I could get hooked on this approach to painting:

Starting with the foreground ivy

Villeneuve, France – oil painting on canvas 24″ x 36″:

The underpainting done with Terra Rosa diluted with turpentine was totally dry.

This method of completing one section before moving on to the next section, shape by shape, felt totally foreign to me.  Even when painting alla prima or en plein air I paint in layers, covering the entire canvas, building my values and colors gradually.  After today, I might change my method.  I think that the “all over” technique was another factor that led to muddy colors and less than effective color/value choices.

As the morning dissolved into afternoon I couldn’t help but paint a few thin washes of color in areas that extended beyond the area I was concentrating on.  I’m working from two photographs with very different lighting and coloring.  I needed more of the green across the bottom in the planters so that I could judge the color and value for the doors, windows and shadows.

A bit more green here and there

Detail - still needs final touches

Detail - still needs final touches

Painting in this manner, I’m more aware of my lost and found edges and I’m making conscious decisions about them.

I’ll probably complete the entire painting, bit by bit, up to the same stage as the detail above.  I’ll then study it carefully and add a few final touches without getting too fussy.

The beginning of the Villeneuve painting:

Terra Rosa underpainting - 24" x 36" oil painting

This is the underpainting of the oil I am working on from a photograph taken in Villeneuve, France.  I have established the composition and the values.  I generally work on the entire canvas, refining as I go.  I will be trying a new approach with this painting.  Inspired by Richard Schmid, I plan to begin in one area and mix the correct value and color for that shape, moving on to adjacent shapes from there.  It is a pretty frightening idea to me.

It was Friday, April 24th, 2009:

Doorway Garden, Villeneuve, France

Over a year has passed since Jane swept me away to France where we explored the narrow streets of Villeneuve for two days before embarking on a journey aboard the Viking Burgundy that took us from Avignon south to Arles then north to Chalon sur Saone.  It has taken all these months to fulfill prior commitments of painting commissions, exhibitions, demonstrations and workshops.  Most importantly, it has taken this long to re-evaluate the direction of my painting and to come up with a plan that allows me to focus on my personal growth as an artist rather than the marketing of my work and my teaching.

The sketches above are the first of several for the large oil painting that will hang in Jane’s new home in South Carolina where she recently moved to enjoy a life immersed in the arts, surrounded by fascinating and inspiring people.  I will miss her company.

There is a wire, perhaps a phone wire or television cable, that runs from the upper right corner down into the climbing roses that cover the balcony.  For me, it was an important part of the composition when I took the photo.  I realize that it will be considered an unpleasant and unnecessary intrusion by some.  I thought, momentarily, of eliminating it.  For two reasons, I opted to include it.  Primarily, I need it to work with the other two vertical lines on either side of the bottom of the painting ( the edges of window and door frames ) to echo the grouping of three window shapes.  Second, it is a documentation of the times, the year 2009 when wires are part of the world we live in whether we are in a small village in France that was built in the 13th century or we are in New York City.


Detail of 3' x 7.5' three panel oil painting

There is a good chance that I will complete Sue’s painting today.  It has been a long, wonderful journey for both of us.  Last weekend, as I worked into both the sneaker she holds in her hand and the two pair of hiking boots, I laughed at how much fun I have drawing and painting shoes.

I have a great deal of respect for a well designed, well made shoe.  Had it not been for my EB’s and my green Chouinard climbing shoes I would not have seen the world from the vantage point of standing on little crystals on the side of a cliff.  Had it not been for my dance shoes I would not have spent so many hours of delight dancing to the music of my fiddling friends.  Had it not been for my Dansko clogs I could not spend the entire day on my feet painting without being in pain.  My Naot sandals were as wonderful as my cargo paints for traveling in France, even walking on the uneven cobblestone streets.  Without great shoes, my life would be sedentary.  Pondering a sedentary life was heavy on my mind during the last two months when a pain in my right hip prevented me from walking faster than a snail.  Thanks to Dr. Jeff Marrongelle, as of a week ago, I am out of pain.  Perhaps part of that relief and joy has been infused into Sue and Dale’s hiking boots.

Plane Trees in Chalon-sur-Saone, France, pruned into cubes

Plane Trees in Chalon-sur-Saone, France, pruned into cubes

Upon the completion of Sue’s painting I will turn to both plein air painting and developing paintings from the reference photos and sketches of France.  The multi-layered images of the window reflections will be my winter project on days that I am too wimpy to paint outdoors.  When I am out and about, my mindset will be that of a tourist in Hunterdon County, in an attempt to uncover the shapes and patterns and subject matter that is so familiar to me that I no longer see it.

Cargo Pants for the traveling artist

Cargo Pants for the traveling artist

Having only four days to prepare and pack for a trip to France forced me to make quick decisions about what to pack and what not to pack.  At the last minute, I put the two pair of everyday pants I had chosen back into the closet and grabbed a pair of black cargo pants that I knew would dry quickly if I needed to wash them.  I had never worn them before and I hadn’t a clue as to where they had come from.  Most likely, they were handed down to me from either Nicole or Alexis, something from the Far Hills Rummage Sale that they never wore, or were tired of.  It was a bit risky to bring a pair of pants I’d never worn, but I had my yoga pants as a back up.  It ended up being one of the best packing decisions I made.  I wore them every day and, thanks to the wonderful baggy pockets on the side, I was able to sketch, write notes and take photographs in a moment’s notice, even while walking on cobblestone streets.The pocket on the right was the home of my digital camera and the pocket on my left was the home of my pencil and two moleskin notebooks, one lined and one unlined.  The waist pouch is something I picked up when traveling with Nicole in Portugal.  It is a soft,  sturdy cotton fabric, very flat, with a zippered compartment inside and out.  I kept my passport, money and a few flat essentials in the waist pouch. When I wasn’t sketching or taking notes, both hands were free and no weight (such as a back pack) on my shoulders.  There was even room in the pants’ pockets for my small watercolor kit, which I carried touring on the first day.  After realizing that I rarely had enough time to paint in one location while touring, and that walking while carrying a wet painting kept me from making further notes and sketches, I left the watercolor kit on the boat.

Across from Avignon along the Rhone River, France

Across from Avignon along the Rhone River, France

Painting atop the Viking Burgundy was a reversal of roles.  When I paint dancers in motion, I am stationary while my subject, the dancer, is moving.  In the case of painting the landscape of Provence while sailing north on the Rhone, the landscape was stationary and I was in motion.  This reversal of roles fascinated me and forced me to be as suggestive with simple strokes as I am when painting dancers in motion.  I loved it.  No time to get fussy over the buildings or the lay of the land.  No time to get fussy over the fabulous clouds that moved across the cerulean sky.  No time to get fussy over the transition from land to water. The situation forced me to become more aware of the shapes that inspire me and the strength of watercolor as a medium for playful, spontaneous “snapshots” of life as it passes quickly from moment to moment.

Green Rowboat on the banks of the Saone River, France.

Green Rowboat on the banks of the Saone River, France.

Each day at least one passenger would ask to see the paintings and drawings I had done that day.  This little sketch was one that I had tucked in the back of the pile, assuming that it was totally unsuccessful in capturing the image that had inspired me.  A bit of an edge caught the eye of the woman who had requested a peek at the artwork.  “and what about that one?” she asked.  Reluctantly I pulled it out from its hiding place and held it out to her.  A look of surprise and a moment latter she exclaimed “That’s that little green rowboat I saw tied to the bank this morning!  Wasn’t it wonderful?”  …. and that was before I wrote the note in pencil in the bottom corner.

This short encounter reminded me not to underestimate the ability of abstract simplicity to connect with a viewer.  It also reminded me to leave a painting fresh and not to add definition simply to make sure that an “object” is not mistaken for something other than it is.  it wasn’t the fact that it was a rowboat that inspired me in the first place, it was the spot of intense Hardware Store Green against the gentle landscape of Provence.