Tag Archives: France

Provence and Painting

Today I am going to try to satisfy two itches with one scratch: I am posting travel photos AND a painting. So there. A couple of weeks ago, Stoney and I took a weekend in Provence. Ish. We revisited the Pont du Gard, the highest and one of the best preserved Roman aquaducts surviving.

The water was too high and swift to permit playing in it, thus squashing all hopes of canoeing under a Romant artifact.

The water was too high and swift to permit playing in it, thus squashing all hopes of canoeing under a Roman artifact.

We stayed in a truly lovely little hotel north of Arles, between the Pont du Gard and St. Remy, our other destination. I can recommend the Hotel Mistral. Although the proprietor spoke English, he willingly conversed with me in French when I asked for help practicing. Very lovely location.

The only availability on short notice was two twins.

The only availability on short notice was two twins.

My goal was a pilgrimage to St Remy and the steps of Van Gogh, sort of a completion of the one begun with Sherry in Arles. The difference here was a cleaner, prettier, more touristy town, with a LOT less connection between the photos and the actual scenes. To some extent this is the fault of much growth for St Remy, but some is just that they little placards were placed to lead you up to the sanitarium where Van Gogh convalesced more than to inform his paintings.

This one is actually more connected than most.

This one is actually more connected than most.

The St. Paul Asylum/monastery was well worth the trek up the hill on this trail, though. It is still a working art therapy center, and had not only giant tableaus of Van Gogh’s paintings on the garden walls and elsewhere, but also paintings and other artwork by modern patients. We were greeted by a bronze statue of Van Gogh titled “The Sunflower Thief.”

Cool, isn't he? And somehow sort of tortured-looking.

Cool, isn’t he? And somehow sort of tortured-looking.

Stoney posing with the gentlemen at the hospital.

Stoney posing with the gentlemen at the hospital.

Me, attempting the pensive intensity of Van Gogh.

Me, attempting the pensive intensity of Van Gogh.

We also got to see, supposedly, Van Gogh’s room at the asylum, or at least one made up to be. It very well could have been, as the views of the gardens from the windows on that floor seemed kind of familiar.

The picture on the easel is clearly a Van Gogh, while the one on the wall is a portrait by a modern patient.

The picture on the easel is clearly a Van Gogh, while the one on the wall is a portrait by a modern patient.

We had a lovely time, bought interesting chocolates at a renown shop that still couldn’t compare with Cocoa Dolce back home, and was only spoiled a little by the girl who didn’t understand or care that I really CAN’T eat wheat flour in my sarrasin crepe galette. I only ate the insides, but was still sick enough the next day that I almost lost my breakfast in the car on the drive back.

And speaking of the drive back, we made a detour to see the famous Camargue wetlands. What we saw were a LOT of horses and lovely salt-grasses, and rice fields, but no flamingoes. A little disappointing. But we walked the beach at Saintes Maries de la Mer, where the sun was risen but low, and the clouds were low, toying with the sun, wispy and kind of like cheeks filling and emptying, blowing long and softly. The sun sparkled on the sea like diamonds that were floating above the water, just out of reach. And the rocks and sand were so solid, anchoring us to the ground, very different in feeling. I tried to paint this scene, but all the greys turned purple and blue for me, and the dark, dirty sand turned almost golden for me, and I love the painting. It is really reflective of the way the morning made me feel.

"Sparkling Sea from Saintes Maries de la Mer"

“Sparkling Sea from Saintes Maries de la Mer”

And there you go. I had fun with this. I hope you like it, too.

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Learning to Loosen Up

Clearly, I am having more fun traveling and living in France than I am publishing blog posts about it. However, one new thing this fall is a workshop in a Toulouse art studio with a retired art professor. A French art professor, who taught at a university in Paris. Can I say how over-the-moon I am about this lady? She is so kind, and speaks French slowly and clearly for me, the foreigner in the room, and every little tip she gives me seems to REALLY help! Having never had much formal training, this is like heaven for me.

This is the last thing I painted sans aide:

Des artichauts, des oignons, et la laitue...yes, that's right, in French. After all, it IS French produce; it seems more boring in English.

Des artichauts, des oignons, et une laitue…yes, that’s right, in French. After all, it IS French produce; it seems more boring in English.

This was actually rather challenging for me, in part because how could I capture this amazing lettuce? It is dark and opaque, yet light and fluffy. More importantly, I committed my most frequent painting problem here: I overworked the piece. Trying to get the colors right, the background right, the reflections in the pitcher, and the fluff of the lettuce…it could actually knot up my muscles, because I couldn’t loosen up and play with it.

This was one of my two sample pieces I took to the art studio. I told her I’m concerned with how uptight my painting is…that I struggle with actually playing with my art. The more abstract dandelion/stars piece was my example of “fun.” It is also entirely ME. I have no real style, and my art needs to express ME, not just be a poor camera. So, the first product of Mdm Mierelle’s help is the result of trying to paint something without using a brush.

Pears by knife.

Pears by knife.

So I washed in a gray background originally, but then changed to palette knife for these pears I had found at the market. I’ve never really painted anything entirely with my knife, although I have wanted to for, well, years. Yes, I am a total fraidy-cat. I just couldn’t really commit, and then someone else pushed me to it. I LOVE them! I mean, sure, anyone who knows me and my painting knows I love pears anyway, but I REALLY love these pears! However, Mdm Mierelle didn’t let me keep my background, though. She insisted that an artwork needs bridges for the color for unity. So I tried again, and it took me quite awhile to get a background that felt right. More work than the gray, but it feels soft, more real.

So next, we explored a more impressionist style. The goal is to succeed at recording less visually, while revealing more of how the scene affects me. My model was a photo of a Texas wildflower scene as a storm approaches. Another stretch for me. And we followed this by playing with the same scene, more in the style of a late Cezanne landscape. Both are the first time I have ever tried that sort of style.

An impression of spring in the Texas hillcountry

An impression of spring in the Texas hillcountry

A Bolder splash of color

A Bolder splash of color

Any of these you can check out more closely by clicking on the photo, then clicking again to magnify. I LOVE looking at the knife strokes on the pears.

So this is how I start my workshop with a French art professor. Whatever comes out of it, I am having a blast! I paint three hours alongside 4 or 5 other artists, each pursuing their own dream. I don’t think we have anyone using the same media even at the moment! I am living my dream. Thank you, Father God!

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The Importance of Play

Theo and I recently watched a TEDtalk on the vital importance of play, not only in brain development, but in daily thinking and problem solving. The speaker, in part, was encouraging adults to continue to play, and at first I felt a little frustrated, because I don’t play much here. I recreate, but that isn’t the same as play. And then I realized where I do most of my playing: art. It is where I experiment and take chances; try new things, and put substance to my imagination. So in that spirit, here is where I have been playing lately.

I posted the geraniums I had painted for a neighbor already, which you can see here. I think they began to catch a sense of play in my painting. My next was a painting for myself, also of geraniums. I had a photo of geraniums on a window with French blue shutters, a very common sight here. I am trying NOT to paint all the details of real life, and yet capture the feeling the image originally gave me. I also confess to doing very little architectural painting because line and precision seems rather important to making buildings look “right.” However, I wanted this window for myself, because it felt very French to me, a memento of sorts. The results initially had a sort of mind-bending quality, a sense of M.C. Escher really. The top of the window seemed quite shallow and close, while the bottom was obviously deep enough for potted flowers. I just couldn’t keep that, but I didn’t want to repaint the whole thing. So I played with it.

These begonias have been played with, but still look "off."

These geraniums have been played with, but still look “off.”

These have had more depth and shading added. It's better, but I am still pondering.

These have had more depth and shading added. It’s better, but I am still pondering.

So, I am still thinking about altering it, but it is only for me, which means I am much more willing to forgo the work when it stops feeling like playing and just live with the imperfection. Someday it may feel like playing again, though, who knows. Regardless, I am satisfied to know that my mind is no longer twisting over the truly impossible dimensions!

The other subject that has captured my imagination is the mountain-ringed Lake Brienz. Stoney and I have so many photos, and yet my mind still swirls with how I might better capture the magical qualities of that atmosphere and area. I already showed my little watercolor pencil sketches, where I just felt I had to try to catch, with whatever pale means I had, some of what lay before me. I need a teacher in plein air painting, seriously! Well, watercolor is not one of my better mediums, but I certainly use it better than I do the watercolor pencil, and something about the mountains really suggested an effort in watercolor. The mountains were fun to play with, and not too hard to give a sense of them. I played with the sky until I felt like it was sort of what I was imagining. But the water had me stumped.

Struggling with the problem of water in watercolor?

Struggling with the problem of water in watercolor?

As I’ve mentioned in a few of my posts about visiting Switzerland, the water in the lakes is really remarkable. They are a dense turquoise I had previously only seen in pit mines. There must be some sort of constant breeze over the water that keeps it rippling and moving like it is almost at simmer. And the skies are often at least partially overcast, with a mist or at least haze over the valley. The result is a brightly colored water that usually has very little reflection. I could paint this in acrylics, but how to capitalize on the translucent quality of watercolor and still show this amazing water? I could find no online tutorial or anything with water like my memories and photos were showing me. So I got out my paints and scrap papers and played. What I ended up with is very similar to what I would do in acrylic regarding line, but with a delicate application of wet on dry, and even some lifting to keep the contrast from being too strong. I think it works fairly well.

Lake Brienz completed, probably. Maybe.

Lake Brienz completed, probably. Maybe.

I’m still toying with the possibility of bringing the rose a little more left. And the lower shadows on the fading mountains are really bugging me, so I may do something a tad drastic there, but we’ll see. That’s the fun, isn’t it?

My next attempt to exorcise the swirling images of Lake Brienz from my head will be acrylic, and probably a tad abstract. I don’t play in the abstract often, but it can be a lot of fun. After all, it truly IS play!

Do you do anything, as an adult, for playtime?

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A Stop in Lyon, France

Rather than make such a long drive our last day of vacation, we stayed overnight in Lyon. This was the city that gave us SUCH a headache as an attempted lunch stop on the way to Switzerland, due to the Tour du France passing through. Honestly, finding our hotel on the way back was something of a headache, too. In the end, though, I loved it.

We stayed at the Hilton in the Cite International, which had upgraded us as HHonors members to a luxury room. I loved the very French welcome!

Macarons, and a note welcoming me by name!

Macarons, and a note welcoming me by name!

There was a lot of remodeling going on, so perhaps that’s why the upgrade. The room was spacious by European standards, and Theo’s favorite so far. My only inconvenience was the glass door to the bathroom, only semi-frosted, so that one had to be mindful of the privacy of others and stay away when the facilities were in use. We were high up in the hotel, so the window view was very nice.

Across the river Rhone (?) as seen from our hotel room.

Across the river Rhone  as seen from our hotel room.

Zooming in on the view, including the ancient arches among more modern buildings.

Zooming in on the view, including the ancient arches among more modern buildings.

The hotel upgrade was very nice, with a reception in a top floor area with snacks and drinks, as well as breakfast up there. A very nice breakfast. But you know, it felt sort of awkward, too, requiring special access, and we’re just plain folk.

The hotel was part of this long commercial strip, with bookends of an arena on one side, and apartments on the other, with retail space, restaurants, a casino and cinema, and a modern art museum in the middle. This is a view from above.

This view reminds me a little of a Georgia O'Keefe cityscape, or even more maybe Joseph Stella or Charles Sheeler.

This view reminds me a little of a Georgia O’Keefe cityscape, or even more maybe Joseph Stella or Charles Sheeler.

Outside the modern art museum.

Outside the modern art museum.

Stoney with his buddy, the skater, outside the residential section.

Stoney with his buddy, the skater, outside the residential section.

Stoney chilling at the end of the area where our hotel was.

Stoney chilling at the end of the area where our hotel was.

 

Our best discovery was one of the largest urban parks in France, the Parc de la Tete d’Or. We only saw a portion, but I have so many lovely photos from that visit that I’ll give the Parc its own post.

 

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Weather in Toulouse?

I was recently told that this has been a very unusually wet winter for southern France. What a relief! With a light rain soaking everything yet another day, having had only two or three recently with some sunshine, I am glad to know this is not the normal state of things. The knowing doesn’t make it sunnier right now, though.

The little river behind my house is full, dark, and fast.

The little river behind my house is full, dark, and fast.

At least SOMEbody is appreciating the weather!

At least SOMEbody is appreciating the weather!

A neighboring ville’s little river is featured here by another expat blogger.

Even the snow here has been wet. We’ve had one real snow day. Or, well, snow morning, really. It was barely cold enough to give us snow overnight. (Sorry, frozen fellow Kansans).

Snowy driveway

Snowy jardin.

This stuff was soaking wet and heavy. Apparently some areas actually lost power because of it. Also, I am informed by my French teacher (I think. I was informed in French, so there is plenty of room for misunderstanding.) that snow isn’t called wet or dry here. She was dumbfounded that one would call snow wet when it is so obviously water. OF COURSE it’s wet! Trying to explain what one means by this phrase is nearly impossible with a limited vocabulary. But the fact that by 9 am it was already slushy mush on the pavement is testimony to its wetness. We have had many more dry snows in Wichita recently, where the snow is so dry you can’t even pack together a snowball. Here, snow is just snow apparently.

The weight of our dusting of snow pulling down the branches here.

The weight of our dusting of snow pulling down the branches here.

By the time we left for church at 10 am, most of the snow had melted off the streets (especially good since they don’t much do anything about snow here). By the time we left church after noon, it was mostly gone. So there you go: snow in Toulouse. Most of the winter I have enjoyed temps above freezing; a really nice change from Wichita, which at least visited temps below 0 degrees FARENHEIT almost every year, and occasionally camped in that temperature-range for some time.

Maybe next year will be more like the sunny south of France.

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The Genesis of a Craving Satisfied

Lately I’ve been craving…scones. Not biscuits, mind you, which are certainly wonderful in their flakey, fluffy soda-y-ness. Scones. I think it may be the result of the infusion of British accents several times a week: English, Irish, and New Zealanders.

So anyway, Theo and I gave in yesterday and baked up a batch, but kind of like my grandmother would have made, had she ever made scones, which I doubt. It’s the French ingredients, see. We started with my basic scone recipe, American-style, which means the measurements are by volume, not weight. European recipes mostly don’t use cups and teaspoons, but I brought my own kitchen measuring devices.

Whipped cream melting off my fresh-from-the-oven scone.

So…we mixed three cups flour (and I finally found some I am SURE is the equivalent of all-purpose), some salt, 5 teaspoons of baking powder (lavure chimique), and 1/2 cup of sugar together, and cut in my best guess of a 1/2 cup of butter. I can’t eyeball a stick, because butter comes in these rectangular slabs. And they are marked by the gram, not the tablespoon, not the fraction of a cup. I felt I was totally channeling my grandma, watching the texture of the dough, trying to get something almost like coarse sand, rather than tapoica, like I would for pie. Theo beat an egg into a cup of cream (the tiny little bottle of cream is actually creme entiere, which is one of several kinds of little bottles with the word creme on them, and was my best guess to be heavy cream), and we barely worked that into our dough.

We had decided on cinnamon scones, so I shook a pile of, I dunno, maybe a half teaspoon of cinnamon on the dough, then barely worked that in as well. This dough was turned onto a floured surface, and we put another half teaspoonful on the dough, floured the top, and folded the dough about four times. You really do NOT want to work the dough too much; the scones lose their tenderness. Also, the goal with the cinnamon is that some works through the whole dough, but some kind of clusters through it in ribbons.

We cut this dough pile in half, shaped the two halves into circles, then cut each into quarters. These were placed on an oiled cookie sheet and sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar. We baked them at 400 degrees F, which turns out to be 200 degrees C. I’m slowly adjusting to that French oven! I watched them closely, and it took about 10 minutes. I think they may be the best I’ve ever made.

I’m actually drooling again just looking!

It was amazing with a double cafe from my Senseo. And this morning Stoney and I chopped ripe French peaches (which are always amazing) and topped the scones with those. Crisp on the outside, tender inside, and just sweet enough. It’s enough to give you a British accent of your own!

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Spreading the News

The night of our art show, I passed on some emotional (for me) news to my students and their parents: I, my husband and our youngest son would be moving to France for a few years. I would not be back to teach next year. I had already told people at church, but had held off sharing with my school until I could do so all at once.

Eventually, this blog, being 4 Me after all, and about the new Me’s God makes me into, will transition  into an expat in France blog, influenced by my art background and homeschooling junior high for my youngest child. This wasn’t even on my Fifty Before Fifty list, and probably calls for an entire revamping of that now archaic list. I hope friends and family will be better able to stay in touch as I share our adventures and even mundane experiences in a foreign country and culture.

Now to learn a bit of French beyond bonjour, madame! Un croissant, sil vous plait.

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