It was the amazing light that attracted me to this scene rather than the cathedral  itself. The cathedral is utterly stunning, but from such a close distance, visually it didn’t really appeal to me as a subject for painting. (And being so close I also wasn’t able to get any decent reference photos!) What did appeal however was a fleeting moment when the sun came out from the gloom, bathing the buildings in front of Notre-Dame with a soft glow that really stood out against a dark and foreboding sky.

It’s taken me a long time to pluck up the courage to tackle this view as it’s quite epic! It contains such a large amount of architectural detail and people. In an effort to cope with all this complexity, I started with a much more detailed sketch than I would normally do, but I wanted to be sure I had all the elements in place and that the perspectives were correct before I started splashing paint on. I was also planning this to be a ‘light’ painting, where the painting would, in a way, hang onto the drawing. (As you can probably tell however, this changed quite quickly once I got started but the detailed drawing was, nevertheless, really invaluable.)

Le Notre-Dame, Paris
Le Notre-Dame, Paris

This is one of those paintings that, as I was painting it, I was having such a good time. I was really enjoying myself – and felt that this would also shine through. As it progressed however, I became increasingly tight. I began to pursue smaller details, unbeknowingly at the time at the expense of the the overall picture.

Now when I look at this, I see the tightness – not the enjoyment. There’s still much I do like, the contrast between the sky and the buildings, I like much of the architectural work and detailing, and the long queue of people in the background. The foreground figures however became hugely overworked as I fiddled and faffed about with them as I tried to get them right – only to see at the end that I’d painted nearly all of them in pairs, and nearly all at the same scale!

Even as I write this, I already have another outline sketch of this on the go. I don’t want to copy this and eradicate the elements I don’t like, but to repaint it with an altogether different spirit! I want to try to approach this with a much greater sense of abandon, of freedom and fearlessness. I’d like to paint the whole scene ‘wetter’ – not in terms of weather conditions, but in terms of my palette – with much more loaded brushtrokes. I’d like put the spirit of my next attempt above anything else.

Haha, bold words indeed and I’m already feeling the weight of expectation hanging over me – I’m already intrigued to see where this may lead!

15 thoughts on “Le Notre-Dame Paris

  1. What an epic painting, I totally understand what you mean about approaching a painting not intending to get detailed and then you realize….darn, that you had gotten tight and the longer you proceed, it is even tighter! (been there!!!). I think that I know what happens or at least I venture out to surmise what happens. Technically when you draw something up and in this case making sure you are correct in your perspective and of course people anatomically correct, you have fully engaged your left brain. But now to have the left brain step aside while the right brain takes the wheel, that is a hard one! Have you thought of tackling the painting not on the same day as you drew out your painting? Have all your area ready for the next painting session. On the actual day of painting, first loosening up with painting practices…..then just jump in and do it? You might have to trick the left brain in letting the right brain take the helm. To me your painting an amazing feat to get all your ducks lined up and accurate. I don’t think I would have the patience! I agree, I really like the contrast of the sky and buildings and if you squint your eyes, you see the wonderful dynamics going on. I can’t wait to see your future painting or series (right?) sorry for the length of this post lol

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    1. Thanks so much Margaret for a really interesting perspective that I hadn’t really considered. I do usually have a gap between drawing out and painting which is more to do with circumstances than any planning – I can draw things out in the evenings but most of my painting is done at weekends when I can get some better quality light (and some time!). Looking back on this experience – I think I ended up with too detailed a drawing that I think tried to colour in. Maybe I need to aim for an accurate but looser framework type of drawing, that maps out the main shapes but not the details (I had windows and chimneys drawn on for instance). I’ve already got the next attempt drawn out and I’m still deliberating how to approach it differently. last time I started with the sky, but I’m thinking I might leave it till last… I did the main figures towards the end too, maybe I should put them in much earlier and work around or over them? The great thing is (I suppose!) – that there’s no fixed way of doing it – lots of different approaches could lead to good results. Sometimes, it might just be a case of choosing an approach and keeping faith it – what’s the worst that can happen!! Thanks so much for your thoughts Margaret – really do appreciated them.

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      1. I think that you nailed it, looser drawing….anything to trick the brain. 😉 I think too that watercolor gives (and it is true sometimes) us a need and feeling to ‘control’ it. I am looking forward to your next post, always so interesting with how you detail out your process. I learn a lot when you do this.

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    1. Thanks so much for this Snehal, I really appreciate your kind comments and agree, especially that the crowd scene worked well. Am sure too that it’s no coincidence that there was no overpainting with the crowd scene – unlike with the more prominent figures where there was a great deal of messing about!

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