Painting in Southern France was my seventh adventure with master artist, Tim Clark, an outstanding teacher and one of the top watercolorists in America. He is also an entertainer, who could easily have been a successful standup comedian. Tim accompanies demonstrations with interesting stories that fit each occasion and lesson, some true and some made up, some serious and some hilarious, and all add up to a fun and entertaining learning experience. One has to stay alert to distinguish the truth from the absurd, but when it comes to art, Tim is passionate and serious, and every second focuses on art and art history where Tim is unrivalled.
After an hour’s flight from Heathrow I landed in Toulouse the afternoon before the beginning of the 12 day workshop. I committed the unforgivable WWT stunt for dinner that evening by eating at a McDonalds across the street from the hotel. In some ways it was good to start out in France by setting the lowest possible bar. The trip included some of the best meals of my life, even in tiny sidewalk cafes. I was constantly reminded of the magic the French seem to perform with food. By 10 AM the next morning I had linked up with 12 artists, two companions, Tim and his wife Marriott, and mounted a bus to do a quick tour of Toulouse before moving on to Floure, our first painting site. We made stops at two cathedrals in Toulouse with lunch near St. Sernin Cathedral in The St. Sernin Café.
During the next eleven days we had multiple day layovers in one village and three cities, Floure, Collioure, Uzes, and Paris. Between layovers we made day long visits to Carcassonne and LaGrasse and short stops for lunch, photos, sketching and painting at Sete, Ceret, Avignon, and Pont du Gard.
Upon arrival at Hôtel le Château de Floure in early afternoon, we were greeted by Gérant (Gerry), our host who told us some of the history of the hotel. The chateau, and, indeed, this entire region was a favorite haunt of many greats, including Picasso, Matisse, Chardin, Cezanne and others, who seemed to have formed a club of sorts to learn from each other. Many art breakthroughs emerged from this region of France in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
On first arrival in such places with painting scenes everywhere, I get anxious to set up an easel and go to work, and I couldn’t wait to start. Nevertheless, a typical day with Tim began as follows:
Tim before the day begins: “You guys don’t need a demonstration today. Just get settled in your room and then get out there and paint.”
Upon arrival: “Mary asked me to show her how to set up her palette, so I will do that when we arrive. If any of you want to join us you may, or if you would rather paint, go off and paint.”
That was a no-brainer for me, but when I gather all my painting gear and head off to paint I notice that everyone except me is gathered around Tim’s demonstration. I made the mistake a few times in the past of going off and painting, without fail, returning to hear, “Where the hell were you? I did a demonstration just for you.”
So I halfheartedly joined in the demonstration with the others, day dreaming about painting France. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the intriguing well nearby, which was begging to be painted. After resisting as long as I could, I sneaked out a sketchbook and painted it in my lap, hoping no one would notice.
By the time the demonstration was over, I was in love with the well, so I set up an easel and painted a larger painting of the same scene. Oftentimes a quick study turns out more painterly than an extended painting. Here it’s a tossup between the lap painting and the two hour piece on an easel.
After lunch I chose to wander outside the Chateau into the village to see if I could locate a nice shady spot overlooking a rose covered wall I had seen in the village. I discovered the perfect spot, a shady sloping driveway in the shade with a perfect view of the wall.
Having completed a drawing, I noticed that the street had filled with kids, apparently just leaving the local school for the day. Within minutes I was surrounded by giggling eight year old girls, all babbling in French. I could sense that they were up to something as they got noisier and more excited, now attempting to communicate with me. At first I had no idea what they were saying. My long forgotten French and their English was of little use, but we tried and everyone laughed a lot with each new attempt. I quickly determined that they were asking, actually pleading, with me to paint them.
This continued for a long time until eventually, one of them left and came back with a hand written note asking me to “sell” them a painting. It appeared to be written with phonics, possibly by a teacher or parent, to help them communicate.
I resisted as long as I could until finally concluding that either I should give in or else leave, since I was making no progress on my painting of the house. In fact, I realize only now what a huge opportunity the universe was offering. I love drawing faces and here before me were six delightful little French girls begging to model for me. Of course, I am sensitive to interacting with strange little girls, especially acknowledging my ignorance of local sensitivities and customs, but this seemed safe enough.
When finally I said okay, they all immediately lined up with great enthusiasm, expecting me to draw the whole group. When I said, “Just one”, and held up one finger, they could not decide who should be the one, so I said, “Okay, then two,” and held up two fingers. My sketches were not horrible and they seemed to be quite happy with them. I did regret not taking more time and producing something better.
The little girl in the black dress was the most enthusiastic negotiator, and now she wanted me to draw here. I wish so much now that I had given in to her pleas, but I did want to finish my painting to have something for the critique that Tim would undoubtedly have later. I told her I would draw her “tomorrow”, but she left unhappy.
So I returned to my painting. In the meantime, the tallest girl, who was in my first drawing had gone home and returned excitedly with her little sister for me to draw. By this time I finally realized what a gift the universe was offering and besides, who could resist this sweet little girl’s request. I was having so much fun by now, I took more time and did a better job on this one. Her name was Abir.
Before leaving France I vowed to paint portraits of the remaining girls from photographs I had taken and send them later to these lovely ladies
NEXT: Chapter 2- Painting from Bee Swarms and Bridges - Carcassonne and LaGrasse