Wednesday, September 2, 2015

It's 11 o'clockish in the evening right now. I have just made my way up the stairs to my room after a dinner full of laughter and the most amazing lamb stew I've ever had. What started out as strangers a week ago has become a cohesive group of friends. There is constant laughter--almost annoyingly so in the mornings while I'm skipping breakfasts to have an uninterrupted shower and some internet time. I hear them all laughing down on the patio where breakfast is served on sunny warm mornings. Who laughs in the morning?

I have not had time to write. Breakfast is served from 8:30-9:30. We're usually in the studio by 9:45. We break for lunch, then run back up to the studio. Lunch in the afternoon lasts a couple of hours. Back up to the studio until a little before dinner. We clean up a little, have a glass of wine, then sit for a couple of hours for dinner. We don't leave the dinner table until almost 11 some nights. By then, after several glasses of wine, I'm usually not in any shape to sit at the computer.

Saturday morning some of the group went to the outdoor market where the locals purchase their cheese, meat, olives, fish, breads for the week. They got lots of good photos to work from in the studio. The rest of us spent our morning in the studio.

Saturday evening there was an annual musical event here in Fontaine-Fourches (can't remember what it's called but I'm sure Kippy will refresh my memory when she reads this blog); Fontaine-Fourches has a population of about 500; it's a quiet, typical French village. Around 6:30 p.m. the locals congregated at the 150 year old church at the end of the street to hear a harpsichordist, 3 violinists, a cellist, and two tenors perform classical pieces. Of the 5 or 6 pieces they performed I was only able to recognize Handel--beautifully done, gave me chills. Afterwards we all, even the musicians, drove or walked several blocks to the community center to celebrate together with a dinner. The musicians continued to entertain us with operatic songs periodically. We were the only English speaking people there, and I think the rendition of "Hey Jude" was for our benefit. I'm showing you a picture of our appetizer, topped with half a crawfish. I can't eat that.

Sunday was brocant day again. We drove long distances through rolling hills of farmland to visit two small towns holding their brocants. Some dedicated artists stayed behind in the studio. The rest of us carried home our French trinkets.

Monday - we started our day with a photo-shoot. We recruited Vivienne and France to pose for us in the living room, knitting, playing the flute, reading sheet music. We got hundreds of lovely photos to work from.

Tuesday - in the studio again. Some of us took a break in the late afternoon to visit La Motte-Tilly Chateau, a 17th century chateau built on the banks of the Seine, 10 minute from our house. The most famous owner was Joseph-Marie Terray, Controller-General of Finances for King Louis XV in 1768.

Wednesday - in the studio again. Some of us took the afternoon off and visited Provins, the 12th century walled city about 20 minutes from here. I opted to take a nap because I have been to Provins 5 times and I was exhausted. Those who went got to see the raptor show, where hawks, eagles, owls, vultures, every sort of predatory bird flew over their heads, so closely they could feel the wind from the wings. It really is thrilling.

Right now, 8:30 Wednesday evening, we have just left the studio. There is a beautiful exhibition in the works. Everybody's pastels (and oils--Tracy is doing oils) are hanging from the wires overhead. On Friday we will have a vernissage--a private show--of all the work we've done. Neighbors and friends will arrive around 6:00 for champagne and to view all our work. Tomorrow is our last full day to paint for it. We are working frantically.

Dinner will be served momentarily. I've got to run.

If you want to join us next year, here's the link to contact Kippy.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

We have spent the last 3 days in the studio working with a model. Everybody is ready for a break.
So today we did Paris in the rain because the museums are open late on Thursdays. We went to the Musee de l'Orangerie to see Monet's Water Lilies and the Post Impressionist works downstairs. We had lunch at a brasserie behind the Musee D'Orsay, where we were given candy bracelets as we left the table, then we spent several heavenly hours at the Musee D'Orsay with Degas, Monet, Manet, Lautrec, Cassatt, Morisot, Gaugin, Cezanne, Vuillard..

Our toes were cold, our clothes were wet, our feet were aching as we piled back onto the train for the 50 minute ride, some of us munching on our candy bracelets. We arrived home around 7:00 to a welcome fire in the fireplace and aromas from the kitchen. Dang. This is a nice way to live.

Everybody is downstairs eating that wonderful smelling seafood dinner. I have opted out of dinner tonight, feeling the need to give myself a break from all the rich foods we've been served. Although with the aromas drifting upstairs to me I'm beginning to regret it. 

If you're interested in joining us next year, click here.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Sunday was rainy and windy. But Sunday is brocant day. And Sunday was Jerome's birthday. Someone suggested we all go to the brocants and find gifts for Jerome under 5 euros. We drove 20 minutes through the darkening skies to a neighboring town to see that 80% of the shoppers and vendors had packed up and left. Most of us made a half-hearted attempt to browse, but the tables were covered in plastic to protect things from the rain. Within minutes we went back to our cars and waited for the Montrealites to return to the cars and their senses. They returned 20 minutes later with treasures (they seem to put Kippy and me to shame with their sharp eyes at a brocant), a large art nouveau brass vase for only a few euros the most evident thing, which drove me to jealousy, and I guess the others too, because we stumbled out of our cars into the rain with our umbrellas and made our way up the road, peaking under plastic tarps. We loaded up with lovely little things ridiculously priced, and drove home happy little campers. We would surprise Jerome with our presents later in the evening over champagne. But first, we had to get 3 hours of work done in the studio; we had a model.

By dinner time we had finished in the studio, wrapped our presents and went downstairs to the courtyard where friends were gathering in honor of Jerome. He opened all his cool little presents as we ooh'd and ahh'd to discover what each other had purchased.

One of the things we had for dinner was boudin. Google it.

 Today, Monday, the wind has not stopped. The skies are brooding. It feels like fall so much that Jerome has lit a fire.

We worked in the studio all day with a model, ending at 6:00. We should be called to the table soon.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Here we are...

Here we are (I'm behind the camera). This is our first dinner last night. More than half of the group is from Quebec, we have people from upstate NY, Chicago, Raleigh and Atlanta. A couple of the artists have brought their spouses. You hear both French and English at the table. The sky stays light until 10 at night here. It was probably around 9:00 p.m. when we sat down for dinner and it was very dark when we finally left the dinner table and climbed into our beds, exhausted.

Today is Sunday. That means brocant day in France. Flea markets. Looks like rain though; the sky is overcast and it's windy. Probably a good day for an umbrella and a sweater. Later this afternoon we will have a model in the studio to work with.

We are all just getting to know each other.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

And so it begins...

Oh no! Kippy asked me to take the bike, ride to the market a few blocks away and purchase 4 heads of lettuce! That would seem simple enough but all I saw were the obstacles...would I get lost? My sense of direction is as bad as my ability to recall names and faces, understand the difference between whole-life and term, or balance a checkbook. Could I communicate my task to the vendor? In French? Could I remember what I wanted by the time I got there?

Kippy and I rehearsed... Bonjour, Monsieur. Je m'appelle Margaret. Je reste avec Jerome et Kristina. Je voudrais quatre salades, s'il vous plait.  And then of course Merci boucoup. Piece of cake, right? Only I was completely thrown off when it turned out to be a woman who waited on me and then pointed to 4 different kinds of lettuce and asked which I preferred. I was not prepared to make any decisions. I was only prepared to repeat a script, which I blundered through with a lot of tee hees and goofy looks. And upon returning to Kippy's I realized I forgot to say s'il vous plait. I think the message here is that I need to stay in France longer so I can become comfortable with the language.

Freshly cut flowers are in every bedroom. By the end of this afternoon everybody will have arrived. After dinner tonight we'll go to the studio and I'll do a demo. They should all be exhausted by then.

Friday, August 21, 2015

En route to La Bonne Etoile

It is a little after 9:00 pm. I paid an extra $50 for a seat upgrade so I am on the upper level where I have more leg room and a wider seat, and I'm almost giddy at my good fortune... 2 empty seats beside me! I'm peering across these seats to see Atlanta glittering like a million gold diamonds in the blackness below me. And very soon, after I've had my dinner (take a look at this Air France menu) I am going to stretch out across my 3 seats, cover myself with 2 blankets, and sleep soundly, thanks to a friend with a prescription of something that will knock me out. This may be the first time I have ever slept on a plane crossing the Atlantic.

I am headed back to la Bonne Etoile to teach another pastel workshop. I will see Kippy and Jerome again and their collection of lovely family and friends. I think I have 8 students who will be converging from different points in the US and Canada in a couple of days. And you who are subscribed to my blog will hear every detail of our next two weeks, unless you can figure out a way to block my posts.

But I am suddenly vividly reminded, as I lavish in this not-quite-first-class luxury, of my first flight 6 years ago to La Bonne Etoile. The plan for a year had been that when I finished teaching my class, my husband would fly out to meet me and we would explore northern Italy. It would be a dream come true for both of us. At the last minute he changed his mind for no apparent reason other than to hurt me. He was masterful at that, and I cried the entire way across the Atlantic, afraid I would never be able to stop. The crying didn't stop for another 3 years until I forced myself to crawl out of a depression as dark as what I see below me now (must be the Atlantic because it is nothing but blackness). I marvel now, six years later at my contentedness (is that a word?), at how I am well into a new chapter of my life, how hopeful I am of my future, how compelled I am by a new joy in painting, at how the broken heart and mind heal. Something close to a miracle in my eyes.

Speaking of eyes, I'm gunna' shut mine now. I feel the xanax kicking in.

Saturday, August 15, 2015


I grew up with 4 sisters. My little brother came along when I was 10; I regret that I was too distracted to enjoy my little brother the way he deserved to be enjoyed. I grew up, married, and had 2 daughters. Girls were a dominant force in my life, I always felt a little at a loss around boys. 

My oldest daughter married and now I have an adorable grandson, whom I have loved watching grow. Now I love to watch children--boys and girls--at play. This little boy is just a kid on the beach I passed, but reminded me so much of my little Victor just a few years ago and my brother many years ago.

"Little Boy" is an 8x10 pastel, available on Daily Paintworks. Click here to view auction.

Thursday, August 13, 2015


Another pastel from Tybee Island this past weekend. 8x10, available at auction on Daily Paintworks. Thanks for watching.

Monday, August 10, 2015

TYBEE ISLAND AFTERNOON, click here to view auction on Daily Paintworks

I visited my daughter, her husband and son in Savannah this past weekend. She and I spent Saturday morning walking the Bonaventure Cemetery reading gravestones and searching for angel sculptures. We had lunch at a little cafe down the road and then drove 20 minutes to Tybee Island where I got a gazillion photos for reference, and could legally write off the expenses of my trip.

So you're going to be seeing a few more beach scenes before I can get to cityscapes, as per Joan W.'s prompting. But Joan, I'm carrying my camera around with me in search of some good compositions. Thanks for your very excellent suggestion.

"Tybee Island Afternoon" is a 9x12 pastel on Pastelboard, unframed. It's up for auction (as usual) on Daily Paintworks. Click here to view the auction.

Thursday, August 6, 2015


I got an email from John, who saw one of my little kids at the beach pastels; he wanted to know before bidding on it if there might be any more to choose from before the auction ended. That's all I need to hear to spur me into painting a few more and getting them up onto my blog.

Is there anything else someone would like to see more of? Send me your suggestions. If it appeals to me, I might try to do a few.

I seem to have a problem on this blog, however, with receiving comments. Something to do with having changed my email address a few years ago. And I can't figure out how to fix this. So if you can't comment here, email me at

Red Shovel Blue Shovel is up for auction on Daily Paintworks. Click here to view auction.

AT THE BEACH WITH AUNTIE, click to view auction on Daily Paintworks

This is a pastel of Meg and Victor, one from a photo of a day at the beach quite a few years ago, but just completed today. It was a gloriously sunny day on Tybee Island, near Savannah, GA.

Right now the skies outside my house are gray, it's thundering, the rain is beating down on my gloomy and darkened house. I love these kinds of days, when I feel safe and secure and the only thing to do is have a cup of tea. Which is exactly what I am going to do right now. I'll sip it by the window and watch the storm.

"At the Beach with Auntie" is an 8x10 pastel, up for auction on Daily Paintworks. Click here to view the auction.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Another from the here to view auction.

When I hire a model for a one-hour photo shoot, I may get 200-400 shots, maybe 10 of which I find worth painting from. I'm not a good photographer; my photos may even be out of focus. But they will give me the information I need: gesture, lighting, the subject's relationship to her environment, suggestions of color.

What I don't necessarily see in the photo, but which becomes evident as I finish the painting, are things like the repetitious pattern of the windows and the foreground on the chair--a pleasant surprise to me. I like skimming off the tips of elements in a painting...the top of her head, the back of the chair, the lower portion of her skirt and flowered fabric. By doing so, I've created an overall abstract effect.

This 8x10 photo is available on Daily Paintworks. Click here to view auction.

I used to be a purist: only work from life. In the art world – at schools and among artists – there was a definite bias against using any sort of photography reference; it was considered cheating. So I, like most artists, used to smugly say, "I only work from life."

One day, many many years ago, my then-brother-in-law, a therapist, visited our home. I invited him to my basement to see my work. My framed and labored-over pastels of models posed in studios were propped against the walls all around the room. He was very quiet, studying them, rubbing his chin. I waited for the compliments. "They are all very sad," he said.

"NO!" I objected in vain, "They're just bored! The models had been sitting motionless for hours as I worked from life." I decided then and there that I going to change the way I did things. I wanted movement, candid slices of life, maybe sometimes a little drama. I was going to use my camera. And for the next few years I justified myself to the omnipresent and silently smug purists.

I was in New York a few years later, passing by the Museum of Modern Art (don't ask me why I was passing it by), when I noticed the banner "Degas Photography Exhibit." Huh, I thought. This must be his son or nephew or something. This should be interesting. Imagine my dumfoundedness to see my hero, Edgar Degas', black and white photos – the references he used for his paintings and sculptures of bathers and dancers and polo ponies. Well damn, if Degas can do it, I can. I left that museum feeling liberated, vindicated, thrilled.



See more on Degas and photographty: