Plein air in a French country garden

Now that we're really getting into the summer weather here, I'm starting to see my gardens taking shape. For the beds alongside my house, I'm slowly building an herb and butterfly garden. Budget restraints required that I experiment with starting from seed for a few things, but mostly I just started from very tiny plants and mixed in a few summer bulbs. Gardening is a pretty new pastime for me, so  believe me, every new growth or flower is a triumph.

French country garden sketch

In Virginia, if you dig deep enough, you will soon hit clay, which makes building any kind of new bed a bit of a chore, as you really have to work in a lot of good loose topsoil, soil conditioner, and fertilizer to make the plants take to it kindly. It kind of makes me shake my head a little when I visit places like the south of France. Roses practically grow out of the cracks of the sidewalks there! Okay, the gardeners there do have to deal with the rocks (and a lot of them) so I guess we all have our gardening challenges.

The old French country convent where I stayed had a labyrinth of beautiful gardens. I believe the current owners have had the place for a little over 10 years, and while they started with a property that had "good bones", all of the gardens were as a result of their own sweat and muscle. The gardens were set out like little outdoor sanctuaries, and there was something to discover in every nook and cranny of the property.

To the painter's eye, there were a thousand possibilities just within the confines of Le Vieux Couvent itself. But I was drawn particularly to the little goldfish pond out back.So apparently was one of the resident cats, "Portia". With so much touring, I didn't really have much time to paint on the grounds of the property, but I did do this little watercolor sketch of Portia by the pond one morning before we set off on another excursion:

french garden watercolor sketch by Jennifer Young

My layout was such that I couldn't quite get in the pond itself. But I came back one morning after the group from the "artist retreat" left, and painteda more close-up view again in oils:

French garden plein air painting by Jennifer Young

"Bassin  Â Poisson Rouge" (The Goldfish Pond) Oil on Linen, 11x14" ©Jennifer Young

Oil painting substrates; Multimedia Artboard

plein air painting board

The last few paintings I've featured from my recent France travels are done on Multimedia Artboard. I posted about this surface before when I was getting ready for my trip, and I thought I'd write a little more about it as a follow up. I really enjoyed this surface, especially for traveling and painting en plein air. For one thing, it is very thin, so you can pack a good number of these boards and not take up a ton of room in your suitcase. You can also cut the board to size very easily with either a guillotine-type paper cutter or an exacto knife.

In fact, it is so lightweight that when I first ordered this material I thought I had been sent the wrong product. I was expecting a board, and what I got was something that seemed more like a rigid watercolor paper. I even called the manufacturer to ask about it. I will say that the manufacturer was extremely helpful, and was almost at a point where he was willing to ship me some board from his own stock so that I'd have some for my trip, even though I hadn't originally purchased it from him. But he told me, "If it's my board it should be very rigid. In fact, it will shatter if you try to bend it." Sure enough, when I put it to the test, it did.

That's the one thing to be careful of with this product--but protect the corners in travel and don't drop it from a balcony, and you should be fine. It has a rough side and a smoother side to it, so you have a choice on which side to paint, depending on your needs. I also like that it accepts a variety of media--watercolor, acrylic AND oil. It can accept oils either as is, or primed, if you wish, with gesso. I double primed mine, but it was a little slick, so I think next go around I'll try it unprimed to see what that's like.

While the board is rigid, because it is thinner than a "board", I taped mine to a larger board (gatorboard or coroplast) to give me a stronger work surface.  For framing, I can simply pop it in a frame backed by a sturdier board and it's ready to go.

I am finding the Multimedia Artboard much easier to mount and frame after the fact than the other surface I took with me, a fine-weave primed linen. And while linen has luxurious qualities all its own, I can easily and happily see myself going back and forth between these two surfaces for my plein air painting travels.

Sketches from France- plus a brag

Just before I left for France my dear friends Jack and Mikki sent me some wonderful books on travel sketching. My favorite from the group is Artist En Routeby Betty Lynch. (A quick look at the price that this book is now going for makes me glad that I got this as a gift!) Betty is a very talented watercolorist, but I am partial to her simple pen and ink sketches, and they inspired me to keep my own little art journal for my trip.

Art travel sketching Jennifer Young

I brought a 5x8" moleskine journal with me, which fit nicely into my carryall bag. Never one to be without as many options as possible, I chose the notebook that would accept watercolors (though most of my sketches were pen and ink.) Here's one with my notes of the Abbey I blogged about yesterday:

France travel sketches Jennifer Young

Most of these were just quick little jots, but the journal really helped me to lock in the memories in place, and keep track of the places we visited in sequential order. So many times on action packed trips like these, all of the memories start to blend together after a while, so I really recommend this combination of traveling, sketching and journaling. 

On the same day that we visited Abbaye Nouvelle, we also visited the village of Beynac (in the Dordogne), with its fascinating 12th century chateau perched atop dramatic limestone cliffs. Only time for a quick sketch for this part of the itinerary, which I did after our picnic lunch by the river bank. We are steeped deep into Medieval history here; this castle is where Richard the Lionheart met his death!

Travel sketches of the French countryside
Molly Young

***And now, we interrupt this art travel log for a quick brag ;-). There is a fine new oil painter in the Young family, and she's got a blog! Check out my very talented niece, Molly Young and her Daily Painting blog.

Molly came all the way up from Texas to take my April workshop this past spring, and I got the chance to see her talent in person. I wish I could say I had something to do with it, but she's been cutting her own path for a while now and I look forward to seeing where she takes it. Her blog is brand new, but she's been painting for a couple of years, and she's a quick study to boot.

The fruit trees of early spring were all abloom while Molly was here visiting, and we took advantage of it by heading up to Monticello for a quick visit.  Here's a shot of the two of us at Monticello:

Jennifer Young and Molly Young at Monticello

Molly's got some wonderful new paintings from that visit on her blog. Here's one of my faves.

New art Auction: "Mountain Chalet", Lake Como, Italy

The "Art for Food" charity art auctions continue! This 7-day auction is for a landscape painting of a little chapel and mountainside chalet overlooking a small fishing harbor on Italy's lovely Lake Como. The Mediterranean trees and buildings are set against a dramatic backdrop of the Pre-Alps, making this one of the most stunning destinations in Italy.

Lake Como Italian landscape painting

"Mountain Chalet" Watercolor & Ink, 8x10" (SOLD) ©Jennifer Young

According to the Central Virginia FoodBank, $25 could provide as many as 200 meals. So, with that in mind, opening bids for these auctions are set at the mega-bargain price of about 200 meals or $24.99 per item! 95% of the proceeds for these auctions will be donated to the CVFB.