Frustrated in France

I’ll be keeping this mercifully short for a number of reasons. First off, we’re so remotely situated that there’s no WiFi or phone signal for quite a few miles so I’m having to go for a drive just to send this! On the plus side, we do however have a most idyllic camping pitch, deep in a forest:

Down in the jungle where nobody goes…

It’s really is wonderful. We have field mice visit us each evening, can hear owls at night, woodpeckers during the day, witness lizards basking in the sunlight and the other night we had a snake within a couple of metres of the tent. All of this was capped when I awoke this morning to find a Salamander inside the tent having a little snoop around!

Our snooping Salamander

The main reason that this post will be so short, however, is that I have so little to share. In a fine illustration of ‘sod’s law’ as soon as we got settled I was knocked sideways with a bug of some sort. I was left totally tent-bound feeling terribly listless and lethargic.

When I did try to paint, I found that even my sketchbooks were conspiring against me! Can you see the dark speckles on these images below?

It almost looks like dry-brush strokes but it’s a fault in the way the paper behaves – especially when very wet.

The paper in these sketchbooks is made from wood pulp rather than cotton, which makes them cheaper to make and cheaper to buy – but in this instance, my penny pinching has proven to be a false economy. I’ll think I’ll be looking for a different range of sketchbooks on my return!

The upshot is that I’ve done precious little watercolour painting of any sort. In fact, my favourite painting of the holiday so far has come from my daughter:

Oh for such freedom of expression!

It’s almost as if the dark and moody skies as we sailed from Newhaven where a premonition of what watercolour experiences lay ahead of me!

Foreboding skies as we left Newhaven bound for Dieppe

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve done much more watercolour thinking than I have watercolour painting since my last post, and I have one particular idea in mind that I’m keen to pursue on my return. (He said in what he hoped maybe an enigmatic fashion, but is probably just plain old vague!)

In the meantime, I’m starting to feel a little better now so hope that things will pick up — in almost every respect — during the remainder of the vacation!

Thoughts on Frustrated in France

22 thoughts on “Frustrated in France”

  1. Pingback: Win win watercolour paintings

  2. Hi John,

    If you are still struggling with poor quality sketchbook watercolour paper, check out the spiral pads by Saunders Waterford. They come in either 7.5 x 11 in or 11 x 15 in. They’re available from Jacksons and are good value. ( I particularly like Waterford’s rough paper.

    Arches used to make something similar, which I bought when I lived in Austria. Can’t seem to find them anywhere in Ireland or the UK though. Winsor and Newton also have a good quality 5×7 inch sketchbook with their 100% cotton watercolour paper. ( It is available on for even cheaper, last time I checked.

    I know these are not technically sketchbooks as they’re not bound but I, frankly, had had enough of struggling with low-quality paper in sketchbooks just to have it stitch bound. Hope that helps.

    Best wishes,

    1. Hi Conor and many thanks for this, I really appreciate it. I must confess that I’ve been a bit sniffy about spiral pads in the past, but I don’t really know where this snobbishness comes from! I’ve enjoyed painting on the Arches paper block recently, mainly I think because of the gummed edges. On the back of this, I have just torn up some sheets of Arches rough that I had spare to make some smaller 1/8th sized sheets. I think once I’ve used these up though I’ll definitely take your advice and recommendation on the Saunders Waterford spiral bound pad and give it a go. My preferred paper of late has been the 300gsm rough high white paper so it would be great to have sketch book paper that matched! I do also have a large Windsor and Newton A3 spiral bound pad of heavyweight rough paper that I’ve foolishly been ‘keeping for best’ which I should try to get messy with! – Thanks so much for taking the time to pass on your tips and recommendations, I really appreciate it.

  3. Pingback: Post-holiday watercolour blues

  4. Your daughters paintings are lovely John. I hope you’re feeling better. I totally understand what you mean about the cheap watercolour paper – you’re right, it is false economy. I’ve given up on it completely now…

    1. Hi Evelyn and thanks for this. I’m just about to re-order may paper supplies and will have to order extra now! Frustrating really as I’d already stocked up on sketchbooks a while ago! I think I’ll be donating them to my daughter who is far less picky about these things!

    1. Hi Louise and thanks for this, sadly I’m still feeling pretty ropey so have been to doctors (inconclusive) and have just had an xray and need to await the doctor’s verdict. More frustrating than anything really! Will hopefully be firing on all cyclinders again soon! x

    1. Thanks Nathan and yes, I can highly recommend that part of France for camping. The more I looked at the landscape however the less I could believe just how vivid and vibrant the greens were – some of them almost hurt my eyes!

  5. Good luck with the rest of your vacation, John! Hope your painting frustrations get better and you feel better too! Personally, I NEVER get nearly as much painting done as I intend to when I am on vacation…but, it doesn’t stop me from trying!!

    1. Hi Hilda and thanks so much for this. I think I managed to paint something most days for the rest of my holiday – which is much more than I usually get the chance to do. Really does make one wonder what could be achieved if we could properly dedicate ourselves to just painting!

      1. Doesn’t it just?! Sometimes I fantasize about going on a painting vacation to Venice or somewhere, without my family! Give me ten years or so and I’ll be complaining about empty nest syndrome, instead! 🙂

        1. I reckon I’ve got a few more years than you have before I’ll be contemplating my own empty nest but it would be nice to think that I can gradually squeeze a little more time in each year! The idea of a solid painting vacation is heavenly (and sadly I think it will remain like a mirage on the horizon for a good few years to come!) Ah well, we can but dream!

  6. Hope the family’s having a good time while you groan in the tent! You’ll be better by now I hope.
    I had the same problem with uneven soaking of paper some time ago and I think I worked out what had caused it. Of course, I can’t remember what it was now.
    Enjoy the rest of the holiday despite the incessant forest noise.

    1. Hi Rob and thanks for this. The rest of the family did indeed have a great time, and I’m told (even though I don’t wholly believe it) that that’s what’s most important! If whatever causes paper to misbehave comes back to you, please do let me know – in the meantime, I’m already resigning myself to spending even more money on paper than I do already!

  7. Hi John, what a shame to be poorly on your precious holiday. Here’s hoping the improvement continues and you manage some painting time. I’ve had paper do similar on me and it’s very disappointing. Enjoy the rest of it…it does look amazing!

    1. Hi Carole and many thanks for this – much appreciated. Feels strange to be gradually settling back into the swing of everyday life at the moment – I can’t help thinking that I’m much better suited to being on holiday!

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