Audacity in Provence

Winston Churchill described how he learned his style of painting from Hazel Lavery, the wife of the noted Irish painter, Sir John Lavery. After watching Churchill working somewhat tentatively, Hazel took his largest brush and demonstrated how to paint along the lines of “Splash, wallop, frantic flourish – several fierce strokes and slashes.” Churchill noted with this approach his inhibitions fell away. He took his brush and “attacked his canvas with berserk fury and never felt any awe of a canvas again.” … For fellow late beginners, Winston subsequently urged, “… no time for two years of lessons, three years of copying, five years of apprenticeship. This is for the young! Buy a paint box and have a try. Audacity is the only ticket!” (Illustrative text from the Winston Churchill painting exhibition at Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, England, 2015 March). This passage resonated deeply within me. I have always referred to my painting style as “slapping paint” since I also prefer to work quickly, with vigor, and attack my canvases to bend them to my will.

Greyfriars_Art_ShopI have been focused on painting with acrylics since I started painting around 1980, and have not thought much during the interim about changing media. When we were in Edinburgh, Miss Cyd encouraged me to buy a set of Derwent Inktense pencils at Greyfriars Art Shop to try something new on our trip.I have never painted with watercolors, although I sketch quite a bit with the trusty No. 2 graphite pencil, so I thought, what the heck, this might be a good way to carry art supplies on more trips without packing all the paraphernalia I need for my acrylics. I like to sketch anyway, so I played around with the pencils one night in the hotel room in Edinburgh to orient myself to the way the sketched colors blended and flowed with a water brush penDerwentPencils (also a Miss Cyd recommendation at Greyfriars that, as usual, was a stellar suggestion). Although I thought there might be some value to using this technique en plein air, I packed the pencils away for our travels and thought no more of them until this morning.

After three weeks of gray skies, mists, and rain in the UK and in Lyon, it was very pleasant to wake up this morning in La Méjanes and enjoy le ciel bleu incroyable here in Aix-en-Provence. Ah ha, the time has come to be audacious and try out my new sketching materials, so down the street we went in search of the perfect cup of coffee to start our day. When we stopped at a gelato and coffee shop called Amorino, we sat down outside to enjoy the day.Steeple_1 I looked up from my steaming cup of Café Americano and saw the steeple of the Couvent des Augustins, an 15th century building on the corner of Rue Espariat and Rue de la Masse, which is now a hotel, standing against the brilliant blue sky. No time like the present for audacity, so out came the sketchbook and I dashed off a quick sketch of the steeple right there at the cafe table. It was fast and rough, but it was enough to let me know that I will enjoy sketching with these pencils, although I have a LOOONNNNGGGG way to go to master this technique. Still and all, I have bought the pencil box along with a compact bag to carry the pencils and some water brushes, and I always have a sketchbook with me when I travel. In the words of Winston Churchill, “Audacity is the only ticket!” and I certainly don’t mind practicing this new technique audaciously here under the incredible blue Provençal skies.

Steeple_Sketch_1 Steeple_Sketch_4 Steeple_Sketch_2
Rough Sketch Practicing Finished Sketch

I think I am going to like this sketching approach quite well as it is much easier to pack a small sketchbook and pencil bag around than the backpack full of art supplies that I had planned to use here in Provence. Atelier_1Tonight, I painted in the sky for the acrylic steeple painting that I will finish later this week, but sketching en plein air with these watercolor pencils is going to be very nice and free up lots of time for other activities in this lovely and historical city. I will still use the easel in Paris to paint my Bridge series in situ, but for now, I have set up my easel next to Miss Cyd’s watercolor and journal writing station in the sitting room that we have converted into our temporary atelier in La Méjanes.   Tomorrow, we are taking a bus to  Les Carrieres de Bibemus, where Cezanne painted many of his images of Sainte Victoire, to take the tour of the quarries and do some sketching and watercolors there. Let the creative juices flow freely and audaciously for both of us!

Joe and Cyd


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