Monday 14 July 2008

Autour du Tour

It's the day the Tour de France passes nearby here and a friend's invited us to watch from her doorstep with a jolly crowd of other English folk.
I take along my sketchbook 'in case' and I feel inspired to draw the waiting crowds.
I've depicted the tour before, because for many years now, with my accomplice Al, I've painted the riders on shop windows in towns along the route.
Most of these are 'yer actual' portraits of the cyclists. Al's had the frightening task of 'window painting' the famous French rider of the 1950s, Louison Bobet....knowing that Jean Bobet (his brother) was to pass by later- and that the family don't take kindly to incompetent pictures of Louison, who died in 1983.
We keep for reference a big pile of cycling magazines, and books on the history of the Tour. Hey- none of your fancy nylon outfits for the old guys- I notice that at least one of them is wearing some sort of hand-knitted full-length leggings.. "Merci, Maman!"
Now here's the technical bit, as painting on shop windows has its own set of difficulties:
They're painted on the inside, which means the first layer is the only one seen.
Flesh tones are a particular (here I'm being polite) pain in the neck as colours change from inside/outside and this involves frequent
sorties to check. The paint can't be too transparent and, depending on the manufacturer, blues, greens and browns can be problematic. And as acrylics dry so quickly, speed is essential.
In order to catch the eye, a window painting needs to be as big as possible . This means at least life-size for the Tour de France riders.
Far be it from me to complain... but add to this if you will:
1 A constant stream of well-wishers, each with his own artistic observation to make.
2 Nine times out of ten, no offer of refreshment from the commercant or even innkeeper- this over a period of up to four hours.
3 'Santa's Little Helper' - aka a small spoiled child belonging to the client and who stands too close asking questions in Toddler French and poking about with the paints.
4 'Ice Cold in Alex'-a relentlessly sunny day on the 'wrong side of the street, blinded by sunlight with sweat dripping off the paintbrush.... no offer of refreshment.

5 The client has- lazily- only moved the window display a fraction to allow access for the artist, necessitating contortions at the dexterous level of a Victorian fairground sideshow.
6 Particularly in supermarkets- a relentless medley of appalling French music
on a loop and repeating every twenty minutes. How I love that Claude Francois who, incidentally, died when taking a bath and standing up to fiddle with a faulty light- well, that's French wiring for you..
7 At the end of your four hours work, client says they won't pay you unless you add a picture of his shop in the background... takes another hour... ditto refreshments..
8 Client, eg. butcher, has appalling taste and the artist has to steer him away from- and I kid you not- his bright idea of a leg of lamb,
with its own little arms and legs, riding a bike in the Tour de France... "Desolee, M'sieur, mais c'est du mauvais gout!"
What delights! and what relief, on this particular day, to simply wait for the Tour to arrive, quietly sketching for a half-hour. After which I give up, to act more sociably and join in with the fun.

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