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Would you feel insecure and self-conscious if you sat down in a crowded public place and started to sketch? Most adults would feel that way. It would take a really good instructor to get them so excited about drawing that their inhibitions disappeared and they could lose themselves in a few blissful moments of creation—probably like a child feels when creating art. Romain, my instructor for two sketching tours in Paris, was that kind of instructor.

Romain Olivier Thieulot is an energetic and engaging 29 year old artist in Paris. He teaches art at the University of Paris and has his own art studio. As with most artists, though, money is tight, so he conducts sketching tours as a kind of “side hustle” to earn some additional money. Although he is quite young, he is devoted to a traditional style of art rather than digital art. That, he believes, is one of the reasons why he was chosen to teach at the University of Paris. He did not go into a lot of details about the curriculum at the university, but he described the style that is taught there as “academic,” and it sound like it is a regimented system with very specific rules.

Fortunately, that is not the approach that he used with us. He coached and encouraged us as we moved from place to place with our sketchbooks and collapsible stool, all the while providing us with instructions on the major principles of drawing like composition, perspective, and showing emphasis through detail and value (degree of lightness and darkness). Importantly, I think, he left a lot of room for individual expression. Before we started to draw our first building, I remember, he told us that we could choose to draw it any way that we wanted, sketching, for example, the entire building or only a part of it. What was important, he said was to have a clear idea of what we saw as the major area of interest, because the first lines we put on the paper would dictate important considerations like scale and composition.

Romain had carefully chosen the locations and routes of these tours, one in Montmartre and one in the Left Bank area beginning at Notre Dame, in order to provide us with fascinating bits of information along the way on the history of the city of Paris and in particular on its rich artistic and architectural history. (Architecture is one of Romain’s areas of expertise and he was able to explain many aspects of the architecture that makes Paris so distinctive.)

One of the places that Romain highlighted was Le Consulat, a historic coffee house that was frequented by many of the artists, writers and painters that flocked to the Montmartre area in the 19th century, including Picasso, Sisley, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Monet. In the second photo below, Romain was showing us a postcard-sized copy of a drawing that he had done of the café. If you click on the photo you can get a real appreciation of the amount of detail in his drawing. I don’t recall long he spent on that particular drawing, but I remember him showing us similar ones on which he had spent forty or fifty hours of work.

One of the fun little bonuses of Romain’s sketching tours was the quick sketch he would do of the individuals in our little group as we were at work. The third photo shows the three members of our group in Montmartre—I think it is pretty obvious which one is me.

During one conversation that I had with Romain, he shared some insights into the world of a professional artist in Paris. As we we passing a series of galleries in the Left Bank area, he noted how difficult it was to get your work into a gallery. Even if you were fortunate enough to get your worked displayed, there were so many fees involved that the artist was often left with very little money when a piece of art was actually sold.

Romain seemed to be much more content to display his work at his own studio/workshop, Atelier Thieulot in the 15th arrondissement in Paris. You can check out his studio on his website and get a better idea of his workplace and of his work. The website is in French, but even if you can’t read the details, you can’t help but be impressed by the number of exhibitions in which he has participated and the awards he has received. If you click on the tab, “Mes Créations,” you can look at his work divided into categories such as architecture, oil painting, drawing, and design. One of my favorite ways to view his work, though, is to click on the “E-boutique” tab and if you do, you too will look with amazement at his detailed drawings.

I saw some wonderful art and architecture in Paris, but some of my favorite moments in the city were spent in creating my own art during the sketching tours with Romain as our guide, coach, and instructor. I was intrigued that the tour is titled “Être artiste à Montmartre,” which means “To be an artist in Montmartre.” We were not pretending to be artists as we toiled over our sketchbooks—Romain made us feel like we really were artists.

We have become friends on Facebook, have exchanged texts since concluding the course, and he is also now following this blog. Paris is wonderful, of course, but it really is the people you meet that make a trip memorable. Thanks, Romain.

Romain Thieulot

Romain Thieulot

Romain Thieulot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’m normally very self-conscious about taking photos of people in public, but today I decided to throw caution to the wind and tried to capture images of a few of the guys who caught my attention.

The first image shows a young guy who was at the overlook area in front of Sacre Coeur and was trying to interest people in tours of the city in a bright orange vintage Citroën 2CV, the one that looks vaguely like the original Volkswagen Beetle.

I first heard the guy the second image playing the bongos (with a tambourine to his side) on a bench across the Seine from me, on a bank of Île de la Cité, the island on which Notre Dame de Paris is located. Although I was a long way away, he seemed to sense my presence and looked up at me for a moment before returning to his music.

During my final visit to Place de Tertre in Montmartre late this afternoon, I again watched Jean-Marc Lambert, my favorite watercolor artist at work. You may recognize him in the final photo from an earlier posting I did about him. Unlike the two previous times, I did not engage with him, but silently and wistfully watched from a distance.

Tour guide in Paris

Bongos player in Paris

Watercolor painter in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The police seemed very busy today in Paris. One of their boats came zooming down the Seine River so fast this morning that I thought it might come out of the water. Meanwhile a police officer on roller blades—a first for me—sped by me shortly there after, having checked some documents and/or written a ticket. (I have also seen police officers on bicycles and on horses during this trip but have not managed to get photos of them). I am waiting to see an officer on the electric scooters that are all over the city now.

I guess it is all in a busy day’s work for the police force in a city like Paris.

Police boat on the Seine

Police on roller blades

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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Yesterday, 23 November, I stumbled upon a very large and vocal march through the streets of Paris that was directed against domestic violence towards women. What really struck me were the handmade signs carried by many men and women of all ages expressing anger and sorrow at the lack of action in this area by the French government, which many see as deliberately turning a blind eye to the problem.

These are images straight out of my camera, with no attempts made to make them pretty. I have done a loose translation in the captions of the main signs that you see in each photo. If you want more details about the march, check out this BBC report.

Male executioner (Note: In French this word combination sounds a lot like Marlboro). To be born a woman kills. (Note: the wording of this warning matches that on cigarette packaging.)

Sexism kills. Feminism saves.

 

We teach our boys about consent and what happens if the state does it? No is no!

 

Red smoke. (I am not sure of the symbolism here.)

My body belongs to me. In France 2019 there is a rape every 7 minutes. We are all concerned.

Not a single one more. The state is not protecting us.

 

Four out of five handicapped women are victims of violence. The state is complicit.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It seems like people are using cellphones more and more often when they are behind the wheel. Earlier during this trip to Paris I noticed this operator of an excavator along the banks of the Seine checking out his cell phone.

Was he watching a YouTube video on how to operate the machine? Was he stuck in the mud and searching in Google for a solution? Perhaps he was just taking a break. Whatever the case, I kept my distance just in case he started moving in my direction while distracted by his cellphone.

As I struggle to be “artistic” in my photography, I try not to lose sight of the fact that photography is about capturing the moment. Sometimes it is about art, but sometimes it is about simply capturing something that makes me smile.

Have a wonderful day.

excavator in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When it is pouring rain all day in Paris, what can you possibly photograph? Like wildflowers in the spring, colorful umbrellas have sprung up all over the city and they make cool subjects.

I captured the first little scene along the Seine River this morning. I envisioned the possibility of the photo and hung around the location as the group of three people approached. I took multiple photos as the moved toward and under the bridge. The biggest challenge I had was a distractingly bright orange bicycle parked in the middle of the pathway beyond the exit. Fortunately the green umbrella was large enough in this shot to hide the offending bicycle.

I semi-stalked the next group of three young ladies as they walked through the Tuileries Garden toward the pyramid entrance to the Louvre. It was a little frustration because they kept stopping for selfies, but I finally got a shot when they moved together for a moment. I love the way that the three subjects had complementary shades of umbrellas and stylishly distinctive backpacks.

The final photo highlights the umbrellas themselves and not the owners. Although it was still raining, the owners had carefully placed their umbrellas to the side so that they could take photos of themselves with the Louvre pyramid in the background. I like the angle at which the umbrellas are placed, which, along with their black color, emphasizes the form of the umbrellas. The shadows on the wet cobblestones add additional visual interest to the image.

It was cold throughout the day today, about 34 degrees right now (one degree C) and the possibility of snow is forecast for this evening. Yikes! Fortunately I have warm clothes with me and most importantly my camera bag has proven to be as waterproof as advertised. I don’t exclude the possibility of an after dark adventure a bit later.

Umbrellas along the Seine

Umbrellas in Paris

Umbrellas in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Place du Tertre, a small square in the center of Montmartre, is a special place where artists of all varieties set up their easels every day and work in the open air, surrounded by the milling public. Many of them are portrait artists, who gently try to convince you to sit for a portrait.

I watched several of those artists at work and they are amazing talented, creating true-to-life drawings over an extended period of time. This is in sharp contrast with the large number of quick sketch “artists” who aggressively pursue you in the streets, trying to convince you to stand for a “portrait,” which is often a mere caricature that barely resembles the subject.

A number of other artists worked on small canvases with oil paint using palette knives. I had the impression that some of them were working in almost assembly line fashion, cranking out the same limited number of scenes of Paris suitable for souvenirs.

After circling the square, I returned to the only artist who was working in watercolor. He would sketch out his detailed paintings in India ink using a pointed fragment of bamboo as a drawing instrument. After the ink had dried, he would carefully apply multiple washes of color. Some of you know that I have dabbled with watercolor and I was absolutely enthralled as I watched this artist at work, mixing and applying the colors from a watercolor set not all that different than ones that I have.

Watercolor painting is time-consuming and unforgiving—you really cannot hide your mistakes. Supplies are relatively expensive, compared to oil and acrylic painting. Why would an artist choose this style of painting? It does not seem like an economically rational decision.

I did not want to interfere with the artist’s efforts, so I watched from a respectful distance and discreetly took a few photos. When he reached a certain stage when he needed to let a layer dry, he stopped for a smoke break. As he lit up an unfiltered, hand-rolled cigarette, I started to talk with him.

At first I asked him about the materials that he uses. He paints on high quality Arches 100% cotton paper, using a mix of artist quality paints from Winsor and Newton, Sennelier, and others. For brushes, he uses several rather large natural hair brushes. He pointed to one of them and noted that it had cost over 80 Euros (about $100), but he had used it for close to ten years.

He said that he had been painting from a young age and preferred painting in public like this and had done so for almost 40 years. Based on some comments he made about other painters, he seemed to reject the almost elitist idea of painting in seclusion in a studio, with works hanging in high-priced galleries.

He obviously loved what he was doing, but somewhat wistfully talked of eventually retiring to a place in the country. As he puffed on the final fragments of his cigarette, he announced that it was time to get back to work. I thanked him for talking with me—we spoke exclusively in French—and sharing his experience and perceptions. He graciously agreed to let me take a quick portrait shot and that photo, the last one below, is one of my favorite remembrances of this trip to Paris.

The first photo below gives you an overall sense of the environment at the Place du Tertre. Note the assemblage of easels and the passing tourists and compare that with the focus of the painter, who appears to be in his own little world.

The second image provides a slightly closer view of the work in progress. Note the large size of the brush that he is using and the initial delicate washes of color that he has applied.

The final shot, as noted above, is a quick portrait of the artist. It’s a candid pose from where he was standing. I really like the way that it turned out, capturing in part the unique personality of this awesome artist that I was happy to encounter, a man content with doing what he loves outdoors in all kinds of weather (except, he noted, in the rain, which obviously is bad for watercolor paintings).

Painter at Place du Tertre

Painter at Place du Tertre

Painter at Place du Tertre

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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