Monday, March 26, 2018

France Sketchbook - Day 5 - Saint Paul de Mausole Monastery

Two-page spread, ink & watercolor in a 6" x 8" handmade hardbound sketchbook filled with Kilimanjaro 140 lb. watercolor paper
When I woke up that first morning in Provence, I didn't know what the day would hold, but the sun was shining, the cicadas were buzzing, the lavender was blooming, and all was right with the world.

(This post is a continuation of my travel journal postings from a 2017 trip to Paris and Provence. To catch up and read the earlier posts, visit the "Travel Sketches" page and click on the links for Paris & Provence.)

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

After breakfast, we packed up our sketching supplies and walked across the street from our hotel, following brass markers that led us to the sanitarium where Van Gogh spent the last year of his life.

The winding driveway to the asylum took us through groves of olive trees...

the same olive trees that Vincent painted in 1890.

Here and there along our route, we stopped to read the informative panels showing paintings that Vincent had painted of the scene before us, along with translated excerpts from letters to his brother Theo. In the letters, he was hopeful, optimistic, and enthused about what he was creating during his time at Saint Paul de Mausole.

It felt like such a privilege to me, to be able to look out at the same trees, mountains, and fields that Van Gogh had been inspired to paint.

As we moved out of the olive grove and onto the shaded path leading to the sanitarium, we all grew quieter.

It felt like a spiritual experience, being there in that place. I felt a connection to the struggling artist who had devoted himself to pursuing his passion.

After the bright sunshine of the fields and gardens, it felt as if we were entering another world when we stepped inside the monastery. It was a blisteringly hot day, and the shade was a welcome relief from the sun.

The cloister corridor was the site of my first formal class with my students, although I'm not sure how they could even listen to me when they could see this scene right behind me....

(I think it's one of the prettiest pictures I took on this whole trip.)

After class, we all split up for independent sketching time, and I headed outside to paint the lavender field behind the monastery. (I'll share that sketch with you in my next post.)

I left a blank page in my sketchbook to add this sketch of the cloister gardens later at home using photo references.

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

The composition is a blending of several photos. I wanted to frame the scene with the columns, but I also loved the look of the boxwood plantings being on the diagonal, so I merged the photo above and this one:

Many of the other sketches in my France journal have a soft look to them, with muted colors and tan buildings. For a change of pace, I decided to push the colors of the stonework in this sketch, giving the columns and arches a golden glow.

The vining plant on the facing page was one that I also took a picture of that day at the cloister, and I chose it as an accent on the text page, to coordinate with the colors of the cloister garden sketch.

In my next post, you'll finally get to see those famous Proven├žal lavender fields!

 If you would like to experience the fun and adventure
of an overseas art workshop, 
visit my European Workshops page 
to read about upcoming trips to 
Sicily, Northern Italy, Spain, Tuscany and Croatia.
I'd love to have you join me!


  1. Leslie, I really enjoyed reading this post about Van Gogh and love your sketches. I have a question: How do they protect those images of Van Gogh’s paintings that are in the garden?

    1. They’re printed on hard, solid boards. I’m not sure what the material is, but it’s meant to be used outdoors in the weather. The images are permanently installed.

  2. By the way I like how you blended the two photos to create your composition of a diagonal garden. So pretty!

    1. Thanks, Annie. I’m not sure I’ve ever done that before in a travel journal. It feels a bit like cheating, but I tell myself it’s more a matter of combining two sketches into one.

    2. Not cheating—it is artistic license!

  3. Gorgeous, Leslie! With so much beauty and story at every turn, how do you ever decide what to include in your sketchbook? I love this spread and the history you added in your journaling. Although, I bet you'll only need to glimpse your lovely rendering of Saint Paul de Mausole to remember the poignancy of your time there.

    Btw, I love your penmanship. :-)


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