A Sense of Place

Brush made from pine needles

When we decided to spend several months by the sea in Dinard, I had only one hesitation, and that was giving up my atelier, where I am used to spending most of my days. Our apartment in Dinard is small and is also carpeted and furnished with antiques, neither of which are paint and mess friendly. Doing some kind of art project is important to my well-being, and I was not at all confident that it would be easy for me to find a good artistic rhythm here, although if any environment is going to inspire me, it ought to be this one. I realized immediately that I would have to restrict my art materials and the size of my products. I decided to bring mostly pencils, pens and watercolors.

There is a desk in the dining room under a window with a lovely view, facing St. Malo. It has a leather top, which we have covered with a sheet of plastic so if I spill some water or my watercolor paints drip, no harm is done.

Soon after arriving, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to create a project that would express the unusual place we are living, and comprehensively, through the months, express my experiences here. I wanted to call it A Sense of Place, which is the title of a book in my library that deals with travel writing. I realized that if I made my artistic products all the same size, I could in the end, put them together in a cohesive way, perhaps a book for each month. I chose a rather small format (12 X 16 cm) and began to create pages. I was able to bring some cyanotype supplies and my eco-dyeing kit. I began in October by gathering all the various forms of seaweed I noticed on the beach. I dried it and then made a cyanotype print of each one, that I blanket stitched onto a piece of felt. They became pages in my first book, which I put together at the end of the first month we were here. It also included photos, some watercolors, fabric dyed with pine cones collected from the back yard and even a piece of cloth which was “painted” with soil from our garden. With Rick’s help, I made a kind of folio to contain all the individual “pages.” The paper I used for my outside cover is the bag from the Aigle boots I bought in St. Malo for walking on the beach. The inside cover is a tourist map of Dinard. I wanted all the elements to be from this place.

I was happy with this idea, although I have to work to make each month different from the last and to reflect some aspect of what we are doing during that time. In November I decided to try to use elements collected from our environment for “mark-making,” the concept of exploring and focusing on the actual marks an artist makes, rather than what those marks are meant to represent. I started by taking a pine twig found on the ground outdoors, whittling the tip to make a point and then dipping it into ink. I also made a brush out of pine needles (pictured at the top of this post).

The last was a brush created from gull feathers. It made a pretty one, but I wasn’t too enamored with the marks it made. It was a bit difficult to control.

I also looked on ebay.fr for some old postcards that I could include. I bought several. The one pictured below, from 1900 (just six years before the house we are staying in was built), was the most exciting. I was attracted by the little drawing of St. Enogat, but when it arrived in the mail a week later, I was amazed to see that the woman who wrote it was staying, presumably, at Les Herbiers, which she has indicated on the drawing. That is exactly next door to where we are.

I finished up the folio for November using a marine map of our location and filled it with photos, drawings, artifacts and cyanotypes.

The nice thing about the format is that it allows for many different kinds of images.

The idea is to have a whole coordinated series of “books” which can contain very nice memories of our time here.

I have always wanted to keep a nature journal, so I am trying to do that as well. There’s a wonderful on-line free class offered by a scientist/artist named John Muir Laws, from the San Francisco Bay Area, who gives weekly video lessons/ideas about keeping such a book. I can highly recommend it, suitable for children and adults.

5 thoughts on “A Sense of Place

  1. Waouh ! It is wonderful and amazing work really. To be frank, I wonder about your drawing and painting work in Dinard. I thought you couldnt bring all your stuff and you could miss it. But a good worker never go without his tools ! or like you he makes new ones. Funny, I am in the same trip of making some little books with previous writings. I wish I cd illustrate them like you. You practice the “Hic and Nunc” very well.

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  2. The Artist as Traveler is alive and amazing in Dinard!
    Congratulations on the great balancing act
    of formal continuity and endless variety!
    Also, choosing to do what you love,
    rather than letting the “shoulds” drown your unique voice.

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  3. Soil, twigs, feather brushes…I can see some Norman woman, 1,000 years ago, exploring similar art forms.

    BTW, if you run into anyone who might be interested in a house trade near Santa Cruz, would you please let me know. We’ve house traded in Cinque Terre and Rome and it worked out quite well. Thx.

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