Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Bon Voyage!

Today's the day! It's finally here. This afternoon I'm flying to Paris! I've been dreaming of this for years. I remember buying a Paris guidebook almost twenty years ago in the hopes that I would somehow find a way to visit that magical, mythical place one day. It all seems unreal, the fact that I'm now one of those people who flies off to Europe to see the sights and visit all the places that have starred in the books I've read, the movies I've watched, and the songs I've listened to all my life. But it's real! And it's happening in just a few hours. Yippeeee!

I've been awfully busy this past month getting everything ready for the trip. I had to write up all my lessons and print the handouts for my French Escapade workshop in Provence, send preparatory emails to my students, shop for a comfy pair of shoes, figure out what sketchbook to take, fill my palette, and gather my supplies, plus my garden had to be planted and the flower beds whipped into shape. But all that is done, and I'm ready to go.

I packed much lighter this time than I did last fall on my trip to Italy. It's going to be hot in France, so lightweight summer clothes are the rule of the day. I did a sketch the other day of the clothes I was loading into my suitcase, and then, as I painted it, I thought, "Gee, do I really need that many pairs of capris?" Nope, so I pulled a pair out. I'm ordinarily a fairly heavy packer ("Oh, but I MIGHT need it!"), but I amazed myself this time. My suitcase isn't even full. (That leaves more room to bring home lots of irresistible goodies from Paris and Provence!) Anyway, here's the first sketch in my Provence 2017 sketchbook....

12" x 8", ink & watercolor in a handmade hardcover journal with 140 lb. Kilimanjaro watercolor paper
(Click to enlarge)
Comfortable shoes are a must on any European trip, since we do so much walking. I'm taking my black SAS sandals, which feel heavenly on my feet...

and my blue Teva sandals, which I also love...

and a pair of flip-flops for the pool and to use as slippers in the hotel room. And since it's going to be in the 90s when we get there, a dip in the pool will feel really good at the end of the day, so I packed my cute polka dot swimsuit, and a cover-up.

PJs are a necessity - I packed my black and white polka dot ones. I didn't realize they matched my swimsuit until I started painting the sketch. Funny. Wish I hadn't put them right next to each other on the page. Oh, well.....looks like I have a theme going here.

The main staple of my travel wardrobe is going to be summer dresses. They're the coolest thing to wear when the temps are in the 90s. And at night, if it cools off, I have a couple of pairs of leggings to slip on...

and a sweater or two...

A few tops and crops, and I'm all set....

Wait, I almost forgot my cute white denim jacket....

and a pair of shorts for hanging around the hotel.

One last thing...

the hat I bought at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Florida when I was teaching there. My friend Judy talked me into it ("It looks SO GOOD on you!"), so it always reminds me of her when I wear it.

The sketchbook I'm using for my Provence journal is one that's really special to me. It was made for me by my friend Susan, from Ohio. We had been online friends for a couple of years before we finally had a chance to meet at my Cheap Joe's workshop last year. Sweetie that she is, she had made me a beautiful, perfectly crafted hardbound sketchbook as a gift, which she gave me on the final day of the workshop.

Besides being a dream of a sketchbook, there's something else that makes it one-of-a-kind. The last two pages are filled with warm wishes from each of my students from the workshop.

Now that's a pretty special sketchbook. One that seems almost too wonderful to use. I've been saving it and admiring it, waiting for the perfect reason to actually take a pen and start desecrating those pristine pages. And then I decided, if PARIS doesn't qualify as worthy of this sketchbook, then what ever will? I know Susan made it to be used and loved, so it's coming along with me to France!

The sketchbook has a hand-sewn binding and a pretty floral cover. It's filled with 140 lb. Kilimanjaro watercolor paper. I'm really looking forward to filling it with happy memories. Starting it at home with my packing sketch was a good way to ease myself into it, get a feel for the paper, and relax about using it.

While I was working on the sketch, I realized that the off-white cover fabric would likely get soiled on the trip, either with paint or just from normal wear and tear, so I made a temporary plastic book cover for it.

I took a sheet of lightweight plastic (like from a Ziploc freezer bag) and cut it to size, then used a sewing machine to stitch the top and bottom edges. I sized it to cover the entire inside of the covers, so wet paint won't slop onto them.

Now my Provence sketchbook will stay as clean as the day Susan gave it to me.

In preparation for the trip, I've been taking care of a few things that have been nagging at me for years. I finally made time to put decorative covers on my Italy sketchbook from 2015. I covered the Stillman and Birn Beta sketchbook with a dish towel I bought in San Gimignano specifically for that purpose. It has a map of Tuscany woven into the fabric.

For the back cover, I used a compass rose from another section of the towel. I pieced the border designs on the sewing machine to make the compass image fit onto the sketchbook cover.

The end papers were made from watercolor paper and sized to fit the space exactly.

To complete the sketchbook, I finally made a title page for it...

10" x 7", watercolor, Stillman and Birn Beta series sketchbook

The  lettering and borders were all painted by hand after being drawn with pencil.

My last tying-up-loose-ends project was to make a decorative cover for my 2016 Tuscany travel journal. For this one I used the stash of tickets, wine labels, business cards, brochures, and other paraphernalia that I had collected during the trip.

"Yes! Paste" was used to glue the pieces onto the cover of the 10" x 7" Handbook Field Watercolor Journal. After everything had dried, I brushed on a couple of coats of Mod Podge clear acrylic sealer.

For the end papers on the inside of the covers, I used the floral wrapping paper that I saved from the thank you gift my students gave me at the end of the workshop last year.

It felt so good to get some of these little projects wrapped up before leaving on my trip. I'm packed and ready to go. Now, let the fun begin!

The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, 
is a departure into unknown lands. 
Sir Richard Burton

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Going Back to My Roots with a Simple Little Travel Journal

Fred and I celebrated forty happy years of marriage this past winter, and we decided it would be fun to take a little trip down memory lane and go back to where we met, married, and lived as newlyweds. Our celebratory getaway was delayed a few weeks due to our schedules, but the stars finally aligned and we hit the road for Annapolis, MD, one sunny spring day. 

Gel pen & Pitt Artist's pen in a 4"x6" Stillman & Birn Alpha hardcover sketchbook

I wasn't planning to do a lot of sketching, but I took my little 4" x 6" Stillman and Birn Alpha hardcover sketchbook along just in case. Good thing I did, because after we headed out, I was feeling so relaxed and happy (and antsy, because I can't sit still in the car doing nothing!) that I pulled out my sketchbook and laid out the first couple of pages of a travel journal about our anniversary trip. After all, it was the big 4-0, and that's something worth commemorating!

Gelly Roll metallic gel pens + Pitt pen

Instead of fussing over the pages like I do in my larger sketchbooks, I just cut loose and had fun. It was play time!

I wasn't trying to make anything perfect. I didn't agonize over finding just the right lettering style, and I didn't worry about what anyone would think about my sketches. I didn't plan on ever showing them to anyone. They were just for me and Fred.

But I've decided to share them with you to show you a different side of my sketching style, one that's simpler and less "designed". It's more spontaneous and whimsical.

I think part of the reason I felt free to paint like this when we were away was the fact that 1) I wasn't planning to show them to anyone, and 2) I was using a small 4x6 sketchbook. With a small sketchbook, it doesn't feel IMPORTANT. There's not much time invested in each little page. There's not a lot of risk if I mess up.

I really enjoyed playing in my sketchbook over the course of our few days in Annapolis. It taught me an important lesson - that sometimes striving to be too perfect can suck the joy out of something. Sure, my other sketchbook pages are beautiful, but there's something so charming and real about this little journal of our weekend getaway.

This is more along the lines of how I used to sketch before I had a blog and began showing my work and teaching workshops, and before I started caring a little too much about impressing people with what I can do.

This journal has rekindled something in me that was being snuffed out by my overzealous pursuit of becoming ever better. It has reminded me that I need to relax more and just have fun with my art.

I've had time to think about all this as I worked on painting these little sketches at home. And I decided to share my thoughts with you in the hopes that they might encourage you, too, to relax into your sketching, to go with the flow and play around with pen and paint, not worrying about the outcome, not comparing yourself with anyone else, just responding in a creative way to the little moments that make up your amazing life. 


It was a wonderful trip for us in so many ways, remembering those early days of our marriage and marveling at the changes we've seen as we raised a family together and survived moves, job changes, house building, health challenges, and so much more. Through all the ups and downs, we've had each other, and that's all we ever really needed.

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