Saturday, August 12, 2017

France Sketchbook - Day 3 - Versailles

The palace of Versailles began in the early 17th century as a modest hunting camp for King Louis VIII, but around 1661 King Louis XIV decided it just wasn't quite enough for him. He embarked upon a period of expansion that lasted 33 years, making Versailles the world's largest royal domain.

6" x 8", ink & watercolor in a handmade sketchbook with 140 lb. Kilimanjaro watercolor paper

We took a guided bus tour from Paris, so we were able to skip the endless lines and get right into the palace.

I was feeling pretty smug until we actually got inside and saw how crowded it was in there, too. Look at this shot of the famous Hall of Mirrors...

People everywhere! In some of the rooms we were so packed in we could hardly move! It wasn't pleasant, but I still think it was worth it to see the over-the-top extravagance of the palace.

I took pictures of some of the many decorative motifs throughout the palace, thinking they might come in handy as border designs for my travel journal. This one would be fairly simple to draw...

This one would be a bit more challenging....

and this one would be just plain crazy to attempt!

King Louis dubbed himself "The Sun King" and his double-L monogram is EVERYWHERE in the palace. It was kind of fun trying to find it in the elaborate carvings and moldings on the walls, doors, ceilings, and furniture. And now it's in my sketchbook, too!

Hey, maybe I should appropriate the double-L for myself. What do you think? :)

Every now and then during the tour, we would pass an open window, and I would lurch toward it gratefully, taking deep breaths of fresh air and looking longingly at the blue sky and gardens awaiting me....

Crowds pressing in on all sides made me feel a little panicky, so it was such a relief when we finally finished touring the palace and made our way outside. The formal gardens were spectacular...

I don't know how I managed to capture this view in a mere 1-3/4" x 5" space!

Click to enlarge

It was impossible to sketch onsite due to the crowds and time constraints, so I saved a page in my sketchbook to journal about the tour later. I tried to capture the feel of the place in the limited space I had by choosing to draw the monogram, a view of the gardens, and a small vignette that shows two buildings and the Gate of Honour that welcomes visitors to the palace.

Can I call the crookedness of the building "artistic license", or do I just need to admit I messed up? :)

My one page of sketches isn't a comprehensive representation of Versailles, but it's enough to jog my memory. With sketching, you can't draw it all, so you have to pick and choose your favorites.

The fountains at Versailles used cutting-edge 17th century technology when they were built, and they still impress visitors to the palace today....

but look at the Orangerie - isn't it spectacular? I think it was my favorite spot in the gardens.

Can't you just imagine courtly gentlemen in waistcoats and breeches escorting oh-so-elegant ladies in bustled gowns around the Orangerie as Baroque music plays in the background?

Touring Versailles gives you a better understanding of the huge disparity between the lifestyles of the peasants and the court in 17th and18th century France. It's eye-opening to see the absolute decadence of the place and then think of how the common folks lived at the time. Revolution was inevitable.

I'm glad we took the time to visit Versailles and learn about the history of the place, but I definitely prefer sitting with my sketchbook, sipping a cup of cappuccino in a tiny mountain village in Provence...but that's a story for another day!

If you love to travel and would like to combine your love of sketching with a visit to far-flung destinations, I invite you to come along on my upcoming workshop trip to the Greek Isles. This 12-day tour will take us to Athens, Amorgos, Naxos, and Santorini - visit this page to learn more.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

France Sketchbook - Paris Edibles

Summer does get busy, doesn't it? We were away at the beach in Oak Island, NC, last week, and I barely had time to get the laundry done before I had to start getting ready for a two-day "Sketch It Now" workshop here at Summerhill this weekend. Then on Tuesday I'll be flying off to SWEDEN to scout out locations for a future sketching workshop! I know, it's crazy, huh? But I just couldn't pass up this opportunity - I promise to tell you all about it when I get back.

So, I haven't had much time to work on my France sketchbook lately, but I did finish this page that features some of the food I enjoyed during my time in Paris...

6" x 8", ink and watercolor in a handmade sketchbook with 140 lb. Kilimanjaro watercolor paper

The title was roughed in with pencil when I first started the page, then I inked it later with a Pitt Artist's Pen, size S. I wrote the lettering with a single line, then went back and thickened all the downstrokes. After the entire page was painted, I decided to add some shadows to make the lettering a little more prominent. I used a small round brush and lavender-blue watercolor to copy the writing slightly to the left of the black ink lines.

After a long day of walking around Paris on Day 2, it was a relief to take a few minutes to sit down and have a cool sweet treat in the afternoon. And how could I resist sketching that clever ice cream spoon? The shape of it fit perfectly onto the side of the cut glass dish

That evening, we walked around our neighborhood in the 7th arrondissement of Paris and finally settled on having dinner at a Thai restaurant. It was late, and I wanted something light, so I ordered an appetizer of grilled prawns on a bed of seasoned grapefruit "pearls" topped with what I think were beet sprouts. They were the most amazing bright purple-y fuchsia color. The whole salad was served on a circle cut from a tropical leaf. It was all so pretty that I decided to sketch it to prolong the fun of this feast for the eyes.

The next day, after fighting the crowds at Versailles all morning (which I will tell you all about in a future post) we wandered around Paris for awhile and found an outdoor market surrounded by restaurants that all looked appealing, but, in the end, we all decided we could really go for a burger. An excellent choice - I don't know when a burger has tasted so good!

Our last night in Paris found us at a corner cafe just down the block from our apartment. I selected creamy pumpkin soup topped with whipped cream, bacon, and roasted chestnuts in a green pepper cup. I can't even begin to describe how rich and yummy it was. I had to try really hard not to embarrass myself by moaning with delight over every spoonful.

Our last evening in Paris felt like a celebration, so we all toasted the good times with an Aperol spritz.

One sketchbook many memories!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

France Sketchbook - Eiffel Tower Step-by-Step Watercolor Tutorial

Here's the tutorial I promised you about how I painted the sketch of the Eiffel Tower that I did on location in Paris...

I had sketched the tower lightly with pencil first to give myself a guide to follow. I was careful to use a center line, which helped me to keep it straight and symmetrical (or almost!) It was inked with my favorite sketching pen, the Platinum Carbon desk pen with extra-fine nib.

The lettering was done back in my studio with a pointed calligraphy pen and De Atramentis black ink. I left it to dry overnight before adding any paint to the paper, because I wanted to make sure it was perfectly dry and wouldn't run when I painted the sky.

Step 1 - Ink drawing

Since I had so much space on the sides of the page, I decided to add an inset border that would connect with the lettering to form a frame around the tower. I drew a guideline with pencil, then used a ruling pen to apply masking fluid in a straight, even line. It was very tricky getting the entire line to be the same width, and my line veered in a little bit on the right side, but I decided to just go for it and not worry about it.

Step 2 - Mask the border

Painting the sky:
I wet the paper and let it soak in for a few minutes, then painted the sky wet-in-wet with Cobalt Blue and Permanent Rose. The sky in my reference photo was a solid blue with a few insignificant clouds, but I decided to paint a sky that had a lot of action and color.

Step 3 - Paint sky and base wash on foreground

The foreground trees and lawn were given a wash of color using mixes of Sap Green, Cadmium Yellow Light, Yellow Ochre, Olive Green, and Cobalt Blue. While the trees on the right were still wet, I brushed in darker green shadows. I also painted a suggestion of the buildings beyond the tower but kept them very simple, so they wouldn't draw the eye too much to that area.


When the sky was bone dry, it was time to paint the tower. I had done a fairly detailed ink drawing, so it was easy to use a small brush and paint over it with a mixture of Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue. I painted everything a light brown color first and let it dry, then went back in with a deep, rich brown in the shaded areas.

Step 4 - Paint the tower

Touches of blue and purple added variety and interest to the shadows on the first deck level.


Next it was time to tackle the foreground flowers. I started off with a base wash of light pinks, yellows, and greens.

Step 5 - Paint foreground trees and flowers

To indicate leafy texture on the trees, I mixed up some mid-value greens and painted them on with a "dancing brush". I used a size 4 round and touched it to the paper, twisting, turning, and lifting it randomly to make leaf-like strokes of paint. I softened some edges with a damp brush and dropped darker paint into the wet strokes here and there and let it blend.


To finish up the foreground, I added some shadows on the lawn and behind the trees on the right side. I painted the area behind the trees on the left to suggest more grassy lawn.

Step 6 - Final darks on foreground

After the initial base wash on the flowers had dried, I added darker values to give the plantings some depth.


The painting was finished. It was time to remove the masking on the border.

Step 7 - Remove masking

I chose a very simple pattern for the border. It makes a fairly solid line on the page, but it's made up of curved lines, which contrast with all the straight lines on tower's ironwork.

Step 8 - Draw border design

I like how the border helps to frame the tower and focus attention on the main subject of the sketch. The expanse of green lawn and the trees lead you in, and the lettering draws you up, accentuating the tower's height.

The only thing I left out of this picture was all the tourists sitting, walking, posing for pictures, and relaxing on the lawn. I intentionally kept the entire area empty, because, when I was sitting there on the grass, gazing up at the tower, drawing the intricate lattice work and marveling at its complexity and beauty, I felt as if I were the only one there. I was in my happy place, that alternate universe that I go to when I pick up a brush and paint. So this is a picture of the Eiffel Tower in my dreams, the way I remember it - just me and the tower and that big blue sky.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

New Workshop in San Francisco!

We all have a bucket list, an ongoing wish list of places we'd like to see or things we'd like to do some day. I've checked a lot of items off my list in the past few years, but somehow it never seems to grow any shorter. I just keep adding more wonderful places to it!

But next spring I'll be checking one of those items of my bucket list - San Francisco!

I've been invited to teach a five-day sketching workshop for French Escapade, the great folks who organized my recent Provence trip. We'll spend five days exploring the city, sketchbook in hand, stopping to paint landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge...

Fisherman's Wharf, Golden Gate Park...

and other beautiful spots that will have you sketching furiously to get everything down on paper.

For a change of pace, we'll head out of town on day five to visit the wine country of Sonoma.  The scenery in Sonoma is filled with panoramic views, classic mission-style architecture, and vineyards stretching off to the horizon. I've been told it will remind me of Tuscany.

And a little wine tasting is sure to help us loosen up our sketches! :)

I'll be teaching you how to sketch on location and capture your memories on the pages of your travel journal. You'll learn how to enhance your journal through the use of creative design, and I'll help you find the perfect lettering style to fit each sketch. We'll pull border ideas from the architecture, signage, and patterns that most people pass by without a glance, and use them to create unique frames for our watercolor illustrations. 

I'll share the watercolor painting techniques that work best for plein air sketching and give you specific lessons for painting the subjects we encounter during the workshop. And you'll receive lots of one-on-one help throughout the sketching process, so there's no need to worry about challenging subject matter.

In an immersion workshop like this, you'll learn new techniques and glean fresh ideas from the instructor, your fellow students, your surroundings, and just from the experience of painting each day. You'll take what you've learned and make it your own in ways that will surprise you, and your sketching will never be quite the same.

So why not join us? Here are the particulars....

April 3-8, 2018
Watercolor Sketching in San Francisco
Cost: $1490.00 
Includes: A welcome reception, two dinners, one lunch, wine tasting in Sonoma, 
all art classes, transportation during the workshop, studio use, tour leader
Excludes: Airfare, hotel, some meals, painting supplies

Click on the "US Workshops" tab above
to read more about the workshop,
or visit for all the details

Sunday, July 23, 2017

France Sketchbook - Day 2 - Paris (continued)

(Read part I of  Day 2 here.)

After we left the Tuileries, we hopped on the bus and began to make our way to the Eiffel Tower. I wanted to see it up close and maybe do a little sketching, but the traffic in Paris that day was even worse than usual. There were all sorts of special events going over the weekend to promote Paris in its bid for the 2024 Olympic games. (Guess it worked; they were selected!) So, since sitting in traffic was such a big part of our experience in Paris, I decided to include it in my sketch of the Arc de Triomphe, which we passed along the way.

I had one little problem with my sketch; after I inked the lettering, I realized I had misspelled "Triomphe". It bothered me too much to leave it that way, so I painted a new banner on watercolor paper, cut it out, and glued it over the original one. I even added some embroidery floss fringe to the ends, just for fun. (I specialize in making lemonade out of lemons! Wait till you see the ginormous boo-boo I made later on in this journal.)

Just look at that traffic, with the Arc de Triomphe way down there at the end...

We finally made it around the Arc and on to the Eiffel Tower...

It was so interesting to see the tower up close. The complexity of it is amazing! And I loved the decorative ironwork on the arches...

We walked out onto the Champ de Mars, the expansive green space that stretches away from the tower, and admired the structure from a distance. It's just so impressive and BEAUTIFUL! I wasn't expecting to love it as much as I did. I just had to sketch it!

(I'm working on a blog post that shows how I painted this sketch step-by-step --- stay tuned!)

After all that hard work, it was time for a treat!

Chocolate ice cream was just what I needed to recharge. And look at this adorable ice cream spoon....

We took a leisurely stroll back to our apartment, passing lots of cute shops and pretty buildings along the way. (All those leisurely strolls added up to 6 1/2 miles by the end of the day!)

Children's clothing shop along Avenue de Suffren

Don't you love these tables?

That's my mom on the right - still going strong after six miles of walking!

 I wonder what's behind those curtains...the French door is open, inviting me in.....

Too cute for words....

I snapped a photo of this building and sketched it as we rode along on the top level of the double-decker bus, but if you saw the original picture, you'd be shocked at how much I changed it. How could I resist making the awnings red to match the scooter? :)

We finally made it back to the apartment, unloaded our backpacks, had a glass of wine, then wandered out to find some dinner. We ended up at a Thai restaurant a few blocks away....

While we waited for our meals, we fantasized about the oh-so-chic French couple seated in the window, dreaming up all sorts of scenarios for them...until they each lit up a cigarette. That shattered all our romantic illusions in an instant! (But smoking is so commonplace in France that it shouldn't have surprised us.)

I sketched my dinner...

Any guesses what it was?

As we made our way back to our home-away-from-home, the sky changed from deep blue to a dusky purple. As the lights of the Eiffel Tower switched on, a feeling of great contentment washed over me. It had been a perfect day. I had seen some amazing places, eaten wonderful food, spent time with friends, sketched, walked, shopped, laughed, and did it all without feeling rushed or pressured to see more or do more. Paris will still be there the next time...

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