Les Amis de la Grande Vigne

Brittany Plein Air for Artist Gourmets - an Art and Gastronomy Workshop, Dinan, France by Jeannine Cook

I have been sending out the first copies of my newly-completed brochure about this Art and Gastronomy Workshop in Brittany, France, planned for May 3rd-12th, 2010. Ten days of plein air work during the day and in the evening, the participants will be welcomed with gourmet meals celebrating the superb local seafood and fresh produce. The text of this brochure is posted on the News Page of my website.

The iconic image of this area of Brittany is, of course, Mont Saint Michel.

Mont St. Michel, Brittany, Rundle Cook photographer

Mont St. Michel, Brittany, Rundle Cook photographer

This is a map of Brittany, a wonderful part of France. The area for the workshop is in North Brittany. Rennes is the main rail link with Paris, with a direct train from the Charles deGaulle Airport.

Map of Brittany

Map of Brittany

The Workshop will be based at Le Clos Saint Cadreuc, a 1633 farmhouse with elegant long grey stone buildings, which has been converted to a beautifully appointed bed and breakfast establishment. Its location on the map below is in blue. Highly recommended by many guidebooks, it was listed in Britain's travel "bible" written by Alastair Sawday. It is located amid wonderful farmland, just a few minutes inland from spectacular coastal scenery, ranging from golden sweeps of beach to plunging cliffs and vast oyster and mussel beds in long reaches fingering into the land.

St. Malo area, Brittany, showing the location of Le Clos Saint Cadreuc

St. Malo area, Brittany, showing the location of Le Clos Saint Cadreuc

Brigitte and Patrick Noël are the hosts of Le Clos Saint Cadreuc and they will facilitate this workshop and provide the wonderful meals. Patrick is not only an artist himself but his deep knowledge of the area, from architecture to botanical gardens or coastal gems, will enable the artists to go to wonderful places to create art. Non-painting partners will have plenty to do as well. Meanwhile, Brigitte is the perfect chef and host of this most comfortable establishment. This is a photo of us dining out one night at Eric and Pascale Lemale's wonderful  Restaurant Du Colle on the water, in Saint-Lunaire. (Brigitte is on the right, Patrick centre and I am on the left.)

Du Colle Restaurant, with Jeannine Cook, left, Patrick at centre and Britgitte on the right, Rundle Cook photograpiher

Du Colle Restaurant, with Jeannine Cook, left, Patrick at centre and Britgitte on the right, Rundle Cook photograpiher

I will be the leader for this plein air group, having spent many a fascinated and humbled hour working outside in all weather conditions, in Europe and all around North America. Not only have I loved doing this sort of work but I have been lucky enough to be awarded a number of Artist Residencies to work in this fashion. The month I was awarded as Artist in Residence at Les Amis de la Grande Vigne in Dinan in late 2008 led me to plan this workshop for 2010.

The beauty of the area is unforgettable, and May is the best month of spring in Brittany.

Here are some photographs to give you a flavour of this wonderful area. These photographs were all taken by my husband, Rundle Cook, who was with me in Dinan.

If you are interested in learning more about this workshop, log on to my website, www.jeanninecook.com and check out the details on the News page. Or e-mail me directly at jeanninecook1@cs.com for a complete brochure and application form.

Thinking of the French landings anniversary by Jeannine Cook

As the West remembers D-Day today on its 65th anniversary, my mind goes back to many earlier years along the Normandy and Brittany beaches and cliffs. As a young woman, I spent many hours in those impressive and eloquent cemeteries that spoke of such sacrifice.

It is heartwarming, however, to see reminders that even today, there is spontaneous gratitude in France, not just on 6th June. When I was in Brittany last October as Artist in Residence with Les Amis de la Grande Vigne in Dinan, I was drawing at the dramatic headland facing the English Channel called Pointe du Grouin.

Pointe du Grouin, Cancale - inks., Jeannine Cook artist

Pointe du Grouin, Cancale - inks., Jeannine Cook artist

It is north of Dinan and round the corner, going west, from lovely Cancale, home of such succulent oysters. While I was drawing in the biting wind, my husband was exploring the concrete fortifications and bunkers that remains from the German occupation. Inside, there was scrawled on the wall, "6 juin 44, merci" - "6th June, 1944, thank you". Simple, but telling.

Germn Bunker north of Cancale (Rundle Cook photographer)

Germn Bunker north of Cancale (Rundle Cook photographer)

While I was drawing, an elderly, distinguished-looking French lady came up to talk to me. After a long and delightful conversation (despite my watching the light disappear from what I drawing with dismay!!), her husband joined us. He told me of his work with the SAS for the British, remaining in France after 1940, because the British deemed him of more help in France than outside. Both Churchill and General De Gaulle decorated him for his valour after the war. Yet, as I stood up to bid him and his charming wife goodbye, it was he, the wartime hero, who thanked me formally and in most moving terms, for what the British - and Americans - did to save France.

Does "a biological sense of place" help in creating art? by Jeannine Cook

Yesterday, I alluded to the question that I kept thinking about when I was working as Artist in Residence in Dinan, Brittany, through Les Amis de la Grande Vigne: does it help an artist to know well the area when he or she is painting, either en plein air, or creating work that is connected to a sense of place?

I think that a sense of comfort and familiarity frees up the artist to concentrate more on the actual art. It is really almost the same as "terroir", the biological sense of place that wine-growers talk of when they refer to specific geographical areas dictating certain characteristics in the wine produced from those regions. If you intrinsically know the place where you are working as an artist, you know, almost intuitively, the possible plays of light on the scene, the patterns, the rhythms of tides or seasons, the soils, the type of plants that grown there, etc. Because you already have this knowledge deep inside you, you can factor things in more easily as you are working. Understanding how the area "functions" means that you are not struggling so much to convey its character when you are drawing or painting.

Claude Monet is perhaps one of the most famous artists who used his sense of place, or "terroir", to allow him to produce extraordinary art. Starting with his famous series of 25 paintings of Haystacks, for instance, in 1890, Monet got to know those stacks of hay in all their times of day and weather.

Haystacks - Snow Effect, 1891, Claude Monet (Image courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum)

Haystacks - Snow Effect, 1891, Claude Monet (Image courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum)

His interest in producing series of paintings continued almost unabated until the end of his life in 1926. He explored the different aspects of Poplars along the river banks in all weather and times of day. Rouen Cathedral was another series which showed his fascination with this mighty structure in its amazing diversities of light. Perhaps the most celebrated, in terms of his sense and knowledge of place, is his huge body of work , "Les Nympheas", painted at his home, Giverny, based on the waterlilies growing in the pond he created. There are 250 canvases in the series, many showing his eyesight problems with cataracts. Nonetheless, his knowledge of Giverny was almost visceral, since he had virtually created the place. This familiarity allowed him to paint masterpieces that have captivated the world ever since.

Monet's example makes a very good case for an artist to get to know an area as thoroughly as possible when creating art. Maybe "terroir" is as desirable for artists as it is for wine-growers!