Monday, June 16, 2014

En vacances

Summer is in full swing over here. We are extremely busy with clients and friend and family visits. Emily is moving in just two weeks from her charming but small artist's loft in Paris to a real house with garden. We are building furniture for her and helping pack boxes when we can. Our garden shed is still under construction and all the many other projects that are near and dear to my heart are put on hold until the pace of life becomes leisurely again.

The weather is cooperating. Warm breezy days, azure blue skies and huge white clouds are the norm. Our clients consistently eat meals on the terrace. The village is become animated.

It has been more than 5 years since launching this blog. At first my posts were quite regular, at least once a week. Lately there has been a longer gap between, but I have not often left more than a couple of weeks go by without a word. It has brought me a lot of joy to write this blog and through the it I have made some very nice connections.

I have mostly thought of this space as a way to journal my thoughts, and capture the history of my days. I have also offered it as a way for friends and family at home to keep current on our activities. I hope to have provided a little information to people who love France about places to go and things to see. It has been a lot of fun. Now, however, I find I need a vacation from blogging. I intend to take the summer off and rethink this platform. I expect to be back in the fall at which time I may change venue or direction.

I really appreciate all the kind things people have said regarding the blog and the comments people have left over the years. If you would like me to send an email to you when the blog is back on line, please leave a comment here, and I will make a point of it. Or you can always contact me through the email address for Maison Conti.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


Cyanotype of a sunlit forest path.

Lately I have been experimenting with a somewhat magical old photographic technique called cyanotype. Basically one mixes a couple of chemical solutions together, paints the resulting photosensitive mixture on watercolor paper, allows the paper to dry thoroughly, places a negative onto the prepared paper inside a clamped glass frame and allows it to be exposed in the sun for a few minutes. The print is then developed in running water. Voila. You get an interesting all-blue image.

This winter we set up a darkroom off the atelier which allows me to explore some of these simple techniques that seem a natural extension of printmaking to me. If you have an interest in old photographic image-making methods, visit my Pinterest board on the subject, to find some wonderful links. Step-by-step directions for making your own cyanotypes are found there. The community that embraces this craft tends to be very warm, helpful and enthusiastic, so feel free, as I did, to ask questions of the experts. In my experience they always answer.

I started by using photographs for my prints, which lose a lot of detail of course, but can look quite interesting and moody. The technique works perfectly well for drawings and collage also. I haven't tried it, but apparently it even works with leaves and other organic materials.

On you can take a class with Brian Taylor who uses cyanotype as a first step in a process that adds color with another chemical on top of the blue. I have bought the chemical and begun to experiment with this further refinement, but have not so far gotten anything worthy of sharing with you. Brian makes beautiful books out of his images and explains his entire process from start to finish in the on-line course. When I want to treat myself, I buy a month of access and I have found some really wonderful courses there. Brain's was one of my favorites.

Here is a gallery of my first attempts at this interesting technique. My favorite image is the last one. It was actually made with a positive, rather than a negative, so that everything which was meant to be black turned white and everything else turned a shade of blue. This was a collage I put together in Photoshop with a map imposed on top of a photograph of a local church. I was amazed and delighted with the detail of the map lines and type, which are completely legible in the resulting image. In that one I am showing you how the edge of the paper looks with the solution painted on a bit randomly. I like the way the whole thing turned out. I feel inclined to leave the image uncut and incorporate the sloppy edge as part of the final presentation.

Made from a negative. The lake at La Ferté-Bernard

Emily in a Paris café. I like the detail out the window. The mid-tones, however are almost completely lost. Still, I am happy with the mood.

Made from a positive of a pencil drawing.

Photoshop collage

The church at Lavardin with a map superimposed over the image. Here I used a positive, so tones are reversed.