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France - summer 2017


A short family vacation (10 days) in what I consider to be "southern France", and by that I mean anything south of Lyon, which was our base, visiting our gracious host, H. But my French friends were quick to correct me that we visited several regions/departments on our trip, including Pérouge, Avignon (yes, we did dance on the bridge), Arles, Bollène (as a pit stop), and Montpellier, taking a couple of detours towards grottos, near Grenoble, and the Pont du Guard. France is such a beautiful country, you can't miss, regardless of where you go.


Pérouge is a medieval village east of Lyon. It is reasonably well-kept, and has remained reasonably shielded from the tourism circus. It is touristy, alright, but not in a cheap tacky, Disneyworld way.

As it happened, the day we visited (July 8), they were celebrating something and a Parisian theatre company was playing Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac. So we got front seats, but the poor actors had to contend with medieval garb in searing heat--didn't remember it getting that hot in Franc in the summer in my student days (1979-1984).

From a technical point of view, I had trouble with the texture of the walls. When the stones are big or roman style (see paintings of El-Jem), that is easy enough. In this case, it is small stones, and they are different colours and shades, with mold, etc. I thought first of laying the colour, and then do pen drawings on top for some of the stone contours. Finally, I decided to jot dark paint spots (burnt Sienna, the colour of everything in my book :-)), whose intensity and density depended on the shade, then wait til it dried, and brush over with a barely moist brush to "run" the colours and soften the edges, and this in the result.  I was also happy with the arch. Its underbelly was done with the "dark colour first, and lift colour with wet brush in the lighter areas". The side facing the "observer" is as close to a watercolour touch that I have ever been able to do.



My better half and the younger one were walking ahead of me through this covered passageway. I took a picture, which had all of the ingredients I like: cobblestone street, high contrast, and back lit scene, another one of my favorites. Couldn't resist!

I used the same technique as above, having fun with the dark ceiling made of logs, cobblestone street, and texture of the walls.


During a visit to Québec city in September 2017, I watched a street painter near Rue Saint Jean make quick watercolours by first jotting out imprecise blobs of colours, and then drawing on top of them with a pen, and the result was quite good. I am not daring, of course, but this is as close as I could get, and thus, this painting of Pont du Guard, made from a picture, was done in a record time, for me (less than 1 hour).



Or so it seems. I had been convinced that the picture I had was of a church in Arles, but it was actually from Saint-Roch church in Montpellier, according to our host, Vincent. This was another half-failed attempt at "letting go", and not do an "industrial/technical  drawing". I started doing more or less a pencil technical drawing on paper, to later calque on to the canvas, and when I picked the ruler, I thought enough is enough. If I wanted people to recognize it, it is not a particular nook or cranny here or there that will give it away. So I stopped drawing, transferred the lines I already had. and started painting. The picture, though, gave me a hard time. First, the light was so strong that the more delicate shady areas were as not as constrasted as I would have liked. Also, the stones had many "rust"/mold spots on them, which is typical of such buildings, and which distracted me also.  So, like with portraits, I guess, you have to pick  which features you want to highlight, and which you have to let go. So this is the result, not accurate in an architectural sense, but faithful enough in the most important features to be recognized.


A striking building. I visited the inside of the building in the fall of 2016 while visiting the Université de Montpellier for other business. From the inside, with the old stones, the high ceilings, the ancestral wood, the out-of-Harry Potter medical library, it reminded me of the fascination French educational institutions held in my mind when I was a young student in Paris (between the ages of 18 and 23). Being a computer scientist (a discipline barely older than me) in North america, we don't necessarily associate  old stones with state of the art science. But this is medicine, and France. From a picture taken July 15th, 2017, at high noon. I didn't find the building particularly beautiful or poetic. It is just striking, and a local landmark.

Artist Painting a Mural


You are right, it is Notre Dame de Paris, and is was painted much earlier, from a picture taken in summer of 2011. Here again, after trying to go for the gothic features, precisely, I (wisely) gave up and just went for the general effect. Although, it did take me far more time than it would take street artists to do something equivalent.


Lyon is a very pretty city. It has all of the amenities that you would expect from a big European city: the population size, the universities, the industries/businesses, the culture, the nightlife, the monuments, the famous food scene (bouchon lyonnais), the two rivers that cross it (Rhone and Saone), and the waterfronts that characterize many self-respecting European cities. Minus the overcrowded-ness, the "hecticness", the insalubrity and unsafely of a Paris or a London. This paining is an exercice in painting night bright water reflections  ... on a black background.



This is a pedestrian bridge next to the "autoroute 7", crossing the Rhone, near "Musée des confluences", which is a museum near where the Rhone meets the Saone. Did this one quickly to try out a couple of techniques. Was not inclusive. Did a bigger (double) size one (see below). Not very happy with either.



The same, bigger size, with more care, supposedly, and bolder colour. I guess I have reached a plateau as to what could be done with gouache over black background, for night scenes. I will go back to straight watercolour: you can still make pretty dark colours with real watercolour, but you get a much bigger colour range. Will probably revisit sometime in the future.

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