Excerpts from my days at a workshop in Provence in 1998.
Our second morning was spent at a nearby lavender farm — a stunning expanse of purple. I was actually freaking out over all that color. This would be much different than painting rocky mountains and pine trees. I had no idea how to begin. Failure was an option…
I chose to paint a value study of the buildings. The morning light was beautiful and (as I said) the colorful lavender was too scary. As usually happens in plein air painting, by the time I got set up and did a grid, the lighting on the scene had changed completely. So I painted, using the sketch as a guide. When the instructor came around, he said my painting didn’t look like the building. Um… because the light is different now than when I started? Or maybe, just maybe, the building I painted did not look like the building I was painting? I don’t know. Obviously, information that I was not yet ready for.
By afternoon, I’d mustered enough courage to work in color. The grid thing was coming together for me and my sketch went together quickly. In the fields, the lavender harvest was beginning. I am not sure what the process is — distillation, maybe? A heavy white cloud was pouring from a smoke stack; the smell was intoxicating. I’d heard that lavender is soothing to the nervous system — very soothing. And I was feeling mighty soothed.
A big man in a van pulled over and struck up a conversation. He was from Poland and was writing an article about lavender. He took my picture and asked a few questions. Then he wandered around and taking photos of the other artists. I never heard or saw any more about it, so who knows? Maybe I am famous (notorious?) somewhere in Poland.
Later a French-speaking couple stopped and started a conversation. With my limited French, I am not sure what we talked about. They may have said the lavender smelled and wished me luck with my painting. Or maybe that my art work stunk and I would need all the luck I could get. Sometimes, ignorance truly IS bliss.
The painting days, the vegetarian meals and the over indulgence in wines– it all runs together after awhile. We had days of painting and days of sightseeing. A visit to a local market yielded coffee and pastries — never disappointing.
We visited several medieval towns built on remote summits. Stone buildings and narrow pathways created a stronghold against invaders, I am sure. They DID let artists in, though. Entire towns were eye candy: truly a painter’s paradise.
In one town, I ALMOST painted (totally blocked by then). As I set up my easel, a red, white and black Citroen pulled into my view. A lady hopped out of the car and opened the trunk. It was full of old egg cartons and a huge yellow melon. Using the last of my film, I got a single shot of the scene, then whipped out my sketch book, frantically sketching and making notations, so I could reproduce it all in a painting.
After the car left, the instructor came along to offer some tips. And I immediately wimped out. I had no confidence to pull off a decent painting – especially with the instructor looking over my shoulder! Still trying to make masterpieces when (in retrospect) I wish I had focused more on LEARNING. I guess I forgot why I was taking a workshop!
After I got back home, I finally attempted a pastel painting of that magical moment.
We wrapped up the day at a restaurant in town, where most of us were delighted to load up on meat, fat and sugar. The food at the workshop, while quite good, was on the vegetarian side. No fatty, greasy American food for us! After a satisfying repast, we stopped at a local church for a concert. I remember that we left at halftime (or is that intermission?). As I recall, some of the artists didn’t like the music. I am not sure what they expected in a tiny little town in rural France, but, as the say, “C’est la vive“.
As the days went by, I had to force myself to paint, no matter how inadequate and insecure I felt. After awhile, my paintings began to get better. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like I ever let myself open up to learning. I was simply repeating the same things that I thought I already knew. The instructor was beyond patient with me and slowly some of what he had to say sunk in. Still, it took me months of processing to really integrate his lessons into my art. That is how it works when you are a thick-headed artist.