Tag: France

One Month in France, week four

Thumbnail studies

I’m writing this from Montreal. The month in France came to its conclusion. We are home.

It feels strange to look out the window and see the same sad, post-winter backyards, the patches of snow that refuse to melt. The trees that can’t grow leaves because the weather is still not warm enough.

It was hard to be away for a month and yet, it seems it went in a blink of an eye. The final week was a struggle because most regular Airbnb’s are usually furnished for short term stays and if you are staying longer there are a few additional things you have to take into consideration.

For the entire month I couldn’t do any sort of workout. One day I tried to do Essentrics but it didn’t work very well. I didn’t have a yoga mat and the floor was slippery.  The chairs were hard, the futon was excruciating. The street was incredibly noisy. People yell a lot at night.

Creative Block

I had a pile of art supplies. I’d brought everything: good watercolor paper, two sketchbooks, two palettes full of paint. I had the Pentel paintbrush, water brushes, microns, you name it. And yet, I could barely take out a pencil. I didn’t know what to draw, what to paint. I was completely uninspired. I was stressing about this major pause in my projects, about how I would get back to the swing of things.

FlowArte painting
Here I am, demanding the water and color to converse. One day I painted a cow, another day, simple textures. A portrait too.

We visited a small town called Aix-les-bains. It has more charm than Grenoble and it’s a lot cleaner. They have a beautiful lake which we found after walking aimlessly for about an hour. It was the first day in months we were able to sit for a good while in the sun.


I managed to pull out the sketchbook and just went back to the basics. Value studies, thumbnails. At that point I realized my impatience has hindred me more than I thought. In my quest for becoming good quickly, I skipped essential practices that are extremely powerful. Doing pencil studies before painting is so helpful, especially when you haven’t yet trained your eye-hand coordination. I’m so “desperate” to paint with my brush and stop having to sketch in pencil that I ruin more paper than I want. As I did these quick studies, I realized how my lack of humility and patience had blocked me during this trip.

I truly believed I would walk around, sketchbook in hand and paint these amazing urban landscapes. Well, surprise Luisa, you haven’t practiced in a year and… do you really want to do urban sketching?

Surprisingly… no.

As I felt the month winding down and very little to show for it in terms of art making, I was feeling discouraged. But then I noticed how as I did other activities, like writing and reading for hours (sometimes until 2AM) my brain was giving me a direction. It was telling me that yes, I can paint watercolors, I can keep practicing urban sketching, I can continue to make beautiful leggings for the poets of body movement and create artwork for lovely notebooks. I can continue to make portraits, but there has to be a common ground. There has to be a meeting point where my love of words, pictures, philosophy and ideas meet. And so I didn’t paint much, but I came home with the seed of a project. Its time has come.

If you’re subscribed to my newsletter, you had a brief introduction. I am reaching out to people quietly and gathering stories, thoughts, perspectives on a topic that is rarely discussed.
I feel like I’m finally finding a thread.

Donc, merci la France, for the bookstores, for the magazines, for the exhibitions. For the pastries and the fantastic wine. For the mountains, your beautiful language, the delicious morning bread. For the color palette, the postcards and the diversity you still embrace.


All photos by the love of my life.

One month in France, week three


I am in a city that does not have the stereotypical French glamour. It’s not Paris and it’s not the charming little wine village. Some days I don’t even feel I’m in France if it weren’t for the pastries and the daily wine. So this week three has been less about feelings of travel than it is about trying to do something productive with my time.

I’ve done a lot of writing. Not much painting although I did attempt a small illustration to practice the humble watercolor process. Watercolors are easy to transport but you still need a bit of a setup and since the Airbnb is tiny, I have to clear up everything afterwards, this routine doesn’t help my motivation too much.

Yesterday I had a very overwhelming feeling of sadness because I had nowhere to go except roam through the uninteresting streets that I have roamed fifty times already. I could simply stay in the apartment and hammer away at the computer, but then again. Why come this far to do that?

Hey, you digital nomads

When you post a photo of your laptop beside a mango cocktail, did you really enjoy it or was it over before you even noticed, as you typed the perfect caption for your Instagram photo?

Of course I am happy to be able to travel but sometimes travel is not quite vacation and the thought of not taking advantage of being abroad vs. working is a conflict that I can’t seem to resolve. As a routine sets, the days speed up and suddenly it seems like I was never really here.

Oh, darn. This brain of mine.


So I take a walk and give myself a mission. Go to a bookstore where I’m happiest. There is so much to read and such little suitcase space. I wanted to find the new book by Ina Mihalache / Solange, who I deeply admire for the simple reason that she creates what she’s compelled to create. She is fearless though her Solange character seems the opposite.

I spent a couple of hours browsing books, sighing at every turn. It suddenly dawned on me that I’m reading French as I always dreamed. No barriers. I absorb a different kind of literary beauty after years of reading exclusively in English. The variety of stories and characters amazes me. In the past few years I’ve felt like there is a fuzzy similarity among American and Canadian books. They all seem written by MFA graduates following a formula. They don’t inspire me.

On the other hand literature in Spanish has a different problem. Working at a bookstore specializing in hispanic literature I should know. Every time we get the new releases, four out of five books has a writer as a main character. Really? There are no other possible main characters?

Bookstores are my refuge. My life seems to gravitate around either a bookstore or a library. I recently revisited that classic video on How to be alone. I remember it revolutionized my heart. So as I roam the city of Grenoble while my husband has work to do, I remember this song/poem and I go be alone where I feel most happy.

Perdre la terre


One month in France, week two

Watercolor cow by flowarte

The first thing I noticed in Lyon was the sky. The trace of airplanes that flew by a few moments before.

Sky highway

We arrived early after a short train ride in which I fell asleep. I can never not fall asleep on a train. It’s my favorite mode of transportation. The soft lull and the silence. The huge windows, the scenery that changes. That feeling of “how things were” vs. the modern TGV comforts. Plus, when I look at my watch and it’s 8:22, departure time on my ticket and the train begins to move, that’s what my dreams are made of.

I love to walk the streets in a new city if I’m there only for the day, I don’t feel the need to go into a museum or visit touristy places.

Lyon, France

Lyon France2

Downtown seems somewhat luxurious. Beautiful boutiques with super expensive items. Eye candy everywhere. We had coffee at Le Grand Café des Négociants and we remembered that sometimes French customer service is still very French. It doesn’t matter how sumptuous a place is, they can always ruin your experience by kicking you out when they feel like it with a subtle “Peut-je vous encaisser monseiurdame?” before you even finish your coffee.

On an aside note: coffee shops in France keep their distinction, either by having a terrace where you can shamelessly people-watch or by combining brasserie-coffeeshop-restaurant, they co-exist with Starbucks just fine, but this time around I’ve seen more North American style coffee shops including name and menu completely in English which is a bit of a pity.

We did stop at the Musée de l’Imprimerie et de la communication graphique. The museum was in renovation and unfortunately the Andy Warhol exhibit begins later in the month but it was fascinating to read and see about the most amazing invention: the printing press. Yup, even more amazing than the smart phone, in my humble opinion.

Vintage product labels
Lovely vintage labels, the kind you pin obsessively on your Pinterest boards


Typography in France

While Montreal is still buried in snow, here magnolias and tulips are in full bloom:

And of course, bookshops.



You can see the bookseller behind the window. No computer, a life of reading. So satisfying to see.

Finally, I have come to terms that I am not an Urban Sketcher. It takes me a while to summon the courage to open my book and draw and it doesn’t help that I’m with a travel companion who wants to move, move, move all the time. So in the evening I decided to try a bit of direct watercolor (without preliminary sketch) painting.

If you are ever considering becoming a plant-based eater and you still wonder if it’s worth it. I urge you to draw an animal and observe it closely. This dignified cow with her beautiful eyes just made me tear up while I was painting it. Surely it’s not longer in this world.


One month in France, week one.

As I walked down the stairs of our Airbnb I told my husband (again) that I was in turmoil because I couldn’t decide where to focus my energy, what my priorities should be now that we are in France for the whole month. I finished the MBSR and I thought: I’m well on the way to learning to approach things a little different. 

But noooo! My brain is too set on its anxious, overdrive ways. It controls me. And so, I resisted coming to France for so long because I didn’t want to leave my projects hanging (plus flying!) I made sure I brought everything I needed to get my work done, both on the e-commerce front and the watercolor front. But when you’re travelling and working, not necessarily all the time but for a longer period, a feeling seems to develop: “I should be out there exploring” versus “I should be working”. And so I’m here in a small, very French, studio, tramways are passing by on the street below, cars honking. I look out the window and see this beautiful European architecture in the foreground and the beautiful Alps in the background.

Grenoble France

And then it was clear as the snowy mountain against the blue sky: I love France. I love being here. I love the lifestyle but most of all, I love their culture. There are bookshops every few blocks, there are magazine shops and stands all over the place. People still READ THE PAPER on paper. And the conversations… oh my, I was here in 2014 for three months and nothing has changed, people actually have what seems, in-depth conversations, not small talk. I don’t see people walking with their phones out like zombies. Or at least not as much as in North America. There is this quality of life that feels so good. Sure, the French have their quirks and I don’t think I would be able to live here full time, despite my husband’s dreams, but I wouldn’t mind spending a full year.

Color palette in Grenoble France

We walked the streets being careful of the Tramway and we ended up in a little cinema where no pop corn is sold, so no munching and paper crunching during the film. We watched Three Billboards in a tiny theatre on a Monday night. Walking home afterwards surrounded by beautiful buildings is what romance is made of, I must say.

Chateau de Vizille

We spent the previous Sunday with my husband’s colleagues and their kids. They took us to Chateau de Vizille which is surrounded by a beautiful park. So a walk in the wintery landscape gave me the inspiration to take out some photos and practice what I learned in the Dark Botanical Photography class on Skillshare. That day I was a bit moody. I wanted to do some sketching but when you’re in a group outing it isn’t  too cool to keep people waiting so I took photos:

Dark Botanical Photos




Finally, one week after arriving here I finally pulled out my sketchbook and used just two of my new paints: Daniel Smith Moongloow and Quinacridone Gold and painted tea and tea cups beside my pile of museum brochures.

Watercolor teacups

I knew I would reach this state of calm acceptance but I also needed to not fight the tsunami that comes from being plucked out of my environment and my routine. I’m sure it’s hereditary.