Watercolour sketches from France

In last week’s brief post from France, I mentioned the mixed blessings of the remoteness of our location and its consequent lack of phone signals or wi-fi and such like. Here’s a very quick video that I hope might give some flavour of the splendour of the location, and also why getting a signal was quite tricky. Oh, please excuse the mess and clutter around the pitch. If I’d have known that I was going to be showing guests around, I would have tried to tidy up a little!

[wpvideo IIbUJO1s ]

I checked back to my equivalent post from a similar time last year when, for my inspiration and edification, I took on holiday with me Joseph Zbukvic’s brilliant book, Mastering Atmosphere and Mood in Watercolour:

2017 sketching platter!

As you will probably have seen from last week’s post, and the video above, this year I took David Taylor and Ron Ranson’s great book, Solving the Mystery of Watercolour:

2018 sketching platter

I’m not entirely sure that I’ve solved the mystery of watercolour quite yet but it’s an enjoyable read, very informative and packed full of David Taylor’s inspiring paintings.

So, armed with expert guidance, great weather and my favourite sketching kit, here’re some pages from my 2018 holiday sketchbook:

Haybales, France
Market scene and field scene
Boat on a river….
Market day, Perigueux
Homes and fields…
Market day, Perigueux
More homes, more fields….
Brantome sketch and sunflower field sketch
And a train runs through it….
Another French homestead….
And another French homestead…
End of day drinks near the Eglise St. Remy, Dieppe, Normandy

As you can probably tell, I developed an almost unhealthy fascination with French farms, sheds, cottages, barns all nestled beautifully into the landscape. I felt like I could keep painting these over and over again and never tire of them!

Alongside these sketches I also managed to take lots of photographs too so I should have plenty of material to keep me busy for quite a while – and to keep the feeling of my holiday alive for as long as possible!

Oh, as a nice little aside, the sketch that I posted last week of market day in Perigueux didn’t actually make it back home with me!

Market day, Perigueux

As I painted this, I was being observed by one of my ‘neighbours’ at the campsite. A few days later, I was approached by the said neighbour and he enquired about how much I sell my work for, and would I sell the painting he’d seen me do? I deliberated on it overnight as I don’t really like to sell sketches, and would prefer to work this up into a finished piece for sale. I did, however, understand that the connection with a ‘finished’ work would be entirely different. I also didn’t feel I could ‘sell’ the sketch.

As a compromise, I exchanged the sketch for a delicious barbeque and a guided tour of Bruges in Belgium. It’s a city I’ve always wanted to visit  – and to paint! –  and now have even more of an incentive to plan a trip! I still intend to work this sketch up into a larger painting but it’s great to know that this sketch made a connection, made someone happy and that it’s settling into its new home in Bruges. Who know’s, I may even get to see it again when we visit!

Thoughts on Watercolour sketches from France

24 thoughts on “Watercolour sketches from France”

  1. Margery Griffith

    Love this series of Pleinair paintings! I used to do a lot of paintings when younger, outdoors. and have recently concentrated on waterccolors only. but not going outside to paint until last fall when I took a class. Exhausted me but loved it! I’m 88 so have slowed down! The class has inspired me and reminded me how much difference it makes, painting outside. I have collected a lot of good photos from various trips but am finding that when I paint from them I try to copy them and results are too stiff. Not bad, just not as loose as I want.
    I will spend a week in Florida the end of Jan and am already working on a very small kit to take along, and appropriate colors. I usally take everything but the kitchen sink and I’ve now learned! I used to live in Florida (among other places) and it will be fun too get WARM at least for 7 days!
    I am nervouos though, about going alone at my age, to paint some of the ‘painterly scenes’ I’ve seen around here in St. Louis, MO…but am determined this year…I’d forgotten how much difference it makes!
    Enjoy Wales…with a name like GRIFFTH I have to love it! Visited 3 times and just finished a painting from a photo my daughter took when visiting Wales for her 1st visit last fall. Can’t wait to see what you paint from there!

    1. Hi Margery and thanks so much for your comments. I think plein air painting is really challenging – wonderful too, but mainly challenging! I think this is mainly because I don’t do enough of it!

      In the past, I’ve also suffered from my desire to carry too much stuff with me! I’ve now got a sketching kit which I’m pretty content with. I’m jealous of your trip to Florida – the temperatures here are beginning to drop quite rapidly! All best wishes

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  5. Wow! Those sketches are really fantastic! You totally captured that warm summer feeling. And if the French farms are as beautiful in person as in your sketches, to then I need to go there.

    Thanks so much for the wonderful post and for the camp tour. Looks so fun and relaxing.

    1. Hi Tim and thanks so much for this, I did really enjoy these sketches (so definitely need to try to do more of them!). I’m sure part of the enjoyment did also come from the fact we were nice and relaxed, in full holiday mode and surrounded by beautiful scenery – If only every day was like that!

  6. Boat on a River and A Train Runs through it are just lovely. Those could be finished paintings rather than just sketches. I look forward to seeing the full sized paintings inspired by these sketches. You have some really lovely skies going on there too.

    It is the highest compliment that your neighbor came to you to ask about purchasing your market day sketch. It obviously spoke to them and they thought on it for a few days. It tugged on their mind so much that they were moved to approach you. I think you negotiated a fair bargain for you both. They got a painting and you got a meal and a tour. That will mean much to both of you. When you look at the finished painting you do from the photo of that scene and that sketch, you will remember it more than if you had kept the sketch.

    Your campsite looks inspirational and your paintings show it. I think the End of Day Drinks could be framed as is and your numerous fields are very different but all beautiful.

    Hope you’re relaxed after your vacation. Looks like you have a lot of inspiration for paintings to hold you until your next vacation.

    1. Hi Mary and thanks so much for this – I really wish I’d read your comments before I started to do a larger version of ‘A train runs through it’ is it might have saved me considerable time (and disappointment!) – I’ll save the gory details for the next post!

      One of the many nice things on reading your comments is the realisation that I won’t have to wait long before my next vacation – in fact I’m off camping again to Wales on Thursday, but only for a weekend and I doubt I’ll have time to do much sketching, but I’ll go prepared nevertheless. After that, I’ve got a 4 or 5 days in Porto to look forward to in October, which isn’t too far away – so it feels nice to have all of this to look forward to. Despite returning relaxed, ‘m finding the return to normality a little bit tiresome! Hope all’s good with you!

      1. Sketches are quick and unstudied. They are the very essence of improvisational and emotion of the moment. Sometimes that just can’t be recreated. It also could be you need a little time and distance before you do some full size paintings from this trip.

        Let it go. Go to Wales. Go to Porto. In a few months, come back to your photos and these sketches. Or you may do something completely different. I’m sure you took a lot more photos than the sketches you did. As I progress I’m doing paintings from photos I’ve rejected numerous times. My current favorite is a shot I took coming back from walking the dog. Empty street lines with palm trees and telephone poles. Who knew?

        Porto. Is that Portugal? That’s sounds promising.

        1. Hi Mary and thanks for these considered and wise words of wisdom! I think you’re right! I think a little more ‘perspective’ will serve me well – and to perhaps use the sketches in conjunction with the photos (when I get round to printing them up!). I like the sound of your current favourite view, sounds like lots of horizontals and verticals that really help break up and balance compositions. As for Porto, yes, quite correct, Portugal. I haven’t been there before but have only heard good things about it from those that have! Many thanks for the advice Mary, I really appreciate it – really timely and helpful!

  7. A great set of new sketches John – what a lovely holiday. Great camping pitch too! Did I see a fridge???

    1. Hi Louise and thanks for this, so pleased you like the sketches! Re the fridge! yes, your eyes aren’t deceiving you! For the first time ever we hired a fridge and I can safely say that it was worth every penny – just to have a few cold beers at the end of the day in those temperatures was absolutely priceless!

    1. Thanks so much for this and I’m really delighted that you like this post! (Makes me think that I need to go on more and more holidays!)

  8. You must be very pleased with this lot as a whole collection; I’ve not looked back but I get the impression that the standard has gone up consistently. I particularly like your skies – maybe something to do with spending a month painting little else? They show great variety of tone and mood. I’m still not keen on large empty foregrounds or prison architecture but there’s not too much of that here and I realise there’s no time to expand on them when you are sketching in the field! I especially like the boat on the river – economical but my brain filled it all in to perfection. I love the handling of the greens (and landscape) in the first “Homes and fields…” Lucky Belgian(?) who got your market scene!

    1. Hi Rob and thanks so much for this. I did feel much more comfortable and much more confident sketching this year than I ever have previously, so hopefully some of that is coming through in these sketches. I felt less precious about them (although not so less precious that I haven’t also edited out a few sketches that were truly awful!) I’d like to think that I can do more sketching (not something I’m usually inclined to do a lot of) now that I’ve reached this point – I’m sure if I could keep it up it would really benefit my larger paintings. Thanks again Rob.

  9. Wonderful work! I love how buildings turn out when using watercolour, and would love to be able to do it myself one day 😊 I like how you document not only the paintings, but also your surroundings when painting them ☺

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