Friday, 28 December 2012

Fire-up your imagination (the video)

If you do not see the embedded video, you can watch it on YouTube.
Last July, I published a post Creative exercise: Inspired by nature’s marks and I wanted to make a short video of the process, but did not get around to do it… until now.

Monday, 24 December 2012

The Champs-Élysées

The Champs-Élysées is probably the most famous avenue in Paris (France). At the top, you can admire the Arc de Triomphe. In the opposite direction, you can see the Place de la Concorde with the Obelisk of Luxor and the big fairground wheel in the background.

The Arc de Triomphe from the top of the Champs-Élysées

The Arc de Triomphe from the other side (Avenue de la Grande Armée)

Christmas illuminations on the Champs-Élysées avenue

Illuminated fountains - Rond-Point des Champs-Élysées
The avenue is also home to upscale shops, cars manufacturer showrooms, famous restaurants (the Fouquet’s) and luxury brands.

Christmas decorations on the Cartier shop
At Christmas, the avenue is illuminated and very crowded. They also organise a lovely Christmas market in the lower part of the avenue.

The Champs-Élysées in paintings

I was surprised that I could not find that many paintings of the Champs-Elysees. Here are two:

La Modiste Sur Les Champs Elysees by Jean Béraud [Source : Wikimedia]

The Champs Elysees During The Paris Fair Of 1867 [Source: Wikigallery]

I wish everyone a happy Christmas and end-of-year celebrations.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Public art in Swindon

The Central Library in Swindon recently posted on Flickr a collection of photographs of past and present public art in Swindon.

Unfortunately, many of Ken White’s murals  have now disappeared, but Ken is still making great art  inspired by his time in the Swindon railway factory, where he was handpainting signs.

Below are pictures of some of the sculptures dotted around town.

Bronze sculpture of a ram in Swindon Old Town
Queen's Park, Swindon

'Gorilla' by Tom Gleeson, Queens Park, Swindon.

Diana Dors (who was born in Swindon)- Shaw Ridge Leisure Park, Swindon

Monday, 17 December 2012

Making a Christmas gift and madeleines recipe

Creativity is about doing and making. It does stop when you leave your studio. So why not infuse some creativity into your Christmas presents?

It’s not just about saving money, but more about spending the time to create something unique that you won’t find in high street shops. And time is a currency in short supply these days, so you are making a real present to whoever receives it.

The little black box

I wanted my gift to look good and professional. I had a tall square black cardboard box that gave me a good start. I cut the sides to 6 cm high.

I kept the extra bits of carboard and folded them to make two dividers inside the box.

I composed the image I glued on the top of the box with Adobe Photoshop Elements 11. The photo of the notebook cover is one of an actual notebook Proust wrote in.

For the side of the box, I created a label with all the ingredients.

To increase the “professional” effect, I cut some transluscent baking paper that looks just like the crystal paper you find in luxury biscuit tins. I rounded the corner for a smoother look. Et voila!

Madeleine recipe

I found this excellent recipe on the French blog: « Aux Portes du Paradis » blog. It is a recipe from the French chef Gaston Lenôtre.

Below is an English translation of the recipe, in case your French is a little bit rusty.

Ingredients for around 20 madeleines:

  • 3 eggs
  • 130 g of sugar
  • 20 g of honey
  • 150 g of flour
  • 125 g of butter
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 5 g of baking powder
  • Zest from 1/2 lemon or orange – or vanilla

1 - Soften the butter in the microwave. Beat the eggs with the sugar, the pinch of salt and honey until the mixture is pale and has doubled in volume.

2 - Add to the mixture the flour mixed with the baking powder. Finish by adding the softened butter and the lemon zest (or orange zest or vanilla). Put the dough in the refrigerator at least 2 hours or overnight (best).

Note: It is the thermal shock (temperature difference) that will allow you to get a nice bump on top of the madeleine, so you absolutely need to let the dough rest in the refrigerator.

3 - Preheat your oven at 230 ° C. Grease and flour the mould for madeleines (even if the silicone one). Fill the cavities of the mould for madeleines with a tablespoon of dough, without spreading it.

A metal mould for small madeleines and a silicon mould for normal size ones

4 - Put in the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 200 ° C.

After 3 to 5 minutes, the centre of the madeleine forms a small depression: further turn down the oven thermostat to about 180 ° C and leave the madeleines to cook. Instead of depression, the famous "bump" will form on top of the madeleines.

When the madeleines are golden (4-5 more minutes), remove from the oven and immediately unmold onto a rack to let them cool.

18 madeleines in the box

Related resources

Book with Gaston Lenôtre's desserts recipes on and (affiliate lins)

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Painting childhoood memories – Proust’s madeleines

Do you remember how, as children, a teacher would ask us to draw a scene from our last holidays? But then, we grew-up and we stopped drawing our memories. Why?

Smell and taste are fairly untapped senses compared to sight, touch or hearing. Yet, creativity can feed on all senses.

Creative exercise

Find an object with a particular smell (perfume, bottle of ink, dish, fabric, etc.) and paint what the smell evokes for you.

Proust’s madeleines

The French writer Marcel Proust is well-known in France for its evocation of a particular childhood memory in his novel “Swann’s Way”:

“And suddenly the memory returns. The taste was that of the little crumb of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before church-time), when I went to say good day to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of real or of lime-flower tea. […]

But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.”

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way (Translated from the French by C. K. Scott Moncrieff) - New York Henry Holt and Company 1922 - Project Gutenberg EBook-No.7178

In my next post, I will give you the recipe to bake some madeleines… This way you will be able to enrich your own sensory memories

Related resources

The Proust Questionnaire 

Monday, 3 December 2012

Henri-Edmond Cross

At the Matisse museum in Le Cateau-Cambrésis (North of France), I saw in June this year an exhibition titled: “Henri-Edmond Cross and Neo-impressionnism, from Seurat to Matisse”.

Cross is the less known of the three artists who launched and defined Neo-impressionnism. We know works by Seurat and Signac, less so for Cross. One of the reasons, according to the curator of the exhibition, was that Cross chose to live in the South of France, far from Paris salons, exhibitions, galleries and collectors.

The exhibition presented 34 works that Cross painted from 1891 until he died in 1910 and some beautiful watercolours.
The term Neo-Impressionism was first penned by the art critic Félix Fénéon in 1886. Artists used dabs of pure colour and the principle of optical mixing of colours to recreate landscapes in their workshops. The main artists in this mouvement were Seurat, Signac, Cross, Van Rysselberghe, Maximilien Luce and Dubois-Pillet.
Of Neo-Impressionism, Cross wrote: “It was more for the neo a question of creating some harmonies of hues rather then harmonising hues of this landscape or that scene from nature.”
Purple is the darkest colours of the neo-impresionnist palette (with Ultramarine) and Cross was very fond of this colour.

La Ferme, matin, Oil on canvas, Musée des beaux-arts de Nancy (Source : Wikimedia)
In the painting La Ferme, matin, the marks have the shape of grains of rice. There is no visible texture as the paint has been applied in very thin layers. We can see the artist’s predilection for the colour purple.

La baie à Cavalière - Oil on canvas (Source: Wikimedia)

Cross sometimes resorted to painting lines. This was a departure from the pure Neo-impresionnist precepts, but it was the only way to convey the form and expression of goats (that he painted many times) or people in his paintings. The way he seems to have done it was to “draw” the form first with a dark colour and then fill it in with the marks of pure colour. A close examination of the canvas let you see the lines behind and between the coloured marks.

Les Iles d'Or (Source: Wikimedia)

The painting Les Iles d'Or (the golden Islands) is very simple yet very modern.
Cross created some beautiful watercolour paintings and liked the freedom that this medium offered:
“Since a few days, I rest from my canvasses by trying watercolour and sketching with this medium. It is fun. The absolute necessity of being fast, bold and even insolent, brings into work a kind of benevolent fever after months of languor spent on paintings whose first idea was unconsidered.” (Letter from Cross to Angrand – March 1900 – Archives Angrand)
Lavender - Watercolour (Source: Wikimedia)
Related article

Monday, 19 November 2012

Sketching in San Jose - California

This first sketch was done at Heathrow Airport (London), while I was waiting for my flight to San Francisco.

I had little time for myself in San Jose, but I managed to walk around on the last day of my trip. The weather was mild and the sky blue; ideal for a walk in down town San Jose.

First, I stopped at Bijan to have some breakfast. The dark wood and brass fixtures reminded me of an old Brasserie in Paris.

While I was sipping a capuccino and eating a pastry (I though I asked for a pain au chocolat, but it was a savoury with ham and cheese), I took my sketching kit out.

My Sennelier Watercolour travel box and brushes

From top to bottom: Pentel water brush (ideal to add washes to a sketch and the water reservoir is small enough to go through airport security) - Pentel ink brushes in metallic blue and brown.

After that, I headed toward Japan Town. I passed the San Jose Museum of Art.

Next to it was the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph.

After a good walk, I arrived at日本町 (read “Nihonmachi”, which means Japan Town).

I was a little early and shops I wanted to go to were still closed. I stopped at Roy’s Station Coffee and Teas on 197 Jackson Street. It’s great to see a coffee shop without a big corporate logo around its neck. The building looked strange until I realised it was a converted gas and service station – hence the name.

A magpie coloured police car (they make great painting subjects) was parked near to the place. The sun was shinning and the terrace was full, so I went inside. A cop was taking break and a lady was busy on her laptop, taking advantage of the fast broadband connection. Typical day in Silicon Valley.

I loved the big La Marzocco espresso machine, with its curvaceous burgundy lacquered body and shinny chrome bars. I ordered an espresso and a croissant. I was not disappointed: the croissant was tasty and the coffee strong… and served in a real cup, not a cardboard one.

The atmosphere was friendly and I set-up to sketch the barrista at work behind the espresso machine.

Monday, 29 October 2012

A bowl of strawberries

A bowl of strawberries - Oil on canvas panel (6" x 8") by Benoit Philippe

This is the last of the paintings I have done at the end of August, after I bought some strawberries. I thought the blue glass bowl offered an interesting contrast with the red fruits.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Strawberries and mug

Strawberries and mug - Oil on canvas panel (6" x 8") by Benoit Philippe

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

St John the Baptist church - Cirencester

St John the Baptist church - Cirencester - Oil on canvas panel (6" x 8") by Benoit Philippe

I painted the church on site, seated on a bench on the other side of the main street. It was the end of the afternoon. Cirencester (Wiltshire - England) is a beautiful small town.

Monday, 1 October 2012

The farm cottage - Hodson

The farm cottage (Hodson) - Oil on canvas panel (6" x 8") by Benoit Philippe

Hodson is a small village outside of Swindon. I cycled there with my pochade box in my backpack and painting this on site. There is a friendly pub called the Calley Arms.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The making of Copse Wood

I took a few pictures along the way, while painting Copse Wood.