We’ve been living in the Gers region of France now for over a year and I thought I should post some of the work I’ve done. As I’ve written in the past (here and here), the landscapes here are wonderful for plein air painting, and the sort of subjects that I’ve looked for for years.
It’s a very open landscape. Apparently there used to be many more vineyards but they were pulled out in the 20th-century to make more fields for sunflowers and wheat. I’ve always much preferred the later two as subject matter, but if we need vineyards there are still some nearby, and there a lot further north and west where there are more grapes grown for the Armagnac.
The Gers is also wonderfully free of olive trees, as I developed a terrible allergy to olive pollen in Tuscany which ruined the painting season for me from late April to June. The last couple of years in Florence I was reduced to painting still lifes in the Spring as it got so bad (no offense to still life painters). I also developed an allergy to cypress trees, and thankfully there are far less of them here as well.
With all that said, because of the drier summers we’re having in Southwestern France due to climate change, there is talk of farmers starting to plant more olive trees and I’ve seen a couple of new fields of them.
Camille Corot’s painting from 1826 of the Augustinian Bridge at Narni in southern Umbria had a profound effect on me when I was starting out as a landscape painter and I especially loved the subtle blue reflection of the sky in the mustard colored water of the Nera river. For this reason I was very happy to discover that the three major rivers that run down from the Pyrenees and head north past us to the Garonne all regularly have the same ocher water from the clay in the soil.
We settled in the village of Jegun. It’s a charming, vibrant village with lovely inhabitants. It’s also pretty but not too pretty. After 20 years in the center of Florence I was interested in living somewhere where tourism took a back seat to the lives of the locals.
Nearby we have a wealth of picturesque subject matter, including the very beautiful departmental capital of Auch which is only 20 minutes away, as well as agricultural scenes and the rolling hills of Gascony.
It’s been a wonderful first year and we look forward for many more to come.
We were back in the Algarve painting landscapes this October. Here are a few of the images. As before, we were based in the small town of Praia da Luz, outside of Lagos. And, as before, we had great weather and were constantly inspired by the beauty of the area.
We painted the rock formations around Lagos a lot as it’s a subject that I find both new and inspiring. Much of the coast in the Algarve faces south, so one has a choice of the various light effects all day long. It’s also easier for working en plein air as there is usually less wind than on the western coast.
That said, we did head over to the western beaches a couple of times:
And we painted a lot around Praia da Luz, where we were staying. I’ve always loved painting palm trees.
At the end of our trip we drove up to Porto Covo, on the Alentejano coast. It’s also a very beautiful area, less dramatic than further south, but with the authenticity we like so much in this region.
Overall it was a great trip. September and October can be two of the harder months for landscape painting in Europe as the colors go very brown in the countryside. The fields are tilled and left, and the rains start again. The coast of Portugal is a great area for painting in this time of year as it’s still often very warm and dry, and the light is as beautiful as always. I highly recommend it.
We recently returned from a couple of weeks of painting in the Algarve region of Portugal. It’s a stunning area, with fascinating geological elements all along the southern coast. Here are some of the paintings:
At the same time, the western coast has a wildness and a grandeur to it that feels a lot like the best parts of the California Central Coast.
We were staying just west of Lagos, but we painted around the town a bunch of times as well. It was especially great to be outside as we’ve been in lockdown more or less since September. This was our first foray out to paint plein air landscapes in months.
I’ve uploaded a video on my winter gear for plein air painting in snow. I realize it’s a bit late for the season, but now is a good time to buy winter clothes on sale. My apologies for the poor video quality, but it was filmed quickly on my phone after we returned from painting in Vermont last winter.
This is an update from my previous post on painting in extreme cold. The two major improvements I’ve made are switching to yak wool, as it’s warmer than merino, and getting a waterproof down jacket. In the video, I mention my strategy for layering a thin waterproof shell over an insulation layer and I think this strategy is great for a number of reasons, a couple of which I forgot to mention:
You can get better quality gear by purchasing the layers separately.
You can quickly dry the gear out if it gets wet by separating the layers.
You can use the shells in other seasons for painting in rain, and you can use the insulation alone if there is no wind or precipitation.
That said, I think that the jacket is the only place where separating the shell and the insulation is a bad idea as it restricts mobility too much. I was using a Jottnar Fjorm jacket before and when I had to put a shell on it for freezing rain or snow I lost too much dexterity in my arms. I’ve since switched to a waterproof Crux ‘expedition’ jacket and it works much better. I barely feel it when I’m painting, and it’s fantastically warm.
2022 update: Don’t buy Crux. My new one leaks badly in the rain and they don’t reply to emails regarding their warranty.
Here are links to the manufacturers in the video: Overshoes. Cabelas Trans Alaska boots: (I use the Harkila Inuit. They stopped making them, but you can find them on Ebay). Khunu: Yak wool socks and sweater. Kora: Yak wool long underwear. Arc’teryx: Pants and gloves, both insulated layer and shell. Atom is their line of insulation, for the shell I get whatever is lightest. Goosefeet Gear: Down Hibbard mitten. You have to write to him, but he can make anything for you. Mountain Equipment Concordia Fleece (Polartec Thermal Pro is the heavy fleece fabric). Crux: Waterproof down jackets, I have the Magma. Rapha: Deep Winter Collar (balaclava). Millet: Primaloft hat.
My wife and I will be having an exhibition in Château de la Treyne on the Dordogne river, in the Lot region of France this coming July.
All of the small paintings were painted on site last summer, when we had an opening in the lockdowns here in Europe. The larger paintings were painted in the studio this winter, either finished from plein air starts, or enlarged from sketches done in the field.
It’s a stunningly beautiful area, and this is the second summer we have spent painting there. We are normally based near Domme, as we work with the V&A Gallery in Sarlat-la-Canéda, but for this trip we worked much more to the east, to try to paint areas closer to the Chateau.
The castle itself is a spectacular property and we received a very warm welcome from the wonderful owners.
One thing I really love about the Dordogne is how clean the water is. The areas where we were painting were full of water crowfoot, with bees pollinating the flowers that sit just out of the water. And it’s great to see such a large river so teeming with fish and frogs.
Above are all the larger pieces fresh from the studio. Below are all of the smaller, plein air work from the summer. The first group are the ones I used as reference for the studio paintings.