Thursday, March 29, 2018

France Sketchbook - Day 5 - Lavender Field at St. Paul de Mausole

Ah, the lavender fields of Provence!

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

They really are pretty as a picture. The colors, the fragrance, and the beauty of it all are simply unforgettable! 

During our first sketching session in Saint Remy, my students and I spread out around the monastery grounds at Saint Paul de Mausole, where Vincent van Gogh had once lived and painted. 

I settled in under a shady tree and did a quick pencil sketch to block in the large shapes of sky, trees, and field then wet the sky and tree area with clean water. It was a hot, breezy day and I knew that the plein air painting process would be challenging. I had to work quickly before my paper dried out, so I immediately dropped Cerulean Blue into the wet sky area and allowed it to flow, forming soft-edged clouds. Working my way down the page while the sky was still wet, I painted Olive Green, Sap Green, and Yellow Ochre into the tree area, changing values and colors as I went, to make a varied base for the wooded background.

While the sky and trees were drying, I skipped down to the lavender field and wet it with clean water, letting it soak in until the paper was damp but not shiny with water. After mixing up puddles of pale lavender and darker violet paint, I began painting the rows. I had to work quickly before the paper dried, brushing on mostly lighter lavender tones, then adding darker values of purple wet-in-wet to indicate the shadows between the rows.

Next, I painted a base wash on the shed, stone wall, and other green areas along the sides of the lavender field.

To finish the sketch, I added darker values and texture. Looking back at the detail images above, you can see the second and third layers of glazing that I added. Here's what these darker values do for the sketch:

  1. They help to loosely define individual trees in the mass of foliage behind the shed.
  2. On the wall and building, they suggest stone texture.
  3. On the shed, dark strokes of color show texture on the tile roof and shadows in the doorway.
  4. They indicate deep shadows under the tree next to the shed.
  5. In the lavender field, darker tones define the rows with shading and add texture to suggest stems, flowers, etc.
  6. They add spots of deep color that catch the eye and help the light areas in the sketch to appear sunlit. 

The simple border with corner details was drawn after the painting was complete.

I was really happy with the way this sketch turned out. Painting it on location gave it a looser look than the sketches that I paint back home in my studio after a trip. And there are so many happy memories tied up in it that I can't help but smile when I look at it.

But I had a few moments when I thought I would have to scrap the entire page....

The final step in completing this travel sketch was to add some lettering to the page (at home). I had a line of text in mind for it, and I went ahead and added it below the image using a calligraphy pen. But something was bothering me about it. I had a niggling feeling that it seemed familiar, that maybe I had used the same line somewhere else in the journal.

I turned a few pages, and, lo and behold, there was the same line on another page! In nice big bold letters. Oh, no!

The lettering on the lavender sketch had to be removed. I first tried lifting the paint by scrubbing with a damp brush. It barely budged. I tried a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. It damaged the paper but didn't lift the lettering. Then I tried painting white gouache over it...then another coat of gouache. It covered, but then I tried to paint over the layers of gouache to blend the cover-up area in with the drippy wash that I had painted below the lavender field. It was a disaster! It looked horrible. So, there I was with a giant mess on a sketch that I loved.

But desperate times call for desperate measures! I'm not one to give up, so I penciled in a new quote on a piece of watercolor paper, painted the lettering with a calligraphy pen loaded with watercolor, then tore the piece out and glued it onto the offending mistake.

 Now I LOVE the page!

It's one of my favorite sketches (so far) in this travel journal. My other favorite is coming up in my next blog post. I can't wait to share it with you.

 If you enjoy sketching on location, 
why not come along on one of my trips to Italy this fall? 
I'll be there by your side to guide you each step of the way!
Visit the European Workshops page to read about
upcoming workshop tours to Sicily and Northern Italy.
I'd love to have you join me!


  1. I was just thinking about you today while I was painting in my journal. I had made a mistake and thought that you probably never did! LOL! I am just starting out and your site is just fascinating to me, so glad I found it!

    1. I must have been reading your mind, Lisa! Really, I make mistakes all the time. I've just learned some ways to minimize their impact. In my "Sketchbook Journaling Explorations" workshops that I'll be teaching in San Clemente in November and Florida next February I'm going to include a whole section on fixing mistakes. I'm calling it "The Boo-Boo Bible". :)

  2. Great idea for a workshop, Leslie! I just came out the other side of a nightmare sketch (a few tears may have been involved), and reading about your trials had me sympathizing every step of the way. This is a beautiful fix to a beautiful sketch. I would have been heartbroken if I’d had to scrap it! Thanks for sharing tips on how you accomplished it.

  3. What a great fix! You know what they say: “Necessity is the mother of invention!”
    This is a beautiful page and your fix makes it look like you planned it all along.

  4. really love your sketching ❤️. i always love drawing, recently I started sketching from basic.


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