Category Archives: pastel

Touring with Bromptons: Boston to Portland Oregon

We are very excited about our first long distance tour with out Bromptons. We plan to do 3 trips out of Portland Oregon, first to the wine country in the Willamette valley, 2nd down the coast on the 3 Capes route, and third to the Cascade Mountains to the west of Bend.
After some debate back and forth we decided to check our Bromptons rather than try to get them through the TSA security check point. Even though it can be done, we figured we had too many other things to carry on, including pastels, cameras, and camping gear.

Flying on Alaska air we have 2 free bags, and as the Bromptons qualify as luggage we are able to check them with our other bags. Still I was relieved when I saw them come down the ramp off the plane in Portland.

 Alex picked us up at the airport in his vintage VW camper, Pickle. It was hot in Portland, nearly 100 degrees, and a cold beer was just what we needed! Portland has a great bike and beer culture.

As soon as we unpacked we set off. With 4 Bromptons and a road bike we made quite a parade as we rode up the street to Northwest IPA.
 The beer was great and so was the company!! Great to be in Portland!

Plein Air Cycle With Bromptons

Traveling with bikes is great. Traveling on planes and buses and trains with bikes can be a challenge. So this spring we got two Brompton folding bikes from Nycewheels with 6 gears, and a 12% reduction in the gear ratio to make it easier to climb hills.image

Our shake down ride was to Provincetown MA, a mere 60 miles for me, 120 miles for Gerry.  I was already in Sandwich MA for a 3 day pastel workshop with Tony Allain. Tony is an amazing pastelist from the UK, known for his brilliant use of color, and the intentional stokes he uses to create his elegant compositions. It was a great workshop, and a wonderful chance to study with Tony. The above painting is one of Tony’s demos.

On Friday night Gerry arrived on his Brompton, and Saturday we rode the remaining 60 miles to P-town. It was our longest ride on the Bromptons yet, and we were pleasantly surprised at how great we felt at the end of the ride! The higher handlebars (H style) is perfect for those who like a more up-right position.

We rode Sandwich to P-town, then back to Boston on the hi speed ferry, and then along the harbor back home. What a great trip!

Pilgrimage to Giverny


Water lilies and reflections are one of my favorite subjects to paint. With three days in Paris on my own at the end of our trip, my top priority was a day trip to Giverny to visit Monet’s home and gardens, especially his water garden.

As a child I sat mesmerized before Monets paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery in DC, and later at the Met and MOMA in New York. But last year sitting in l’Orangerie in Paris, surrounded on all sides by the magnificent murals that Monet created in the last years of his life, I felt that I was actually sitting at the side of the artist by his beautiful lagoon.

In Paris I hoped to visit the Louvre, the Orsay, the Musee Marmotan, and perhaps the Rodin Museum! Or at least as many of those places as I could. But I arrived at the Louvre to find the square FULL of people. It was the first Sunday of the month, and the museums were free. The place was mobbed. Same story at the Orsay. So I found myself again at l’Orangerie, and was able to get in with only a half hour wait.

It was wonderful to see these paintings again before my trip to Giverny. Downstairs a show on collector and dealer Paul Guillaume included miniature rooms from his apartment in Paris complete with tiny models of his African art collection! It reminded me of the hours I spent staring into the miniature rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago as a child! African art inspired and excited Guillaume, and many of the contemporary artists he represented such as Cezanne, Derain, Modigliani. I thought of my dad, who was a curator at the Art Institute when I was a child, and loved African art. He would have been as thrilled as I was to be there.

When I emerged from the museum it was pouring. Soaked, I considered but gave up on my plans to visit any more museums, deciding that I had absorbed enough art and water for one day.

Mary, one of the other artists on the pastel trip, and I planned to rendezvous in Giverny on Monday. That morning I was at Gare St. Lazare, tickets in hand, waiting to see what platform the train would be on, when it suddenly disappeared from the board. Electrical problems in Rouen caused all the trains to be canceled on that line that day. Mary was staying in Rouen and was stranded as well. Disappointed, I took my pastels and went over to the Jardin des Plantes to do a little plein air painting.

The next day we resolved to try again. The forecast was calling for showers and then steady rain, so I left my pastels at the hotel. Mary is an optimist, so she brought hers along. We met at the station in Vernon, and boarded the bus to Giverny. We got to the gardens around 9:45, and it was already packed with tours. Resolved to see the water garden while the weather held, we leapfrogged the groups, and made our way directly there.

Mary and I inched our way around the pond, so happy to be there, taking it all in. The sun actually came out for a while, but mostly the sky was like a giant soft box, perfect for photography. We even cracked out our paints, Mary her pastels, and me a small watercolor kit, and painted for a little while before it started to pour.

Surprisingly, the garden was even more beautiful in the rain! The water lilies opened up along with all the colorful umbrellas. The pattern of rain on the water, the calligraphy of the willow branches in front of the pond!! I felt transported into one of Monet’s paintings, just soaking up the beauty of the place. My shoes were also soaking, unfortunately. But I had my borrowed umbrella from the hotel, and I couldn’t have been happier to be where I was at that moment.

Monets house was charming, and a walk though the village gave us glimpses of Giverny as it was in Monet’s time. Mary and I hugged goodbye, both of us so happy to have been able to share the experience with a like-minded traveler.










Pastel Painters of Provence, 2014


Here we are, the 2014 Pastel Painters of Provence. In addition to painting at Mas Shabanou in Roquefort les Pins where we stayed for our workshop, and in Nice, we traveled to many beautiful hill towns. Notes and photos from some of the many beautiful places we visited and painted:

Valbonne is an old town with a busy main square, very near Roquefort less Pins. It is full of beautiful vignettes. Just after we arrived and began to plan our paintings it began to rain, and we took refuge in the cafes.

The kids seemed delighted to play in the rain, while the adults looked on.

The square is framed by arches, with the Hotel on one side.



After grabbing as many photos as we could, we decided to work in the studio at Mas Shabanou for the afternoon. The dogs joined us later outside for a critique.





Our hearts were stolen by the beautiful little town of Tourette du loup. It is full of charm and character.





We stopped at the famous Florian confiserie in Gorges du Loup for chocolate avec Violette, Rose, and other amazing flavors.


Mougins, with its glass elevator from the parking lot, galleries, and world class restaurants seemed large and a bit over whelming in the 90 degree heat. Some of us found shelter in a shady spot with a fountain by the church, while others painted the beautiful vista.





Saint Paul de Vence is beautiful, but very popular with tourists. Once the guitar player was done serenading women and children in the square by the fountain I claimed the spot. Suddenly I was one of the attractions, and had my photo taken with many Japanese tourists.


Here is my underpainting as I began blocking in the shapes.

My finished study. I would love to create another larger piece in the studio based on this Plein air sketch.

Demo at Mas Shabanou

After our bike trip Gerry left for Paris and a flight home. I traveled to Roguefort les Pins, a small town near Cannes and Nice for a week-long pastel painting class. There are 12 of us, mostly from Massachusetts. Jeanne Rosier Smith is our instructor. Here are some notes from our first day painting at our hotel, Mas Shabanou.

Jeannie is doing a first demo, showing the use of the viewfinder to map out the image. Big simple shapes are important when establishing the composition. She uses the pencil to establish the angles. Close one eye, keep elbow straight and match the pencil to the line.

She creates a thumbnail first and then establishes the sketch on the paper. She has made tick marks on the viewfinder and paper to establish the proportions.

The light is very changeable. A quick photo is useful as a reference later for the light. She uses ochers on the building and magentas under the greens in the underpainting. She will use purples later over the ochers. In the distance there are mountains. By using a green in the underpainting and going over it with blue, she will get the sense of atmospheric perspective.

An alcohol wash fixes the underpainting. She likes to blend the lines between the colors because its easier to establish a line later than to lose one.



What is your inspiration? Keep this in mind as you paint, and emphasize that as the focal point. Outside the light changes every half hour or less. Paint quickly, capturing your impression. Putting in the sky, she uses the blue to cut into the roof and establish the clay tiles. Adding a warm ochre glow under the roofline, she makes the strokes in the direction of the beams, inward.

For shadows on the building she adds a darker tone of the underpainting color and rubs it in. That makes the next color less likely to blend with the next layer on top. She adds a whisper of blue purple over that. On the shadow side of the building a ocher and purples are layered so that they vibrate, and create a sense if the stucco texture of the wall.

Shutters and windows are details and she adds them afterwards. The foliage is layered in, starting with darks.

She also adds the sunlight on the face of the building. Sunlight is always a brighter and warmer version of the local color. She corrects the size of a window quickly by brushing off the pastel and correcting the edge. She uses the hard edge of the dark green chalk establishing the vines growing up the wall. Layering a middle green over the dark she begins to establish the volume of the foliage.

She adds detail in the foliage and along the bottom edge to indicate the small potted plants. Suddenly a few raindrops start to fall and we wheel over a few umbrellas. Adding some final details from memory, Jeanne adds in a light wash of sunshine, and some details in the foliage.


The rain picks up, but luckily we are right at the Mas, and Jeannie’s pastels are under the umbrellas. Jeanne adds in the tile foreground which helps to anchor the painting, and adds more detail in the vines and windows. She leaves out a lot of detail in the shutters, as the focal point is really the light and the foliage. “It would be too much to look at”, Jeanne says. Finally, she adds in the periwinkle blue over the green of the distant hills.


20140629-103158.jpg She refines a few of the details, some from memory. A line of light in front of the row of tiles brings the portico forward.



The Ocher Museum

The palm of a hand pressed into ocher and then onto the wall of a cave is one of the earliest forms of painting we know of. The ocher museum in Roussillon traces the history of ocher mining and processing, and the way pigments have been refined and utilized through the centuries. Exhibits also investigate the science of light and perception of color, and include a fascinating collection of swatches and color notes from artists, textile manufacturers, fashion designers, printers, and others.

The town of Roussillon sits on the largest ocher deposit in the world, and for many centuries the production of ocher was the major industry. After the factory closed it sat empty for many years, until it was converted into a museum. A former foreman at the factory collaborated with the group who developed the site to document the year-long process used to mine, purify, grind, and package ochre. Much of the decaying equipment remains, and placards explain each stage of the process.

Gerry, with his background in mechanical and manufacturing engineering, was fascinated by remains of the old hand-crafted machinery and the puzzle of sorting out the manufacturing process. The photos below show the process after the ocher has been mined and brought to the factory. The raw ocher was mixed with water, strained and pumped into a series of outdoor holding tanks, where it eventually dried and was cut up into blocks for further processing.










Once dry, the ocher blocks were ground, sifted, mixed, and packed in barrels in a series of workrooms. Finally it was packaged for shipping all over the world.








The ochre dust is still present everywhere, and you can imagine what conditions must have been like for the workers in the factory. An artist’s installation in one of the rooms uses a grid of linen squares dipped in bees wax and then ochre dust to symbolize the condition of the worker’s lungs after years of breathing in the dust. In another room, workers smocks stained with various colors of ocher hang over bags of pigment.


The photos below are from the exhibits inside the museum, showing the materials used to make various pigments, and some of the samples in the museum.







Finally the shop full of jars of pigment, pastels, oils, other art supplies, and books about art and color, is irresistible! I bought a set of pastels which included 4 shades of ocher that come from Roussillon, but had to pass on a beautiful set of 9 extra-large pastels in a wooden box. It was to die for, but was just too big to carry on my bike.





A wing of classrooms is used for workshops for adults and children investigating various processes using the pigments. Little swatches of color with quotes from various artists about the nature of color and perception are tucked into corners all over the site like clues for a treasure hunt.


PIein air in the Nice flower market


Amid all the bustle of the Nice flower market Jeanne Rosier Smith has found a quiet spot to do a demo. Her students surround her as she takes her time establishing the sketch, sighting the lines of the canopy and umbrellas first, then indicating the rows of flowers in the stall. She squints to see the pattern of light and shadow more clearly.

Her underpainting is soft but already gives a great sense of atmosphere. She notes that the bottom is the umbrellas are all the same height and make one horizontal line. The challenge is to simplify this incredibly complicated scene. An opportunity to abstract shapes. Layering warms and cools, it’s all about capturing the light.

Over a neutral texture she adds people walking through the market with just a few strokes. Then she blocks in the flowers in the stand in the foreground, keeping it very loose except for a few in the foreground. She avoids getting too sucked Into the detail, keeping it loose and impressionistic. The feeling of the market as opposed to the detail. A couple of sunflowers in the foreground anchor the stand. Some green defines the opposite edge of the walk. Sparks of color add life.








As the market fills up with people Jeanne finishes her demo and invites us all to paint as well. We set up all over the market, and soon become part of the attraction ourselves. I am interested in painting the same stand but including the back of the stall as well as the front, showing the florist working in the back, putting together the bouquets.


My finished study. I am looking forward to doing some more images of the market in my studio. The color study will be great for reference. In the afternoon, I set up on the beach between the promenade and the bike lane to do another quick study. Again, good reference material for the future, and a good way to remember the beautiful colors of Nice.