Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Those Who Teach, Also Do!

This is a gouache study of a pear that I did as a demo for a student today. It's a well-known phenomenon among art teacher friends of mine that some of our best, freshest little paintings happen in the context of explaining a technique to someone else. It's like being put in the position of "expert" gives us confidence, and sets up a self-fulfilling expectation that what we produce will be "good."

Which makes me think of a New York Times article I just read about sibling order, and the role it plays in IQ tests. Researchers believe that first-born children score higher on IQ tests because they have had to teach the younger ones, thus increasing their own intellectual "maturity." Hmm. Of course articles like this instantly make you wonder about your IQ, and how it's been affected. Well, let's see. For my first ten years I was the youngest, then my mother had more babies and I became the middle child (sort of). Then my older sister went off to school and I became the de facto oldest (which I still feel like with certain of my siblings, although around my older sister I always feel like the youngest). To complicate matters, I was the one who left home (youngest=rebel) but I am also the one who tries to make everyone happy and laughing - at least sometimes (middle=peacemaker/clown) and I am also the one who tries to control/organize everything in some situations (oldest=bossy/leader). And, if that weren't enough, I also play the role of husband/know-it-all with my mother.

So I guess in terms of IQ, all that makes idiot savant??? Or just another candidate for therapy?

(Sorry to get so off-topic - this was supposed to be a post about teaching and art - and look what happened!)

(Oh, and in case you're wondering, gouache is opaque watercolor.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Rainy With A Chance of Rain

That about sums it up these days. June has been a veritable soggy biscuit of a month. Not that I don't like soggy biscuits; I mean, they're good with tea and all. It's just that I thought we'd have a little summer weather coming our way by now. April was so full of sunshine and hope! (Perhaps that is why it is called the cruelest month?)

It has been fascinating, however, to watch the everchanging cloud formations from my window. You really don't know what's going to happen from one moment to the next. Like in a suspense novel. Or life itself.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Happy Birthday to Me

That's right. Forty-four years on the planet and it is staggering how much I still don't know. Forget about understanding things like the theory of relativity - I'm still figuring out how to use the remote control for the DVD player. As for world affairs, history, and politics - I do read things and can spout some facts, but basically what I don't know could fill several libraries. If ignorance is bliss, then I'm on Cloud Nine.

Of course, I had much higher hopes for myself (and the planet) as a kid. Growing up, I remember conversations with other children about how exciting it would be to live in the 21st century. We imagined riding around in spaceships, eating blue food, and wearing colorful skintight outfits with large pointy collars (our image of the future was undoubtedly tainted by watching The Jetsons and Star Trek). World problems like war, poverty, and hunger would all be solved - miraculously - by technology. The future would be clean, friendly, and gleaming, with everything we wanted at our fingertips (kind of like Google headquarters). It didn't ever once occur to us that what we were longing for, was in fact, Utopia, and Utopia does not, and will never, exist.

Whoops - didn't mean to get so morose on you! I think I'll go suck on some helium now.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Just Another Champagne Weekend

Spending the weekend in Champagne - heck, why not, it's only an hour from Paris by train and I have nothing better to do. Tomorrow we're going on a big "gastronomic walk" through the vineyards with about 1000 other people (mostly Belgians, I heard).

World's Most Dangerous Intersection

I know it looks innocent, but there are four - count 'em, four - blind corners here. I honestly feel safer crossing the street in Paris than I do here in Avize. Strange, huh? The lack of sidewalks doesn't help - but of course these villages were built in the time before cars, and certainly before big champagne trucks needed to get through. Kind of ruins the whole "peaceful country village" vibe I try to achieve while being here, but oh well, I guess I'll just have to "deal." C'est la vie, c'est la voiture.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sunlight on the Vines

'Nuf said.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Color Field Painting?

There's that red again, breaking up the monotony of green. If this was a painting, it wouldn't seem believeable. But I swear I didn't doctor this photo.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Look at that S Car Go!

There are times in my life when I feel I'm not progressing as rapidly as I would like. Think how this little guy must feel!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Kitsch's Last Stand

You thought I was kidding about the kitsch part? Check out this crocheted poodle bottle cover with pom poms - now you can't find that at Pottery Barn! Even I, with my hard-hearted clutter-clear "everything must go" mentality, couldn't bring myself to throw away this completely useless, ridiculous - absurde! - but still loveable piece of junk.

Clutter Clear in Champagne

Among the more satisfying activities of my week here has been a brief stint of clutter-clearing for one of the local elderly residents (aka my boyfriend's grandmother). So far, she has allowed me to toss various and sundry junk, including but not limited to: dried flowers, old magazines, expired coupons, empty boxes, past-dated prescription drugs, melted-down candles, shriveled garlic bulbs, and some truly horrifying objects in the knick-knack category that go beyond the pale of kitsch. The rule is: Every object in a home should have either an affective or practical value - otherwise, it goes in the trash (or given away, recycled, whatever). If there is hesitation about throwing something away (which there often is, especially when the something is a half-full bottle of cologne, for example), I simply cry "Past its expiration date!" and that usually does the trick.

The Quaint Village of Avize

When I was growing up, I thought towns like this only existed in Playmobile toy sets, or old medieval fairy tales. And indeed, you can feel that life goes on here pretty much as it has since the 1700s - with the addition of paved roads and Japanese tourists, of course.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Close-Up of Poppies

Wow! I'll put that in my pipe and smoke it! (um, I mean...)

Poppies, Poppies...

I admit, it, I'm one of those annoying people who can't see a poppy field without saying "Poppies, poppies," in the voice of the Wicked Witch of the West. But these poppies really did knock my socks off. They were everywhere, and in my favorite color - cadmium red. Seeing the splashes of red against the green vineyards reminds of what my art teacher Lulu Stanley always said about painting landscapes: "Make sure to put some red in it to break up the green." Even if you don't see the red in a landscape, put it in, because otherwise all that green just feels monotonous and suffocating. Luckily in this landscape the magic "red trick" has already been done. And just looking at this photo makes me want to paint!

La Route de Champagne

The great thing about not having a car (and not wanting to spend money to rent one) is that you have to use your feet. Lucky for me the weather has been permitting and these roads do have some soft shoulders to scamper onto when a car is coming - or should I say, barreling towards you (usually clocking about 150+ km/hr, in these parts). My "regular" walk is now from Avize to Le Mesnil sur Oger, and back, which takes about an hour and includes all sorts of wonderful vistas on the way. I have yet to see another walker (except the hapless houseguests I drag on these walks with me), but then again, most local people are toiling in the fields or in the champagne houses. They're too busy to take walks, and anyway, the countryside is nothing new to them. And most of the tourists I've seen this week are being shuttled around in giant buses and probably couldn't break from the group if they wanted to.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Last One, I Promise!

You can tell how I spent my afternoon...chasing shadows and light with the camera. I kept thinking I'd sit down and paint, but I was greedy, and wanted to grab as many images as possible before the light changed. Deciding whether to shoot or to paint is a constant dilemma for me, because I love and need both, but I always feel like I'm somehow shortchanging one by choosing the other. (Yeah, I know, real bummer, man!)

Dollhouse in the Afternoon

There's that afternoon light again. If only I could bottle it and sell it!

Another View, From Another Window

And downstairs, in the afternoon, the light comes in and creates shadows and colors that are as magic as they are fleeting...

View From My Window

This is what I've been waking up to every day - along with fresh air and birdsong. Beyond the tall tree are the vineyards, and beyond those, the forest. I know I'm a city girl, but I think I could get used to this life (provided there were some good cable channels).

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

My Glamourous Week in Champagne

OK, so sue me. This week I got lucky and landed a housesitting gig in the heart of Champagne country, in Avize, a little town on the trail of the Blancs des Blancs - a term which I don't completely understand but which has something to do with Chardonnay grapes grown in the local chalky soil. I can't post photos from here so I'll just describe it for you: Imagine vines growing on gently sloping hills, old stone houses on narrow streets, and a church with a bell tower (yes, the bells ring every hour and quarter hour) that dates back to Roman times. Whew. The history is interesting but what I am more interested in is the wonderful (awesome!) fact that there are more birds than cars, more trees than people, and all the green my eyes can handle - so much green it's almost obscene, broken only by bold red poppies and rose bushes planted at intervals among the vineyards.

I would write more but it's time to throw some hors d'oeuvres together - guests are coming from Paris to share in my Champagne experience. Stay tuned!