Still Life Photography

I have been experimenting with photography this week, and taking an on-line course on food photography. I own a nice Nikon digital camera which I generally have used as a point and shoot, set to automatic. In my class I am finding out how to manipulate the f-stop, ISO and shutter speed to achieve some dynamic effects.

With a low f-stop, one can create images with a shallow depth of field, a focal point and light, slightly out of focus backgrounds.

The more dramatic moody effects are a matter of dark backgrounds and objects, a higher f- stop and a single indirect light source. A higher ISO gives a little graininess to the photo, which I like.

I still find it difficult to fiddle with all the settings to achieve some predictable effect, but the effort is enjoyable and it’s possible that after all this time of being entirely baffled by photographic techniques, I could actually learn something about photography.

Summer in Paris

Picnic on the banks of the Seine

Last week we spent a little time in Paris, visiting family. The city has almost 18 million international visitors every year, so obviously its attractions are legend. Summertime, like all the time, offers charming sights and activities. Here’s a random list of some of my favorite Parisian pleasures.

Place des Victoires

Without doubt, my favorite activity in Paris is simply to walk through the city, enjoying its architecture and history.

Cafe Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole

There is no place I’ve visited that has as lively an outdoor cafe scene as France, and Paris must have the most and probably the best choices of places to sit outdoors, watching the world go by.

Jardin de Luxembourg

Paris has more than 400 gardens where one can sit to relax on a warm summer afternoon.

L’Orangerie

Museums are obviously a marvelous activity while visiting Paris. There are 130 to chose from. Monet’s water lilies are among my favorite paintings to revisit.

Fromagerie, rue Cler

Buying fresh food at the many markets and specialty boutiques in Paris is a pleasure that even the tourist should not miss. The Rue Cler is a pedestrian street, several blocks long, of every kind of food shop one can imagine.

Grande Mosquée de Paris

Paris restaurants are a subject that takes up a lot of ink. In general I find discovering new places to eat preferable to visiting ones I already know, but I make an exception with the Grand Mosque. I go there not for the food per se, but to feast my eyes on the extravagant decor.

Faubourg Saint-Antoine

Discovering the hidden corners of Paris is a gratifying activity while in town. There are so many books, blog posts and websites devoted to the less well-known neighborhoods that it makes quick work identifying a new quarter to explore and enjoy.

Shakespeare and Company Bookshop in Paris

There are several English language bookshops in Paris. The most venerable, Shakespeare and Company is a place you can hang out in for hours. It’s no problem to just plop down somewhere and read one of the books from the shelves.

Watching the river flow from the quai, as seen from a Batobus

The Batobus is basically a river taxi. It is a pleasant and leisurely way to get from one historical Parisian monument to the next.

Follow the links in red for more information.

Using Plant Prints

Wall hanging quilted with a traditional Sashiko stitch design

Printing with plants is a magical process and it can get quite addictive. Over the course of a few years I have used a lot of fabric and paper to imprint plants. I have a large stack of both. I like to be able to put these prints to some kind of practical use. Some eco-dyers make clothing with the fabric they dye, but I tend to prefer to make wall hangings.

With a stack of my recent mordant experiments, I recently made an accordion book which I can use as a resource to remember effects I have gotten from various plants.

It is a small object d’art in its own right.

One of my favorite plants to print is bergamot (also known as bee balm), which is an invasive volunteer in our garden. It has literally taken over several of our beds. Of course it is also an edible plant, from the mint family, and, as its name suggests, a supporter of bees and butterflies. It produces my favorite images, so I guess it goes to show that sometimes nature knows better what to offer the garden than the horticulturist herself.

Hello Summer!

View from our upstairs window, a swallow swooping past

This week our hemisphere tilted its maximum towards the sun. We had our longest day, which in our part of the world means that it is light from 5AM until close to midnight. From now we move inexorably towards winter again…but in the meantime, the long, languid days bring that sense of well-being that comes with the various bird songs I hear outside my window as I write this, the warm weather and all the happy travelers who come to our door.

Painting the front doors of the Maison Conti

We have had five Japanese artists staying with us this week. They have been a sensation in our town, as they seem quite exotic and attractive to the locals. The artists have been traveling around France with their painting supplies and portable stools, making many watercolor sketches. Their routine is rigorous. They were off right after breakfast, took only a short lunch break and worked again all afternoon. They made paintings in every corner of the village.

Left: California Poppy. Right: Canterbury Bells

My time in the atelier is somewhat curtailed during our busiest months, but I did manage to collect some garden flowers and eco-dye them onto paper.

View from the back window, village cat resting on the castle wall

Summer always brings a renewed interest in cooking, and dare I say, in eating. We have so many fresh ingredients and our wonderful window herb garden gets used at practically every evening meal.

Moon rising over the village

A nice bonus to this first week of summer was a full moon.

Wall Hanging

After several months, I finally finished my silk wall hanging, which I first stitched together last winter. I had bought some backing and some silk thread but did not get around to actually putting it all together until this week. I had thought I would do much more needle work on top of the ecodyed silk rectangles, but in the end, it seemed unnecessary. I quilted it very simply and put a blanket stitch around the perimeter and that seemed enough. The fabric is so beautiful, soft and shiny, that in this case, less seemed more.

I’m happy with the way it hangs in our entry.

I am ecodyeing our local plants as they come into bloom. Here is a poppy dyed onto paper.

Collage Fun

My friend Nelly came to visit this weekend, bringing with her a plastic baggie filled with letters and partial words she had cut out of magazines over years. She herself is an excellent designer and loves type faces so her challenge to me, to put some of them together, was a bit intimidating. We spent a day in the atelier playing around. She was working with circles, so they began to creep into my type design. This is what I came up with. She asked me if I was going to put my results up on my blog and I said “No…well, maybe.” So this one is especially for Nelly.

Projects from the Garden

When spring arrives, trees leaf out, flowers come into bloom and more possibilities present themselves for work in the atelier. I am happy that nature, the garden and the studio are intertwined. I appreciate the seasonality of my projects. This week I finished sewing together squares of leaf prints, cyanotypes on cotton. They were created in April, mostly from our little Japanese maple tree. I wasn’t 100% satisfied with the results, but it shows me a path that can easily lead to other more successful creations.

It’s the time of year when our peony gives us a profusion of huge red flowers. We had several large bouquets around the house last week. Once the blossoms began dropping their petals, I eco-dyed one of them onto paper and got a very lovely print.

Gathering (and printing) plants

We have had some Australian artist friends/clients staying with us during the last week. They have been coming every two years since we first opened the Maison Conti in 2008. Wendy is a very clever illustrator, who has made some wonderful etchings over the years in our atelier. Margot encourages, critiques and runs the press for Wendy’s creations. They make a good team. We always have a lot of fun with them when they come.

On one of the days of their stay we took them on a tour of the Perche, which they had never visited. It was a glorious day with extravagant spring flowers and green fields of many shades to delight the eyes.

Such outings always give me itchy fingers, and I couldn’t help myself from collecting a few leaves and flowers along the way to bring back home to my eco-dyeing station. I was happy with my results. The color that is extracted from the plants is often such a surprise. A deep purple tulip I gathered from our own garden turned turquoise blue and a bright yellow and orange gaillardia made a deep blue impression.

We had a happy week in and out of the atelier.

Wendy and Margot admiring a typical French country shop.

May Flowers

Inspired by the season and the garden, I’m back to etching. We have an entire wall of pink clematis in extravagant bloom at the moment, as well as a lavendar wisteria which covers the front of the house. Yellow roses are in bloom and the climbing roses are budded up and waiting for their moment. Peonys and Iris’ punctuate their corners of the landscape.

After enjoying an enormous bouquet of soft violet colored lilacs in our entry, as the blooms began to fade, this branch was eco-dyed and gave a soft blue shade

May has brought some rain, wind and cold, following a glorious and sunny April.