'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.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Cathar Castles

This part of southern France, the eastern foothills of the Pyrenees, is known as Cathar Country, dotted with ruined chateaux where the Cathars, branded as heretics by the Roman Catholics, took refuge during the crusade which ultimately destroyed them.

On the day of the Winter Solstice this year, we went to one of the most spectacular of these Cathar strongholds - Quéribus, down towards the Mediterranean, on the edge of the Corbières.

It was cloudy and threatening rain when we arrived but just as we reached the top of the steep path, the sun made a brief appearance and I sat down to sketch the steps leading up to the arched entrance.

At one point the light started to fail though it was only midday; I turned around and saw, hovering over the valley below, the strangest and blackest cloud I've ever seen. We hot-footed it back down to the car park where I did a second sketch from the warmth and protection of the car.

Boxing Day was sunny and warmish so I took advantage and drove over the hill to sketch another Cathar castle - Puivert. I particularly like the view of the back of the chateau as you come down the hill into Puivert village. It was a clear blue day and the light was exquisite.

Yesterday also dawned sunny and mild so we jumped in the car again and drove over to the Ariège. Between Lavelanet and Foix is another, rather spectacular chateau that we had often passed but never visited: Roquefixade. This time we made the detour - and didn't regret it. We parked in the delightful village square and made our way up the steep path to the ruined chateau, perched on top of a limestone outcrop. It was a perfect day to come up here, to enjoy astonishing views of the snow-capped Pyrenees and the neighbouring chateau of Montségur on its pog further along the valley.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Hunting Shooting Fishing

For my first post on the Urban Sketchers France blog since being invited as a correspondent, I drew one of Quillan's traditional shops on the Place de la République. 

Yesterday afternoon, with my daughter at her usual two-hour dance class in Quillan, I found a much coveted parking space with a good view of the quirky aqua green shop front of the hunting, shooting and fishing supplier's. This side of the square was in shadow and the buildings opposite were mirrored clearly in the shop's windows. With its murals of leaping salmon and unsuspecting ducks flying over a pond thick with bulrushes, this place is a blast from the past.

Mon premier poste en tant que correspondant du blog Urban Sketchers France…
Hier après-midi, quand je me suis garée devant le magasin « Aux Loisirs de la Haute Vallée » pour dessiner, ce côté-là de la place était à l’ombre et les bâtiments d’en face se reflétaient dans la vitrine comme dans un miroir. Avec ses peintures murales de poissons et de canards survolant une mare avec des joncs, c’est une vraie relique du passé.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Passion Fruit

Well, it's been ten months since I posted anything on this blog. In that time, I have been getting involved with the art community on Flickr and created a fan page for my art on Facebook. And I did wonder what the point of a blog was, especially as I don't always have the time, the inclination or indeed the skill to write an interesting commentary. But now, having just become a correspondent on the Urban Sketchers France blog - an exciting new stage of my artistic journey - I think it's time to revive my own blog.

And what better day to start than a crisp, sunny Sunday in the Haute Vallée... the light was exquisite. It was cold but so beautifully sunny that I just had to get out and sketch. In Espéraza, on the road that runs alongside the railway, I found a house, clearly a holiday home, its green shutters closed for the winter, the stubby plane trees opposite casting huge shadows onto the facade. My eye was drawn by a few golden passion fruits dangling from a vine that crept along the railings in front of the house.

Quoiqu’un peu froid, il faisait tellement beau aujourd’hui que je rongeais mon frein pour dessiner dehors. A Espéraza, sur la rue qui longe le chemin de fer, les platanes dénudés jettent leurs ombres gigantesques sur les façades des maisons d’en face. Passant devant une résidence secondaire, ses volets verts fermés pour l’hiver, j’ai été attirée par les fruits de la passion dorés qui pendaient toujours à sa liane sur la grille devant la maison. 

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Snow in Serres

With my daughter at music class, I had an hour and a half to devote to sketching. My idea today had been to sketch a rural snow scene but I couldn't find anywhere to park off the road, all the tracks and lay-bys still being too snowy. So I ended up in the square in Serres, a picturesque little village in the shadow of Pech Cardou.
Ma fille en classe de musique, j'avais une heure et demie à consacrer au dessin. Aujourd'hui, mon idée avait été d'esquisser une scène de neige en milieu rural, mais impossible de se garer hors de la route, toutes les pistes et aires de stationnement étant encore enneigés. Je me suis trouvée alors sur la place de Serres, un petit village à l'ombre du Pech Cardou.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Rusting Industry

Entrance to an industrial unit in the old hat factory of Montazels. I was drawn by the contrast between the electric blue paintwork and the rusting iron window frames.
Pilot drawing pen and Derwent watercolour pencils
Entrée d'atelier dans l'ancienne fabrique de chapeaux de Montazels. J'ai été attirée par les contrastes entre le bleu de la peinture et les cadres de fenêtre rouillés.

Efisol factory

The Efisol polyurethane foam factory, the only industrial facility in this small town, was closed down by the health inspectors a few years ago. Its rusting pipes and tanks are quite an eyesore though it does have its attractions for an urban sketcher.
La seule installation industrielle de cette petite ville de la Haute Vallée de l'Aude, cette ancienne usine qui fabriquait des blocs de mousse en polyuréthane a été fermée par les inspecteurs de la DRIRE il y a quelques années. Bien que ses conduites et silos rouillés soient plutôt laids, c'est vrai qu'ils ont ses attraits pour un croqueur urbain.

Nocturnal Shadows

The forecourt of this town house in Quillan has a slatted wooden framework over it and the stark white light from the street lamp casts dramatic shadows onto the walls and pillars.
Ink drawing on site, watercolour added at home.
L'avant-cour de cette maison de ville à Quillan est couvert d'une structure à lattes de bois et la lumière blanche du réverbère jette des ombres dramatiques sur les murs et les poteaux.
Dessin au feutre fin sur place, aquarellé à la maison.

Graveyard Cypresses

Quillan in the foothills of the Pyrenees is backed by a high ridge which is often swathed in a soft milky haze when the sun goes down behind it. The town's cemetery by the river Aude has many old cypress trees and I like the way their majestic forms are silhouetted against the mountain.
Derwent watercolour pencils on location.
Derrière la ville de Quillan s'élèvent les premiers contreforts des Pyrénées, souvent voilés d'une brume laiteuse au coucher du soleil. Le cimetière sur les bords de l'Aude a beaucoup de vieux cyprès et j'aime la façon dont leurs formes majestueuses se détachent sur la montagne.
Crayon d'aquarelle sur place.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Table for Four

This is the tiny terrace of the house next-door-but-one, sketched looking sideways from my attic window. I've been eyeing this scene for many months as I love the shadows cast by the bars and the wrought-iron furniture. There is always a slight atmosphere of abandonment since the house is only occupied a few days a year when the owner comes over from Ireland. On her last visit she left the cloth under the lamp and it has been blown about and rained on.
La minuscule terrasse de la maison après celle d'à côté, croquée de la fenêtre de mon grenier. Cela fait plusieurs mois que je regarde ce tableau en vue d'en faire un croquis car les ombres des barres et des chaises en fer forgé me fascinent. Il y a toujours une ambiance un peu abandonnée parce que la maison n'est occupée que quelques jours par an. La dernière fois, la propriétaire avait laissé une nappe sous la lampe que le vent et la pluie ont malmenée.


New Year's Day in Fa and it was warm enough to set up my newly acquired sketching stool outside. Dave's 2CV, affectionately known as Fifi, is a familiar sight in the village. She rarely gets an outing these days. An English couple walking past recalled seeing her upside down in a ditch not too long ago. It's a shame they don't make these cars anymore... they're so quintessentially French. 

Fa, le Premier de l'an. Il faisait bon, assez chaud pour me permettre d'installer mon nouveau tabouret dehors sur la place. Tout le monde connaît la 2cv de Dave, surnommée Fifi. Elle reste la plupart du temps stationnée au coin de la rue. Deux passants se souvenaient de l'avoir vue renversée dans un fossé il n'y a pas longtemps. C'est dommage que Citroën ne les fabrique plus... elles sont tellement françaises.