Saturday, July 28, 2012

Yippee Yupo®

Though I have long used a nice French cold-press paper on which to paint watercolors, I have been frustrated by cold-press's quick absorption, its fading of color.  I'll load on a cadmium red only to find that it's lost its brilliance by the time it dries.  So I've tried smoother, less textured hot-press paper.  I've also tried the technique of applying a layer of acrylic gesso (a polymer medium found in any art supply store) to a sheet of paper, letting that dry, and then painting on that.  I like the slipperiness of the application, the little surprise elements that appear within the painting itself.

Because of the rather mysterious effect this technique produced, I named this "Petunias Out of a Parallel Universe"

But it wasn't until I took a painting workshop one autumn in southeastern France (in the Rhône Alpes region)  that I was introduced to a synthetic paper called Yupo®  made from polypropylene.  So it's not really paper but plastic.  It's also waterproof.  Which brings up the rather intriguing question:  "So you use watercolor to paint on a waterproof paper?  How does that work?"  I'll answer that by saying that it seems similar to skating on ice.  You slip and slide a lot.  Far from being absorbed into the paper, the water pools in odd places, the paint skids across the top.  And, the colors keep their brilliance!  Having much less control over the process, you find yourself with some happy accidents.  And, though I've never painted on porcelain, it seems not dissimilar.

As many watercolorists know, once you apply paint to hot- or cold-press paper, you can't lift it off.  Which means that though you can go back into the area with a clean damp brush and remove a little paint, you can't take off all that much.  It's there to stay.  (Or, at the very least, there's always a palimpsest.)  Which may be one reason people say that painting in watercolor is more difficult than painting in oils.  (Oils allow you to paint over something.)  But Yupo allows you to lift the paint off at any time.  In fact, you can wash the entire painting down the sink and start over on the same sheet.  Lifting a bit of color here and there can be handy when you want to open up an already-painted area--for sky, say, or a highlight.  The beauty of it, then, is that you are not committed to keeping what you have set down.  You can play with it.  (It can take several applications to get the paint to adhere exactly where you want it, but that's part of the fun.)

Here are four examples of my Yupo work--plus the photos I painted them from.
"Afternoon in the Abbey Gardens" (Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, France)

"Blue Bridge" (Dieulefit, France)
Poles, wires, and all
"Le Pègue"  (Le Pègue, France)

"House on Dickinson Road" (Vermont).  Though one can plan out an entire painting and then apply a masking fluid (to later rub off) to parts that are to remain light, such as the sky between the leaves plus the sunlight down the left-side of the tree trunks, I paint in a less regulated style and so quite dislike the masking technique.  Here, I achieved the same result by simply lifting paint off wherever I wanted.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"One" Cookies

It's too hot these days to think about much ... certainly not turning on the oven as this recipe requires.  But when the weather moderates, stir these up and see how heavenly they smell while they're baking.  They also go beautifully with a chilled glass of your favorite summer refreshment.

There are times when I like to pore over recipes, note a few that look tempting, and make up an appropriate grocery list.  And ... there are times when I just want to dive in and make something.  For me, making cookies always means hunting out a just-right recipe which can take some time.  So ... I made up a recipe that was easy to remember because it calls for just one of everything.  I call it "One" Cookies.  These are coconut and orange flavored but the recipe lends itself to just about anything.  Cardamom and chopped nuts.  Cinnamon and nutmeg.  Ginger and molasses.  Bits of an organic chocolate bar.

"One" Cookies

Blend 1 stick of (preferably softened) butter with 1 c. brown sugar (hoping it hasn't solidified since you last used it).

Mix in 1 egg.

Add 1 c. flour plus (and here I've cheated a little, but these do add up to 1 teaspoon) ½ t. salt and ½ t. baking soda.  Mix.

Add the zest of 1 medium-size orange plus its juice.  (I like to use an organic orange, especially since I'm using the zest ... which we used to call the grated rind.)

Finally, mix in 1 c. shredded sweetened coconut.

Place in small spoonfuls on a greased or parchment-covered cookie sheet.

Bake 365º for 12-15 minutes.  


Saturday, July 14, 2012

La Cité de Carcassonne

One of my very first exposures to France came in the form of a wonderfully thick-paged paper-covered book of black-and-white photos showing the fortified town of Carcassonne in the South of France, not far from the city of Montpellier.  (In fact, the town is divided in two by the Aude River--the fortified part is called the Cité and the lower, "newer" area, the Ville Basse.)  As a child, I would fetch out the book, open it up, and pore over the photographs of this totally intriguing, storybook-like, quite theatrical-looking place.  I believe my grandmother purchased the book when she and her sister went to Europe in 1928, but whether they actually got to Carcassonne, I don't now remember.

The magical views stayed with me over the years so that when I found myself in Montpellier studying French just five years ago and my hostess offered to drive us there, I was thrilled.

Carcassonne was one of those spots that got a lot of traffic over the ages.  It lay on a route linking Iberia to the rest of Europe and began as a pre-Roman settlement.  After the Romans, the Visigoths came.  The Saracens.  The Franks.  Cathars settled there but were then driven out during the Albigensian Crusade when the Catholic Church considered them heretics and even housed their own inquisition in The Inquisition Tower.  By then, Carcassonne was a fortified medieval city with double ramparts to protect against siege engines, the outer wall connecting fourteen towers, the inner twenty-four.

Later, the kingdom of France took it over.  During the Revolution, it became a supply depot.  Then it was turned into a stone quarry, its walls and towers gradually dismantled.  It was even scheduled for demolition until a campaign saved it and a conservation architect Viollet-le-Duc carefully restored it during the second half of the 19th century.  His successor finally finished the work in 1910.  Now Carcassonne is one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.  It is also the largest medieval town in Europe with its walls still intact.  Today, approximately 120 people live there permanently ... with maybe 48,000 in the Ville Basse, the unfortified section across the river.


The double ramparts

The Basilica Saint-Nazaire inside the walls

Inside the Basilica

I took this photo for the beauty of the construction.  It may be a private house, but I have no idea.  The Cité also has a post office, school, hotel, and an open-air theater.

Place du Chateau square

School Museum

A commercial area near the exit

Posted today in honor of France's Bastille Day.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Gallery of Clouds

I live in a beautiful spot literally surrounded by trees.  Great white pines.  Maples.  Eastern oaks.  Squirrels and chipmunks abound as do crows, cardinals, robins.  But, for me, at least, the horizon around here is too enclosed to see sunsets, moonrises, dawns, plus the wide sweep of both landscape and cloudscape.  When clouds do come, they seem to sit on top of us, simply covering the day.  Once, when dining outdoors with friends in Western New York, off there in the Finger Lake Country, I looked up and said (with great enthusiasm), "Look, a sunset!!"

My friends were amused.  "You have sunsets where you live ..."

"No," I replied, "there are too many trees."

I've always liked Looking Up.  Studying the clouds.  When I lived in Santa Fe, I particularly appreciated this time of year since it brought the sweep of thunderstorms as they advanced from west to east.  And the dry air, the high blue skies proffered a variety of beauties. Cumulonimbus, nimbo-stratus, cirrus, strato cumulus.  I had a cloud book as a child and could rattle the names off better then than I can now.

New Mexico

North American Plains
An anvil cloud, New Mexico

New Mexico