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Posts Tagged ‘Montmartre’

Folks have responded so well to my little art projects that I thought I would show you a few pages from my sketchbook from the last few days, as I get ready to head towards the airport. The first one is a little more elaborate and was done at my desk on the basis of a photo that I included in a recent posting. It took a lot longer than the others and I had the benefit of having carefully composed the shot with my camera. Composition is a lot harder when you have a scene right in front of you and you try to decide what part of it you want to draw.

The other two sketches were done outdoors as I stood looking at the Pont Saint-Michel across the Seine and then a few minutes later when I was looking at Notre Dame from an overlook point. They were definitely quick sketches, ironically enough because I was on my way to a sketching tour.

It is challenging but fun to learn to feel secure enough to try to draw in public. I am not paranoid in stating that people are watching you—they are.

This will probably be my last posting from Paris, though I have a few more postings that I have conceptualized that I will probably do after my return. Three weeks ago, I remember warning readers that my postings would be different while I was in Paris and they definitely have been. In many ways, I am happy to be ending this trip with a posting with handmade images, images that are deeply personal and reflective of the way that I spent my time here.

Thanks to all of who have stuck with me on this trip and have encouraged me along the way. It has been a weird and wonderful time. As most of you know, the French word for “memories” is “souvenirs.” These little drawings will help to spark my memories in ways that no mass-produced “souvenirs” could ever do.

“Au revoir, Paris.” It doesn’t really mean “good-bye”—it’s more like “Farewell, until we meet again.” I am pretty sure I will be back again before too long.

 

Montmartre sketch

Pont St Michel Bridge sketch

Notre Dame de Paris sketch

© 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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People do some crazy things when they travel to ensure good luck. Art in a museum is untouchable and there are guards and surveillance systems to make sure that you do not get too close to it. When art, particularly statues, is in a public place, however, people choose to rub various parts of the artwork, which is particularly noticeable with bronze statues.

Last week I came across two examples of this “touchable” art while wandering the back streets of Montmartre. The first one is a tribute to the work of French author Marcel Aymé, a short story called Le Passe-Muraille (The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls). I read a synopsis of the short story and essentially a man gained the ability to pass through wall, but eventually this ability began to fade and he got stuck forever in the wall. The statue is pretty high up from the ground, so it appears that people have chosen to rub his now shiny left hand.

The second piece of “touchable” art is a bust dedicated to French music icon Dalida. Dalida, whose real name was Yolanda Cristina Gigliotti, was a French singer and actress, born in Egypt to Italian parents, according to Wikipedia. She won the Miss Egypt beauty contest in 1954 and began a 31-year singing career in 1956, selling 170 million albums and singles worldwide, and died by suicide in 1987.

It is obvious from the shiny areas of the Dalida statue which parts of her anatomy people choose to touch.

touchable art

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This simple image of a curvy road in Montmartre captures well my experiences during this extended stay in Paris. I’ve spent endless hours walking the narrow cobblestone streets, marveling at the architecture, and paying attentions to shapes and colors. I’ve played tourist from time, but the famous landmarks have been of almost secondary significance to me, like the Sacre Coeur Basilica that is tucked away in one corner of this shot.

Sacre Coeur is there, I am aware of it, but I would rather spend my time wandering around the surrounding area than merely taking a shot of it and then moving on to the next destination on a checklist list. Who needs a list?

Road in Montmartre

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the view of Paris from the steps of the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmartre and have tried repeatedly, with varying degrees of success, to capture panoramic images with both my Canon DSLR and my iPhone 11.  One lesson that I have learned from this experience is that it is hard to judge how they will turn out when I am actually shooting them.

I was pleasantly surprised when reviewing yesterday’s images to see that I had captured some flying pigeons as I panned across the sky with my iPhone The placement of the birds was lucky too, given that the left part of the sky did not have the orange tinge present on the right side of the image.

panorama from Montmartre

© 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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Yesterday I went on a three hour sketching tour, which turned out to be awesome once I got over some initial inhibitions over doing art in the public eye. Our instructor/guide, who is a young professor of art in the University of Paris, led us on a mini tour of Montmartre, sharing liberally fascinating tidbits of information on the history of this area of Paris and its role for the artistic movements in Paris. Along the way, he also shared his personal history as an artist and his own views on art.

Before we began, he issued us a collapsible stool, a sketchbook, and a little pouch of materials. At preselected points along the way, we stopped, opened the stools (sometimes literally in the middle of a sidewalk) and had a specific, timed assignment. There were only three of us in our little class, so we got plenty of attention as we sketched, though Romain’s comments were mostly in the nature of gentle questions.

Our first assignment began when we stopped in front of a beautiful pink house, known as La Maison Rose. This building, which was probably built in the 1850’s has a fascinating history and was immortalized by several painters. If you are interested in the history of the house, here is a link to a really engaging article on the blog at parisnicevacations.net that initially appeared in French in Montmartre-Addict. Of note, there is a very interesting connection with Picasso and one of his former models.

As the clocked ticked down inexorably, the blank page challenged me, defying me to create something with my hands, my mind, and my three graphite pencils of different hardnesses. Romain, our instructor, emphasize the importance of the first line, the line that would set the parameters for the entire sketch. I wish I could describe for you what was going on in my head as I worked on this first sketch, but it passed in a blur. I know that people passed and watched us, but I was so focused on my work that I paid them no attention.

We had 20 minutes for the sketch, if I recall correctly, which sounds like a lot of time, but it was so easy to get distracted in the details of the building. The second photo below shows the results of our initial sketches. Can you guess which one is mine?  While we were sketching La Maison Rose, Romain watched us and even did his own little sketch of us sketching. It’s not hard to pick me out in that sketch, shown in the third photo below, considering that I was the only guy in the group of budding artists.

We did some other exercises, including sketching in pen, and I might do another posting about that. I was pretty energized by the experience and as the evening wore down, decided to try a more deliberate sketch of La Maison Rose, using my photo as reference material, and the result is shown in the final photo. The lines are a little wonky and I didn’t really leave enough white space on the page for the building to breathe, but I like it a bit better than my initial sketch en plein ail, though I must confess that I spent more time on it, used an eraser more, and was a little tired when I completed it at 2:00 in the morning.

In case you wondered, my initial sketch was in the sketchbook on the left. My German colleague, whose sketch book was in the middle, seemed to be the most experienced of the three of us and has a somewhat more refined style. My Australian colleague, who was originally from South Africa, tended to sketch more lightly and delicately, and it’s a little hard to see her work in the photo. We really were not in competition, so it was easy to share our results with each other. What amazed me the most, perhaps, is that throughout the entire class, our basic “styles” and approaches did not change much.

My sketches tended to be darker, bolder, and a bit chunky than the others—I think I am ok with that, though I obviously do need to a lot of work on actual drawing techniques. I have signed up for a shorter sketching tour with Romain on this coming Sunday that begins outside of Notre Dame and I hope to get in a little practice before then.

La Maison Rose in Monmartre

Sketching in Montmartre

Sketching in Montmartre

Sketching in Montmartre

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This may sound a little crazy, but I sometimes forget that I can take photographs with my brand new iPhone 11. Let me explain. For most of my working years, I worked in buildings in which cellphones were not permitted, so I never got used to having one with me all of the time. I used (and use) a landline telephone as my primary means of communication, relying on an answering machine if I was not there.

Eventually I did get a cellphone, but it was a cheap Android phone and I used TracFone as my provider. It is a pay-as-you go system and I would buy minutes annually. Being somewhat frugal, I would turn on the phone when I wanted to use it and then turn it off. The phone was for my convenience. The only exceptions I made were when I was taking photos in really remote locations or when traveling in the USA.

Recently I decided to dive deeper into the Apple ecosystem (I am writing this on a MacBook Pro) and purchased my iPhone and a T-Mobile plan that gives me unlimited talk, text, and data. More importantly, it allows me to text and use data in many foreign countries without additional charges, which has proven to be quite handy here in Paris.

So why don’t I use it to take photos? Well, first of all, I have to remember to take it with me when I go out. Twice already this trip, I left the apartment without my phone and only realized it much later. Unlike many people, I felt absolutely no sense of panic when I realized that I was separated from my phone nor any obsessive compulsion to return to the apartment and reunite with my iPhone.

More importantly, I find the position for taking photos with a smart phone to be somewhat unnatural—there is something comfortable and secure about putting my eye to a viewfinder rather than holding my arms out in front of me. One of the consequences of my cataract surgery a few years ago is that I no longer need glasses most of the time. My distance vision is now 20/20. After a lifetime of being significantly near-sighted, I am now slightly far-sighted, and it just happens that the distance at which I hold my iPhone is one at which my vision is not quite sharp without reading glasses. (My DSLRs have diopter adjustments, which lets me see thought the viewfinder perfectly, although I sometimes have issues seeing sharp details on the LCD screen on the back of the camera.)

Here are a couple of shots that I took on Sunday with my iPhone. I took the first shot from the steps of Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmartre and the second shot later in the evening from a bridge over the Seine River. I am impressed by the details, the color, and the quality of the images.

Change is hard, but maybe it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks.

Paris panorama

Seine River at night

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Although I have posted a number of “artsy” shots recently, periodically I slip into the role of a tourist to capture images of well-know Parisian landmarks. Yesterday during a few brief moments of sunshine, I photographed Sacré Cœur Basilica at the top of the hill in Montmartre.

I have taken a lot of photos of Sacré Cœur during this trip, but they have all been gray and gloomy and so I have not posted them. One other thing I noticed was that the perspective was always somewhat skewed in earlier images, because I was forced to shoot so severely upwards. Yesterday I decided to walk down several levels and shoot from “ground level” rather than from one of the upper levels that provides such a nice panoramic view of the city.

During one of my visits to Sacré Cœur earlier this trip, I went inside the basilica and took a few interior shots. The first one here shows a painting just above the central altar area. The final shot shows one of the many stained glass panels that I saw. When I am inside a church, I tend to limit my movements and adopt a reverent attitude, so I generally don’t get a lot of interior shots.

Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur Paris

Sacre Coeur Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Montmartre is the small hill with the highest point in Paris where the stunningly white Sacré-Cœur basilica is located. Previously I have posted panoramic views of the city that I took from the stairs of Sacré-Cœur.

How do you get there? There is a little funicular train that will take you up the hill, but I have always elected to walk. Multiple sets of stairs approach the summit from different directions and I have climbed up a lot of different ones. Some of them are decorated with colorful patterns, but all are steep and long.

Montmartre has become one of my favorite locations to visit and I think I have walked there every other day on average. Here are images of a few of the sets of steps that I have successfully encounterd over that period of time.

stairs to Montmartre

Stairs to Montmartre

stairs to 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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I got up early yesterday morning, hoping to get some photos of the sun rising over Paris from the steps of the Sacre Coeur Basilica, the highest point in Paris. Unfortunately it rained on me the entire walk there and while I was there. The sun did not cooperate and it is tough to take photos in limited light when it is windy and rainy.

I hope to try again when the weather is better. In the meantime, here is a composite panoramic shot that I took earlier in the week that gives you an idea of the view from that spot. I am curious to see how WordPress handles a panorama shot and encourage you to click on the image to see some of the amazing details.

I took a series of eight shots and stitched them together with the Photo Merge feature of Photoshop. Only later did I come to realize that I might had been able to achieve a similar feature with my new iPhone, but I am still so unaccustomed to it that I have not even used the phone (or camera in it) in several days.

It was a bit cloudy and dark the day that I took these photos and it is a bit hard to pick out landmarks. One of the most notable landmarks, the Eiffel Tower, is not visible in the image—it is off to the far right, hidden by the trees. As I was walking away, I caught a glimpse of the tower and by climbing on a wall and leaning against a railing, I was able to capture the second image below. You can definitely see how much the structure towers over the surrounding buildings (pun intended).

Panorama of Paris

Eiffel Tower

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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