“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.” – Anita Desai

Saint-Cirq LaPopie, One of the Most Beautiful Villages in France

Why do we love to travel?

For me, the sights, smells, sounds and textures of life in different places stimulate my imagination to create connections with people: past and present.

I’ve recently returned from two weeks in France, exploring cities and villages alike with an eye for inspiration. That inspiration came in three forms: Natural, Cultural and Artistic. Being in an environment, talking to people who live there, and sharing experiences becomes a part of us. It connects us to the greater world, shakes us out of our daily routine and our small pond. It makes us feel our place in the universe. Above all, it expands our horizons.

I want to share some photos to give you a taste of the inspiration I carried home. I’ve divided the photos into three categories. However, you’ll see that some of the categories overlap. For example, where does architecture end and art begin? How does one define culture? Looking at all these things, wherever we go, expands our world view.

First: Natural Inspiration

We saw many varied land forms, rivers, trees, mushrooms, animals, birds, beaches, and mountains. Some of the most inspiring were wild Horses and flamingos in Saint Marie de la Mer, wild poppies, lavender, the clear blue Mediterranean, wild strawberries, orchids and mushrooms, and the migratory Hoopoe. The natural world is one of my main inspirations. When I’m seeing new countryside, I like to think about how the land forms influence culture and art. (click on thumbnails to view the full image.)

Second: Cultural Inspiration

In a country like France, culture has been accumulating for centuries. Wars, religion and government has changed over the years. Each era has surviving buildings, bridges, villages, streets, cities, churches, food, music, and design. I loved meeting the people, from hosts to merchants to servers.

One of our favorite sights was a very contemporary hotel in Arles, and seeing everyday people shopping on market days and in supermarkets. But there is also something humbling and awe-inspiring to see the architecture and ruins of centuries-old buildings, villages and cities wherever you go across the country.

Additionally, it was interesting to observe peaceful protest by citizens concerned with gas prices and work hours. Our host at Domaine du Haut Baran was a wealth of knowledge about historical and contemporary politics and culture.

Finally: Artistic Inspiration

Most importantly, I was fortunate enough to see contemporary art, ancient art, architecture, ruins, petroglyphs, and hand-crafts. My first week in France, a friend and I saw museums in Albi (Toulouse Lautrec) and Montpellier (Fabre.) Our favorite work in Montpellier was by contemporary artist Vincent Bioulès. The portraits below are life-size. We were a bit too early to see his full show of landscapes. We were also fascinated by a contemporary art installation in Carcassonne – concentric circles conceived by Felice Varini, a French-Swiss artist.

Our painting group enjoyed a tour of Pech Merle caves, and extra, special time with our guide and our host, William. William wrote the english translation of the guide book for Pech Merle. Our tour guide was a bit star-struck, and learned a few things from William, as did we. It was thought-provoking to imagine our ancestors being driven to create art 30,000 years ago in the depths of caves that were home to predators!

Finally, before I flew home through Frankfurt, I was able to enjoy a Picasso exhibit on print-making and other exciting artwork at the Staedel Museum.

How Does Travel Influence My Own Work?

Painting in Plein Air (on location) helps me fully experience and observe the intricacies and beauty of the places we visited. It also helped me interact with the people. It was fun (and challenging) to visit with folks who stopped to comment on work in progress. Even when there wasn’t time to paint, I constantly composed paintable scenes with my camera. But I think the most important influence that this trip had was to help me see how important art is across the centuries. For example, construction on the cathedral in Carcassonne spanned the course of 200 years. That is quite a long project!

Ancient art and architecture is evident wherever you go in France. The French also prioritize contemporary art. But the paintings I make on location don’t really fit in with the rest of my work. Reality is so beautiful, inspiring and particular – it is difficult to ignore!

I finally realized after 4 days of plein air work that I was craving something more expressive and imaginative. As a result, I showed my students a different method in the studio. You might want to try it yourself!

I took the following sketch from Monpazier and imagined the scene at night with more abstracted shapes. Since this workshop focused on the colors of France, I felt like this painting was a culmination of the week’s explorations.

By the way, I used the Hahnemühle Leonardo Hot Pressed Block for all my work on the trip. It was the perfect surface – 600 g/m2 or 280 lbs, was a thick, smooth sheet that accepted lots of glazing and scrubbing while retaining a fresh look. It is so convenient to be able to just pull out a block that doesn’t need taping or any other prep – it is ready wherever you go! Thanks to Hahnemühle for providing me with the beautiful Leonardo block to give away to one lucky reader! There are multiple ways to enter – check it out! Additionally, you might be interested in this post: see some of my other packing choices, and where you can purchase Hahnemühle products in the U.S.

Finally, I have one more giveaway up my sleeve – and I’ll be revealing it in my next post. I have several new workshop announcements – and can’t wait to reveal where I’ll be going next! If you have ideas, I’d love to hear where I should go to teach! Leave me a comment.

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