I was on my way to bed last night and going to close the curtains when I saw the moon rising over the Paris rooftops. It took my breath away, and I had to sketch it before going to sleep. I was tired and tried not to, but it kept calling. And I never really regret it when the call is strong like that.
Here are two more quick journal sketches from the last few days, done in the midst of other work.
I saw the Hokusai exhibit here in Paris a couple of years ago, and it really stuck with me. I had already liked his work a lot, but both the prints and drawn books were stunning in person. As a landscape artist, I was most struck by the views of Mt. Fiji. The prints themselves were gorgeous, and I also liked that he picked a theme to explore with such variety and creativity. He did 36 views of Mt. Fiji from a wide variety of locations and distances and viewpoints.
Memphis has one office building off by itself away from downtown that is visible for miles, and I've been tempted to try a series of views of the Clark Tower. That, whoever, would involve a great deal of driving around the suburbs, which I just don't enjoy, so it hasn't gotten past the idea phase.
Now, however, I'm staying in a new neighborhood of Paris with Montparnasse, their solo sky scraper, just out my window. I have, as I have mentioned, a gorgeously large two story window, and I've been doing cloud studies and enjoying the solid shape of Montparnasse against the sky. It occurred to me yesterday that I could do view of Montparnasse while I'm here. I won't manage 36, but I did three more today, which brings me to 14. It even has "mont" in the name. So perfect.
I am deeply aware that for buyers at home, the Eiffel Tower would be a much more popular and sellable subject matter, but I just don't feel drawn to it. It's lovely, but it is everywhere, and I feel like such a cliche painting it. I want to do views of Paris that are beautiful but not tourist postcards. Maybe I'll get over there to sketch before the trip is up, but I'm not feeling it at the moment and don't want to feel like a sell out making my art. So, for the moment, Montparnasse it is.
I wrote about stars being the theme of the trip the other day. I've followed that up with a celebratory self portrait of myself in this space with the view of the sky I've so been enjoying. It's a little bit of magical thinking, since I can't actually see this many stars with the light pollution in Paris (and I think I could stand to thin a few out artistically anyway), but the Persieds are happening right now, and I do feel surrounded by stars this trip.
I'm actually doing a series of self portraits this trip. I do them in occasional spurts, not as a steady part of my work. They usually pop up when I'm feeling especially self reflective. I set a goal for myself to think some things through this trip, and I'm not actually getting very far with that (too much painting and socializing both), but perhaps there is some self examination going on at a deeper level since the self portraits keep popping out, although many of them are in teapots.
First here is the original star self portrait, done a little bit after Vincent and the portrait he did with stars in the background. This one made me want to do the more full view one tonight.
Now the teapots.
Above is this year's teapot self portrait at the cafe at Marche Aligre. Last year's was less fully formed, but still visible with me in a red halter top. It's one of my favorite sketches from last year because of the happy memories woven in.
I'm not sure the teapot ones really count as that self reflective, since I also adore painting tea things, but the volume is a little telling. We'll see. Sometimes I also use them to mark a really good day or place, as I did with last year's. I may just be on a spurt right now. But sometimes my art brain is picking up on things faster than my conscious one does, as happened with that dancing series I did last year. Art is always hardwired into the deepest parts of who I am.
Aside from the enormous window, my favorite thing about the new place this summer is its proximity to Luxembourg Gardens. It is such a luxury to wander over, paint a while, and then wander home for tea and lunch afterwards. I'm also enjoying walking home through them and stopping to savor the evening sunshine.
I love how Paris, and so many places in Europe, invite people out to be in community. Americans tend to stay sealed up in their homes with their air conditioning and televisions. Paris goes out to play. I pass people in the parks playing ping pong and bocce ball (or whatever the French equivalent is), having picnics, renting remote controlled sailboats in the big fountains, reading, chatting, eating ice cream. It's lovely. Everyone comes out to rub shoulders.
You don't too often talk to strangers, but I had a lovely happening the other day. It was a little chilly, and I was huddled up painting. An older man came over to look at my painting and chat for a minute, and he ended up asking if he could bring me a tea or coffee. It was so unexpectedly kind. He was there just reading his paper but was excited about my art. I accepted and then did him a quick sketch as a thank you. We were both pleased and touched. I also appreciated the chance to talk about parks as well and practice my French a bit. He was very patient with me and only had to translate a couple of things I didn't understand. That was lovely.
Below is the journal sketch that led to the painting above. I moved around a bit in the final painting to get a more dynamic composition.
Stars have been a theme of this trip. There's a stunning Vincent portrait with a starry background in the Orsay. I did a copy of it in the spring, so I don't have it with me to post, but it has continued to speak to me. I saw a lovely modern etching in a gallery window of a boy surrounded by and wearing stars. Just last night there was a watercolor portrait with a starry background in the art of animation show I went to see. I had already sketched a small statue of a boy holding one star up on a pole, and I found a charming dress with constellations on it several days ago. We are now in the midst of the Perseids, and then walking home last night I was gobsmacked by the shining half moon. I've been meaning to try a self portrait a la Vincent, and last night seemed like the night. I also had to add the moon, since I watch her so much and almost always wear my moon pendant.
I'm still enjoying painting the gorgeous clouds of Paris. Memphis often flattens out to a dull haze for much of the summer, but the clouds here are magnificent. As is my view of them. A double story window is a beautiful luxury for a sky painter. I did two cloud studies from the couch this evening, and I'm going to miss that when I go home, even as I will also rejoice to rejoin my beloved oak trees.
Here are two more from last night.
Plus a quick, done in the almost dark study of the moon slipping behind the rooftops across the way.
I was having such a lovely and non stop social life that I forgot to post sketches from Saturday morning. My visiting friends came with me to hear Rene and Stephen play outside a cafe at the Marche d'Aligre. It's my favorite market in Paris, and I love getting to hear the guys play there. I can sit and have tea and listen and sketch. It's perfect.
Of course, I only get the back view of the guys, but I still love it.
Last year I did a self portrait in the shiny teapot. Here is this year's version.
Later that day I did one quick sketch at dinner with Chrissie and Ella. We had a beautiful celebratory dinner, fancier than I ever do on my own, and I so enjoyed the sense of occasion with them. Sharing this time in Paris. Just marvelous to have them here to experience it with me. Ella's trip at 16 is reminding me so much of the trip I had at 17 with my grandmother. It's a beautiful way to teach young people to step out into the world and fully live, and I was so delighted to be able to see it from the other side, especially with such exceptional company.
It was a cloudy day yesterday, so I decided to do an indoor painting I'd had in my mind. I did a couple of journal sketches of Les Nymphees last time I came to Paris and decided I'd like to do one for the fall show as well. It's a stunning place to sit and paint for a while.
I moved to the other side of the room to do a quick journal sketch afterwards, and I met some lovely people in the process. An elementary school teacher with a small flock of students asked if she could show them my work, so she talked a bit, and I got to practice my French with the kids.
As that was happening, a budding young artist from Wisconsin was looking on and very interested, so I offered him my sketch journal (carnet de voyage in French, as the teacher was saying) to look through. He sat for ages, asked me questions about various ones, talked about the museums he'd seen here (he's just spent a year in Spain with his family), and promised to send me a drawing or two of his own. That meant a lot. I love seeing young people excited about art, and his dad was really supportive. I was lucky that way too.
I took a late afternoon/early evening walk after the museum, which felt great. First I stopped and sketched from my favorite bridge over the Seine (pedestrian with benches, so nicely quiet except the guy hawking the padlocks that sadly damage the bridge as they're left by tourists) and then sketched a couple of statues on the way home. One in a gallery window and one in Luxembourg gardens. I keep sketching this one. I find that one of the ways I say hello to "old friends" is to sketch them again as I return.
I had such a lovely day yesterday! I went to the Bastille market with my visiting for the weekend friends Chrissie and Ella, who have been having a marvelous mother/daughter adventure. I was so honored to get to be a part of a small piece of it. They are fabulous company. We wandered and shopped and took in the scene and met new people. A new sketcher friend may join me this Tuesday at La Liberte to hear Rene Miller play. She was sketching the guys (also Stephen Harrison on bass) as I was. A nice mother daughter duo from the states that Chrissie and Ella started talking to may come as well.
We had lunch at a sidewalk cafe after the market. And then later I was lucky enough to be invited to Camille's home to jam and have home cooked galettes (savory crepes). Camille is the excellent banjo player from the Cuckoo Sisters who made me so welcome last weekend. An American banjo player also came as well as a couple of the other band members (a couple are out traveling on holiday now). It was such fun to get to play tunes, and Camille had a bass for me to play as well as my banjo, which was great fun.
I was honored to be included and am delighted to be getting to know more of the rich music community here in Paris. Once again I was too busy playing
music to sketch during tunes, but I did sketch Camille's gorgeous cat, even though I didn't do her justice.
I'm having a slow day today to recover from the nonstop socializing, but it was an utterly delightful weekend.
I'm staying in this glorious double story loft first built to house artists, and the sky views are amazing. I'd already been working on cloud studies for a couple of months, and this is the perfect place to do more. I keep stopping my meals to grab my paints and try to capture a fleeting sky.
Here's what the front window looks like. I got so lucky staying here just as I'm thinking about skies.
I also did a quick one in Luxembourg gardens on the way home last night.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
Get occasional studio email updates.