat.

I really liked the rhythm Wendy got into. The plate size she chose was just 6 X 9 cm (about 2.5 X 3.5"). She would do her drawing in her sketch book, then transfer it to her plate, etch the plate and then take a proof. She would make any necessary adjustments at that point before going on to her next image. She was able to create 8 little gems before the week was out. 

At the end we printed up all the plates in a marathon session. Rick was obliged to go off to Paris for a day so he trained Margot as his apprentice and the three of us cranked out almost 40 prints in the space of a few hours.

Wendy inked up the plates.

Margot managed the paper.

One of Wendy's images required a great deal of patience to prepare. She had cut out small strips of thin metal which she arranged on one of the plates before it was printed to create an emboss.

Margot, like Rick, is meticulous and exacting, which is what is required to create a clean and well registered image.

The press is cranked.

And here's what rolled off: 

First a snowy hillside with trees on the horizon. One version with blind embossed areas in the snow, one version without.

Next, a snowy little village under a night-time sky.

Here's where the little dog begins to appear - a woman holding an umbrella walks by some shops in Paris. They are each making little tracks in the snow. It was hard to photograph these images in a way to really show their charm, which was in the tiny details. Can you see the falling snow? The sausages hanging in the butcher shop window?

Here's another woman walking through the Tuileries with a dog very much like the one above. Obviously these images are printed in one color, but I swear I see the little dog's coat as red plaid.

The pièce de résistance was this last set of four plates, developed separately, then put together to become an enchanting view out a window onto a snowy Paris street scene. Do you find the dog again? Each one works individually but it was entirely magically when we carefully arranged them together and ran them through the press for the first time. This was the original idea, of course, but no one really knew how well it would look until the very end. 

What a successful week!

Margot and Wendy left this morning for the next part of their French adventure. This time they are staying for 11 weeks on the continent! It was such a pleasure to have them here, they're very easy to have around. There's some talk of them returning before they to go back home. Wouldn't that be nice?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Portraits in Snow

As promised, the snow arrived. Only one week ago we were standing in our garden with the sun beating down and spring promises whispering in our ears. Where has it gone? We escaped a lot of the weather for most of the week, but this weekend brought the inevitable cold and snow. We don't think we've ever seen so much whiteness since we moved to France.

On Saturday evening the snow began to fall.

By Sunday morning we were really covered and basically snowed in. Living on a hill as we do, it's not easy to get around once the snow has covered the streets.

I like the way the yellow stone looks against white.

This morning I took a walk outside, only after dressing up like an Eskimo. The weather didn't stop the baker and it didn't slow down business there either. Here is the boulangerie, in yellow and turquoise, at the top of the road welcoming business on Sunday morning as usual.

I wanted to see the forest in its winter colors. I was the first one to venture down the pathway.

Pity the poor cows who have nowhere to go except under a stand of trees to avoid the falling snow.

At least the farmers made their way to the feeding trough and the cows had breakfast as usual.

You will have to enlarge this photo by clicking on it to see the little furry horses huddling against the fence trying to keep warm.

The valley below in white. This is a somewhat unusual sight for us here. I have no idea how long this condition will last, but for the time being we are living in the frozen tundra.

In Paris, Quinn has built a punk snowman. Tonight he told us about his snow road, where he can drive his cars out-of-doors.

All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill the history books, all the political blunders, all the failures of the great leaders have arisen merely from a lack of skill at dancing.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Images from a pleasant week in January

My computer is in our office, which looks out on the castle, located right behind us. I spend a lot of time in this room. It is painted a heavenly shade of pale blue and on one whole wall is a topographical map of our area. There is also a comfy blue couch here where I often take a genuine cat nap... 10 minutes tops. The photo above was the view that greeted me the other day upon awakening. The afternoon beckoned and even though the week had been mostly gray, the rain had stopped and it seemed a perfect day for a walk in the woods.

The Virginia creeper that covers the front of the house is chartreuse in spring, green in summer, flaming red in the fall and just a tracery in the winter months. I love it in all its seasons

It's quiet on the terrace where the outdoor tables and chaise longue are mostly retired for the season. From time to time, when the sun comes out, I do relax here and soak up a few rays of sunshine, even this time of year.

The street still had puddles and Rick captured my reflection as we made our way towards the woods. We had on our rubber boots for muddy tramping.

The entrance to the forest always calls to me, no matter the time of year. It looks like the gateway to a magical world, and it almost always feels that way to me, no matter how often I descend the romantic holloways onto the ancient forest path below.

The path itself is very well maintained by the community. The trees and shrubs are copiced, the trail markers are repainted regularly, and this year new railings have appeared in a particularly steep portion of the pathway.

The red berries, with the rain still clinging to them, were vibrant against the green green of the grass.

A glimpse of Melleray, the village below ours. I do love the distinctive church bell towers in each village. Montmirail and Melleray never quite agree on the time. Our bells ring first and Melleray's follow a few moments later. Recently our church bells went silent after the first hard frost. It remained 4:20 for more than a week. Rick and I found we really missed the chiming, and we were reminded how many times a day we glance out the window at the church tower to know the time.

The woods are fairly barren this time of year, but I still enjoy this walk despite the gray, the mud and the sleeping trees. Rick pointed out that I blog this walk at least once a season. Does it get tiring? Apparently not for me.

At the end of the week, the sun came out for an entire afternoon. It was brilliant! It made it utterly impossible to stay indoors.

We took the opportunity to go to the garden and do a little cleanup - pruning, weeding, raking. We took our jackets off; it was that warm, as we worked in the soft soil. The promise of spring was definitely in the air and I must admit it made me long for it! But they say the snows will come this week. Perhaps this warm ray of sunshine which illuminated the inside of our garden shed, will be the last for many weeks. We felt invigorated, even if the day was strictly an anomaly.

Presumably my next post will include photos of a snowy Montmirail. Meanwhile we're cozy by the fire. I hope that wherever you are, you are enjoying this January as much as I am.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Blue skies, resolutions and good food

Someone told us that winter this year would be severe but short. I'm certainly prepared for that, though the cold part hasn't happened yet. In fact, I notice that our weather here is often warmer than it is back home in San Francisco. It has been a spectacular fall and early winter. The first day of 2013 found us standing outside next to the church, faces tilted upwards as we soaked up warm rays of sunshine that played hide and seek behind huge clouds.

When we lived in California winter was either to be dreaded or tolerated, although it didn't usually arrive until after Christmas and spring could be counted on by the end of February. I've learned here to really appreciate all the seasons, not least the winter. It has so many charms for me. Here is my top ten list of what I appreciate about wintertime:

  1. Tangerines, or as we call them here, clemintines. I seem to remember that we could get them all year in they follow a season. When they come in it's winter and when they go out it's spring.
  2. Log fires. The season begins with our little storeroom filled from floor to ceiling with logs. As spring approaches, the room is emptied. The day starts with a fire in the studio and ends with one in the chimney upstairs. If we have guests, or if the day is very cold, we make a fire in the large fireplace in the entry.
  3. The quiet. Especially when it snows, of course, it is so calm and silent.
  4. Time. When the business in in slowmo, we're free to travel, to visit with friends, to socialize and best of all to spend hours alone in the studio drawing, printing, puttering, dreaming.
  5.  Hot water bottle. We warm up the foot of our bed every night.
  6. Sunrises. In summer they happen far too early to enjoy. This time of year we can sleep in and still be able to watch the spectacular display of the sun coming up over the distant hills.
  7. Stars. In summer, the stars come out far too late to enjoy, but in wintertime, on a clear night, we can stargaze for hours before bedtime.
  8. Early to bed, late to rise. The natural rhythm at this time of year makes for long sleepy nights. And without clients to make dinners or breakfasts for, why not?
  9. Tree bones. I love to look at and draw naked trees.
  10. Warm meals. We love to cook and eat in winter, making stews and soups, warming up our tummies.

Speaking of which, we had a wonderful new year's eve celebration with a group of particularly delightful clients. The menu was:

kir served with rillettes (pork paté) on bread, garnished with a slice of pickle
carrot-ginger soup
roasted lamb and potatoes with ratatouille
home-baked rolls
a selection of cheeses
apple spice cake and homemade raisin rum ice cream

Other recent excellent meals have included fish and chips. Cabillaud (cod) is best for this. James made a gluten-free batter. It was absolutely delicious.

Rick has become a french fry expert.

Our wonderful friend Arnault sent us a bonito shaver and a big hunk of dried fish which is hard as a rock. One grates this up to make dashi, the stock that forms the basis of most Japanese soups.

We made miso soup

and a crisp fresh salad.


2013 has begun with the usual exercise more, study French and draw every day. In this last effort, I have created a new blog where I post a new drawing every day. You can find it here: