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Archive for the ‘Portraits’ Category

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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How fast is a minute? As I mentioned in an earlier posting, I went on a sketching tour in Montmartre yesterday and I thought we would be sketching static objects like buildings, which we did. Then we moved into figure sketching. Yikes. That seemed to move things to a whole new and unanticipated level. The instructor, Romain, gave us a quick lesson on human proportions and then he assumed several static poses. We had a minute to sketch each one, pausing momentarily in between poses for him to provide feedback on our work.

As a final exercise, Romain adopted five slowly moving poses and we had one minute to sketch him in pen from head to toe in some part of each motion. Wow! Without a pause he would move to another dynamic pose. Each of those minutes went by really quickly and I felt like I was out of breath after five minutes of constant focus.

We all had a little laugh when the most skilled of the three of us taking the class ran out of time with one of her figures, which consequently  had no head. It was a little ironic, because just minutes before we had seen a statue of Saint Denis holding his head in his hands. Saint Denis, a Bishop of Paris, was martyred for his faith in 250 AD by decapitation. A popular story claims that the decapitated bishop picked up his head and walked several miles while preaching a sermon on repentance.

For fun, here are a couple of pages from that final sketching exercise. I can understand better now why artists need so much practice and training.

Sketching in Montmartre

Sketching in Montmartre

© 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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This past Wednesday I encountered a really cooperative Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) as I explored nearby Prince William County and was able to capture this tight head shot. I simply love this dragonfly’s beautiful gray eyes, which are a perfect for the monochromatic palette of the rest of its body and give this dragonfly a more sophisticated look than many of its more gaudily-clad brethren. (The coloration also helps this dragonfly to almost disappear from view when it is perched on a tree like this one.)

Gray Petaltail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Images of a bright red cardinal in the brilliant white snow—some might view such shots as a bit cliché, but I view them instead as iconic. I ventured out into my neighborhood earlier this week after the snow had stopped falling and was thrilled to find a small group of Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis). They spent most of their time buried in the branches, but eventually I was able to capture some unobstructed images of some male cardinals.

Although I like the details of the second shot, the first shot really draws me in by presenting a better depiction of the snowy environment. In some parts of the country this is a typical winter scene, but here in Northern Virginia, this is the biggest snow storm we have had since 2016, so it was pretty unusual to have this kind of photo opportunity.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Recently I served as the assistant for a fellow photographer Cindy Dyer as she shot some portraits in her studio. I had never before participated in that kind of a venture and I was a little shocked by the amount of coaching that the subject needed to ensure a proper head position, body position, and expression. Apparently most of us do not know how to act “naturally” in a way that will yield a goof portrait.

Fortunately many birds do not require these instructions. On Monday of this week, this Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) took a break from its foraging and seemed to be posing for me.  The bird decided that a profile shot would be good to show of its distinctive eye mask and that any hint of a double chin could be eliminated by slightly elongating its neck. Although the Cedar Waxwing tried to maintain a serious expression, I think I detect the beginning of a tiny smile.

Cedar Waxwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Despite his diminutive size, this male Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) seemed to have plenty of attitude when I spotted him on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Size is relative, of course, but by almost any standard Golden-crowned Kinglets are tiny. The are about 3-4 inches (8 to 10 cm) in length and weigh only 0.1 to 0.3 ounces (4 to 8 gm). Their small size and hyperactivity make them a fun challenge to photograph.

I particularly like this bird’s combative stance and the way that it provides us with such a good view of its bright yellow “crown.” It is one of the rare occasions when I got an unobstructed shot of a kinglet—normally there are branches blocking at least part of the view.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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