Thursday, June 30, 2011

Virtual Paintout in New Zealand

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North of Glenorchy, Otago
Watercolour, crayon and CP
©2011 Charlene Brown

I just about didn’t paint anything for the Virtual Paintout this month, because the images of New Zealand on Google Streetview, which must be used for the Virtual Paintout, all seemed kind of dull. Then yesterday, I took what I thought would be one last look at this blog, and found a beautiful painting by Nancie Johnson with the title, Glenorchy-Paradise Road...  Hope she doesn’t mind that I’ve also used this great stretch of road she found. Here’s a link to it. You need to pan left to get the whole panorama I've included in the painting. If you zoom out of Streetview (way out, until you’ve got the map of the west coat of the south island) you’ll see that this is the view from Paradise Road looking west toward the head of the iconic Milford Sound.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Painting on the Edge 2011

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Consolation Lake, Banff National Park
Watercolour and crayon
©2011 Charlene Brown
Painting on the Edge – for which I have never had a painting accepted – is a Vancouver-based competition, open to all living artists worldwide. This year, I had planned to email them a jpeg (Yes, they accept email entries!) of ‘Consolation Lake,’ but decided it was just another ‘pretty mountain scene’ and nowhere near adventurous enough to have any chance of being juried-in. At first I thought maybe I could improve it with some print collage, but then lost my nerve, thinking collage wouldn’t accomplish much besides reducing the prettiness. So, I saved myself the $20 entry fee, bypassed the middleman, and consigned it directly to my personal Salon des Refusés – a growing body of work consisting of all of my paintings rejected by Painting on the Edge. Last year, I did the same thing with my entry St John’s NL– although at that time, my reason for bypassing the middleman was that I missed the deadline for emailing it in.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Report from Normandy

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Mont St. Michel
Watercolour, crayon and CP
©2011 Charlene Brown

Our first stop in Normandy was Mont St. Michel.  It is virtually an island at high tide, and because of the great area of the very shallow bay over which the tide rises – the wave was described by Victor Hugo as ‘coming in with the speed of a galloping horse’ – I was a little surprised when we arrived at low tide and were allowed to park in the lower lot – we certainly couldn’t go in there when I was at Mont St. Michel in the fall of 1996. I mentioned this to the guard, and quickly gathered he was really sick of being asked about it. Then, at the base of the climb up to the village, we saw a sign explaining that the galloping horse thing only applies during the high spring and fall tides and as this was almost mid-summer, so such drama would be taking place.
such drama would be taking place.
At our next major stop in Normandy, Bayeux, they have something for everyone. I went to see the tapestry of the Battle of 1066, and my husband went to the 1944 Battle of Normandy Museum.
We finished off our ‘driving off into the sunset’ Grand Tour of Europe by ‘hitting the beach’… by which I mean touring the beaches -- and also the battlefields and Memorials -- relating to Canadian participation in World War II.
Eventually, we drove to Brussels to leave our car for shipment to Canada.  It was two months before we saw it again, but that’s another story…

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Hand-painted postcards from round the World

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The first of the 2011 Alaska Cruise Ships
Watercolour postcard
©2011 Charlene Brown

This is the postcard I sent to Felicity Grace in Switzerland – my May contribution to A Postcard from my Walk. There’s a new post every couple of days on this blog, and the quality and variety of the artwork is fascinating! Have a look…
I am absolutely thrilled with the ‘original’ postcards I have received since the last time I wrote about the Postcard from my Walk blog – I talked about them here and here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Report from the Périgord and the Loire Valley

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Chambord (with a bit of garden borrowed from Hautefort)
Watercolour, crayon and CP
©2011 Charlene Brown

On June 11, 2000 we were in the Périgord region of France, where we went on a tour of the Chateau Hautefort – probably should have stayed out in their wonderful garden, even though it was threatening rain most of the time we were there. The estate was a real treat – acres of Cedars of Lebanon and geometric and filigree-sculptured boxwood. The inside is mainly spiral staircases and furniture they don’t encourage you to sit on, but you do get a nice look at the geometry of the gardens from the tops of the turrets.
About 2 pm the sun came out, so naturally we headed for the caves!  Lascaux, with their 17,000 year-old cave paintings, discovered in 1940, but closed to the public since 1963, have been faithfully replicated and the result is wonderful to see – all those familiar bulls and horses almost close enough to touch.
We spent a day looking at Chateaux in the Loire Valley, and what a day that was! First, we went to Chambord, the largest of them, with what must be the world’s best arrangement of blue-slate-roofed turrets – and an equestrian show we arrived just in time to see. One of the high-lights was a lady in a blue velvet ball gown riding side saddle over a series of flaming barriers, and the horse, a white Arabian mare, pranced and flicked her two-metre tail in perfect time to the music (which was The British Grenadiers, for some reason). She could teach those Lipizzaners in Vienna a thing or two.  We pressed on to Chenonceau, the one that actually crosses the river (the Cher, which flows into the Loire at Tours) on six beautifully arched piers. As luck would have it, we arrived at the same time as a whole lot of teenagers on a school tour – infinitely more interested in each other than in any beautifully arched piers, lavender and rose gardens, Diana de Poitiers, Henry II, Mary Queen of Scots, or anything else about the place.    

Friday, June 10, 2011

Report from Bilbao

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Guard Puppy on Duty
Watercolour, crayon and computer
©2011 Charlene Brown

From Puycelsi, we drove to Toulouse and then along the Haute Pyrenees, and decided to stop for the night in Matiena-Abadino, which is Spanish for ‘major T-junction on the side of a mountain.’ It is where the tractor-trailer drivers of Spain take the fleet every night to hone their braking and darting-left-turn skills. The place was so entertaining we decided to stay for two nights… This isn’t as dumb as it sounds, as Matiena-Abadino worked well at what it was intended to do – we wanted an easy drive into Bilbao in the morning, then back to the same place in the evening for a headstart on the drive back to France.
Meanwhile, back to our main purpose in going to Bilbao, to see the then-new Guggenheim… I had the foolishly optimistic idea they would have a series of signs pointed the way to the place, starting as soon as we hit town. And guess what? They did! And they were bright pink so they were pretty easy to spot. Everything everyone says about the odd location of the place is true – the architect’s explanation is that the whole city of Bilbao is a sculpture, and placing this new sculpture on a curve in the river makes complete sense – but it’s right next to a huge container storage yard and partially under a bridge! In fact, we were on that very bridge, going at highway speed, when we looked down and realized we’d found it. All we had to do was a flying right turn past the biggest sculpture of a puppy (covered with 60,000 flowering plants) you’ve ever seen, and we were there. What a place! They have access to the Guggenheim Foundation collection so their installations are pretty terrific, but it’s the building itself that you want to spend the day looking at. They encourage you to stroke the walls, even the exterior cladding, which is titanium of all things. The effect is totally organic – surprising as the components were all designed by computers and created by robots!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Report from Puycelsi

One of the prettiest villages in France
Watercolour and ink postcard
©2000 Charlene Brown

We spent the afternoon back at our farm B+B in Provence congratulating ourselves on a great day’s exploration and – unusually for us – talking to the owner.  The reason this is unusual is that our combined knowledge of French – never-useful verb conjugations, idioms not used since about 1935, and cleverly formulated questions that result in answers that sound like, ‘No, red does not exist the dog at eight and then right again’ – has reduced us to arm waving and drawing little pictures for people. But somehow, in explaining the difficulties of flying airplanes and operating B+Bs to each other, my husband and le fermier knew exactly what the other was saying!
On June 5, after spending a couple of relaxed days on the road, we got to Puycelsi, where friends from Ottawa have an incredible summer place, in time for lunch. Actually, this whole fortified village is incredible… It was built on a hilltop over several centuries, beginning in the ‘XIIieme’ and the ramparts and the stone and half-timbered houses are all being beautifully restored. There are flowers in every possible location and the whole village is a treat.  We both love this place.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Report from Les Alpilles

Les Baux-de-Provence
Watercolour postcard
©2000 Charlene Brown

At the end of May 2000, we headed for Monte Bianco, planning on a quick trip through the tunnel to France. Here is what happened instead…
As we made out way west, then north from Turin, it was like driving up out of a mauve sea of murk. The air got suddenly clearer, the highway got better and better, and the traffic got thinner and thinner. It was just amazing!
Then we discovered when we wheeled off our private autostrada for lunch at Morgex, that we were about the only people in Europe who didn’t know the Mont Blanc Tunnel was still closed because of the March 1999 fire… the closest alternate route involved heading up a narrow-looking road to the Petit St. Bernard Pass, said to be open at the time, though not guaranteed to stay that way… Well, that was a drive and a half, with the road carved out of ten-foot snow-banks in places, but the gentians and violas were brilliant, the glaciers dazzling… and there were (unsurprisingly) NO TRUCKS! Also no guardrails. It took the rest of a long day to get to France and when we finally arrived in Bourg St. Maurice we didn’t even have the strength to fire up our Best of Communism CD.
The next day we drove down the Rhone Valley, beautiful road, beautiful day, had a look around the Palace of the Popes at Avignon, and proceeded to Les Baux.  This is a place I’d been trying to get to since first seeing paintings of it by Yves Brayer, an artist who lived there. As nobody I’d mentioned this to had ever heard of Les Baux, we figured it was a sufficiently obscure location that we could just drift in and look around. Well – it was San Gimignano all over again!  There were cars and buses parked on both sides of the narrow road all the way up to it and all the way down the other side! Decided to find a room for the night and try again in the morning…Then we realized we’d come in one day from almost-closed-for-the-season ski country to high-season Provence. But we finally found a tiny little room on a farm near Fontvielle.
By setting out the next morning à bonne heure, we found a spot in the second best parking lot. Les Baux is a towering structure, the fortifications of which are carved out of and built up from a jagged rock formation called Les Alpilles. Although surrounded by olive and almond groves, the place itself is quite stark, taking the full force of the cold mistral, and was (allegedly) Dante’s inspiration for Hell in the Divine Comedy.
We spent three hours scaling the towers, dungeons and troglodyte caves, and examining the astounding artillery used by the various nasty groups that occupied the place seven to nine hundred years ago – a huge battering ram complete with A-frame cover to protect the batterers from boiling oil (apparently covered with animal skins and manure for that added protection one needs in stressful times), the biggest siege engine ever built, and a truly monumental – and portable! – trebuchet that required 60 men to assemble, arm, aim and shoot when in rapid-fire mode (we are talking two shots an hour here).