Monday, July 17, 2017

France Sketchbook - Day 1

Hello out there! It's been so long since I've checked in here that you might have been wondering if I got lost in Paris and never made it home. :) No such luck. (Just kidding, Fred!) I'm back home safe and sound, just catching up on things and taking some time to relax with the family after being away. The trip was wonderful in every way (except for the ungodly heat in Paris), so why don't I just start at the beginning and give you a rundown of what we did, where we went, and who we met along the way? I'll share photographs, along with my sketches. I think it will be interesting for you to see how a sketch of a scene can hold so much more life and energy than a photo.

You can read about my trip preparations and the sketchbook I used for my travel journal in this post. I saved two pages at the beginning of the journal for a title page, and, though I usually wait until I've completed a travel journal to design the title page, I had a firm idea of what I wanted to do for my France sketchbook, so I went ahead and did it this week.

Two-page spread in a 6" x 8" handmade journal filled with bright white Kilimanjaro 140 lb. watercolor paper. The artwork was done with ink and watercolor.

The quote on the left side of this two-page spread is one that speaks to the excitement and anticipation that I always feel when embarking on a journey to a place I've never been before. The lettering is inspired by the work of Susan Branch. If you haven't checked out her blog, you should - she's an American treasure. Subscribe to her email newsletter and her blog for quotes, artwork, recipes, and a glimpse of life on Martha's Vineyard.

But I digress...back to the sketch...
I did the lettering and border with a size 0 Escoda Versatil brush, which worked really well. I've been trying out some different brands of brushes, and I'm liking the Escoda Versatil very much.

For the title page, I wanted to feature some of the things that say "France" to me: wine, a paint brush, the Eiffel Tower, bicycles, figs, cherries, straw hats, lavender, cafes, Euros, fleur-de-lis, macarons, the Arc de Triomphe, baguettes, summer dresses, Brie, olive trees, crepes, croissants, apricots, strawberry jam, sunflowers, the French flag, and the chirpy way that everyone says "Bonjour!" when they greet you in France. 

Click to enlarge and see details of individual sketches

I drew the lettering first with pencil, then laid a piece of tracing paper over the page to draw the little sketches. That made it easy to erase when I wanted to change the size of something or move it around. I eventually filled the entire page, then I used graphite transfer paper to trace the designs onto the watercolor paper in my sketchbook. The images were inked with a Platinum Carbon fountain pen filled with Platinum Carbon black ink, then painted with watercolor. I love how it turned out.

When I'm leaving on a teaching trip, there's a lot of preparation that needs to be done. In addition to all the usual pre-trip stuff at home like weeding the garden or cleaning out the fridge, I have to get everything ready for the workshop. On the day I was leaving for France, I was running around like crazy, trying to finish up a hundred different things, while my husband, Fred, casually packed his bag and headed out the door for a trip to Connecticut. The contrast between the two of us gave me a great idea for a page in my sketchbook.

As I sank into my seat on the Boeing 757 bound for Paris, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Everything was done - now all I had to do was enjoy! And I finally had the time to start on that page that our preparations had inspired. I started itemizing all the things I had had to take care of before I got on that plane, and I made a separate list for Fred... 

I ran out of space on my page....

but there was plenty of room on Fred's....


We landed in Paris around 9:30 am local time, which was 3:30 am Pennsylvania time. By the time we got to our apartment it was noon, and we were completely exhausted, having been awake for 24 hours. But we quickly discovered that the apartment didn't have air conditioning, so we were better off heading out for some sightseeing than trying to nap. 

No energy for sketching on Day 1, but at least I did some journaling.

The temperatures in Paris that day reached almost 100 degrees, but at least there was a breeze, which made it bearable. We walked up the street to catch the "Hop On Hop Off" bus. It took us on a rambling tour of the city, passing many of the most popular tourist spots, like the Opera House...

the Louvre...

 the Seine...

Notre Dame...

the Arc de Triomphe...

and of course, the Eiffel Tower...

We sat on the top level of the double-decker bus, high above the traffic, and watched the world go by. It was a great way to get a feel for how the city was laid out, and along the way we saw plenty of interesting sights, like gorgeous buildings, inviting cafes, a cute gourmet shop...

Yes, even in Paris, cell phones are ubiquitous

pretty doors and balconies...

and the sex shops along the Moulin Rouge (not something I wanted to take pictures of, or remember!)

We finally made it back to our neighborhood and stopped at a corner grocery for some provisions (and wine!) then took the tiny elevator up to our 8th floor flat. (Doesn't "flat" sound Parisian?) 

My mom felt so claustrophobic in the elevator! :) It was less than three feet wide.

We had French cheese and crackers for dinner (always one of my favorite vacation meals).

Oh, and wine, of course! From France, of course. 

Then, finally, it was time to sleep, but not before gazing out our windows at the Eiffel Tower illuminated against a clear night sky. Hard to believe...we were really in Paris. 

PS - I'll be posting more Paris sketches as I finish them. I filled 54 pages with line drawings, journaling, and partially completed paintings during the ten days I was in France, so I should have plenty to work on over the coming weeks and months. I hope to finish everything before I head to Italy in September. (I'll probably laugh when I read that statement in October!)

PPS - Don't forget about my Greece workshop, October 3-15, 2017. There are still a few spaces open - let's sketch the Greek Isles together!


  1. You’re back! Looks like you had a wonderful time! Your title page is so much fun. Great idea to plan your composition on tracing paper first.

    I think I love your journaling as much as I do your sketches. The spread detailing how you and Fred prepare for a trip made me laugh. That is exactly what it’s like for me and my husband too.

    I’m also a fan of Susan Branch. She’s such an inspiration, not only as an artist but also as a joyful human being.

    1. I LOVED using the Kilimanjaro sketchbook you made for me. The paper is wonderful, and I enjoyed having the flexibility to use just one side of a spread or to go across both pages. And I only painted one sketch upside down. :( You did such a wonderful job on the binding. It shows no sign of loosening or coming apart. I may have to order all my sketchbooks from you!

    2. I'm so glad you loved using the sketchbook! And I'm very happy to know the binding remained tight. I must give credit to Roz Stendahl and her online Simple Round Back Spine Bookbinding course. Her tutorials are amazing.

      "And I only painted one sketch upside down." I hate when that happens! I've done it myself, and I really had to force myself not to recreate the sketch on a separate sheet of paper and glue it over the upside down one. But it still bugs me. ;-)

    3. Wait till you see how I made peace with my big boo-boo. I'll put it in a blog post when I come to that part of the sketchbook.

      Thanks for letting me know about the online tutorial. I think I might have to bite the bullet and try my hand at bookbinding one of these days.

  2. Well, I am falling in love with your blog and your fabulous Paris journal and am following so I don't miss a post (Paris or otherwise!). It's always delightful to discover a new blog and new artist, all the better when they are one and the same. I look forward to revisiting many wonderful times during my French trips as I follow yours!

    1. What a sweet comment! Welcome, Jeanie. Glad you'll be coming along on the journey.


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