Saturday 26 December 2009

'Tis The Season

This is the doorway from our kitchen to what is now our living room. The house used to be the village café and grocer's shop, and when the door was open it allowed anyone in the kitchen to see what was happening in the bar.
The greenery came from the edge of the wood up the road and this year I was lucky to get there early and find holly with berries- a few days later all the rest been taken.

On Saturday we woke up to snow and had a pretty walk up the hill as far as the old stone cross.
In the early afternoon we tried to drive to a friend's house as she'd got the Christmas edition of the 'Radio Times' for us and they're like hen's teeth round here, but we had to turn back after getting stuck partway up a very slippery hill and narrowly escaping a JCB which slewed out of control on its way down and headed in our direction. More fun as a car skidded into it with the
bucket smashing into the driver's window. Now, that's what I call excited Frenchmen! Enough thrills for the day, thank you very much, and we headed home. It was just starting to go dark when I drew the the snowy scene from the bedroom window. It had a sense of urgency and oncoming night, time to close up the curtains and stoke up the log stove.

At the busy supermarket on Tuesday large tables had been set up, laden with Coquilles St. Jacques, or scallops, covered with seaweed to keep them cool and fresh. I ordered a tea at the café and when I asked for milk, the man asked if I wanted hot or cold..the French rarely take milk with their tea.
A friend's small sons spotted me sketching and came over to have a look- I teach them drawing, and I was pleased they'd seen me working 'out in the field'- such a good example!

It's Christmas Day, and you don't have to be a monarchist to find yourself watching the Queen's yearly speech to the nation!

As I'm finishing off a drawing from the TV, our neighbour from the farm across the road (who's a bit of a 'rough diamond') comes round to use the phone. Apparently, he's no longer our neighbour as he and his partner have split up.. he tells us she's expecting a baby- they already have a six-year old daughter. He's worried because their Alsatian dog's loose in the village, and no-one home. When I ask him he says he lives 'nowhere' at present, but has work repairing and constructing earth-built houses, and the use of the works' van.

We give him coffee and home-made ginger biscuits and he says we can have his remaining chickens, then he asks if we could do a portrait of his daughter sometime, he would really love a picture of Tia.....

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Starry, Starry Window.

I'm woken early by a frantic knocking at the door- there's a train strike, local services are cancelled, and two friends on their way to the States desperately need a lift to Rennes station, in order to catch their train to Charles de Gaulle airport. I check the TGV is still running; Mr Price can take them but as he'll now be very late for work, it means we'll have to do together today's Christmas window painting.
It's at Tregueux, near St. Brieuc, at a bank, and, hurray, when we get there they say we can decide for ourselves what to paint. We've already discussed this in the car- it's a very long window which runs down the side of the bank, and we thought a wide ribbon of small stars, punctuated by shooting stars would look effective. The window is slightly tinted, so we keep to light tones, broken whites and gold-yellows.
The French take a long time over lunch, and so we go to eat at 12.15 at the bar/workman's café just up the road.
In France, even a small village might have one of these; they offer a cheap, mainly home-made meal, usually of four courses. This includes a bottle of red wine, but we can have rosé, cider, or fruit juice if we wish.
It isn't just workmen in here, there's a gaggle of office workers and, next to us, two women with a small child and a baby.
Most commerces here close for around two hours at lunchtime- even some of the large supermarkets, so service is at a 'relaxed pace'. The food's good, too, and it's with food and cider-fuelled enthusiasm that we return to the 'bank job' !
Back at 'Credit Mutuel de Bretagne' the window's taking shape, I'm painting the smaller stars- hundreds of them. People come up and say how lovely, it's a busy place and the girl behind the desk is sick and fed up of people asking for free calendars, which are only ready next Tuesday. There's a sign pinned up about this, but no one notices, and some have come back three times. She makes a strangling sign with her hands....
We make good time and the window paintings finished before dark. I take photos inside and out, it looks good, we're pleased, they're pleased, and we're off and away and home by dusk.

Sunday 29 November 2009

The Rain It Raineth Every Day

I've been away for several weeks. I've been away and it's rained every day without exception.
This is Lancashire where the high and lonely moors soak up the rain like sponges and where the loud and swollen streams run fast into the rivers Ribble and Hodder.
Mr. Price and myself have rented the tiniest, cosiest cottage after that one on the little bridge at Ambleside. It's (and I'm being polite) 'up the back-end of nowhere' above the market town of Clitheroe. I'm still convinced it's in a heavenly spot, if only the weather would improve. We're here to do Christmas window paintings in as many of the shops as will have them; each morning we leave in the rain and the gloom and each evening we get back in the rain and the dark.
In town, folk are still cheerful. I'm painting a restaurant window with a jolly scene of a stagecoach in the snow and I meet two very old ladies who've come on a bus from Burnley for the day. They cast off their rain-bonnets and order soup then the roast beef dinner. "Such a shame our friend isn't with us today to see your work," one says, "She usually comes along with her camera and she's ninety-seven!".
Elsewhere- and we paint twenty-six windows in all- there's always a cup of tea on the go, sometimes with cake or mince pies.
I'm in an empty shop, brightening up the dull facade with a vision of happy snowmen decorating their Christmas tree when the thoughtful owner of the Health Food shop across the road spies me and runs over with a drink.. this is kindness itself!
How different from Brittany. I've kept fairly quiet about this, but generally the ratio of drinks to hours worked is nil to limitless. It's a rare event here when liquid refreshment's offered to the toiling window-painter. Typically, this week Mr. Price worked for five hours in a hairdressers, where the clients were furnished with fluids, and where he was given none.
However, it's heartening to know, n'est-pas, that the locals don't neglect their livestocks' basic needs and that pig-rearing and milk production continues to thrive.
Ah yes, we've been away and it rained every day. But what brightened the dullest of days was the respect and the goodwill of the folk we met and worked for.
The milk of human kindness.. and the tea and coffee!

Sunday 25 October 2009

Grandma's Treat or Another Grand Day Out.

I'm the 'Grandma' element of a family outing to Moncontour when my daughter and family come to stay in summer. It's a fortified medieval town on a rocky outcrop.
Mr. Price and I have worked here in the past, painting medieval style windows, often copied directly using images from the time.
As we stroll round the town I point out out the few that remain- there's even a brothel scene from the Middle Ages. This is painted on the window of the PMU bar, only yards from the church- someone I know took great delight in sneaking that one in!
We indulge in expensive cakes from the Patisserie and climb a steep street to look out over the ramparts. I show the grandsons Probably the Smallest Front Door in the World, then we set out for the nearby village of Tredaniel.
Just on its outskirts is the small chapel of Notre Dame du Haut, home to The Seven Healing Saints
These are polychrome wooden effigies, and can cure many illnesses... colic, headache, fears, dogbites, sores, eye-ailments and one for ease of childbirth. Here also, there are plaques to give thanks from the healed..and here we find a weird letter hidden in a niche, praying for the favourible outcome of a court case with the writer's neighbour.. spooky!
There are candles burning, and the boys buy one each to light, declaring it's "against Fear!", which is understandable when you're only seven or nine.
Outside once more, into the sunlight and away from the gloom of superstition, the others trek into the nearby wood to look at the sacred fountain. There's a 'pardon' to here from the chapel every August.
I clamber up a grassy bank to paint. It's a sweet enough scene, so I limit my colour to better express the drama of this ancient place of worship, washed in sunlight with its dark background of trees.
The boys are back and climb up beside me.. "Sam fell over!" "We saw a nest!"..."Draw me, Grandma Caroline!"Pictured: the view from the ramparts; steep steps in Moncontour; Notre Dame du Haut.

Wednesday 16 September 2009

The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd

A van goes through the village, loudly announcing a circus close by- this very afternoon!
On my way back from Lidl I suss out where they've encamped and spot a bench perfect for sketching just across the road.
It's windy but sunny day, Mr. Price is game, so after lunch we head off.
Travelling circuses are small affairs round here- more of your 'Small Top', but the place is bright with colour.
We can hear the show from our bench, apparently it's an extra two Euros if your child wants to circle the ring on a pony... and another fifty Euros if they want to dismount and go home with their parents after the show...ha-ha, je blague, bien sur!
A clown rushes in and out, we can see a camel, ponies, a llama and a donkey, but there's no sign of the elephants painted on the side of the trucks, and the only trumpeting is from the piped music.
We're disturbed at one point by a pair of Bretonnes and have to move along the seat for a while. They're elderly ladies coming back from the graveyard- a favourite activity in these parts... I knew this would be Someone's Bench!
Being a couple of artists out sketching together puts me in mind of The Fast Show's 'Johnny Nice Painter'- and I strongly recommend you watch this before you continue reading.

A dapper French man in a hat approaches and peers over my shoulder, commenting that only the English seem to go out sketching.
Out with the paints.. I've worked up the drawing- and fixed it- on watercolour paper with a disappointingly scratchy conté crayon, go in with colour and then more drawing.
It's a lovely scene, with the bright reds and yellows of the vans, cages and the tent itself, and the
shouts of les enfants within... Mr Price turns to me and says "what colour are those tyres, darling, the ones in the dark shadows over there?"

Tuesday 25 August 2009


As mentioned in my blog for December 2008, I have five paintings reproduced as sound-absorbent panels in Pizza Express on Salford Quays.

A trip to the North-West means that myself and my accomplice Mr.Price have the opportunity, at last, to see the artworks. At the restaurant we explain why we're there and are whisked off by a waitress to a table for two... “I'm sure we can do something for you!” she says, and later assures us that “Manager says no charge for meal!”

The paintings look bigger than I though they might, and it's really strange to see them-my very own pictures! installed in public....eek! I feel pleased, proud, and oddly humbled.

Our lovely waitress, between the pizza and the ice-cream, tells us how much she likes the artworks, and how popular they are, and, after the coffee, says goodbye to both of us with a big hug and a kiss.

Mr. Price says he's so glad he met me.... having supplied him with a free meal and kisses from a pretty young lady!

Next stop- and just across the piazza- The Lowry, where we just have time to watch the excellent documentary on L.S. It's a moving portrait of a lonely man... without who my Pizzapics would never have seen the light of day- thank you, Mr. Lowry!

Friday 24 July 2009

Grave Concerns!

Yesterday- despite the showers- I was determined to get out to do some sketching round the village.
The cemetery's a quiet place- no-one here's going to come and look over my shoulder at what I'm drawing- hopefully!
It starts to rain just as I've chosen a suitable spot, so I shelter under the huge dark yew tree in the corner, sitting on a soft carpet of needles. Here, I'm obliged to draw pretty much what's in front of me, so I go for what I think could be a dramatic composition, with the nearest cross looming large in the right-hand foreground.
I've stuck some Canson paper on a couple of pages in my book, and decide to work tonally on this coloured ground, in pen, black watercolour and white gouache.
The size of the cross means it's big enough get the inscription readable on the page.
Poor Joseph Sourdaine - at least his mother died in 1911, before he was killed in action in the First World War...such grim and sobering thoughts. And now the sky is massing its own storm-clouds, accompanied by distant thunder-so I gather up my bits and pieces and hasten down the street to home and a cheering cup of tea.
I finish off the sketch at the kitchen table, just the sky to fix, really, and I stop when I think it's
suitably Gloom-and -Doomy!

Sketches: Brittany July and March 2009.

Sunday 12 July 2009

A Grand Day Out

It's another lovely day in Devon, but poor Mr. Price has a frieze and some lettering to paint at Archway Bookshop in Axminster.
I leave him to his lonely task and decide to have the day out. He'll be ok, it's his birthday, I've tipped them off at the bookshop- and there's to be a cake!
I look at the map and Forde Abbey isn't far off.
It's just in Somerset... I follow two cars while another follows me, all heading for the Abbey down ever narrowing roads until everyone arrives for opening time.
Once through the shop and entrance there's a huge walled garden with sumptuous vegetables fit to make anyone relinquish their allotment...I can't spot anywhere to sit and draw so I take photographs.
Behind a big gate, however ('Please close as the chickens like the vegetables') is a good place to sketch. It's the back of the abbey- with said chickens and people dotted about the lawns taking tea from the restaurant ('Please shut the restaurant door as the chickens like to come inside for tea').
I do a passable pen drawing and then try to get the lovely warm colour of the stone. Sandstone, says one of the attendants later.
There's lovely pottery in the old crypt, and there's a pretty view, too, from the ladies' loo, but I can't linger in here, it would be selfish..what with all those elderly tea drinkers... I take a quick photo instead.

From the front, the abbey's quite stunning and I sit on a distant shady seat to draw the facade. It's got a lot of 'knobs on' and damn! I've missed out a bit of 'stringing'!

The Abbey interior is chocca with tapestries, paintings and fine furniture. I'm impressed by the huge four-poster bed in The Oak Room. The attendant tells me that when there's a recital on at the Abbey, "this is where the musicians sleep". In my mind's eye I see a string-quartet tucked under the covers, top to toe, with their instruments lying on the pillows next to them... such a pretty picture- what did he mean exactly?!!
Feeling like a rest after two heavily architectural pictures and the trek round the house, I do a quick watercolour of the garden topiary, but just in black.

That's enough, so I go for another cup of tea- even more people about now- then head off.

Back in Axminster, Mr.Price has eaten birthday cake, but has also produced a pretty frieze in the bookshop's children's department. Well done- now we're off for a meal at the Otter Inn, but not until we've changed out of our paint-spattered clothing!

Sunday 28 June 2009

It was only twenty four hours to Preston...

Friday 12th June. After a wearisome 24 hour journey from Poitou-Charente we change into our glad-rags in a back street of Preston and are cheered and revived by the UCLAN Fine Art Degree Show's private view.

We meet friends and family- hello to Jude, Bob, Sam, Dan, Roo, Steve and the boys, Wendy, Vincent and yes! we'd like a plastic glass of Bowland Dragon full bodied golden bitter with rounded fruity hop flavours........

......while being reminded by tutor Dave Alker that Al and Bob's degree show (twenty years ago in 1989) was the first to take place in the Hanover building.

It's photo opportunity time for yours truly, with the stark white walls, artworks and Artyfarty Folk milling around.

Here's a taste of the evening- sorry, the beer ran out earlier!

Tuesday 26 May 2009

To The Chateau Borne, Part Three

By the time this
is published I'll be ensconced at Chateau l'Age Baston
for my fourth year, tutoring the
Art Course there.

I'll let these pictures from previous years speak for themselves.

Back soon!

Hare's Running

Good Luck with her Fine Art degree to my daughter Ruth and her fellow students at the University of Central Lancashire... the words 'Preston Poly' still spring more easily to my lips, I fear.
Four hard years have passed, raising two boys, house-movings, long journeys in unpredictable cars , family troubles and losses.. the horror of written work and the dread spectre of Power Point Presentation.
Then the artwork- a dozen Liverpool pigeons in waste-papier-mache, drawings, photos, a city made from scrap packaging, plaster Cokeheads, prints, gossip engraved on a hundred pub glasses.... half a dozen life-size sprinting greyhounds (involved a 'Godfatherly' sawing off the head of one!)..big prints, drawings, even bigger prints...
Well done, Ruby- and well done, too, to her partner Steve-it's the end of an era, the nightmare's over!
See you on the 12th- with the champagne!

All work: Ruth Orrell

Monday 25 May 2009

Station Approach..

I'm cracking on with my artworks for the
expo in July at the Gare de Medreac, and I go to the station at Lamballe for subject matter.
Architecturally, the station building's fairly simple and functional.
Far more interesting are the houses across the road- they're grand villas in that 'with knobs on' French style found also in some of the old fashionable watering places along the coast- Dinard, for example.
I can't get on the station platform without a ticket, so I get some photos of the
quaies through the fence on the car-park.. there's a weird canopy, a bench with folk waiting, a glimpse of rooftops . Vertical poles and the dark horizontals of tracks cut through the composition- and there are wires overhead, masses of them, madly dissecting the sky .
Back in the studio I enjoy working on this scene, putting down a grey ground on paper and drawing in black and white conte crayon with the subtle addition of colour in gouache and pastel.
I'm pleased with the results, especially the fine details- a distant parked car, piles of gravel, a black bag by a bench, that man leaning, this woman's shoes, a discarded crumpled packet.
And those round glass things on the wires, what and why are those round glass things??!

Wednesday 29 April 2009

I thought I saw a Puddy Tat!

Since our dear cat, Sparky, died, I've put out food for the strays who hang around.
Most of them ping off when I appear, but here's one who seems interested in me, as well as filling an already ample stomach, and who enjoys being stroked.
A few days later he's ventured into the kitchen....and here we are a couple of months down the line .... he's a well-established lap accessory- he's Ours and he's called Jumbo!
He's also new subject matter.
Like most animals he doesn't stay put for long, but it really sharpens the eye to line-draw quick glimpses, even if it's just the curve of a back. Once you have a few of these together on a page there's a lovely feeling of movement.
Charcoal, conte crayon, pen or soft pencil suit this- they give a good strong line.
At Art school we drew the moving model as a limbering up exercise, or did thirty second poses. And yet, come to think of it, I don't think the model was allowed to move then- this came in later.
Thankfully so for the 65 year-old monumental Mrs.Goldy who was our introduction to Life Drawing in the Sixties...phew!..I'll go and sketch the cat!

Pictured here: 'Jumbo' 2009 ADPrice
'Pebble' 2007 & 'Stray Cat' 2001
Caroline Johnson.

Thursday 16 April 2009

Salad in Peckham Rye

I've been invited by the lovely Florence who runs the Velorail de Medreac to show my work for the month of July. The old railway station's been re-vamped and there's a trendy cafe room with good wall-space for paintings.

I'll be surprised if I sell anything and if I do '
je montrerai ma derriere dans la vitrine de Dior'! However, it's a good opportunity to follow through a new theme of The Railway. This fits in neatly with my other urban works and it isn't as though I've suddenly started painting flowers and kittens, or bowls of cherries with dewdrops on them!
I also want to put on a good show for Florence who- apart from giving us gainful employment- over many years has struggled against financial odds and local Breton intransigence to improve the Velorail.
So, for these few weeks I'm out following the tracks, looking at railway architecture or the spaces where it's been. I'm sketching, I'm taking photos .
There are some stunning train stations world-wide, and few, I fear, are round here.
This is a challenge, and it's just My Thing to reveal the yashmaked face of Beauty in the mundane and overlooked. The grey and graffitied
gare at Caulnes on a damp day, a street festooned with telegraph wires near the old station at St.Meen, a bright vegetable stall by a dirty railway bridge in Peckham Rye... and lots more to come!