'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.

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.    


Saturday, 2 February 2013

Rainy Saturday

On this rainy Saturday afternoon, the garage door of the house opposite makes nice reflections in the wet road and puddles in the square in front of our house.

Un jour de pluie : le portail de la maison d'en face fait de jolis reflets dans la chaussée mouillée et les flaques d'eau sur la place devant chez nous.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Plein air sketching in January?

January has ended with two unseasonably warm days. Yesterday I sat by the river in Quillan and did a quick watercolour sketch of the Pont Vieux. After the heavy rainfall of the past few days, the river was rushing noisily past. 

Janvier se termine sous le soleil. Hier à Quillan il a fait 18° C ! Le beau temps m’a fait sortir de ma voiture pour croquer le Pont Vieux, vu d’un banc au bord de l’Aude, grossi par les fortes pluies des derniers jours.   

Today was even hotter so I ventured out again, this time to sketch the strange sight of a huge cable drum teetering on the edge of a very large hole in the road, just along from my house. The electricity company is in the process of laying bigger cables to bring more power to homes in the upper part of the village. With the yellow drum and the red-and-white safety barriers, it made quite a colourful scene.

Aujourd'hui il a fait encore plus chaud. A Fa, EDF est en train de poser des câbles plus gros pour amener une puissance supérieure aux foyers de la partie haute du village. Cela nécessite des travaux importants. Au croisement ils ont creusé une grosse tranchée et laissé un énorme touret au bord du précipice ! Un tableau haut en couleurs pour ce dernier jour de janvier bien ensoleillé.

Monday, 14 January 2013

A prolific weekend

Think I broke my own record this weekend, with a grand total of four pictures completed and posted on my Flickr and Facebook pages. Of course the quantity is irrelevant... what's important is the fact that I'm motivated at last. 

On Saturday afternoon I took myself off to the local spa town of Alet-les-Bains which, in addition to its healing waters, is home to a ruined Benedictine abbey dating back to the ninth century. It being winter, I was able to park my car right outside the abbey's ticket office, from where I had a perfect view of the ruins, offering a glimpse of the cathedral's unusual hexagram-shaped stained glass windows.

At home that evening, Simon was sitting opposite me, engrossed in a game of Beach Buggy Blitz on his Nexus 7. A perfect opportunity to get in some badly needed life drawing practice...

Later, much later, I couldn't sleep and, instead of lying awake overthinking my life, I opened my sketchbook again and added watercolour to a pen sketch I had done on a recent visit to Villerouge-Termenès. It's really a study of a small section of the chateau entrance gate because, as often happens, I started too big and there wasn't room to fit in the scene I had originally been attracted by. The colours turned out well though. I'm really loving the pinks and violets at the moment, perhaps because they are a good antidote to winter.

On Sunday night, I decided to attempt a studio drawing of the street I had wanted to capture in my sketch, using a photograph as source. What drew me to this scene was the bluish quality to the light in the alley through the gate and the way it contrasted with the warm ochres and pinks in the archway's stonework. The biggest challenge proved to be the values, since the whole street apart from the very top of the houses on the right was in shadow. The result to my eye is rather flat as there are no stark contrasts to give depth.

This painting also, to my mind, lacks the looseness and spontaneity of my sketches. A good exercise though... and a satisfactory conclusion to an art-filled weekend.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

La Mouline

Our friend Irving pitched up in the Haute Vallée nearly forty years ago in a gypsy caravan, bought the crumbling ruin that was La Mouline and gradually turned it into the delightful and still decidedly rustic dwelling it is today, with lots of quirky features like windows made from old car windscreens.
Now it's home to Irving, his wife Juliane, who came from Berlin as a Couchsurfer and never left, their little boy, and a menagerie of domestic animals including Jasper the dog, a donkey who sleeps in his own personal stable on the ground floor, chickens and a herd of goats allowed to wander freely over the surrounding hills.

Notre ami Irving a atterri dans la Haute Vallée dans une roulotte il y a presque quarante ans, a acheté le hameau de la Mouline, en ruines, et peu à peu l'a transformé en cette demeure charmante et toujours résolument rustique, des pare-brise récupérés faisant office de fenêtres.
Maintenant, il la partage avec sa femme Juliane femme, venue de Berlin en tant que Couchsurfer et n'a jamais quitté, leur fils, et une ménagerie d'animaux domestiques : le chien Jasper, un âne qui dort dans son propre écurie au rez de chaussée, quelques poules et un troupeau de chèvres qui se promènent librement sur ​​les collines environnantes.



ather than occupying an elevated position like most of the Cathar castles, Villerouge-Termenès is smack bang in the middle of the village, amidst the undulating countryside of the Corbières, with its abundance of evergreen shrubs, red earth and limestone outcroppings. 
From my vantage point on a mound near the church, I had a perfect vertical view, from the café terrace in the shadows below me, over the rooftops to the crenelated towers of the chateau and the hills beyond. 

A la différence de la plupart des autres châteaux cathares, celui de Villerouge-Termenès n’occupe pas une position élevée, se trouvant en plein centre du village, au milieu des terres rouges et des affleurements calcaires des Corbières. 
Pour faire mon croquis, j’ai trouvé un monticule rocheux près de l'église, offrant une parfaite vue verticale de la terrasse du café en bas, passant par-dessus les toits jusqu’aux tours crénelées du château et les collines derrière.