Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Old Ochre Quarry

One painting spot in Provence, was an old ochre quarry (on Les Chemins des Pradelles) about 15 minutes from Les Bassacs, our home base. This enormous rock with it's bullseye hole stood at the entrance. I set up my easel across the road from it, in a (dry) ditch and used the road as my table. I was only able topaint for an hour before the sun became too strong and I had to pack up and move. This is what I did in the first hour. I really liked the painterly and graphic qualities - but it didn't feel finished.

Later that day I worked on it in the studio, and added in the surrounding greenery to give it a context.
I am very happy with it - love the colours and the grandeur of this wonderful rock formation.

Ochre Rock
acrylic on canvas - 14" x 18"

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Interpreting the Scene

Vista near St. Saturnin  (14" x 18")

Challenge #3: Interpreting the Scene
When I paint from photographs I do not slavishly copy the image. I crop, eliminate, add, stylize, and exaggerate – shapes, colours, lines and motifs, keeping in mind my memories about the place. Faced, literally, with a real landscape, I found it challenging to decide how to paint it, how to best interpret it using my personal visual vocabulary. At first I tried to paint what I saw in a fairly exact manner, but that felt too weird – so I eventually reverted to my normal studio interpretive approach (as much as possible), had more fun painting and was happier with the results. 

the real view

Monday, 23 July 2012

Selecting the View

A Street leading up to the Church in St. Saturnin les Apt
Challenge #2: Selecting the View
In the first week I discovered that I was somewhat indecisive when it came to selecting the perfect view to paint. We were within a short 20 minute drive of many small, charming perched villages – like Murs, St Saturnin les Apt, Lioux, Saignon, Goult, Bonnieux, and Joucas – where we painted, as well as at the base of Gordes and at an old ochre quarry. At each location I could have painted a street scene, a vista looking out over the village walls to a distant landscape with vineyards, lavender fields, and the low Luberon mountains, or something even closer. Shade from the sun (as temperatures were in the 90s) and staying clear of traffic were also important considerations. Upon arriving at each location I usually walked and looked for the perfect view - for at least an hour - before settling down to paint. In St Saturnin les Apt, I sat on the street (off to the side) in the photo above, and drew this view of buildings, including far too much architectural details, on a 14" x 18"canvas - and ran out of time and the energy to paint it.

At Saignon I made some small value studies (above), took lots of photos, and finally got out the water colours and painted this little work (below). It was a bright, sunny day and there were wonderful shadows - but it was the little citroen car that really attracted me and the contrast of it against the old stone buildings.

By the second week I decided on the view to paint more quickly, and was able to set up faster and painting improved. 

Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Challenges of Painting en Plein Air

Just outside the walls of Murs
Challenge #1: Hauling the Stuff
I have to confess that I had very little experience painting en plein air, prior to this trip. I am a studio painter. I only began painting landscapes about three years ago, and then started with my own photographs of views taken while at my cottage, on vacation, or from the car window.  That interest turned into a bit of a passion for the subject – especially once I got past the ‘trees don’t have to be green’ idea. Finding a view and hauling my stuff there, fighting with the insect world and changing weather conditions just did not seem very attractive. 
Of course there are limits to using only photographic references when landscape painting – but I like to think that that has allowed me to be more creative with the subject. Hauling my stuff around in Provence, however, sounded just fine. Even if I looked and felt like a pack horse. Most of my painting colleagues were watercolourists – which I dabble in occasionally but I really prefer acrylics – and despite their weight that was what I was schlepping, along with the water, the easel, the canvases (removed from their stretchers), and all the other things required to paint.  I learned painting with acrylics is not only cumbersome, but tricky in a hot dry and sometimes breezy place like Provence where the paint on the palette often dried up (in spite of the retarder) before I could get it on the canvas. I also learned to sit down and paint (adding a folding stool to my assortment of things to haul) as I was closer to the ground (which acted as my ‘table’) where my paints and water were spread out – a much better arrangement then constantly bending over to get something. 

Thursday, 19 July 2012

post Provence

Arts in Provence (yellow house at left) in Les Bassacs

I am now back home after my wonderful two-week painting trip to Provence. I stayed in a hamlet (really just a collection of buildings off the D2 road near St. Saturnin les Apt) called Les Bassacs, in a charming 12th century renovated house called Arts in Provence -run by a delightful ex-pat English couple David Atkinson and Liz Evans. Each morning  David drove us to a different village or nearby location to paint, then he would pick us up and after a delicious lunch at the house, we would continue our morning’s work in the studio or go to another place to paint, or just relax until dinner. Our three course dinner each evening, not to mention the local wines of the Luberon, were fabulous as was the company of my fellow painters.
Over the next few days I will post a little about where we painted, the challenges of painting en plein air, some photos and some of the paintings I did. To start – here are some photos of where I stayed. 
The view to the west, looking over the pool and towards Rousillon, and the Luberon.

The back of the house, with doors into the dining room and the studio window above.