Evolution of a Drawing

It’s amazing how much time I can spend on one drawing. The beauty of a residency is that one can focus on particular subject matter and delve into it. But sometimes I felt overwhelmed by my desire to find a focus quickly.  The tree, wire, and rope provided that much needed focus.

Applying the texture from rubbings made me “feel” the surface first with my hands and eyes before I worked back into the charcoal with erasers and white chalk. 

Some drawings came together quickly, like the one below, in an afternoon.

Other drawings, like this one with the prominent knotted wire, I struggled with every day for nearly two weeks. I finally resolved it. 

As I look at these collages of the drawings’ progression, I see how I learned from each drawing and then took those lessons into the next. 

I learned that how I start a drawing is crucial. If I jump in too quickly or render something too literally , I can get hung up on that object (like the knot). If I start more gradually and try to get at the essence of something, like the tree bark, the drawing has room to evolve. Learning to be methodical but flexible was another important lesson. I observed the rope and the shadows it cast very carefully, but I then felt confident enough to let my imagination direct where those shadows would lie in the composition. 

The first tree drawing with the wire was my breakthrough.  Working intensely after that meant I made some steps forward as well fell back sometimes to old habits. I’m still trying to process it all. I know I tend to worry a lot about what I draw. I’m learning that it doesn’t matter so much what I draw, it matters more how I draw it. 

Drawing Texture 

Here in Caylus, every surface is interesting: cut-stone houses, furry moss and beardy lichen, crumbling limstone, vines wrapping around trees which sprout bark and leaves. I never noticed before how much seeing, touching, and drawing are intertwined. 

I decided to bring texture back into the studio with sketches and rubbings. I made this drawing based on a twisted log I saw on a walk.

I am nearing the end of my residency and I have so many ideas for new drawings ! I’m trying to document as much as I can so I can continue my explorations when I return to Denver.

My drawings thus far reflect my explorations of texture and the sensation of touch.  I’ve discovered a new process: Using thin paper and charcoal, I take rubbings of the stone and wood surfaces and apply them to the drawing. I then draw back into the texture and use eraser to cut out lines and smudge as well. 


These are some competed drawings. I am happy with my progress during the past month. My marks have become more free and expressive, and I don’t worry as much about how the drawing will look in the end. I allow it to evolve. 

Abbey and Art

Yesterday I went to the beautiful Abbaye de Beaulieu. Formerly a Cistercian abbey, it is now a space for contemporary art.  

Built in 1275, this abbey is a fine example of Cistercian architecture. The Cistercian order was founded in 1098 by Robert de Molesmes, who eschewed ostentation and advocated asceticism. Their churches reflected that philosophy: simple architecture with little ornamentation. 

Turns out that monochromatic minimalism suits wells the purpose of displaying art. The light coming through the clear (not stained) glass windows bounces and diffuses against the architectural features of the abbey. I could really appreciate the craftsman ship of stone.

The abbey was sold and turned into a farm in 1791, and then used as a stable. After being declared a monument in 1875, it took 100 years for restoration to take place. It now houses contemporary exhibitions and collections. 

The monks’ old dormitory is now an exhibition space as well. The simple hall didn’t possess the grandeur of the church but I really enjoyed the art exhibited here. Multiple artists made work in response to exquisite graphite drawings by French artist Fred Deux.  His work had surrealist and biomorphic forms that reminded me of Dorothea Tanning and Ives Tanguy. 

The drawing Les Portements (top) made me think of both figures in a frieze and a top down view of tree roots. The drawn frames emphasized the universe within the drawing, yet it also expanded within that frame to an all-over-composition like a Pollock.  I could look at that drawing all day.

Now to take that inspiration back to the studio. 

Nature Girl

I’ve been finding a lot of inspiration in nature during the past two weeks at this residency. The walks have been very helpful for me to get acquainted with the environment of Caylus. I get up, make coffee, buy a croissant from the local bakery (which is fantastic), and hike out the garden door with my backpack full of sketch materials and a camera. Most days I come back with drawings and tons of photos, and too many ideas to pursue in such a short time. But today I finally a direction and finished a large drawing.

The sight of bobbed wired embedded in a tree stuck with me. I made me think about man-made instrusions to nature, and the cold contrast of the metal with the warm wood seemed like a good starting point for a drawing.   I also see a drawing about crumbling stone walls which have stood for hundreds of years, with roots and moss slowly wearing them down. 

These are the new works in progress. I’m excited to see where they take me.

Walking and Drawing in la Campagne 

I spent Saturday drawing plein air. Grete dropped me off at this picturesque spot outside of the village.  There stands a gothic chapel built in 1486, as well as a stone cross overlooking the Bonnette river valley. Watercolors and ink were good mediums for trying to capture the sweeping valley and rolling hills. This was probably a spot where pilgrims on the Camino de Compestelo could rest, pray, and take in the gorgeous vista as I did.

I’ve been taking daily walks in the countrside, and I see fascinating bits of local life. This building, now a home, was originally a pidgeonaire and a bakery

The flowers are blooming like crazy right now. The abundant rain and intense sunlight makes for a rich carpet of plants. The inter-communal paths (between the villages) take me through forests, hay fields, cattle pastures, and wheat fields.  I often stop to examine and sketch whatever catches my eye.

The dry stacked stone fences run along side.  In the sun the limestone is speckled with lichen but becomes moss covered in the forest. I find looking down as intriguing as looking up at the horizon. I see tiny worlds of lichen, moss, mushrooms, and leaves. Nature’s compositions of color and texture far exceed my own imagination !

The Caves 

On Tuesday I went to see the prehistoric drawings inside the caves of Peche Merle. Unlike Lascaux, visitors can actually go down inside and see the original drawings. Many caves with drawings are inaccessible or closed to the public in order to preserve the delicate conditions which have preserved these drawings for millenia. Considering that some of the Peche Merle drawings date from 25,000 BC, this is a privilege. The cave has chambers which are as vast as cathedrals and filled with glistening stalagmites an stalactites. The earth seems alive and I can see how the people who created down there saw the caves as sacred.  Their drawings were both abstracted and incredibly lifelike. Simple lines animate the mammoths, bison, deer, prehistoric cattle, and bears.  The animals were overlapping in some murals and seems to swirl around each other. I sketched as the tour moved. I had to be quick about because we could only look at each drawing for a few minutes before moving on. 

The limestone cliffs above the Lot Valley, where Pech Merle is hidden with its mysterious treasures.

I tried to imagine what it must be like to crawl down into a dark cavern with only an animal grease lamp and some manganese and ochre paint.  Another haunting feature is the hand prints of both men and women possibly made by blowing the ochre paint around the outline of the hand. Despite the labor intensity of applying the paint and in nearly lightless conditions, these drawings seem alive. Each delineation was economical. The line that made the back of the horse was so simple yet conveyed so much energy. I want to to make lines like that. I hope to capture some of the energy I felt in those caves and express it in my own drawings. The question is how?

Rain then shine

The rain on Saturday stymied my plans to walk about, so I limbered up with some drawing in the studio. 

I’m not sure where this one is going but I felt inspired by the Tiepolo ceiling I saw in the Wurzberg Residenz. It’s a start.

As the rain poured down, I watched the boules area across the street from the gendarmerie.  Boules is a game similar to bocce where you throw or roll metal balls  towards a target. A tournament was scheduled that day and I noticed the rain and mud didn’t stop the Caylusiens from playing. 

I walked down the hill to the church and admired the friezes symbolizing the struggle between good and evil on either side of the portal. 

A massive wooden crucifixion by Ossip Zadkine caused quite a stir when it was made in 1954. More about that later.

In the Afternoon the rain let up and I went for a walk on a trail that overlooks the town.  As the sun broke through the clouds, I passed lichen and moss covered stone walls behind which cattle munched on lush fields. 

For a moment I could almost think I was in Washington County.  This is definitely a quiet village, with about 200 people who live here in the old center but about 1500 when you count the environs of the commune.

Get thee to the church on time !