'Aller au fil de l'eau' means to go with the flow. It is also, appropriately, the name of the café in the small French village where I live. On the terrace, the atmosphere is relaxed, life seems to mosey along no faster than the river that slips lazily by. In spring and early summer, conversations are often accompanied by a chorus of croaking frogs. Creating this blog is some kind of commitment to take brush or pen or pencil in hand every day and make art. As Julia Cameron says: "...creativity is not a marathon event that we must gird ourselves for, whacking off great swaths of life as we know it to make room for it. Creativity is not aberrant, not dramatic, not dangerous. If anything, it is the pent-up energy of not using our creativity that feels that way". Not making art is like trying to stop the flow of the river. I surrender to the flow and watch where it takes me.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Au Revoir Aude

The trip to Arizona in February, mentioned in my last post, triggered a major life change... and we have exchanged the warm ochres and terracottas of southern France for the cool greens, dark stone and peaty earth tones of the Pennines in northwest England where I grew up. So this post is a farewell to my Aude sketching days. I'll be documenting this next phase of my artistic life with a new sketchblog in the next few weeks.

Le voyage en Arizona en février, evoqué dans mon dernier post, a provoqué un grand changement dans ma vie. En effet, nous avons échangé les couleurs chaudes, les ocres et terres cuites du sud de la France pour les verts frais et les tons sombres de pierre et de terre tourbeuse des landes des Pennines au nord-ouest de l'Angleterre où j'ai grandi. Alors dans ce poste je dis "au revoir" à mes carnets de l'Aude. Je vais documenter cette prochaine phase de ma vie artistique avec un nouveau sketchblog dans les prochaines semaines. 

The riverside houses in Quillan have been a favourite sketching subject over the past three years. On this day in February it was grey and rainy but the colour of the roof tiles always warms things up.

Les maisons riveraines à Quillan ont été un sujet de croquis préféré au cours des trois dernières années. En ce jour de février, il était gris et pluvieux, mais la couleur des tuiles réchauffe toujours la vue.

On my return from Arizona, I had a hankering for the red rocks of Sedona so I made another trip to Peyrolles on a bright day in early March.

A mon retour de l'Arizona, les roches rouges de Sedona me manquaient alors je suis retournée aux terres rouges de Peyrolles un jour ensoleillé au début de mars.

In late March, as the days were starting to lengthen, I did two evening sketches of the Aude riverside in Limoux while my daughter was having her piano lesson.

Fin mars, quand les jours commençaient à rallonger, j'ai fait deux croquis sur les berges de l'Aude à Limoux alors que ma fille avait son cours de piano.

And this was my last sketch of the Aude Valley, at least for now. Au revoir Aude!
Et voilà mon dernier croquis de la vallée de l'Aude, au moins pour l'instant. Au revoir à l'Aude !

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Colours of January

Next month I travel to Sedona in Arizona with its impressive red-rock landscape, very similar to the area near the village of Peyrolles where I live in the Haute Vallée de l’Aude. On a clear sunny afternoon a couple of weeks ago, I went up to there to do some sketching in preparation for my upcoming trip, when I hope to do a travel sketchbook.

This week by contrast, the rain has resulted in much more muted colours. The abandoned Chateau de Cazemajou, which sits on the hill overlooking Couiza, has been tempting me to sketch it for years. Last Wednesday it was raining but I had an hour to spare so I found a place to park the car, in the tiny container park next to the railway track, from where the view of the chateau was crisscrossed by telegraph wires and power lines.  

Monday, 4 November 2013

Oliver's Ait

Although I started urban sketching regularly only two years ago, I have occasionally dabbled in plein-air painting and drawing over the years. On one such occasion, a blustery April afternoon in 1993, I spent a chilly half-hour on a bench by the Thames at Chiswick doing a quick rendition of the small island known as Oliver's Ait at low tide, before rain stopped play and I repaired to my friend's house nearby for a reviving cuppa.     

Oliver's Ait at Low Tide, 30x23cm, acrylic on paper

At the time I thought it was rubbish but one day decided to put it in a frame I had lying about and it looked altogether better. Now it hangs in my hall in France and every time I see it I think maybe I should experiment with working loose like this again. It has an energy and freshness that can be so easily lost when I get bogged down in detailed line work.  

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Friday Evenings

This year my daughter has weekly piano lessons with a teacher in Limoux, a town I've never sketched before. Limoux is famous for two things: the champagne-like tipple Blanquette de Limoux and its carnival, reputed to be the longest in Europe, that runs every weekend from January to Mardi Gras. It also has some pretty nice buildings, an arcaded central square and an attractive river front along the Aude.

So every Friday evening, after dropping Delphine off, I have just 40 minutes to find a suitable subject, do the sketch and get back to the piano teacher's house for the pick-up. Not long but it's good discipline.

Week 1: Found a parking space near the indoor market and, not wanting to be too ambitious given the limited time, decided to focus on a detail of the entrance to the market hall in ink, no watercolour.

Week 2: Delphine's piano teacher and his wife are also good friends and for the second week's sketch, I stayed on their terrace to draw some weathered terracotta pots sitting on a pair of rickety wooden chairs. No time to paint it on site but I took a photo and added watercolour at home.

Week 3: Had a bit of shopping to do and only had time for a quick pencil sketch of the old bridge (inexplicably called the Pont Neuf) in fading light.

Week 4: Mid-October, chilly and damp and I wasn't really in the mood for drawing. After wandering around the rive droite area, I ventured onto the Pont Neuf (see above) and saw that there was quite an interesting view of the Eglise Saint Jacques, now the Piano Museum. Stood on the bridge and did a quick ink sketch of said building.

Week 5: The last lesson before the half-term holidays. A cool evening, light fading so I headed for a cafe in the main square and sketched the view through the windows, while sipping a kir royale - a glass of blanquette with a dash of blackcurrant liqueur. Pas mal.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Putting it in perspective

Two years ago almost to the day I did my first proper 'urban sketch' - of an old butcher's shop on a street corner in Quillan.

Though a bit wooden, it was at least a start. Yesterday, quite by chance, I found myself in the same spot and thought to myself: "Wow, wouldn't it be interesting to sketch the same scene and compare the results...?". So that's what I did.

This time I decided to include more in the sketch, a) because I had more time to spend and b) because experience has taught me not to feel daunted by complicated views. But, as I started to draw, all the problems I came up against last time came flooding back. The perspective is really tricky in this one. Feeling bold, I had opted to go straight to ink... bad decision. With hindsight, I realise I should have at least sketched in the perspective lines in pencil to give me the basic structure. Anyway, I got down the basic drawing on site, took a photo for reference and left to pick up my daughter from dance class.

Back in the studio, I compared my sketch with the photo and immediately saw how bad the perspective was. It's odd because I usually have quite a good eye for perspective and have never felt the need to use a frame or other device. Not wanting to give up on this sketch, I decided to use it as an exercise. So I printed out the photo and drew in the perspective lines, establishing that there was indeed a single vanishing point.

Then I used a ruler to check the lines on my drawing... Multiple vanishing points. Oh dear. Was it salvageable?

With the help of a tube of white gouache, I was able to improve the perspective, though the final drawing still has multiple vanishing points. Oh well, you can't win 'em all. Enough fiddling, on with the fun part, putting in the colour.

Despite the dodgy perspective, the finished sketch, while by no means one of my best, does perhaps have more atmosphere than the 2011 version. Probably because there is more in the picture and the colours are more resolved. What do you think?


Sunday, 3 March 2013

Scenes from domestic life

In the winter we often spend our evenings sitting in front of the wood-burning stove, which happens to be in the hallway. The kitchen is open-plan and this is what I see from my fireside chair when I turn to the right. The corner of the kitchen is under the stairs. The basket I use for the market hangs from a nail banged into the underside of the stairs. There is also a sprig of dried sage tied with a red ribbon.

This sketch is intended as a slice of life rather than a still life, so nothing is arranged. The worktop is a post-cooking jumble of pan lids, steaming pot, etc. The fridge magnet is an Aboriginal art style dolphin I've had for years.

Like most cats, Bella has various favourite sleeping places. Last week her preference was for the sofa, before that it was Simon's piano carrying bag and now it's a cushion on a dining chair.