Walking with Claude

“Walking with Claude”
a drawing in oil pastels and coloured pencils of Monet’s house and garden in autumn.
320 x 400 mm. February 2018.

Does the spirit of Claude Monet walk in his garden?  He said his garden was his greatest masterpiece – so perhaps he lingers within its borders.  But all the tourists might drive him mad!  He (like many artists) used to be infuriated by the interruptions of curious people.

I like to think he may come and go – leaving when it is busy and returning when all is quiet.  The garden was nearly empty of people in late autumn of 2012 when I was there.

Who knows?  Perhaps we walked side by side sharing in silence our solitude.

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On a former occasion, in 2005, I visited Giverny with my family.  Here I hand the page over to Matthew to introduce his song “Walking with Claude“…

Matthew, Emily, Lucy and Alicia on the Japanese bridge in Monet’s garden. August 2005. Photo by Julie

Walking with Claude  by Matthew Clements

“In the summer of 2005 we spent time in Monet’s garden.  It was during one of our last family holidays before Emily, Alicia and Lucy sprouted their own wings.

I wanted to write a song which somehow captured the artist in his idyll.  My mother, Barbara, was a gifted gardener.  I thought how she would have loved Monet’s garden but her advancing age made it unlikely she could ever make the journey.  In fact, she never visited Europe during her life.  So the song became my description to her of his wonderful garden.

By the time I wrote the song a year later, my own impending kidney failure somehow impacted the spirit of the song as I compared my mother’s mortality with my own.

The brilliant Perth guitarist and singer-songwriter Simon Nield, already with well advanced cancer that would soon take his life, found his own meaning in the lyric and recorded me singing it in his studio in 2007.  He then overlaid some of his own gorgeous guitar.  Thank you Simon!”

 

“Day Trip to Giverny”
Drawn in January 2018

 

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Brush and Pencil

I am regularly asked about applying oil pastels with a brush.  Here is what I do…

brushes and oil pastel in front of my current work-in-progress.

To apply oil pastel undercoat (as you see in this image) I use a size 1 bristle brush.  The brush on the left started off looking like the brush next to it.  Its bristles have been eroded by pushing oil pastel pigment onto the Arches Aquarelle paper.  However a worn-down brush works just fine for my purpose so I will keep using it until I decide to throw it away.  Bristle brushes are inexpensive and easily replaceable.  I go through a brush every two or three drawings.

If I only need a dab of colour I take it directly off the pastel with my brush.  I don’t even need to take the pastel out of its box to do this.

Taking the colour directly off the pastel while it stays in its box.

If I know I am going to need a lot of one colour or I want to mix colours, I slice bits of pastel off with a palette knife and mix the colours on a palette.  (Because the pigment is greasy/sticky pastel I find a ceramic surface makes the best palette ie. a small plate.)   Using mixed pastels on a palette is almost exactly like using oil paint.  Mixed oil pastel pigment on a palette doesn’t dry out so it can be used next day/next week…no problem.

Applying pastel to paper with a brush is a lot like painting with oils.  I plot the areas of colour onto the paper in a general way.  All the fine nuances of colour and detail will be put on with coloured pencils when the pastel undercoat is finished.

If I am making a major change of colour (ie. from purple to pale yellow) then I clean the brush thoroughly with solvent, though wiping the brush with tissue paper between colour changes is usually enough.  With most colour changes I tend to dry-wipe the brush.

If you look back at the top image you will see the very wide bristle brush.  I use this to sweep over pencil AND pastel to blend and soften.  A good example is the image below…

“Time and Space”

In the drawing “Time and Space” pencil has been worked into the pastel.  I have repeatedly brushed across the drawing with the large bristle brush pushing the pencils and pastels together – merging and softening.  Quite often after doing this I will apply more pencil and then repeat the brushing – until I have the effect I want.  WARNING:  If I brush over the top of the red rose with my wide brush I might get red pigment into the surrounds so I am careful not to do this.

In “Time and Space” I wanted a subtle look so I used Caran d’Ache Neopastels for the background undercoat.   They are drier and more gentle than Sennelier pastels.  Only for the bold red rose I used Sennelier.

“Day Trip to Giverny” – I also made the choice of using Neopastels for the entire background undercoat except for the foliage closest to the viewer which I undercoated with Sennelier.  NB:  I don’t slice off bits of Neopastel with a palette knife the way I do with Sennelier.  Neopastel, being harder and drier, doesn’t lend itself to being mixed on a palette the way the more buttery soft Sennelier does.

“Day Trip to Giverny”

I find using oil pastels with coloured pencils much more satisfying than using pencils by themselves.  I feel this combination is a bridge back towards painting – in fact I have given it the name “dry painting“.

I am often asked if I use fixatives or varnishes with this combination.  No, nothing.

“Enchanted April”
November 2017
Sennelier pastels and coloured pencils.

The marriage of oil pastels with coloured pencils gives a work substance and momentum.

The drawing I am working on currently.  This is how it looked last week.

You may see the finished drawing on the post Walking with Claude

PS:  Don’t worry about getting exact undercoat colours because the coloured pencils over the top will modify the colours to perfection.

A cautionary tale:  some artists who use coloured pencils like to brush off pencil dust with a big brush (rather like a brush-and-pan kind of brush).  Don’t indiscriminately do this when using oil pastels.  Oil pastels are oily and sticky.  A piece of pastel dust in the wrong area is likely to smear if you sweep it into your page – and it will not be removable.  Instead, blow it off your paper or if your breath isn’t strong enough, simply lift it off gently with the point of a brush, pencil or putty eraser.  Simple.

See also ART MATERIALS page

Another relevant page is MIXED MEDIA IMPRESSIONISM

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Day Trip to Giverny

“Day Trip to Giverny”
mixed media drawing 325 x 415 mm. January 2018

“Day Trip to Giverny” is a drawing of a scene I photographed in Monet’s garden .  I have often looked at the 2012 source photo but it looked a bit daunting to draw.  However in January 2018 I decided to try.

At first I stared at my page thinking, “I have no idea how to begin”.   I started at the back and over time gradually moved forward.  The drawing process with brush and pencil was an enjoyable and stimulating adventure.  (I use a bristle brush to transfer the pigment from oil pastel to paper.  Then I work the pencils over/into the pastels.   I call this method ‘dry painting’.)

Working on the drawing brought back the feeling of quiet ecstasy I experienced while taking in the sights, sounds and perfumes which Monet’s garden offered me.  As I had visited the garden in late October, there were only one or two days of viewing left before the garden was closed for its winter rest.  It wasn’t a riot of extravagant colour as it is in high summer – consequently there were just a few visitors besides me.  Rather, it was a subtle wilderness beneath a gentle grey sky.  It was – heaven.

The drawing as a work-in-progress with my photo on the left.

 

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Time and Space

Time and Space
Coloured pencils and oil pastels
280 x 390 mm
December 2017

  • Here  – an erect rose
  • There – bones of the exoskeleton encasing Centre Georges Pompidou
  • Beyond – walls, roofs, spires (Notre Dame) and air

Layers of time.  Forms in space.

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Tall Poppy

“Tall Poppy”
a drawing from the Jardin des Plantes de Paris.
22 x 21 cm. December 2017

It isn’t always a bad thing to be a tall poppy, especially when you are festooned in red-pink petals and surrounded by a population of green shrubs.  Who would dare accuse you of rising beyond your station?   You smile and wave in the breeze – oblivious to all.

When I visited the Jardin des Plantes de Paris in October 2016 the summer festival of flowers was over.  A few late bloomers stood in defiance – soon to be hacked away by gardeners clearing the beds for winter hibernation.  Such is the lot of a tall poppy;  destined to be cut down.  C’est la vie.

 

 

 

 

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City Slicker

“City Slicker”
A glossy raven at Jaures.
240 x 260 mm. November 2017

“City Slicker” – noun – informal, derogatory: a person with the sophistication and values generally associated with urban dwellers.

The opportunistic raven is nobody’s fool.  He is sleek, healthy, clever, and manages just fine thank you very much in the heart of the city.  Not unlike Fagin from “Oliver“, he is “reviewing the situation” when I observe him.   Our encounter is in Jaures – a less salubrious area of Paris than a tourist might want to visit.  However not being a tourist, but a flaneuse (a female who saunters around observing society) I find myself there.

It is business as usual for this feathered city slicker – while I make a hasty retreat back down the more genteel (and safe) path beside Canal St. Martin.

 

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Enchanted April

“Enchanted April” – spring in Parc des Buttes-Chaumont.
330 x 355 mm. November 2017.

In April 2012 I visited Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in Belleville.  On that particular spring morning, Paris was hidden under a veil of mist.

I love the poetry of mist – where some objects reveal themselves while others are  mysteriously obscured.

Later in 2012 I made a drawing from that visit to the park.  It was from the same source photo as the new drawing.  I called the 2012 drawing “Après l’hiver”.

“Après l’hiver”
2012

Why have I just made another version of the drawing?   I wanted to do a larger work, using a less cropped version of the photo.  I was curious to see what would happen if I used  Sennelier oil pastels as well as coloured pencils. Drawn five and a half years apart, two very different drawings have resulted.

The title of my new drawing is taken from the 1922 novel “Enchanted April”  by Elizabeth von Arnim.

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