A blaze of juicy colors at Les Folies Bergère in Paris

SBS Juicy ColorsI am teaching a klass at Sketchbook Skool, a really great online drawing University with a Fakulty of outstanding teachers, I’m really proud to be part of. There is also a huge crowd of amazing students who produces an never ending flow of great pieces of art, even among beginners. I love it so much that I am also following the Bootcamp track just for the sake of it, with 3 quick demos and homeworks a week.

But let’s be honest, sometimes there are assignments you feel less inspired by. That was what I thought, looking at the Juicy colors demo from Koosje Koene. Not that I did not like it. On the contrary, I was fascinated by the vibrant process and its colorful result. No, I think it came right back from my childhood. As a matter in fact, I am not comfortable doing large color spots on a sheet of paper. It reminds me of awful times at primary school where my teacher used to yell at me each time I was doing an ink blot (I can even recall the smell of this wonderful purple ink) in my school notebook.
Plus I’m a kind of guy who loves to be in control of his drawing and therefore don’t feel comfortable with blots or colors deciding by themselves of their destiny. And last but not least, I wasn’t satisfied with my last so-so drawing on “making money” – though it was a very clever one brought by my friend Danny Gregory (also cofounder of Sketchbook Skool) – and I was afraid of having one more lousy drawing in my sketchbook.
But, by joining the kourse I made an initial commitment of tackling every assignment, whether I feel inspired or not, because I found out that, sometimes, wonderful things can pop up out of an assignment you don’t feel at ease with, simply because you’re pushed out of your comfort zone.
And finally, I also wanted to be sure ‘d’en avoir pour mon argent’ …I mean…get value for my money even though Bootkamp is a free lunch (Btw TINSTAAFL).

So I was ruminating for the past 48 hours on what I could draw for this assignment…until lunchtime yesterday.
I was having lunch with my wife, in what we call in French a ‘boui-boui’, a little shabby bar where to shelter illicit love. Oh Yes… I must add I have made up my mind long time ago to also select my wife as my mistress, mostly because I was said it was the best solution to avoid family affairs.
So we were having a clandestine rendezvous in that boui-boui to discuss private highly important matters, like scrutinizing our sons’ last marks at school in order to define our evening strategy… when… I suddenly I saw it !
My drawing assignment …
It was standing right in front of me…
The rain that was falling for the past 24 hours has suddenly stopped. The dark clouds parted to let a ray of light illuminate the facade of the building in front of me, a wonderfully refurbished theater with a pure Art deco architecture, les Folies Bergère.
I was contemplating with fever the central motif bathed in a golden sunlight.
There it was… my juicy SBS assignment, right in front of me in its vibrant blaze of joyful colors.
– “Jean-Christophe, Are You listening to me?” asked my wife.
Holy Ghost! Why do women always picked up the worst moment to ask embarrassing questions ?
I smiled and dishonestly answered ‘Yes!’
– “And what did I just asked you” she smirked ?
I smiled again, like a shameful naughty boy trapped with his hand in the jam pot.
– “Huuu…Yes… I mean Yes I agree with you. As always !”
-Oh No ! She answered. You’re still lost somewhere in one of your drawings. Anyway, we’ll finish this conversation later. Time for me to go! Next business appointment in 10mn ! Talk to you soon and give my Bonjour to your SBS friends, she growled !!!
She just left. Let’s be cynic and say the timing was a perfect one for me! I still had half an hour before my next meeting, far enough to tackle this delightful colored silhouette dancing amongst geometrical patterns. I pulled out my sketchbook and my Pelikan fountain pen. I draw feverishly for 30 mn, botched my afternoon appointments ‘en moins de temps qu’il ne faut pour le dire’ (in less time than it takes to say it) and rushed back home.
I then took my small Winsor & Newton watercolor, melted Aureoline, Yellow Cadmium and Carmine. I reminded having seen, long time ago, Ralph Steadman drawing in a TV documentary, swinging like a conductor in a Wagner Opera, sending blots on his sheet of paper.
So, I tried to mimic him, swinging violently huge sets of color blots for the next twenty minutes. I stopped only when my paper started to look like a psychedelic leopard fur….
…And so was my whole desk, the carpet of my living room and my white shirt. ☹
But I was happy to have ventured out of my comfort zone.

Clermont-Ferrand as seen by Parisianers

Clermont Basilique ND du PortFrance is a very centralized country, where people living in Paris (like me) have a strong tendency to think their town is the world center, when other places like Clermont-Ferrand are no more than a..holes of the world, filled with ‘culs terreux’ (I’m pretty sure you can get the meaning of this not-that-delightful french expression).

Actually, there is some truth beneath: you can’t really go to Clermont-Ferrand by chance. If you’re there, it’s probably because you came to strike a deal with Michelin,you work for Banque de France or more probably you’ve simply lost your way in the middle of nowhere.

Now you get one more reason to go there: attend the Carnet de Voyage yearly meet-up. And it’s a very good thing, because this place is not exactly filled with ‘ploucs’.
This is where our ancestors ‘Les Gaulois’ took their roots and it is aa area that deserved to be better known. It is delightfully nested below the old chain of French vulcanoes (Puys) and has incredible hidden treasures, like this wonderful Roman Basilica.

And, oh yes… surprisingly, they even have wifi in the hotels for posting.
Arrogant ? Who said Parisianers are arrogant ?

Sketching in Paris With Melanie Reim

JC Melanie Reim

It was 9:30 pm and i’ve just heard the little tinkling of an new incoming mail in my smartphone.

“Bonjour, Jean-Christophe,
I know that this is very late notice, I am going to be in Paris, arriving tomorrow afternoon. I wonder if you might be free to meet for a coffee late afternoon?
Melanie Reim”

At that time, all I knew about Melanie was that she will be teaching at Sketchbook Skool next month in the same Storytelling Klass than me, that both of us figured in Danny Gregory‘s book ‘An Illustrated Journey‘ and that I loved her drawings full of energy.
Oh yes, she also seemed to be sharing that simple philosophy that, as we say in french, ‘Les amis de mes amis sont mes amis’. (The friends of my friends are my friends).

This is how I came to meet with Melanie Reim on a bright sunny saturday afternoon in the Latin Quarter, one of the most (thousands) adorable areas in Paris. We just chatted, exchanged ideas, sipping altogether this delightful september afternoon up to the point where Melanie couldn’t resist to the charm of the lovely Place de l’Odeon.
She took her sketchbook out of her bag, quietly unscrewed the cap of her wonderful vintage Pelikan fountain pen and started to draw the surrounding atmosphere. I felt obliged to do the same but could hardly draw as I was fascinated by the magic of her vigorous lines taking shape on the paper. She has a wonderful style with rather angular lines: the facade of the Odeon theatre unveiled gradually as ever I had seen it previously, and people popped on her sheet of paper at speed light.

Unfortunately, storm clouds started to gather over the zinc roofs offering a wonderful shade of grey (not 50 but not far). A large first drop spotted on her sketchbook and we were forced to pack in emergency. Too bad she couldn’t finish what seemed to be a very promising sketch.

We quitted as if we’ve know each other for years.
Melanie is truly a wonderful artist and I can’t wait to see what her course will be.

Back from Norway

SK Norway 000-001Last August, I toured in Norway with my wife and 2 of my kids. Gorgeous country, impressive landscapes, wonderful people, great food…and a lot to draw. I tried a brand new sketchbook from Seawhite of Brighton which I liked a lot. 128 pages of a rather robust and polyvalent 130gsm paper. Not necessarily the most appropriate for big washes of watercolor, but suitable for almost every technique. SK Norway 000 ToolsAnd a nice A5 format which i can easily take in my satchel. SK Norway 000 Portrait



Sketchbook Skool, Danny Gregory’s new venture

SK000 DannyDanny Gregory is an outstanding author of internationally best-selling books on art and creativity (Everyday Matters, An Illustrated Life, An Illustrated Journey, etc). He is blogging and giving a lot of conference on Art and drawing and his illustrations have appeared in the New York Times and many other publications and books.
I felt really humbled when he invited me to publish some of my drawings in his latest publication on travel sketching, An Illustrated Journey and enjoyed the collaboration with him.
Now, creative Danny has launched a new online venture, Sketchbook Skool, an online course on creativity and illustrated journaling he created with Koosje Koene. If I remember well, I registered at this Skool the very day he announced it. And since then i have never regretted my $99 investment.

But Danny is not only a brilliant artist, he is also a wonderful story teller. He wrote an amazing post on this inner monkey voice in you head that always find good reasons to distract you from what you really want to achieve. I loved it. I loved it so much that I took the liberty to borrow his idea during this first Skool semester, and post along with my sketches, my dialogs with my monkey voice.

So, back home after a intensive day of work, I take a pen, read those few lines, and then start doodling ?

« But don’t worry about that now. It’s time to silence the voice.
Because it can be hushed. It can be beaten.

The secret is so easy, so simple, it took me ages to figure it out. I tried fighting back, debating, fresh approaches, corroborating opinions. But the answer, plain is simple, is to out-dumb it. To not look but just leap. To make not a plan but a move. To get the lead, or the ink, out. Now.

I pick up a pen and mindlessly start to draw. I don’t try to figure out what I’m drawing. I don’t consider the anatomy of the eyeball or the laws of light reflection or where the vanishing point should be. I don’t think about whether my proportions are off, or whether the subject is interesting, or whether my butt is falling asleep, or if the ink is soaking through the paper.
I am the whistling mule, head down, shoulder to the plow, just here to draw, ma’am, pushing the pen on and on. If the voice clambers out of its grotto and starts to harangue me, I switch to humming and I keep pushing that pen. And when the drawing is done, I don’t stop to look at it, I don’t evaluate it or make a few changes. I turn the page and I start the next one. I am not here to have drawn, I am here to be drawing.
And after a couple of pages, the voice has fallen silent. Given up because it is a bully and it can’t face defeat. Poor little ape. See you tomorrow. »

In the first lesson, Danny’s pushed the idea to forget about pencils to be more focused on the topic you’re drawing and the emotion you want to catch. To be sure the first page of my sketchbook would be nice (A tough problem every sketchbooker knows well), i choosed to draw it on a separate sheet of paper and stick it in my book. Just in case I really missed the drawing. I used a kraft wrapping paper from a retailing store (Fnac) and used directly white gouache with a brush, trying to sketch in no more than 40mns. And then i tore the paper before sticking it.
That likeness doesn’t really looks like Danny’, because i couldn’t use a pencil first, but it helped me hush the monkey trinig to tell me the final drawing is going to suck.

Time for a beer at The White Lion in Covent Garden

London 003

The difficult choice when you’re drawing a pub is to decide between having a drink first and draw  after or on the contrary go for a beer once the drawing is completed. I must say the rainy weather helped me answer this tricky question. I took a quick snapshot and ordered a pint of bitter in the warmth of the Pub. I decided i would postpone the drawing once back at home.

Le choix le plus difficile lorsque vous dessinez un pub est de décider si l’on boit avant de dessiner ou au contraire de n’aller prendre une bière que lorsque le dessin est terminé. Je dois dire que le mauvais temps pluvieux m’a aidé à répondre à cette question délicate. J’ai pris une photo rapide pour aller commander au chaud une pinte de “bitter”. J’ai finalement reporté le dessin au soir à la maison.

I should say London is in black and reds

London 001In a former post, i said i liked the idea that a town could be synthesized into a very limited set of tones, in which case London would surely be in black and red. Actually i should have said in black and reds. Last week i enjoyed a bright and sunny spring weather in London and was struck by the variety of colors of the facades in the street. Bricks colors range from red vermilion to burnt sienna or even charcoal brown: a festival for a watercolourist !

J’aurais du dire que Londres est une ville en noir et rougeS

Dans un de mes précédents posts, j’ai dit comme j’aimais l’idée qu’une ville pouvait se résumer à une palette très restreinte de couleurs, auquel cas, Londres serait sûrement en noir et rouge. En fait, j’aurais du dire en noir et rouges. La semaine dernière, à Londres, j’ai goûté un temps printanier ensoleillé qui faisait resplendir les façades et j’ai été frappé par la variété de leurs couleurs. Le rouge brique s’étage du rouge vermillon à la terre de Sienne brûlée à l’Ocre jaune parfois ou encore un brun un peu charbonneux: un vrai festival pour un aquarelliste!

The best souvenir i found in Brittany is this gorgeous Blue Lobster.

T&G 4 - Homard Color lightI have been silent for way too long on this blog, but I have a good excuse: I took a few days of vacations in Brittany. Early in the morning we went to the tiny town uphill, from which you can see the ballet of fishing boats ballet escorted by swarms of seagulls.

Some headed gulls were flying above us with their laughter so characteristic, as if they were laughing at you.


The weekly market was in full swing and I suspect the seagulls circling above our heads were expecting an opportunity to raid dive on the fishmonger stall.
And that’s when I saw him: a beautiful blue lobster from Brittany sat on the shelf, the only survivor of the morning rush of lovers of fresh seafood. The opportunity was too tempting.


Fortunately, I had my notebook with me. I made a quick sketch on my moleskine and added some brief notes on the colors. Back at home, I redesigned this strange animal and watercolored it.
Only then I realized that I was really hungry and should have bought this gorgeous lobster rather than simply drawing it. Silly me !!!


Le meilleur souvenir que j’ai rapporté de Bretagne est ce homard bleu magnifique.


J’ai déserté ce blog pendant trop longtemps, mais j’avais une bonne excuse: j’ai pris quelques jours de vacances en Bretagne. Tôt le matin, nous sommes allés à la petite ville voisine, juchée sur une colline d’où l’on peut voir le ballet des bateaux de pêche escortés par des nuées de mouettes bruyantes.
Quelques une d’entre elles volaient au-dessus de nous avec leurs ricanements si caractéristiques, comme si elles se moquaient de vous.


Le marché hebdomadaire battait son plein et je soupçonnais les mouettes rieuses de tournoyer au-dessus de nos têtes en attendant l’occasion d’un raid en piqué sur le stand du poissonnier.
Et c’est là que je l’ai aperçu : un superbe Homard Bleu d’Armorique trônait sur l’étalage, seul rescapé de la ruée matinale des amateurs de crustacés frais.L’occasion était trop tentante.


Heureusement, j’avais mon carnet de voyages avec moi. J’ai fait un rapide croquis sur mon moleskine et rajouté quelques annotations sommaires sur les couleurs. De retour à la maison, j’ai redessiné ce superbe et étrange animal et l’ai aquarellé.
C’est seulement alors j’ai réalisé que j’avais vraiment faim et que j’aurais mieux fait d’acheter ce homard plutôt que de le dessiner.
Quel Imbécile je fais !



All roads lead to Santiago de Compostela

Espagne - Santiago de Compostella lo

It’s a well-known fact that all roads in Europe lead to Santiago de Compostela. So wee did not try to escape this rule and decided to stop here on our way to Portugal.

The massive cathedral, with its impressive and exuberant baroque façade can been seen from really far away as a testimony to all pilgrims that they are reaching the end of their journey. Entering the Cathedral, you cannot miss the stone statue of Santiago. Curiously, it has the exact colour of my paper.

But I was attracted by those strange red cross painted here and there, on the shell of scallops of pilgrims, on restaurant menus, on hotel signs. Those cross were designed in the XIIth century to be the emblem of the Order of Santiago, a congregation that was created to take care and host the pilgrims. But very quickly, the Spanish king Ferdinand II enrolled the Order of Santiago to fight against the Muslim invaders enrolled them. So, it’s not surprising this cross looks like more a weapon than a religious symbol.

So I made an exception to my white and brown drawings and decided to add a few stokes of red…blood ?

Tous les chemins mènent à Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle

Tous les chemins d’Europe mènent à Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle, c’est bien connu ! Aussi, nous n’avons pas cherché à échapper à cette règle et décidé de nous y arrêter sur notre chemin vers le Portugal.

L’imposante Cathédrale, avec son impressionnante façade baroque et exubérant se voit de loin comme un signal fort à tous les pèlerins qu’ils sont au bout de leur route. En entrant dans la cathédrale, vous ne pouvez pas manquer la statue de pierre de Saint-Jacques. Curieusement, elle a la couleur exacte de mon papier.

Mais, après l’avoir dessinée, j’ai été attiré par ces étranges croix rouges peintes ici et là sur les coquilles Saint-Jacques des pèlerins, les menus des restaurants, ou encore sur les enseignes des hôtels. Cette croix, a été conçue au XIIe siècle comme emblème de l’Ordre de Santiago, une congrégation créé pour accueillir et loger les pèlerins. Mais très vite, cette congrégation a été enrôlée par le roi d’Espagne Ferdinand II pour lutter contre les envahisseurs musulmans. Pas surprenant, donc que cette croix ressemble plus à une arme qu’un symbole religieux.

Pour une fois, j’ai fait une exception à ma règle de dessin bicolore en brun et blanc en décidant d’ajouter une touche de rouge…sang ?

I have calligraphed between the spires of the cathedral of Burgos

Espagne - Burgos loOn the way back from Portugal, we stopped in Burgos. There’s no way you can miss the cathedral, a very impressive gothic building, said to be the 3rd church of Spain by its size. Burgos, once the capital of Castilla is one of the last milestones on the way to Compostela (in el Camino Frances). It was a warm sunny afternoon of August with a gentle evening light reflected on the spires of the Cathedral. I did the drawing directly with a black color brush pen, but was a little disappointed by the final result too dark until I decided to add some calligraphic letters intertwined between the spires of the Cathedral.

But i was a little tired to draw the same type of calligraphy. So I tried to imagine how I could do it differently. I remembered that when my last brother – who is left handed – started to write, we need a mirror to read it. So I played to see whether I could also write upside down.

J’ai calligraphié entre les flèches de la cathédrale de Burgos

Sur la route du retour du Portugal, nous avons fait une halte à Burgos. Il impossible de manquer la cathédrale gothique, tant elle est impressionnante. Elle est d’ailleurs la 3ème église de l’Espagne par sa taille. Burgos, autrefois la capitale du royaume de Castille est en effet l’une des dernières étapes sur le chemin de Compostelle (sur le Camino Frances). C’était un après-midi ensoleillé du mois d’août avec une douce lumière du soir qui se réfléchissait sur les flèches de la cathédrale. J’ai dessiné directement avec un stylo pinceau noir, mais ai été un peu déçu par le résultat final trop charbonneux, jusqu’à ce que je décide d’y ajouter quelques lettres calligraphiées entrelacées entre les flèches de la cathédrale. 

J’étais un peu lassé de dessiner toujours les mêmes types de calligraphies. Alors j’ai essayé d’imaginer comment renouveler le genre. Je me suis souvenu que lorsque mon dernier frère – qui est gaucher – a commencé à écrire, nous avions besoin d’un miroir pour pouvoir le lire. Je me suis donc amusé pour voir si je pouvais aussi calligraphier à l’envers.