France 2006

    India 2006 / 1999 LPAPA Show  

I try to add links to everyone's website who has one that is on the journal, but I've missed you, just e-mail me and I'll
be happy to add it!

All I have to say is that the idea of people being rude in France, of disliking Americans, and refusing to speak English is one of the most overblown myths I've even encountered. For three weeks, without fail, be it in Paris or the countryside, people were incredibly friendly to us. In Paris, people helped us figure out the metro payment system, stopped to help with directions, and in the countryside would bring us tea while we were painting and even invited us into their houses. Every traveler I talked to reported the same. Only once in Paris did we encounter a rude waiter and it was obvious that he was that way to everyone, regardless of nationality. This view of rudeness is so often heard in the media that I'm truly puzzled. 

Ok, I lied, that isn't all I have to say. After a couple days of touring all the museums and sights in Paris, Susan and I rented a car and drove out to the Loire Valley about an hour and a half south. Avis was just a couple of blocks from our hotel near Notre Dame so we walked to the address but found the Church of Saint Sulphice (of Da Vinci Code fame) but no rental car office. Eventually we realized the address was correct, but that the rental cars and office were underneath the street! Not having driven stick shift before, I muddled my way through the streets of Paris and then onto the highway toward the Loire valley. I pulled up on the clutch too quickly twice at stoplights as I learned this ancient form of propulsion and was amazed that no one beeped while I went through the unmanly process of restarting the car and lurching forward once more. Had I been in Chicago, New York, or LA, the honking would have been instant and deafening -- those American's are just so rude!

Here's a sweet little town, Blere, we stayed at for a couple of days. After returning from India a few months ago it was such a relief to be able to paint on the spot without instantly attracting a huge crowd of people!


After a quick sketch with some paint, I like to block in the large shapes first, then work my way to smaller and smaller shapes. You just can't let yourself get too caught up in the details in these studies since time is limited as the light changes.


Here's the final painting -- oil, 16" by 12"

Here's Chenonceau Chateau, just outside Amboise, one of the many beautiful castles we visited before heading over to the Chateau in Chatillion - Colongy. 

The sense of history is everywhere and we were surprised at how picturesque all the towns and villages were. The French are so proud of preserving the beauty of their towns and it was especially nice not seeing the billboards and towering fast food signs that so mar our highway landscape.

This is the house that Leonardo Da Vinci spent the final four years of his life in. My favorite part was the many machines they'd constructed from his sketchbook.

And finally we headed to the Chateau where the mentorship program is based.

In walking around the ninety acre property, I saw deer and lots of snails! If you're French I'm sure this photo is making you hungry.

Here's a 16" by 12" study I did of the local church in the brief bit of sunlight we had. Most of the two weeks was cold and rainy, but our dedicated groups of artists went out with me every day, nonetheless, and I ended up finishing 22 oil studies during our time there.

When it got too rainy to paint outside, the local church invited us all to paint inside. Here's Susan painting under the watchful eyes of the ancient window that has no doubt looked down upon so many dramas and generations of the town's inhabitants. Susan says she is a "fair weather plein air painter" so did less painting than me during the cold and rainy days, but they looked great. Unfortunately, you'll just have to take my word for it since she wouldn't let me put any of her studies on the website!

Here's another study I did with our group. Many of the street scenes looked much more interesting with sunlight so I would paint most of it while the clouds were out and then hurriedly pop in the bit of sunlight in the couple of minutes it showed up.

Anyone up for a mutton roast?

Here's Pam and Bernie and me painting some Roman ruins just in someone's backyard! They kindly invited us in and let us paint wherever we wanted. This is the ancient remains of a cloister for monks.

This is Barbara painting in the same little town. Rather than building a bridge, the cobblestone road went right through the stream. Barbara has been to France many times and it was so fun to hang out with someone who could fill in the many gaps of our understanding, both of the culture and the food!

Here's Roxy painting with her trademark sandals.

And Susan painting the bridge in Gien.

Here's one of my studies of the same spot.

Here's our group huddled together on the banks of the river.

Here's "Corkscrew" Bill painting the same scene. When we set up at this peaceful spot it was quiet and idyllic. But then the workmen showed up and soon some huge machines showed up with cranes and scoops and drove out into the river and began pulling out trees and other junk that had washed into it from a storm. As they began piling the trees right in front of Bill and using chain saws to cut them up, we wondered where our peaceful painting spot had gone! Bill worked for George Lucas for many years as a matte painter and is planning on going full time with his own paintings soon. Bill's website is

Buell Cole painting away. Buell is a fellow Midwesterner who studied with our teacher, Bill Parks, before he passed away. It's also been fun seeing how quickly Buell has progressed with his work even though he has limited time at this point with a family and full time career in the Banking industry. No matter how much time you can spend painting, or even if you never intend to sell your work, pursuing a passion just for the love of it is reward in and of itself and I always admire people who are brave enough to do so.

Here's the same scene with sunlight -- once again just a few minutes, but enough for me to get it down.

Remember, don't paint buildings, trees, or eyes -- just shapes!

This is a cafe in Gien we took shelter in from the rain. Once again the owners kindly allowed us to paint a model right there in the middle of the shop. 

Who is this romantic French artist? Why, he isn't French at all, it's Corkscrew Bill again! You may wonder how he got the nickname, but some secrets are simply too dangerous to reveal! This charming little castle complex has been turned into a fish museum. The Countess still lives in the main castle that her family has owned for hundreds of years.

Here's a little 9" by 12" study I did, though halfway through it began raining and the wind was blowing so hard all of us had to hold our easels with one hand and paint with the other. Francois, our driver and interpreter even had the misfortune of having hooked an umbrella to his easel with the obvious result. While I painted, the gardener came up to me from time to time and looked at my progress and then would go back to her weeding and pruning. 

Here's the gardener with some flowers she cut for Roxy.

When we were leaving I mentioned the kindness of the gardener woman to the lady at the gift shop and she said, "That was the countess!"

Here's another study I did at the fisher museum and castle the following week.

Here's Buell, Marie, and Roxy watching me do a high key demonstration. We had such a fun group! Marie is from Australia; she saw a ghost in the Chateau we stayed in and even read all our numbers using our birthdates. I can't tell you what she told me about my future, but lets just say that I'll be announcing my presidential campaign shortly. Marie's website is


Here's the high key demonstration in progress. The main point I was trying to illustrate in this demo was how to paint something in a more narrow value range to intensify color.


Big shapes, them medium, then small. Since this is a sunlit scene, our light source is warm and the shadows relatively cooler as you can clearly see in the block in. In the overcast paintings it is the opposite, with the lights cooler and the shadows warmer. 

If you think of a range of values from one to ten, I have used something like a 7 for my darkest dark and a 2 or 3 for the lightest light, with all the values in between adjusted in relation to these two extremes. Because the brightest colors will always occur in the middle range of values, this tends to bring a lot more color into the darks and lights. The key is to stick with this value relationship throughout the painting process. If I were to add a darker or lighter accent later into the painting, it would throw off the entire value structure. 

In these fast studies there simply isn't time to get into all the detailed architecture so you are forced to paint more simply and suggestive, which is why so many plein air paintings have such character and life to them. Even when painting in my studio on larger paintings that might take weeks, I try and use these lessons of painting simply and directly to help from getting too photographic. The paintings from life also teach you a great deal about color and value. Hopefully, by doing enough studies from life, you will be able to figure out what isn't contained in the photographs -- especially with respect to value and color.

And here's beautiful Sancerre, a hilltop village surrounded by vineyards and farms.

Oh, and the nuclear power plants you see everywhere in France. 

Here's Buell painting one of the street scenes of the town.

 Marie and an energized Judythe painting by the WC. "I just had a thoughtlet!" I think Judith is exclaiming in this photo. These two are so fun to hang out with, Marie had such amazing stories from her family's history to her adventures traveling the world and Judythe was the life of the party as you can see. Both artists did beautiful paintings that day, I can't wait to see what they will be doing in the future. Judythe was fun to simply listen to since she was always contorting and rearranging words and even making some of them up from time to time! When Susan pointed to some baby ducks following their mother and exclaimed, "Look at the cute baby ducklets!" I knew she'd been hanging around Judythe way too long.

Just another interesting house.

Here's Susan braving the elements. 

Here's Zoe and I bundled up against the cold. Zoe told me she'd never been so cold in all her life, was having a great time, but couldn't wait to get back to her comfy studio. She was so tough and determined, I know she will be a big success. I met Zoe when she took a workshop of mine long ago and it has been amazing seeing her progress! She was so tough and determined to paint in the horrible weather, I know she will be a big success.  So many of the people we painted with in France were so good that I kept wishing I could switch paintings with them. 

Here's our guide/ driver/ translator/ and artist extraordinaire, Francois wearing his winter coat underneath his t-shirt. It might be a French thing, but I suspect it is more a Francois thing. 

Here's the painting he was doing. I'm not certain who this is, but he is quite handsome with that nerdy hat, don't you think? I sure do wish I was that thin!

With more rain, we painted at the Chateau in the L'Orangerie, originally built by the owner in the late 18th century to keep his orange trees warm during the winters, but which also worked well at keeping artists and models warm! On the left you can see Rebecca painting what turned out to be a fantastic likeness of Laura. We actually first met Rebecca when she worked for a Print company who handled our work, then she moved on to work for SW Art Magazine, and now paints full time for herself. Every artist has a different path they must follow and you shouldn't compare your journey to anyone else's since that's what makes each of our paintings unique. Rebecca's work can be seen on her website at

Here's our model, Laura, admiring Mary's painting of her. Laura lives in the town and came up to Susan and I while we were out painting on the street just across from her grandmother's house where she lives. She invited us in to her house for coffee and tea and Susan asked her to pose for us a few days later. Laura is a very talented artist herself and is studying to become a designer. Her mother works in Paris as a police officer. Seeing museums and landscapes are wonderful, but it's the people you meet on a trip that really stays with you the most.

Here's Zoe, painting another itinerant we picked up on the street who had nothing better to do than sit for a few hours. Actually, I think his exact words were, "I absolutely refuse to pose!" But then after a few stern words off in the corner from his wife, Zoe, Paul then announced, "I have now realized what a great opportunity posing would be!" He was great fun to have around.

Here's Paul with the study I did of him. While we were painting, Paul had a few of his own adventures, driving all the way to the Bugatti Museum, four hours away and over the French border. He then was stranded for an hour in a deserted automated parking lot that had been misprogramed for the holiday. With the town empty, he was stranded there for an hour before someone walking by happened to have a monthly pass that worked in opening up the gate. Ah, the convenience of modern technology!

Here's Bernie painting with the storm clouds massing behind. You can see his work on his website at

Another painting session in the L'Orangerie with a local artist we met at the grocery store. Pam Folse sitting next to me always has a smile on her face, what a great spirit.

Here's the painting I did of him. I loved the intensity of his eyes and you can almost imagine him a resistance fighter in WWII.

Even at the airport on our way home, the combination of modern and ancient continues. France was definitely far more beautiful and pleasant than we ever imagined and both Susan and I are eager to return, hopefully when there is sun!

    India 2006 / 1999 LPAPA Show  

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