Sunday, May 25, 2014

why i love paris (4)

It was December 25, 2013.  I was going to meet up with members of Paris Sketchers group at Musée Jacquemart-André, in the 9th arrondissement of Paris.  It would be only my second outing with the group since becoming a member the month before, and I did not know Marie-Christine, who had suggested the outing.  I had found it strange at first that someone would imagine asking people other than family and friends to join her in visiting a museum on Christmas Day.  As such, I had expected to do anything but show up.  But knowing that I would be in Paris as the day drew closer, I found the idea more and more appealing.  In the end, I embraced the strangeness of it.

Passing through the courtyard lying between the ticket booth and the entrance to the museum building, I felt the cold.  I was even surprised to discover two sketchers there, busy at work.  I went over to meet each of these courageous individuals.  There was first Marie-Christine and, a bit farther away, Savath.  They were friendly and showed me their sketches.  It was great knowing that they were around, as if that was the encouragement that I needed to start drawing.  But I was not going to do that outside.  It seemed too much for my body to bear.  So I went inside the building to take a tour.  It was a small museum, but its rooms were pleasantly laid out and well adorned with paintings, sculptures, plants, mirrors, chandeliers, and other fancy objects.  In spite of this richness, I could not settle on a subject to get the drawing juices flowing.  I ended up returning to the courtyard to try my hand (and eyes) at the facade of the building.  If Marie-Christine and Savath could brave the cold, I could too.

I found an empty bench on one end of the courtyard and facing the center of the building that seemed perfect.  The foldable stool that I had brought was no longer necessary, so I placed that on the bench, next to the pouch containing pencils, eraser, and cutter that I kept beside me.  And off I went.  While I drew, visitors kept passing by, either to enter or to leave the building, and as far as I could tell, they did not always notice me.  When they did, their attention was generally held for an instant before they continued along their path as if nothing had happened.  Less discreet were several Asian tourists.  Some of them took pictures of me, sometimes asking for permission, sometimes not.  Others approached to see my sketch and may have given a compliment.  One man even came by and sat on the bench with me for a while.  There were some empty benches nearby, but he made sure to choose mine.  Coincidence?  Who knows.  In any case, I was too focused on my drawing to chase him away.

This focus disappeared as slowly as the rain appeared.  I had made great progress on the sketch, but it was far from finished.  I felt like being at a crossroads.  Having always succeeded in bringing my drawings to a state of completion, I wanted to finish what I had started.  But I feared that the rain would fall down harder than in the light drops that I was feeling.  Besides, I had become aware of the cold.  Ultimately, I aborted ship and went back inside.  I was not particularly satisfied with the sketch, but I believed that I had done what I could given the circumstances.

After scouring the building floor to floor to find a place from where I could sketch without being disturbed by the stream of visitors passing through, I found a corner at a dead end on the top floor that was small enough to discourage a crowd from approaching.  What's more, it provided a superb view of the ground floor and the staircase linking it to the top floor.  It was perfect.  So I unfolded my stool there, sharpened my pencils using the cutter, and started sketching.  Since the corner was partially bordered by a decorative handrail that extended horizontally from the top of the staircase, I spent some time standing in order to capture a clearer plunging view.  From time to time, I caught sight of people coming up the stairs, notably a large group of Italian girls, yet hardly anyone dared to come towards the corner where I was.  The rare ones that did usually asked for permission to look at my sketch and left after saying something kind.  One woman in particular came by and said nothing like the other curious folk before her.  I did not recognize her after she caught my attention and she began to introduce herself, in English for that matter.  Then I figured it out.  It was Kim, the administrator of the Paris Sketchers group, with whom I had corresponded over e-mail when I was trying to become a member.  I had gotten the sense at that time that she was American just by the way she expressed herself in writing. In person, talking to me, she had to be American.  In any case, she had a friendly demeanor and I connected well with her.  She informed me that she had just arrived at the museum and that all the sketchers would be meeting in the cafe on the ground floor around 4:30pm ‒ which I took as the deadline for stopping all sketching work.  And then she left and would later find a bench at the base of the staircase to sit in order to make some sketches of her own.  Knowing that I had a clear deadline motivated me to get into my drawing more, and I began to fill in details wherever I could.  Eventually, I was lost in my work.  The effort and its progressive results were definitely making up for the incomplete sketch of the building facade.  When I decided that there was nothing more that I could enrich, I was very pleased.  I even felt that I had reached a new high in my drawing.  In fact, the high went beyond the drawing, because until then I had never spent a period of more than 4 hours in a museum without appreciating a single work of art put on display ‒ and enjoyed it.

Just before the clock stroke 4:30pm, I packed up and went downstairs to the cafe to join the crew.  Still high on enthusiasm, I walked into the room oblivious to the fact that there was a queue at the entrance.  Someone made sure to let me know, though it did no longer mattered as I had already spotted Kim and Marie-Christine at a table.  I went to take the seat across Kim and began chatting with them.  We ordered some time after that ‒ all that drawing had left me hungry ‒ and then resumed our chatter.  Savath would arrive later.  During our time in the cafe, we showed each other our works du jour, giving and receiving compliments and comments.  I was truly in awe of some of the sketches that I saw, wishing to master the techniques used.  Besides the drawings, I got to learn more about the other sketchers.  I felt relaxed in their company, which was due in large part to Kim.  The both of us got along very well so quickly that I was surprised at how spontaneous and how expressive I was with three people that I had just met.

While we were leaving the museum, I could not help but look forward to future outings to do urban sketching in Paris, whether it was on Christmas Day or not.

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