This six hour session will be an expanded format for those familiar with Val’s 3-hour sessions. The day will begin with an extended painting warmup from life, using as your subject objects you bring that you would like to paint. Val will give a demo and some painting tips, and you will have more time than in previous sessions to devote to your still-life warm-up study.
In the afternoon students will work on resolving personal painting projects they already have on the go with feedback and guidance from the instructor. Students are also welcome to begin a new project.
Oil or acrylic. Some painting experience recommended.
LOCATION: Workshop takes place in The Mayer Studio, 111-1000 Parker Street, an spacious 2000 sq ft facility with direct access from the parking lot at the east entrance to 1000 Parker (blue stairs at the left). This space has plenty of room for social distancing. In most cases, 6 feet from others will be easy to maintain for everyone’s safety and comfort. However please bring your own face covering and gloves for the occasional situation where that may not be not possible.
I’ve finally completed the painting above “Paris in Springtime”, which I have been working on for at least a couple of years now, off and on.
Engaging myself in the studio this summer helps me remember fondly my times spent in the city of many greys.
Right now I’m thinking back to Paris, where I was in May of 2017…
Because I would soon be teaching a painting workshop in Tuscany, and I hadn’t painted very much at all since the car crash, I wanted to get back into the groove by painting from life. I had brought with me a great plein air setup which involves a Strada paintbox recommended by fellow Vancouver painter Marie Josenhans. You can attach it to a standard camera tripod.
I laid out some oil colours in the paintbox, and with excitement set out early one morning to the beautiful Père Lachaise Cemetary. As I was unfolding my tripod, an official came by and insisted I take it down. It was the “regles” or rules: no tripods in the cemetary. I pondered what might be the reason for this–perhaps because I might kill some ghosts? Ha ha ha!
At any rate, I was not going to not paint this fantastic place, so I put the tripod away, and placed my paint box on a tombstone, working quickly before the light changed too much. Similar to when I draw, I felt like my paint brush was actually touching what I was looking at––the surfaces of the stones, the textures of the leaves and grasses as they shimmered in the early morning breeze.
Which brings to mind a quote from a book I love, All the Light You Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This stunningly beautiful story is about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
In the early chapters of the story, little Marie-Laure accompanies her father to his place of work, the Museum of Natural History in Paris. She loves to explore the fascinating collections of nature specimens there.
“To really touch something, she is learning—the bark of a sycamore tree in the gardens; a pinned stag beetle in the Department of Etymology; the exquisitely polished interior of a scallop shell in Dr. Geffard’s workshop—is to love it.”
As the German troops force her and her father to flee the city into the countryside, she experiences many difficult realizations about the evils that humankind can inflict on others:
“This, she realizes, is the basis of all fear. That a light you are powerless to stop will turn on you and usher a bullet to its mark.”
Werner, an innocent young German boy with a natural talent for fixing electronics, has a dream to be a scientist, falls guilelessly into serving Hitler’s military as a wireless radio operator.
The painterly prose generates great empathy for both protagonists by helping us understand how two people can be caught in the middle of a conflict that neither have asked for. I think I can honestly say it’s one of the top ten novels I’ve read in my life.
Another painting project I really wanted to do was a portrait study in oil of Stella Libert, a talented cinematographer I had met through my Canadian-Parisian friend Dana Wyse. Stella agreed to sit for me in her lovely petite apartment not too far from the Père Lachaise.
I’m really glad I took a photo of the study, because when we reconvened a few days later for another sitting, I couldn’t make it better, and in fact it actually lost something in the process. So I eventually painted over it.
Sometimes a study is just meant to be what it is: a recording of the process of looking. It doesn’t have to be “finished”. So you painters out there, be okay not to censor yourself! Your initial impulse may contain some of the best of what is unique to you. Keep those studies hanging around, they may remind you of what you are capable of.
By the way, below you can see a beautiful short film made by Stella called “Paris Je T’Aime”, which artfully follows two parkour artists over the rooftops of Paris as they break the “regles” through exerting their freedom to defy gravity.
And here is a bonus little segment that shows Stella at work directing and filming it. Très cool:
Dana Wyse, a Canadian conceptual artist friend of mine who lives in Paris, has a very interesting practice. She makes pills that cure the perceived ills of the world. You can find her artistic apothecary in contemporary art exhibitions, and at a regular spot in the bookshop at the Palais de Tokyo.
Dana graciously set up an opportunity for me to give a drawing lesson to some of her friends, with the agreement that they would sit for me to draw their portraits. On a Saturday afternoon shortly before 2pm, I showed up at her studio apartment in the northern edge of Paris. The complex she lives in, La Maladrerie (which seems to translate as “the Leper Colony”), has an interesting cultural mix of artists and immigrants, with streets named after painters, such as Allee Gustav Courbet and Allee Matisse. It is a bit of a labyrinth, so Dana met me at a stone wall near Allee Georges Braque and shepherded me in to her spacious modernist flat that also serves as her studio.
Soon her guests arrived with snacks to contribute to the table. Dana has all kinds of cool and odd things she collects and displays in her apartment.
I chose as our main still life subject a taxidermy fox which seemed to be leaking saw-dust. Dana added a baseball, a plastic rose, and a miniature faux bourgeois armchair to the arrangement.
One of the three guests was Mélissa Laveaux, who is a talented musician with roots in Canada and Haiti. I wish I had a jpeg of the awesome drawing she did of the fox’s fierce-looking head, but you will just have to imagine it. The other two visitors, Sarah, who is a bit of a poet and a bit mysterious, and Stella, a cinematographer, made some nice work too.
The following day I received an enthusiastic email from Dana saying they all had had a great time, and that Mélissa wanted another lesson. Meanwhile we also received some complimentary tickets to Mélissa’s upcoming sold-out concert.
It was a treat to have the opportunity to see and hear her perform. She arrived on stage bearing a striking yellow electric guitar and a bright flower in her beautiful dark dreadlocks. Mélissa charmed us with her self-deprecating wit, skillful playing, and sensuous voice. After the concert we went for a drink with her and Pauline, a young painter at a low-key bar within walking distance of the theatre.
They mostly spoke French and I was a bit mystified about what was being said. I think since Dana is fluent they may have assumed at first that all Canadians know French. I can speak like a five-year old more or less. Dana apparently sounds like a Californian to her French-speaking friends.
Pauline joined us at the next drawing lesson I gave Mélissa, which we did at Melissa’s apartment in Belleville. We then went to the nearby park on a hill, and sat on the concrete steps overlooking Paris:
Mélissa has a lot on the go with her performing and song-writing, and asked if she could do some admin on her smartphone while I made the pencil drawing of her in my Moleskine, and Pauline just hung out with us.
The next week Pauline N’Gouala and I met at the Parc aux Buttes Chaumont and had a lovely walk and chat while she told me a bit about herself and her artwork. A wonderful afternoon with a warm, beautiful person.
Sarah, a soft-spoken young American woman who has been living in Paris for a while now, hosted me at her then Bois de Boulogne loft apartment. She shared her courtyard garden with a neighbour and friend, another Sara, who represents photographers.
Here is Julien, who I met briefly at a café, who stood shyly for only 20 minutes for me and then disappeared.
There’s something really special about sharing time and space with a person who makes herself vulnerable to being looked at. This experience is very different from working from a photograph, it is much more energetically charged, there is a sense of urgency, an awareness that this moment is fleeting. You have to focus more intensely.
Which brings me to my announcement that I am hosting a new in-person painting workshop,“Empathy and Embodiment” in a large new studio on the weekend of August 15 and 16, great for social distance learning. If you have been living your life online for the past several months, and are craving social interaction, this will be a safe and inspiring way to do that! I would love to see you there.
Check it out and let me know as soon as possible if you’d like to join in, as it may be quite popular. 🙂
I’m also starting to teach painting and drawing classes one-on-one and small groups online. and as many as three people in-person in my airy studio. I can tailor a class to your specific needs. Shoot me an email and we can set something up! firstname.lastname@example.org
JOIN VAL NELSON at the MAYER STUDIO (111-1000 Parker St)
Sat Aug 15 or Sun Aug 16, 2020 10am-4pm
In this one-day “in-person” painting intensive, experience how painting from direct observation differs from and enhances your painting from photography. In the morning session Val will encourage group dialogue while analyzing one of her recent paintings. Technical and philosophical aspects of the painting process will include use of chroma, edges, brushwork, composition, contrast, and also philosophical perspectives on working from direct observation. Students will then paint their own simple still life study from three personal objects they have brought with them, as an experiential model that will inform their work from photography.
In the afternoon students will apply what they have learned to personal painting projects they already have on the go with feedback and guidance from the instructor.
Oil or acrylic. Some painting experience recommended.
Choose from either the Saturday Aug 15 or Sunday Aug 16 session.
LOCATION: Workshop takes place in The Mayer Studio, 111-1000 Parker Street, an excellent 2000 sq ft facility with direct access from the parking lot at the east entrance to 1000 Parker (blue stairs at the left). This space has plenty of room for social distancing. In most cases, 6 feet from others will be easy to maintain for everyone’s safety and comfort. However please bring your own face covering and gloves for the occasional situation where that may not be not possible.
There is a kitchen and microwave available on the premises, however the owners of the space require that you sanitize after use and please bring your own cutlery and crockery. Sanitizer and wipes will be available. Please for health reasons do not share food with others unless they are part of your social “bubble”.
Lunch will be only 30 minutes as we have lots of ground to cover in the workshop! So please bring a brown bag lunch, and if you think you will need a caffeine infusion please bring extra coffee with you. There is a kettle and fridge. There is a picnic table and grassy area to sit on right outside the entry door of the studio for the break.
*Cancellation policy: If you are feeling sick, please do not come to class. Text me if it is last-minute 778-865-2650. Take care of yourself and others by staying home and and we can arrange how you may be credited in a future class. However, in general two weeks’ notice is required if you must cancel. Cancellation must be by email or text to email@example.com. Beyond one week there will be no refunds, however you may request a credit toward a future class.
‘We are going to get back our way of life, our taste for freedom – in other words, we are going to rediscover France fully again’. According to the June 14, 2020 news from The Independant, French president Emmanuel Macron made this statement, which means the famous bar and café culture so treasured by the French can officially restart fully, with Paris declared a “green zone” of safety as the pandemic relaxes its hold on the world.
This is thrilling news, sending a signal to all of us that things will always eventually get better. Pour moi, I feel good just imagining the relief and (albeit cautious) optimism Parisian citizens must feel upon re-emerging from their strict two-month lock-down. For many in the City of Light, the café is an extension of their home living spaces, which tend to be small and confining.
The café is where creative ideas are born, where people meet before and after work to socialize, and where a delicious, relaxing lunch in a neighbourhood restaurant may be taken before heading back to the office. This is the beautiful rhythm of day-to-day living so important to one’s joie de vivre (zest for life) .
When something has been taken away, it feels more precious when you get it back.
That April three years ago, when I woke up in my little 11th arrondissement flat on the first day of a five-week Parisian soujourn., I was repeatedly amazed and grateful to actually be there. All of my senses were super-heightened: tastes, colours, sounds. It was like I too had just emerged from lock-down and could experience more fully the joy of life once again while I continued to heal.
This is the spot where I often started my day, enjoying a to-die-for croissant aux chocolat et aux amandes––do the French know what to do with butter and sugar or what? And sipping a café créme, which is basically a flat white, while watching the locals go about their day.
One day while I was sitting in my usual window spot, I watched a young mother walking her little son to school. They paused in front of my window so that she could take a hairbrush out of her bag, smooth his disarrayed coiffe and apply HAIR SPRAY before heading out. In France, aesthetics are très important!
The thing you must do for sure when you visit Paris: just walk around and notice what comes across your path. The city is meant to be savored on foot. This is known as flânerie, a term which became widely used in 19th century Paris. A flâneur or flâneuse is a stroller or wanderer with enough means that allows her to walk the city with no particular purpose besides pleasure.
“The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude,
amid the ebb and flow of movement,
in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world,
The Impressionists and other emerging French painters of the 19th century were at the zeitgeist of the explosion of changes to industrial society with their keen observations of modern life. In their brave move away from the academy-approved history and allegorical painting, they created a new kind of painting, a more subjective expression of human experience of their time.
Edouard Manet depicted family and friends in this ambitious painting of crowds of bourgeois Parisians relaxing out-of-doors. If you look closely you can find Baudelaire and a self-portrait of the artist.
Manet famously did not idealise what he observed around him, which got him into trouble with the Academy at times. Here is his Bar at the Folies Bérgère(above), which he painted in 1882 . The objects are seductively rendered in thick gestural paint––the glowing liqueur and beer bottles, fruits and glassware, and the beautiful bar-maid with vacant expression who is also an object for the consumption of the crowd reflected in the mirror behind her, and for us.
Here is Cécile Laforest, the bartender at L’Eventail where I would sometimes stop for a snack. She was so kind to me as I practiced my French. She would diplomatically switch to fluent English to tell me about herself. She is an actress, a comédienne, and sometimes model. You can check out herInstagram pageto see what she’s up to now. Très sympathique, et très talenteuex!
We’ll talk some more about the act of looking in my next blog.
In the meantime, enjoy being more free to wander around your neighbourhood as most of us are feeling safer to get out there, go to a café, bar, or restaurant, and enjoy the summer.
I was supposed to be in Paris with my sweetie in March this year, but we had to postpone our trip almost at the last moment when the global pandemic developed with such surprising speed. Since we won’t be going anywhere for a while, I’ve decided to share with you some events from my five week dream stay in Paris in 2017.
What made the trip extraordinary was that there was a very real chance it could never happen.
In late summer of 2016 I made my plan: I’d wake up in Paris on April 1 (my birthday), live six weeks in Paris “like a Parisian”, then move on to teach a two-week painting workshop in Tuscany. Then I’d wrap up my trip by meeting a friend to see the Venice Biennale. Très excitant!
Everything was on track: I had ramped up my entrepeneurial chops by meeting my financial goals through selling my art; my Tuscan painting holiday was close to fully booked; I had bought my air ticket to Paris, and booked an AirBnB for a really great price.
Ooh la la, I was stoked. I was so amazed that I was making this dream a reality. But I was a bit tired from all this activity. So I took a little break in California to get some sunshine. This is me practicing plein air in Palm Desert on November 29.
On November 30 came the car crash.
The next several months I spent convalescing. I had a concussion, a broken clavicle (my painting arm), major whiplash, and for a while I had difficulty walking. And I couldn’t paint. Argh. I lay awake unable to know what to do. Should I cancel my trip?
It was my dark night of the soul. Since I couldn’t be in the studio, and I love making the most of my time, I thought it would be a good idea to work on my “art career”. When I began working with two different life coaches, it became obvious that what I really needed to address was some deep stuff within myself. So I spent the winter in meditation, and began sorting it all out.
By mid-March, even though I couldn’t yet lift my suitcase, my doctors and physiotherapists deemed me well enough to go to Europe. Hurray! I could spend some of my convalescence in Paris––pas mal, non? I figured sitting in some cafés, looking at art, and maybe making a few drawings should be fine, and I would likely be much stronger by the time I got to do the working portion of my “holiday” in Italy, so things were looking pretty rosy.
Then, the vertigo kicked in. Or what I later learned is actually something called “disequilibrium”. But more on that later.
At any rate, I was still able to leave for France only two weeks later than planned.
When I arrived on a sunny mid-April afternoon and found my new home in the 11th arrondissement, I remembered that I had booked my accommodation the previous fall knowing full-well that there was no elevator. And my suite was on the sixth floor. That’s one of the reasons it was so cheap!
Although I usually like to travel light, my suitcase this time was extra large because of the length of my stay, and the fact that I had brought along art supplies for my upcoming painting workshop. Because I had been in “business” mode for four months, I also had foolishly brought along office supplies, including a stapler that must have weighed nearly half a pound! What was I thinking? Okay, I’ll give myself some slack, I was after all recovering from a concussion.
Needless to say, there was no way I was going to be able to get my stuff up there the normal way. So I treated the ground floor like base camp, and gradually decanted things up the long spiralling staircase over several stages.
The place was pretty tiny, and obviously they’d got most of their decor from Ikea. But I was in Paris!
Stay tuned for more Parisian adventures in my next installment. Meanwhile, I thought I’d pass along a tip on a très charmant online show I’ve been escaping into lately during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s called Little Paris Kitchen, hosted by Rachel Khoo, a young British Cordon-Blue trained chef who demystifies French cooking for us in her tiny Paris flat. She turns her little place into a restaurant at night that can only seat two people at a time! You can find it on CBC Gems and watch it for free.
Are you ready to Loosen Up your painting practice? In this inspiring painting weekend workshop, participants will be assigned fun and challenging timed painting exercises to build confidence to take risks and discover new strategies to their painting practice. Includes blind-contour drawing, semi-blind painting, collaborative painting, limited palette, mark-making, experimental colour, and other approaches to make the process more playful and exciting.
Oil and acrylic. A supply list will be provided in plenty of time before the workshop.
Location: #322b-1000 Parker Street, East Vancouver
I’m now teaching painting and drawing classes one-on-one, for two, and for small groups online. and as many as four people in-person in my studio. I can tailor a class to your specific needs. Shoot me an email and we can set something up for you! firstname.lastname@example.org
Make a date with your painting practise! This is a great way to get your process moving forward, by committing to six 3-hour once-per-week painting sessions. With Val’s helpful tutelage, tackle technical and conceptual concerns in the company of like-minded painters. You will work on a personal project during the class–bring a project to completion (very empowering!) or begin something new. Each session will begin with a drawing warm-up exercise in your sketchbook. Arrive early to set up (2pm and later) so you can make the most of your time!
I will have room for only 5 students, so don’t delay 🙂 I look forward to seeing you soon!
OPEN STUDIO PAINTING WORKSHOP Feb/March 2018
Six Friday afternoons: 2:30-5:30pm
Dates: Feb 16, 23, March 2, 9, 16, 23
Location: Val Nelson Studio, 1000 Parker Street, #322b
Pre-requisite: This is not a beginners’ class. Some painting experience recommended. Oil or acrylic.
Tuition: $350 includes GST
To Register: $75 deposit secures your spot. E-transfer, cheque, or hand-delivered cash all acceptable. Send to email@example.com
Cancellation policy: Please note that one weeks’ notice is required for cancellation with full refund of deposit. No refund for last-minute cancellations unless I can fill your spot.
Questions?: To determine if this class is for you, send me an email or call me: firstname.lastname@example.org 778-865-2650
Are you thinking that you would like a drawing to brighten your space? Between some of my larger paintings, I like to put my attention towards drawings. Please contact me for a private art viewing, or to put aside a piece for you.