Rochefort-en-terre is one of those made-for-artist spots where you can step from the doorway of your hotel and set up your easel. It’s an historic Brittany hill-town with half-timbered houses, schist and granite stonework, gambrel roofs, dormers, turrets, narrow stairways and potted geraniums everywhere. It has what I call “presence.” These leaning walls hold the tears of inquisition, revolution, conquest and occupation. For the artist, texture and detail invite inspection, photography, rendering and understanding. Butterflies circle your head. As my painting companion Dave Fraser says, “It’s like a film set, only it’s the real thing.”
Evidence of art is everywhere: art shops and studios, potter’s, printer’s workshops. Starting in 1904 the American painter Alfred Klots and later his son Trafford Klots restored the commanding 17th Century chateau. It’s now a museum and art gallery that houses a collection of the Klots’ work and that of others. Visiting contemporary artists are invited to exhibit. Even our hotel, the Helioscope, doubles as an art museum.
Apart from the picturesque charm there are the higher creative values in a village such as this. As the walls bend, so bends your mind. There’s the cubist interaction of disparate forms and shapes. There’s the way the light in the passage of a day reinvents and re-designs the jumble. With the elevation and the diffused light you become more conscious of aerial perspective. Foreshortening, counter-light and halation play a part in some compositions. Everywhere you look there are lessons in simplification, elimination, embellishment and reorganization.
Below the town, beside a passing brook, there’s an ancient laundry. Slates have been worn smooth by generations of washerwomen. Old photos up in the Klots’ museum show the former toil that went on in this place. As I sit here painting I realize the privilege. Children now leap-frog and hopscotch on the slates. Men and boys toss boules at the edge of a nearby green. In this time of peace we are a blessed people who are able to play.
PS: “The conveying of lofty feelings and high ideals is art’s greatest gift. To avoid these is to omit the spirit in work and put the art at the peril of mediocrity.” (Robert Henri)
Esoterica: In effective works of art “presence” is felt by the artist and transferred to the observer. While there are occasions when these values are obvious and simply jump out at you, they are often hard won. They may have to be teased out, studied and somewhat understood. When writing a love poem, it’s helpful to be in love. “How much has to be explored and discarded before reaching the naked flesh of feeling.” (Claude Debussy)
The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.
Memories of travel rekindle vision
by Meg Oldman
Your letter expresses the visions I hold and think of when I have travelled somewhere. It reminds me to remember and keep them close. Lofty ideals and visions are the artist’s gift and responsibility to put out there, and keep well oiled!
Brittany highlight of artist’s trip
by Pam Weber, Calgary, Canada
My husband and I took our three teenaged boys to France this summer. A challenge it was but a very worthwhile adventure. Our highlight of the summer was the time we spent in Brittany soaking up history, sun, and sea breezes. As a painter, I spent more time observing, writing and picture taking than actually doing any brushwork. Your letter arrived at the right moment. With the fragrance of fall in the Calgary air, I am revisiting summer in the pages of my journal and appreciating the splendor of architecture and landscape we captured on film.
Spirits of the Masters permeate trip to Paris
by Minaz Jantz, Vancouver, BC, Canada
I just came back from a short trip to Paris, France. Wandering in amazement through the great museums full of talent and genius inspired me. At the same time the little voice in my head yells… quit while you’re ahead! I bow to these fine masters! I spent five days in the Latin Quarter of Paris where I saw young artists wandering the streets where the works of all the great masters hang in the museums. It makes me want to some day take a course or two in Paris. Painting has been on hold but the painting beast inside me is roaring to spring loose especially after the trip from Paris.
Use the computer as a tool for future painting
by Carl Kocich
I read Jane’s letter about computers interfering with her painting in the responses to the letter “Levels of Achievement” and I can sympathize. What I do is use the computer with a program such as Adobe Photoshop, or Corel Photo paint as a tool to manipulate my reference photos or sketches as studies for future paintings. Using the various filters can yield surprising results and suggest new avenues or approaches you may not have considered. I would recommend purchasing a pressure sensitive 4×5 Wacom Graphire Pen Tablet ($80-$100) which allows you to draw in your paint programs with much the same feel and results as a pen or brush. I have even produced digital paintings, which I sold as prints using an Epson Stylus Photo 1280 printer that uses fade resistant (about 25 years) inks on Epson heavyweight matte paper. When I find a digital print that sells, I then do a similar painting. Some people may criticize this approach as becoming a slave to the computer but to paraphrase: ” Computers don’t kill art, artists kill art.” It’s all in how you choose to use it. Since doing this, my technique has improved, I have eliminated many false starts and I am less discouraged because of poor preliminary work. It’s something you may want to try. If you are interested in seeing some of my work, please email me.
Paint on the computer
by Julie Rodriguez Jones, San Pablo, CA, USA
There is a solution to the computer competing with painting, as mentioned by Jane in the responses to the letter “Levels of Achievement.” Paint on the computer. I use Adobe Photoshop 7, which has a plethora of brushes that enables one to vary the size and pressure, and you have endless colors. There is no cleanup. Changes are easy to make. I am hooked. It is limitless. Often I will create the entire image using only brushes from Photoshop. Others, I will start as a painting but scan in and complete in Photoshop. Here is a watercolor pencil work, completed in Photoshop (colors were darkened, a bud and additional leaves were added, shadows added). It received first place in a watercolor show and it was properly identified as watercolor, pencil and digital. Whether you’re working Plein Air, in a car, motel, airplane, or boat, take your laptop. Need more paint? Plug it in to an outlet or take a spare battery. The only down side is the learning curve. It took me months to learn how to use it. So, unless you have the time or know someone who can teach you (or take a class) it is not possible to just pick up a digital brush and dabble.
Complaints about amateur painters out of line
by Sherry J. Purvis
Jim Rowe’s reply to your letter about painting being dead in the responses to “Levels of Achievement” letter was (how shall I say this?) ridiculous. Be careful, Mr. Rowe, I am female and 53 years old. Not only do I paint professionally, but with a realistic style. How in the world did it get to this — blaming the older people of this world for trying something new? I can’t imagine how anyone could possibly think that the fate of the art world is based on what the amateur artist is doing. The true art collector and/or critic has the ability to differentiate between professional and amateur art, don’t you think? I just hope that when I am actually old that someone doesn’t think I should give up. Please, be careful whom you blame. I think it is very important that we, as artists, work on ourselves and not on others. The art buying public knows what they like and don’t like and I can’t see that as changing in my lifetime.
Don’t appreciate slights on amateur artists
by Faith Puleston, Germany
I didn’t appreciate Jim Rowe’s slights on “amateur” artists, in the responses to “Levels of Achievement” letter; although he may have a point when it comes to painting from photos. But there again, Degas was arguably the first to discover the benefits of photography way back in the 19th century, and he was hardly what you’d call a poor achiever. We all need to work on honing our own skills, rather than criticizing the efforts of people who try to paint because it gives them joy and happiness. Most professional artists have found a personal way of expressing themselves that is individual and unique. (I note that Jim Rowe is self-taught.) On the other hand, there are wonderful painters who cultivate realism and delight in reproducing their models (whether their subjects are people, animals, places or objects) with photographic accuracy and often with great beauty. I know, from experience, that ordinary people who just want to own an original painting, rather than a poster of some acknowledged masterpiece, tend to go for artworks they can recognize and explain. They want artworks, which do not need an instruction manual and are not merely a grotesque (surrealistic?) interpretation of “nature.” There’s room for us all in this world and blaming elderly females for the state of realistic painting is not only wrong, it is irresponsible.
Realist artists among most successful artists today
by Betty Newcomer
I was upset with the comments by Jim Rowe, in the responses to “Levels of Achievement” letter, that the demand for realistic art is dead, because of paintings by older retired people, and especially females. If he thinks realistic art is dead, there are artists’ sites I can direct him to, to dispel this myth. These artists are the modern masters of art, and are probably making more money than he ever thought of. The painting of a person with no head, except the earth put there like a vise escapes me. Explain that to me. I have no connection with his work at all, but then I am a 71-year-old artist.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002.