12 October 2013

Addenda to the last few blogs

Bix and Jane posted some pictures on Facebook, so I borrowed a few to flesh out what I've already written.

Here is Jane, demonstrating for us on the first day. She painted a picture of a paintbrush to show us the water-bleed technique, first doing a simple one wet on dry, and then painting it again and dousing it with water to show how you can use it selectively to give either a hard or a soft edge.

Here is another example of the "lift out" technique (in which you make a wash, wait for it to get to the perfect moment between wetness and dryness, and then lift out your design with a dry brush), beautifully illustrated by Giovanna's seed pods, lifted out of sepia paint:

Here we are on our sketch outing at the chateau/hill fort:

And here are the inspiration for and the products of our painting--Cristina gathered nature's detritus every time she went for a walk, and created this beautiful wreath; Jane painted these hops from a strand Cristina found by the side of the road, the seed no doubt dropped by a passing bird; and someone (not sure who did this one) painted this beautiful daisy. 

The daisy and the hops illustrate the technique of painting around your whites with clear water (or with some color), then dropping in a series of washes, which run into the wet parts of the paper but go around the dry parts, forming the flower. Then when it's all (or mostly) dry, you can go back in and do some negative painting (dark around light) to give it definition and depth.

11 October 2013


The reason I am blogging about all of this a week and a half late, in case you were wondering, is that the WiFi at Bandouille was a bit spotty and wouldn't send my very large photos from my phone to my email, and also I was using my Kindle, which involves two-fingered typing at best, and I had neither the time nor the patience to write an extensive blog entry by poking at a screen with my index fingers (especially when I could be painting instead), so I made notes and am doing it now. Here is the "sweet spot" from which I emailed my cat-sitter each day, outside the house; the stone walls blocked the signal indoors from virtually every angle, but from this little bench under the window I could access the magic channel to California.

Tuesday we went on our first outing. I think I remember that the town's name was Thouars, but that could have been the name of the river--Bixxy will correct me if I'm wrong. This village (town?) had an odd landmark--a French chateau built up on a hill completely inside a much older (think hundreds of years) hill fort.

We strolled around to the best vantage point, which was from the (closed for winter hours) garden of a café owned by fellow expatriate Brits, who let us sit there to sketch and brought us coffee. I made a contour drawing in pencil of the part with just the ruins (I found the idea of drawing the chateau INSIDE the ruins just too daunting) and plan to paint it using the reference photo I took for that purpose. Here is my drawing:

And here are some lovely sketches that Jane made--vignettes of portions of both the ruins and the chateau:

And now, back to our home base to share a few more photos:

Here are my hosts, Drew Owen and Bixxy Nash...

And here is the front (back?) view of the house (my window is top left).

Here is one of the many amazing architectural features of the property that I photographed with a mind to painting it one Sunday afternoon soon...

And here is me, in front of the lake at sunset (just to prove I was really there and didn't get all of these off of some website!)...

More blogging tomorrow! (Still waiting for some of my pix to download--I discovered Dropbox, so I can quit emailing them to myself individually. What a relief!)

09 October 2013


Before getting into the day, I have to mention Bandouille hospitality and the gustatory experience. Drew and Bixxy made us feel like we were favored house guests. Every morning at breakfast you could have your choice of tea or coffee (nice strong French coffee, real English tea, milk), and Drew drove early to the local bakery for really scrumptious croissants to go with our yogurt and muesli. (French yogurt is MUCH better than its counterpart in America!) We had a full lunch and dinner every day, prepared by Bixxy, and since I am a vegetarian, she made special accommodations for me with a separate plate if the rest were eating a meat dish. Much appreciated, and always delicious, as well as unusual (I especially loved the mix of quinoa, red lentils, and wild rice) and healthy too.

So, after breakfast on Monday, Drew took Nikki off to Nantes to catch her flight home to Kent, while the rest of us headed to the studio for a lesson in technique.

Outside of studio

Inside of studio

Jane Minter
Jane took us through doing a series of washes--both monochrome and in multiple colors--and then Jane demonstrated the technique of painting wet on dry, then surrounding the image with water and pulling out the color from the image into the background, leaving white to keep a hard edge on one side of the painted object, while invading the image on the other to let the color bleed. This is kind of a trademark technique of Jane's, and you can see it on her blog. We tried it with our own objects, and then she demonstrated using the same principle painting a stem of berries from the yard, and we tried to duplicate that (see berries, below).


Afterwards, we went the opposite direction, by creating a wash and then forming images in it by lifting the image out of the wash using a dry brush. With that technique, it's all about timing--if it's too wet, nothing happens; if it's too dry, it's too late. The acorns and nasturtium leaf, above, were attempts on that.

These were all challenging techniques for me, as I tend to paint more like an illustrator, drawing and then painting on dry paper with a small brush and fairly dry paint (comparatively speaking). Instead, we were working with mop brushes and lots of water and pigment, and it felt really out of control. But out of control is good! It's how you learn. And I did learn some great techniques, which I am eager to further explore now, on my own.

Here is my first attempt at the berries, which had a few problems, so Jane helpfully showed me how to "whack in" some more color and then use splatter with a toothbrush to cover the flaws and add texture. Below that is another one I tried later, with greater success.

The interesting thing about this second one is something Jane was trying to teach us about letting the medium itself work for us. I painted five of the berries in the foreground, but the blurry ones in the background either occurred naturally when I bled the color out of the pre-planned ones, or were helped along by carefully dropping paint into the wet background. It gives depth and interest. You have to remember, also, to save your whites so your highlights pop.

To be continued...

08 October 2013

First impressions of Bandouille

So...one shuttle bus, one 11-hour flight, one two-hour wait, one two-hour train trip, one 45-minute car ride later...BANDOUILLE!

Yes, it was a really long trip. But here are the first impressions...

The French countryside is beautiful! Traversed by a network of narrow roads and decorative flower-laced roundabouts that route you through small towns of old cream-colored brick, stone, and plaster houses separated by fields of sunflowers and cabbages surrounded by hedgerows...peaceful, green, colorful. Drew picked me up from the train station at Poitiers, and we carried on a lively political conversation on our drive, dissecting the politics of three countries, so the 45 minutes passed quickly. Then we pulled up to the gate and there it was...part 12th century monastery, part 18th century farmhouse, my destination for a week of instruction in "aquarelle" with English artist Jane Minter.

Drew and Bixxy bought the place in 2007 after seeing a shot of the front gate (below) in a real estate magazine. They have extensively renovated to accommodate their guests, while maintaining the character of the original buildings in every way.

Bixxy was at the door to say welcome and escort me to my room. The "front" door, which could equally be called the back door (since there are also doors entering from the lake side) opens right into the cozy farmhouse kitchen, where we ate breakfast and lunch and hung out to drink our morning and afternoon coffee/tea between painting sessions.

We went up the stairs (as you can see, all the walls of stone are lined with watercolors by Bixxy, the guest instructors, the guest students, and other artists) to my room. Each guest has his or her own room with attached bath, and mine was about double the size of my bedroom at home! Here are a couple of shots of the room...and a few of the views FROM the room...

Looking out windows on one side of my room (facing west), I could see a couple of the numerous outbuildings, some of which have been left as is (i.e., picturesque ruins begging to be painted) while others are being utilized as the studio, a barn, a storage shed, etc. Looking out the windows on the opposite side (facing east), I could see the lake, which is in surprisingly close proximity to the house, and is beautiful at all times of day and in all weather, as you will soon see!


I had a bit of a rest on arrival, and then we all met downstairs in the kitchen for dinner, since there were only four of us that first night--Drew and Bixxy, myself and an English woman named Nikki. Nikki had been staying for a few days to gather information about the painting holidays on behalf of her watercolor group back in Sussex, and was due to leave Monday morning, while the rest of the pupils and our instructor were due to arrive on Sunday afternoon sometime, so I was the transitional guest between the two.

Sunday morning, Bixxy dropped Nikki and me down in the local town, Chiché, which was having the French equivalent of a "boot sale" (rummage sale). Bix told us they had found antiques and interesting items at these, but the one we went to was the equivalent of a garage or yard sale--mostly junk--with a few extras like a booth with chickens and another with home-harvested honey for sale. Since rain was threatening, our assumption was that the antique dealers stayed away. Still, it was fun to negotiate a price in French for a picture frame and a scarf, and I took a few reference photos for possible paintings--quaint windows and doors and front gardens in the French village.

Sunday afternoon, Bix drove to Nantes to pick up our instructor, Jane Minter, an Englishwoman who makes her home in Verona, Italy, and the other two students, Christina and Giovanna, sisters-in-law also from Italy, from the airport, while Nikki and I hung out in the studio and outdoors, painting. Here is my first quick afternoon sketch of a window outside the studio:

 They all arrived back in the early evening, and we had a lively dinner that was to set the tone for the rest of the week, with all of us attempting to speak English (the Italians) and Italian (the English and the American) and, ironically, nobody at all speaking French! So much for my Pimsleur course to refresh my schoolgirl French.

Jane, whose husband is Italian, speaks fluently in both languages; Christina is likewise quite fluent in English; Giovanna speaks only a few words of English; and Bixxy and I spoke no Italian but operated on the theory that if you added "o" or "a" to the end of any word, it magically became Italian. Since many Italian words are based on the same Latin roots as English, this worked surprisingly well. In the course of the week, Giovanna learned some English, I learned some Italian, and Jane got thoroughly confused, giving me painting advice in Italian and speaking to Giovanna in English until Giovanna would say "Eh?" and crack us all up. Drew was amused by the progression of our dinner conversations, since someone would tell a funny story in one language and half the people at the table would laugh, and then Christina or Jane would translate it into the other language and the rest would laugh. It was a delayed reaction on one side or the other, which meant that we laughed a lot! Here's a slightly blurry picture of the dining room where it all took place...

And here, as promised, is the first of the multiple beautiful shots I took of the lake while I was there:

To be continued...