View Full Version : Back from the Ariege!

09-20-2004, 06:36 AM
Hello pastel friends! I'm back from my first ever painting holiday - a week of pastels, mixed media and sketching in south-west France - and I had such a surreal, joyful and special time there that I'm despairing of ever finding the right words, or enough of them, to tell you all about my experience.

I was staying at the retro campsite 'Belrepayre', in an amazing Airstream caravan, in the rustic setting of an 18th-century French farmhouse with a view of the Pyrenees. The place is used as a centre de création where groups of artists, musicians, performers or those seeking peace and quiet can come and spend time and rehearse or relax.



Everywhere you looked throughout Belrepayre there was something fascinating to discover ... a painted bus ... a four-seater bicycle ... a gypsy caravan out in the forest ... a litter of tiny kittens hiding in the barn ... locally-crafted art deco windows ... gorgeous chocolate-and-cream-coloured sheep ... a signpost pointing cheerfully to 'Rien' ... and scattered all over was circus paraphernalia: sculptures and ceramics, decorated vans, boards painted with clown faces and elephants. The owners of this amazing place are a circus family, and they are beautiful, warm, lovely people: Perry, an Englishman, and his French wife Coline.

There were 14 of us who'd come over from the UK for the week - 11 painters and 3 non-painting partners. The trip was organised by Cath Read, a pastel artist and teacher from Bristol whose work I had seen in February's 'International Artist' magazine. Our time would be divided between the farmhouse and studio at Belrepayre, and meals (and the swimming pool!) a couple of miles away in the village of Manses at the home of an English couple, Dan and Yvonne, who were catering for us. Food and wine were both copious and good!! Overall we probably spent more time eating than painting :D because our meals together tended to be sociable and long.

09-20-2004, 06:36 AM
The first day was spent at the nearby medieval market town of Mirepoix, where we gathered sketches and photos with a view to painting. This kind of image collecting, aimed at using sketches as the basis of a painting, is what I was most looking forward to learning to do, and I feel I was really successful in doing that. Cath encouraged us to take note of exactly what had drawn us to our subject in the first place, and in the case of my first sketch, it was 'long slanty shadows':


A couple more of my Mirepoix sketches:


The afternoon was then spent turning our sketches into pastel paintings. Here's my setup just outside the studio, and my finished pastel. I surprised myself by referring to my sketch for most of it, and only now and then to a photo for colour or a bit of windowbox detail.



(You can see my new Heilman pastel box in action there! I'm so glad I took it with me. It was hugely useful to be able to transport my entire collection of colours and it was so easy to carry, open and secure again at airport checks.)

09-20-2004, 06:37 AM
Tuesday was an off-day for me, and in the morning I got no further than a few pencil sketches of the sheep ...



I perked up a bit in the afternoon and started work on a yukka - unfinished due to a sudden shower. As Cath pointed out, though, it's good to have a couple of works in progress to take back home, to inspire you to continue painting after the holiday. Maybe I'll refer to a photo to finish this one off. I had only just started putting some value contrast into the leaves.


Seeking refuge inside the studio, we were treated to a wealth of still life subjects thanks to Perry's collection of circus objects: an old sequinned dress worn by a bare-back rider, brightly-coloured clown jackets, and his collection of sculptures of the heads of actual clowns his father had known. Perry's father was a comic actor, clown, sculptor and painter, and we felt privileged to have access to the sculptures he had made. I chose to paint 'Orlwayz Hazzard', Perry's own clown persona and an engaging subject - sort of a still life and a portrait in one :)


09-20-2004, 06:38 AM
On Wednesday we made a long minibus trip to Collioure, on the coast, where Dufy, Derain and Signac had all painted. My impressions of the day are all of blues, yellows, oranges and browns. Here's my sketch of the harbour, done sitting with my legs dangling over the wall. (The sketch beneath it is of Manses village, done on another day).


We managed to track down a shop in Collioure selling Schmincke pastels, where one of my fellow painters bought a selection of colours to try. It was fun to watch as the pastel addiction claimed yet another victim :D

By this mid-point in the week, as you can see, it was getting harder to find space in the studio for all our new paintings!!


09-20-2004, 06:38 AM
On Thursday we used our Collioure images as the basis for some mixed media paintings, with Cath suggesting a variety of techniques to use. I decided to paint my harbour scene, gridding it up from my colour sketch and this time using no reference photos at all. I used acrylic paints on Daler board, and for the clouds and greenery I stuck down scraps of scrunched-up tissue with wood glue, picking bits off when they were semi-dry to give a less heavy texture. This was a tactile and really fun technique. Once everything was dry, I painted it over with clear Art Spectrum Colourfix primer. The surface is now lovely and lightly abrasive and ready for me to go over it with my pastels. I will probably also sand down the cloud area a little before applying any more colour. This is the wip at its pre-pastel stage:


Later that day, after a relaxing swim, we had a life drawing session in the Yoga Room, a light and airy mirrored space, and one of many beautiful rooms at the farmhouse. Spot the photographer :)


Our model was Perry and Coline's son Coreo, who is a student of theatre, a skilled magician, clown and physical performer, and so made an excellent life model. One of the painters remarked upon his resemblance to Michelangelo's David! Hope it's ok to post my non-pastel stuff here ... these were 8-10 min poses.


These last two were 25-min poses. For the first I used graphite and a bit of conté, and for the second I tried coloured pencil. This trip was a valuable chance to experiment and it got me sketching and drawing in media I wouldn't normally think to use.



09-20-2004, 06:39 AM
On Friday morning I spent a very pleasant 2 and a half hours painting en plein air in the shade of a parasol, feeling like one of the Impressionists as I gazed out over the surrounding countryside and the Pyrenees. Knowing I wanted to finish before yet another huge and hearty lunch arrived courtesy of Dan and Yvonne, I tried to work fast and be impressionistic. You can see the red Canson showing through at this stage:


I'm really happy with the results. This is my first outdoor painting of longer than an hour, done standing at an easel, which was very freeing as I found myself sort of dancing around to find the best angles and positions as I painted :)


In the afternoon we strolled around the peaceful village of Manses and I did the coloured pencil sketch shown earlier. I hadn't tried a cp-only sketch before and have found that getting a bit of colour in gives me a much greater chance of being able to use the sketch as the basis of a painting later on.

On Friday evening a fabulous barbecue was laid on for us by Perry, Coline, Coreo, Dan and Yvonne. The setting was just out of this world, with the perfect evening light sliding into a gorgeous sunset and the distant Pyrenees turning shades of purple as we sipped our apéro at the Airstream bar before a delicious lamb barbecue.


After dinner we were treated to some clowning - inspired, it seems, by having us painters around all week!


09-20-2004, 06:42 AM
Saturday saw us heading to the citadel at Carcassonne for more eating and drinking, and I took a few photos there to use as refs for future paintings. In the afternoon the group got together for a review of all the work done by each participant over the course of the week.

Here is our little studio on the final evening, when all our artwork had been packed away. Cosy, isn't it?


I told everybody about WetCanvas and how great you all are ... The support of people here in the Pastel forum was my greatest motivation when I started out in pastels and I'm hoping some of the people I got to know this week who were new to pastels may find their way here and be inspired!

09-20-2004, 07:49 AM
Excellent EJ.... great to have you back........ your week sounds and looks absolutely fantastic...... love the sketches, drawings and paintings.... and you sound refreshed and with new confidence..... looking forward to seeing more from you......... soon! :)

Paula Ford
09-20-2004, 09:14 AM
Welcome home E-J!!

Your trip sounds absolutely fantastic!! Love all your photos & paintings, especially the last landscape...WONDERFUL!!


09-20-2004, 09:41 AM
Wow! The whole experience sounds just amazing. Thank you for sharing your adventures with us!

09-20-2004, 09:49 AM
Wow is right! I sounds fabulous...it looks likeyou realy enjoyed yourself and squeezed every bit of art out of the trip. Good for you! The work you did was super...that last landscape is wonderful!
Thanks for sharing!


K Taylor-Green
09-20-2004, 10:13 AM
WHAT A TRIP!! How can you possibly get your feet back on the ground, after an experience like that?! Wonderful photos, EJ. Of the scenery, and your work.

09-20-2004, 10:47 AM
Hi E J
looks great, what a treat!
Colloiure is my favorite place in the world I have painted quite a few pastels in that town, I could live there!

09-20-2004, 11:05 AM
Amazing and I felt like I was on a mini-vacation just devouring every word and photograph while sipping my cafe au lait this morning. What an absolutely tremendous adventure and what amazing work you achieved. I'm not kidding - these pieces and the approach she took to this are just beyond words - it's inspiring and makes me want to consider flying across the big pond to do it sometime in the future. Wow!!!

The drawing first and then the painting is something I've wanted to try from my own detailed drawings. You may have just inspired me to do so. thanks.

I love the plein air at the end and how much you got from the class in layers and layers of textures and colors and 0h... oh - I love the idea of the mixed media project. Your piece is really well done - do share with us when you finish this more. I'm very curious about this. What makes it so unique is the variety of things you've done throughout the process of building this piece. Good stuff.

Didn't even mention the fine figure drawings or the town drawings - all of which are beautiful - detailed and it appears you were really relaxed and in the moment as you drew them. It's great to see such nice work come out of a week-long workshop - that doesn't always happen to me - but you sure shined!!!

Wonderfully inspiring as I've said before. Thank you for all the wonderful details and a fine way to awaken this morning.


09-20-2004, 11:19 AM
gosh, EJ, what a wonderful week. What amazing "caravans". And those clowns - what an experience you had. And great work - looks like you loved every minute.

I do hope that anyone who comes on my week to Greece gets HALF as much out of the week as you clearly did! I am now quite nervous - I will have to sharpen up my teaching act.

well done you for finding this magical trip.


09-20-2004, 12:54 PM
Thanks everyone - it's so cool to share this stuff and get such an enthusiastic response, as I'm suffering quite badly from the back-to-work-tomorrow blues. I have come back to a cold and windy England but hopefully my sketches, photos and memories of the trip will keep me inspired through the darker months.

Dawn, it's my confidence in using my sketchbook which has really grown this week. I'm hoping this will help me to be more interpretive when I'm making use of photos, and to collect lots of ideas I can work up later.

Jackie, 'magical' is exactly the word. And I'm sure your Greek workshop will be a great success! I can't imagine that gorgeous scenery, a holiday atmosphere and being surrounded by like-minded people could have anything but a positive effect on the art of anyone who signs up.

For anyone who's interested, I should mention that you can see many of Cath's pastels at her website:

And here's Belrepayre (along with info about the Airstreams and the clowning):

Dan, I would love to see your pastels of Collioure. We had a terrific steack-frites there at the terrace of a restaurant but that's one thing I didn't stop to sketch :)

09-20-2004, 01:02 PM
Your wonderful and detailed post brought back so many memories! Wow. About 12 years ago, I knew we were going to Provence so I took a class in "watercolor sketchbook," and just had so much fun painting little sketches.

So much of France is edible to look at! Of course you want to paint just everything. My favorite village to paint would be Roussilon (that might be spelled incorrectly) where the whole village is shades of ocre. They mine it there.

Hopefully, next time I return to Europe, I will be able to capture some of my favorites. Thanks for inspriting us!

Kathryn Wilson
09-20-2004, 04:46 PM
What an amazing trip! It does sound surreal with clowns, caravans, sheep and other oddities - but had to be inspiring! Your work is full of life and color - way to go E-J! :clap:

09-20-2004, 04:59 PM
Wow E-J looks like you had a fantastic time the paintings and drawings are great well done :clap: :clap:

09-20-2004, 06:42 PM
That was such a treat, E-J! Thank you!

09-20-2004, 07:05 PM
What fun! Glad you had such a great time and discovered the value of sketches as opposed to photos only. It's wierd, but you will probably find that the sketches evoke a lot more sense of the places than your photos do as time goes by! Looks like you really took advantage of all the trip had to offer! Thanks for sharing with us all.

Nancy Leone
09-20-2004, 10:23 PM
France, airstreams, pastels, gypsy clowns.....sounds like heaven to me. Enjoyed your visions of the South of France, love it there. Thanks for the visual vacation. Sweet views of "rien"!

Mikki Petersen
09-21-2004, 12:08 AM
E-J, thank you so much for your inspiring narrative which was even more special by being illustrated with your paintings. The plein aire piece is special indeed and I love the figure sketches. What a creative atmosphere to learn in! You sound so charged up now compared to where you were in your head before going.

Stoy Jones
09-21-2004, 12:17 AM
E-J! :) Glad to hear of your trip, does sound like bliss...lol! Love those airstreams, I see my childhood flashing before my eyes :D I admit not having the time to read the whole thread here (but will very soon!), however looked at all your work and the photos you have shared. Beautiful sketches, drawings, and pastels!..I know the folks at the drawing forum would love to have a gander at such excellent studies :clap:

I do hope this will put you in a better frame of mind to paint more often and freely as I have no doubt it will! I understand being stuck in cold places and being stifled by the daily grind, paint what you love and stay inspired with those memories and perhaps make more in the near future.


09-21-2004, 07:35 AM
thank your for posting this report ! I like your black and white sketches a lot
.. I am sure that this worksshop has given a real push to your activities.


09-21-2004, 06:57 PM
E-J, sounds like the trip of a lifetime and an experience never to be forgotten. Thanks so much for sharing it all! I really, really like your last plein aire~! :clap:

09-22-2004, 12:14 PM
My pre-breakfast tummy was grumbling when I stumbled upon this thread, but now the stomach is forgotten and it's my eyes that are hungry !!! Thank you so much for sharing this incredible experience with us !! Your descriptions, photos and beautiful art work made this come alive, with all the flavours and colours making it feel like I was walking along with you !!
Unforgetable experience, remarkable images, generous spirit, thank you again too many times to count !!!!!! :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap: :wave:

09-23-2004, 12:25 AM
Hi E J
heres one from Collioure, 1993
our hotel
canson 18 x24"

09-23-2004, 12:32 AM
Wow! Nice trip EJ- sounds like it was the perfect inspiration! So pleased you shared it with us.

09-23-2004, 01:05 AM
EJ...reading and re reading your post has made me restless......yearning for the fun and passion you seem to have experienced while on your painting holiday. :cool:

09-23-2004, 12:16 PM
Such a wonderful experience you had all that week. You really accomplished so much in that short time. Thanks for sharing it with us.

09-24-2004, 08:47 AM
Thanks for looking in, all of you! Before I can do anything with my photos, sketches and unfinished paintings from this trip I've got to concentrate on a dog portrait - my first commission! So much to do, so little time :)

Dan, I like the wonderful way your picture suggests waves, beach, hills, sky and holidaymakers without overstating them ... you are so very good at that ... lovely, lively marks as usual.

09-24-2004, 09:08 AM
What an utterly amazingly good time it sounds you've had. Thank you so much for sharing all of it; well, you didn't tell us what kind of food, but you shared everything else. Love the photos, love the sketches/paintings - love your trip. I had a marvelous time... :D

09-24-2004, 09:22 AM
Tremendous- thanks so much for sharing with us all you saw, experience, learned, sketched, painted, ate, etc. Your sketches and painting are wonderful, I can tell you had an amazing time.

Terry Wynn
09-24-2004, 12:10 PM
Hi, E-J,

Thanks so much for your work in posting all your trip materials. Your paintings and sketches are lovely. The whole trip sounds wonderful!

Thank you!