Monday, February 27, 2012

A Perfect Day in Paris

The Pont Neuf on a crystal clear February morning

We spent about half the week in Paris, visiting Zinnie, Quinn and their parents, helping out with childcare and doing some big-city errands. We picked an exquisite day to hop the metro into Paris Center and engage in one of my favorite activities in life, shopping for art supplies! It was also a wonderful excuse to have lunch in a sunny café and take a nice long walk along the river, which is exactly what we did.

I purchase most of my printmaking supplies at Charbonnel, one of the best names in printing ink. They also sell my favorite copper printing plates in various sizes. Their copper is a little thinner and more original in size than I am able to get at other places. Since I usually buy quite small ones, carrying around a bag full of new plates isn't too cumbersome.

The store is located on the left bank just across the river from Notre Dame. After getting off the metro at Place St. Michel and having a very nice Caesar salad at a nearby café, we walked along the water to Charbonnel which has been at this address for over 100 years. From inside the shop, if you look out these windows, you see Notre Dame towering above the waters of the Seine from l'Ile de la Cité. It is really quite breathtaking.

I also found something I wasn't particularly looking for, a little artist's journal by Fabriano. I couldn't resist purchasing it and I must say, after only a fews days of use it's already become the favorite little sketchbook I've ever owned. I had earlier bought a few mechanical pens by Aristo (taking the place in my affections of those annoying old Rapidographs.) I am enjoying the whole experience. Especially because I also got a new light with nice bright daylight bulbs which makes it possible to continue working even after the sun goes down.

As we walked along the sunny banks of the river, we passed, of course, the many bouquinistes along the way. I didn't know much about these folks before reading David Downie's book Paris Paris, Journey into the City of Light, which remains my favorite book about Paris. Their profession, selling antique books and prints, as well as a lot of grotesque knick knacks, is time-honored. There is a whole history there and I highly recommend David's book so you can discover it.

My object, after visiting Charbonnel, was to go to Sennelier, one of my other favorite historic Paris art supply stores. They are both located right beside the river on the left bank, so it is a straight and charming walk the 1.6 miles (2,7 Km) between them.

Along the way you pass Shakespeare and Company. George Whitman, who took over the store from Sylvia Beach, died late last year at the age of 98. He had been living in Paris and selling books since 1946.

Anyone who's been inside knows what a crazy, wonderful place it is. It welcomes one and all and you are welcome to curl up with a book and stay all day long. This landmark will be carried on by George Whitman's daughter, also named Sylvia.

We crossed over from the left bank to the right about half way through our walk, since that was where the sun was. We used the Pont Neuf. Generally we take the Pont des Arts to cross the river (you see it in the near distance). It goes from the Academie Française on the left bank to the Palais de Louvre on the right and is just for pedestrians. However, it was nice to make a change which allowed us to get a close glimpse of this little park on the tip of the Ile de la Cité. It is a favorite place for sunning and picnicking. James had a birthday party there once.

Sennelier is a store I have talked of before on this blog. Like Charbonnel, it has been in business in the same location since the 19th century and is one of the best quality brand names in the art world. It does not sell printmaking supplies, but has the best paints, pastels and art paper that one can hope to buy.

It's a 40 minute metro ride from the center of Paris to Emily's house. We decided to take a bus back instead. Rick is good at figuring out the bus map and it's such a pleasant way to travel, as one gets a view of the city as it slips past. One uses the same ticket as for the metro. Rick figured we could catch the 48 just across the river from Sennelier and it would take us almost directly to Quinn's school where we were due to pick him up at 5 o'clock.

Traffic through the gates of the Palais de Louvre didn't seem too heavy. What a beautiful building. Passing through the smallest arch at the right of the photo

we had this pretty view. It was such a wonderful day for a walk through Paris.


Back home I did some experimenting with old etching plates. I left this one in the acid overnight. It was practically eaten away. I loved the print it made, being inked as a relief instead of an intaglio. It was highly embossed as well.

I suppose we're having our last fires of the season. Our winter was severe but very very short!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Printmaking Fun and Fellowship

After a couple of weeks of the bitterest of winter weather, pre-spring has sprung again. All this week we woke up to the glorious singing of blackbirds outside and sun streaming in through windows.

This weekend my friend Mariann Johansen-Ellis came to do some photo etching with us. She brought her sister Monica. Mariann runs a printmaking school in a beautiful historic village in southern Spain. Her sister runs a Bed & Breakfast in central France.

It is such a great treat for me when I have the opportunity to work with someone I enjoy so well. We share ideas and laugh a lot.

I hadn't met Monica before, although I had heard all about her adventures from Mariann. She and her husband have taken a derelict building and turned it into an incredible holiday destination. We can hardly wait to find a time to reserve a room.

Mariann is going to be offering photo etching courses at her school but she hasn't as yet built the exposure box. She wanted to come try out ours to see if the process suited her. It is wonderful to work with someone with so much experience. She came prepared with lots of photos to work from. She was very well organized and knew exactly what she wanted to discover and she answered a lot of her own questions by experiments she made with the materials.

One critical element to the success of a photo etched print, is the choice of the proper photo to work with. An image like the one below, with a range of values nicely balanced over the entire picture works very well indeed.

Like myself, Mariann learns much more easily by doing, rather than by reading. Rick showed her all the steps once and after that she was off and running.

My favorite part of photo etching is the development process, done in a plain water bath. It seems rather magical to gently brush the plate and have an image begin to emerge. It reminds us of the movie Blowup.

Mariann is a really excellent printmaker and generous teacher. She has several videos on various aspects of printmaking on her site. I never fail to get some new insights from working with her.

We had one intensive day in the studio. Mariann produced 5 plates. Some worked better than others. She specifically brought various kinds of photos to experiment with the process and push it to its limits.

The first step is always to make a transparency of the photo which is then used on top of the photo sensitive plate. Mariann immediately thought of adding marks on top of the photo with sharpie pens. What a great idea!

Some of her images were quite mysterious and abstract. This, a close up of a cactus plant, looks to me like something Georgia O'Keefe might have done

The time passed quickly and before we knew it the ladies had left, heading home via the Loire Valley. I would really like to live much closer to Mariann, as I enjoy her fellowship and company so much.


I have decided to keep this blog as it has been over the last few years, a kind of report on our lives. I created a new space for my artistic endeavors. You can visit it via the link in the right hand sidebar if you would like.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

All about baby...

This week we welcomed a new member into our family. Zinnie Lyse was born in Paris early on Tuesday morning, February 7th. She is a big girl, weighing 9.25 lbs (4.2 kilos). Rick and I put our last client of the week on the train Monday morning and drove on to Paris. We had the whole week free, which is unusual. A few hours after we arrived at Emily's house she went into labor. It was all so conveniently arranged!

Above you see a photo of the Parc de Sceaux, with Quinn riding his bike and Jos pushing his stroller (I suppose for when Quinn gets tired, which he never seems to do.) Emily and her family took a nice long walk here on Sunday afternoon. This beautiful urban park, located just south of Paris, not far from Emily's house, was the location of a long winter stroll taken by the whole family three years ago, the day before Quinn was born. No one had been back since. I suppose, then, that it has become a kind of tradition to visit just before giving birth.

All went very well with Emily and the baby. The labor was long but not difficult and when the time came for the actual birth it apparently went more quickly than the nurses at the clinic had ever seen before! Despite her large size, Zinnie simply slipped out.

I think we'd all forgotten what a perfume of paradise little babies bring along with them when they arrive. We all found ourselves whispering, trying to hold on to that angelic feeling surrounding us. Emily, who gave birth completely naturally was tired but recovered so quickly. She had no problems at all and of course the baby is just perfect in every way.

Her little hands remind me very much of Quinn's when he was born. I see differences in their faces, but they certainly have that family resemblance.

Uncle James did not want to miss the fun. When Emily went into labor we called him and he immediately booked a flight from Birmingham. Despite a big Air France strike, with all other flights around the time of his being cancelled, his plane made it over the channel without a hitch. But that seemed only right, as for this birth everything seemed to fall into perfect place.

Quinn's first meeting with his sister was wonderful He was really quite amazed to see her. After talking about her for so long, I don't think he ever really expected her to exit from Emily's large belly. 

He was a little nervous with her at first, but he got over that quickly and soon wanted to see what she could do. He tried to feed her some bread and was positively amazed to hear that she doesn't have any teeth! He was expecting her to crawl, because he knows that's what babies do. He was very generous in sharing his toys with her, plopping down offerings into her lap. She didn't seem interested. Here he is offering his cheek to receive a kiss from her. She did not oblige him. 

Papa, mama and baby are all doing fine. Everyone is back at home now. Zinnie was born on one of the coldest days of the year. It was -14° when Rick drove Emily and Jos to the clinic. But everyone is staying cozy and warm indoors.

When we left the clinic on the first evening after meeting the baby, we saw a huge orange moon suspended halfway up the sky. It was dramatic and beautiful, and for us a moon like this will now always be referred to as a Zinnie moon. It looked a lot like the photo below, although I did not get my own photo of it. I borrowed this one from here.

Photographer Stefano De Rosa

Two days after her birthday Zinnie received these custom-made cookies from one of Jos' producers in London. He was he same one who sent Jos two gargantuan bouquets of forced narcissus for Christmas. So adorable and extravagant!


Although I could have stayed all week in Paris getting to know Zinnie and playing trains with Quinn, not to mention visiting with James and enjoying Emily and Jos's charming company, we came back home on Thursday afternoon to warm up our house. We were a little nervous that our pipes might have frozen.

We all thought that winter might have forgotten about us, but it certainly arrived with a vengeance when it finally got around to coming. Europe is suffering one of the coldest spells on record. It has remained snowy and frozen for a couple of weeks, and longer in some parts. Days, however, often dawn bright and crystal blue. It makes it much easier to bear. If you enlarge the photo below, you can see lots of birds perching and diving through the sky. They seem to gather in large groups at the beginning of the day and always sit on the tallest roof tops where they can enjoy a view of the sunrise.

Rick caught this photo of me as I was just about to settle down on the couch for morning coffee. I love the golden light on these bright winter mornings.

Another reason to come back was to let Georges into the studio. He is madly printing up images for his April show in Paris. When he is in residence, I work at my table by the window upstairs. This is the same window where I took the photo of the birds at dawn. Later on in the morning there is lots of light streaming in. It is a pleasant place to work. 

What with all the excitement, I got very little art work accomplished. I made a few drawings and was dissatisfied with almost all of them. This one was the best of the group.

On Saturday evening our neighbor Anne came over for dinner and we set it up by the big fireplace downstairs. We are using this space a lot now as it is more difficult to heat up the big dining room. We positively roasted here with the big crackling fire.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Figuring it out...

What is more natural after spending a month drawing faces than to graduate to drawing whole bodies? So that's my challenge for this month. And it does seem a bit of a challenge, I must say. I really enjoyed the rather limited nature of a face drawing. I mean basically a few features, some hair (or not) on top and voila. You have yourself an image. Whole bodies, of course, present not only the greater challenge of getting all the disparate parts into a proper scale, dealing with fussy bits like hands (not so hard) and feet (harder for me) but then there is the whole issue of clothing, folds, wrinkles and all the complicated shadows they create. I mostly did simple line drawings in pen and ink this week. I worked much more slowly and more fiddlely than on the faces. It was difficult for me to allow myself to be abstract or loose. I'm beginning to believe that it's just not really me, as much as I like the liberty some of my favorite illustrator's take in proportion and placement. I myself find so much pleasure in trying to get the shapes and relationships true to the original. Which for me, by the way, are photographs taken from newspapers or magazines. I have an ever-growing collection. (Rick has to hide newspapers from me when he hasn't finished reading them as I tear out images I like without mercy.) I also like drawing from historical oil paintings. My art teachers always maintained that one should copy the masters throughout one's career as a very good exercise in discovering ways of visually interpreting form. I still find drawing to be a kind of meditation.

Following are samples of images from each day. The entire collection can be viewed here, although I really tossed away as many drawings as I saved.


I have been spending a little less time etching these days, but that is mostly because our friend Georges is using the studio quite often to prepare for his show in Paris in April. I have had the opportunity to develop a couple of images for larger plates. The first is this one called Under the Big Top.

The second is called Lunch in a Paris Café. I haven't had the opportunity to experiment too much with colors, chine collé or other ways of printing these up, but I hope to have the time and space for that in the next couple of weeks.


My printmaking friend Mariann Ellis (who by the way has just put up another wonderful video printmaking tutorial--she is very generous with her free instructions!) sent me this cute little book in the mail entitled From Colorado to the World and Back Again. It was initiated by Jill Bergman. She has sent out several little books like this (they are about 2 X 4") and asks that printmakers from around the world contribute a little print to put inside and then send it on to someone else. I have added my image of Girl with Cat and would now like to send it to another printmaker who would like to put any kind of print or stamp inside. If you are interested, please let me know, send me your address and I will mail it off to you right away, wherever you are in this wide world.


It's been terribly cold in our corner of the world. Extreme weather seems to be the new normal.

We started the week out with a dusting of snow which quickly melted once the sun came up.

But we've ended the week with a real blizzard. In the space of just a few hours we are virtually snowbound.

To keep our weekend client warm and toasty, we set up her breakfas by our big fireplace downstairs.

Even with the cold, days have often been bright and crispy blue. Here the sun shines through the studio curtains.