Posts Tagged 'art'

“A Paris Year” by Janice MacLeod: Author Interview (+ GIVEAWAY!)

Janice MacLeod is the New York Times bestselling author of Paris Letters, a charming memoir of a Canadian copywriter’s leap from corporate day job to a creative life in the City of Light.

A page from A Paris Year.

MacLeod is back with her second book now. A Paris Year is less memoir and more sophisticated visual journal. Janice is not only an ace writer, you see. She’s also a talented artist; the book is full of her photographs and watercolor paintings. If she weren’t so delightful, one might almost be jealous of her overabundance of gifts.

But she is delightful! It’s our good fortune to get to go along for the ride she takes us on. A Paris Year: My Day-to-Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World (St. Martin’s Griffin) follows a curious, creative soul’s discovery of Paris. With a whimsical, humorous style, the days fly beautifully by.

In honor of the book’s launch next week, I’m thrilled to offer not just one, but TWO free copies of A Paris Year. Simply comment by June 23, 10 am EST to enter. I’m thrilled, as well, to welcome Janice to the blog. We just missed each other in Paris. I would love to have met her in person. But she sparkles on the page as you’ll soon see.

Paris Letters was your inspirational tale of following a dream. A Paris Year is more curated journal, a combination of personal and historical anecdotes matched with your photographs, watercolors, and other artistic touches. I know a little something about how a book only featuring words (!) is produced. But how do you assemble a highly sophisticated mixed media diary? Like literally, how? Each page is its own art object! I’d love to hear the process of how this book came to be, both in the creative sense and the actual mechanics.

Author Janice MacLeod with one of her painted letters.

How A Paris Year was created is twofold: First, the organizing of information. Second, the actual creating of the pages (the “Like literally, how?”).

First, the organizing. I had a slew of journals from my time in Paris. Plus, I had a slew of photos on my computer. I also had the watercolor paintings of my Paris Letters, the painted letters I create and sell on Etsy.

At first, the plan was to make a book of all the letters. That proved a little dry when you line them all up, simply because sometimes I had a better photo than a painting of something, and sometimes I had a better sketch than photo or painting. Or I knew I could describe something better than I could take a photo or paint it. So my plan evolved to gather the best of all the visual elements.

Then I was walking through Bon Marché on the left bank in Paris and I came across a beautiful journal. I loved the creamy color of the pages, the font of the date at the top of the page, and the feel of it. As soon as I saw it I knew I had an idea for the canvas for my art, and a way to organize my collection… from January to December. I returned to my big pile of art and arranged it according to month. All January photos and paintings with a January theme and so on until December. I researched the notorious people of Paris: kings, queens, artists, authors, and inserted their stories in the appropriate months when they either lived, died, or did something of note. I added more photos and paintings as I went along.

Then a wonderful thing happened. I began to see links. For example, I wrote about the beheading of the king, who was carried to the beheading in a green carriage. Now all the park benches, bookstalls and fountains are painted a certain shade called Carriage Green, which led me to talk about my favorite Carriage Green fountain in front of Shakespeare and Company bookstore, which led to talking about Hemingway, as this was his favorite bookstore, and I happened to write about this on the day before Zelda Fitzgerald’s birthday, who was the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway’s friend, so I wrote about her. All these links seemed to run into each other until I had a year in Paris.

Second, the actual putting together of the book. I confess, I’m not an Adobe wiz. I scanned all my art and used picmonkey, an online photo editor, to create the pages. It was fast and user friendly. Then, I plopped all these art pages in Adobe InDesign (that’s what the printer needs to print the book), and typed in the text because my handwriting is too messy. It was a lot of learning. I’m more of a paint and paper kind of girl, not so much of a digital artist…but I learned so much in the process that I suppose now I am a digital artist. Though Adobe still scares me.

The book blends your personal notes with brief facts about famous Parisian figures. How did you decide upon the right balance? I would imagine an intuitive unfolding…

The more I tend to look at a page, the more I notice how there is only really one route to take. Sure there are other options that float around, but after a year of fiddling with the pages, there is usually one winning way to go.

As for the balance between the memoir aspect of the book and the facts about famous Parisian figures feature of the book, I just wrote all the interesting bits and left out the boring bits.

An example of one of Janice’s painted letters.

I often say to people who I tour around Paris that I know a thing or two about a thing or two. I basically retain the interesting bits and abandon the rest. A Paris Year is filled with all the bits I find interesting. If you’re looking for a full tour of Paris, call Rick Steves. If you’re looking for a lovely way to see Paris without being inundated with details, check out A Paris Year.

As for the memoir aspect of the book, I wanted my readers of Paris Letters (the book this time, not the subscription service) to notice parts of the year that run parallel to moments in the previous book. Little Easter eggs for loyal readers to notice and think, AHHH I remember that moment! Because the books were lived around the same time.

I noticed quite a strain of Ernest Hemingway and A Moveable Feast as inspiration throughout the book. Paris is a city of ghosts and you note that Hemingway seemed to be aiding you along. What do you feel Paris offers you as an artist – or how are you influenced by it? – this city which so many creative souls have inhabited?

When I’m in Paris, I find it easy to answer all the burning questions of my life. I can’t exactly explain it. I feel it’s more than just intuition. I think everyone has ghosts following them around in Paris. Mine happens to be Hemingway. When I first arrived in Paris, I read A Moveable Feast, which has many great lines about life in Paris. These great lines seemed to float around with me on my walks. Plus, the book is also a guidebook for writers on writing, so his advice and experiences in Paris were helpful to me while writing my books about Paris.

Your Paris is lovely and romantic. Yet you did decide to move back to your native Canada and seem to be something of a traveling nomad now. I’m curious to hear why you left – and any insights you’ve learned about this journey (a selfish question, maybe. I’m in the midst of this huge transition now!)

A painted letter.

I definitely had my dreams fulfilled by living in Paris: A book, a thriving online business, and meeting the lovely Christophe. He was feeling tired of Paris. He’d been here for 15 years by that point. I thought perhaps we could fulfill his dream of moving to the mountains of Canada. Plus, as a seasoned visa applicant (like every other expat in France), I thought we should move to a place where I wouldn’t have to spend half my time getting visas approved. I’m Canadian, so moving to Canada was a relatively easy move. The French administration can tire a person out.

Continue reading ‘“A Paris Year” by Janice MacLeod: Author Interview (+ GIVEAWAY!)’

Walk and Invent Your Life (Portes Ouvertes)

I saw this yesterday and thought, yes!

Walk and invent your life.

As it happened, that’s exactly what I was out doing.

I mentioned to you that my last trip home threw up a whole bunch of questions. I’m feeling my way and trying to figure out (yet again) just what the heck I’m doing with this “one wild and precious life” (Mary Oliver shout-out!)

Nope, I don’t have the answers yet (whoa, that would have been lightning fast!), but what I did say was that I was committing to making my life in Paris count, that I’d try to hold onto my newly refreshed New York sense of self here in the City of Light.

Part of that is just keeping my eyes (and ears and heart) open and finding inspiration wherever it may exist.

This week I haven’t had to look far. I’ve literally stumbled right into inspiration. On Monday I saw Deborah Levy speak at Shakespeare & Co. One word: Amazing. I have a new writer crush.

Then yesterday I saw a documentary film made by someone I hadn’t seen in a very long time. On the way home, I saw a small group of 4 people looking down at green pamphlets and looking questioningly at a door. Then they went in.

On the spur of the moment, I followed.

Turns out it was a “portes ouvertes” in my neighborhood. This is always one of my favorite events, and even better when discovered serendipitously. 56 artists in the ‘hood were opening their doors to their studios and showcasing their work.

Continue reading ‘Walk and Invent Your Life (Portes Ouvertes)’

New Girls’ Guide to Paris Article: Hotel des Academies et des Arts

The lobby of the Hotel des Academies et des Arts

Hello hello,

I have a new article over at Girls’ Guide to Paris if anyone wants to take a gander.

I thought I’d share the story behind the story, too. (Oh! Could that be a new feature? Let’s put it in quotes then: “the story behind the story.”)

One of Jerome Mesnager's figures having fun

So I got to visit this boutique hotel on the Left Bank – not far from the Luxembourg Gardens – called the Hotel des Academies et des Arts. A cute couple, Laurent and Charlotte Inchauspé, owns the small design hotel and gave “carte blanche” to renowned street artist Jerome Mesnager to do whatever he desired with the space. A modest group (6-7) writers were invited for a tour and to meet the artist in person.

The wellness room at the hotel

It soon became clear I was the only anglophone present. All of the other invitees were French bloggers and/or journalists. Question: could I cover a story entirely in French for the first time?

Continue reading ‘New Girls’ Guide to Paris Article: Hotel des Academies et des Arts’

Monumenta at the Grand Palais

Since 2007, the Grand Palais has hosted an annual exhibition called “Monumenta.” The French Ministry for Culture and Communication invites an international artist to create a new work designed specifically for the nave of the impressive space.

This year Indian artist Anish Kapoor has created something that truly lives up to the expos’s name. His piece “Leviathan” for Monumenta 2011 is…well…monumental.

Yeah. You’re seeing correctly.

Here’s another shot of tiny people next to the great big art object:

For the record, I don’t mean tiny people in that they’re small. No, they’re normal-sized people next to a friggin’ humongous installation. We’re supposed to say size doesn’t matter, but come on. It really kind of does, right? Visiting the exhibition was definitely an awesome experience.

First, though, you start inside the giant installation.

This was sort of like being inside a giant red womb.

One of the neat things about the Grand Palais is its huge glass dome. As the light changed (it was a cloudy day, with shots of sunshine in passing moments), both the appearance and feel of the object itself changed. When the light streamed in, what looked at first opaque soon transformed, as we could now see the metal armature of the building itself.

The womb was all well and good, but we were ready to get out into the world. And as with birth, nothing really prepares you for what the world actually has in store.

Continue reading ‘Monumenta at the Grand Palais’

Belleville’s Portes Ouvertes

Any guesses as to where this photo was taken?

If you said in the middle of Paris’ 20th arrondissement, gosh you’re good!

I, for one, was surprised (and delighted!) to come upon this patch of woods behind a very unassuming door in the city.

These sorts of serendipitous discoveries were numerous this weekend, as Belleville’s annual Portes Ouvertes took place over 4 days. Nearly 130 artists’ ateliers were open to the public.

I have to admit, finding interesting passageways and cute spaces was as much, if not more, my goal than looking at art as I set out. I just love stumbling into different nooks and crannies of the city, discovering spaces that are often hidden from sight.

Cutie-patootie courtyard

I started out on Rue Denoyez, which is definitely not a secret. It’s a popular street for graffiti artists and it changes by the day. It’s always a good bet if you need a riot of color.

I then went wandering at random. There was a list of all the different artists showing work, but I liked the idea of just popping in and out as the spirit moved me. Much of the arty scenery was simply found by walking around the back streets.

My favorite discovery was a little area around Rue des Cascades and Rue de Savies. It felt like its own private neighborhood – and the neighbors made us feel that, too! Many of the people on the street looked at us like we didn’t belong there and a woman yelled at us not to take a picture of her bar.

We went in to places, anyway. It was “portes ouvertes” after all!

Can't begin to describe how, ahem, interesting this studio was

On the lookout for those who don’t belong!

Rue des Cascades/Rue de Savies

Trying for an arty shot to go with the event:

Pouty Sion in Paris painters' forest

And me in my more natural pose (Can’t. Contain. Laughter.):

A great little stroll!

If you’re in Paris, there’s still time to visit. Today is the last day – Portes Ouvertes from 2 – 9 PM.

Street Art with a Statement

Stumbling onto street art is one of my favorite parts about wandering Paris. This week, a French street artist known only as “JR” won the $100,000 TED prize for his large-format portraits of every day people, often in some of the world’s most depressed areas.

His work first came to light when he took photos of people in the banlieues. (Banlieues, the ‘suburbs,’ are nothing like the American conception of prim residential areas, but often home to poor communities). He posted these photos in Paris’ most bourgeois neighborhoods.

JR - Art on Manette Street (Foyles)

In the video, he says that he doesn’t set out to change the world. And yet, his portraits have an impact, bringing people face to face – literally – with whom they might otherwise try to ignore.

Continue reading ‘Street Art with a Statement’

White Nights, Art in the City

Centre Pompidou, the buidling itself like an art installation

Last Saturday was the ninth edition of Nuit Blanche in Paris, an all-night arts festival where museums, galleries, churches, and just about any other public or private space that wants throws open their doors to creative exhibitions.

The open street also becomes a living playground. Light shows, sculptures, installations, performance art; you were bound to run into all of these things last Saturday, if you just set your mind to wandering.

I didn’t get to see much of Nuit Blanche, unfortunately. I was inside at a friend’s going away party. (I did, however, witness a whole different late night scene as my friend lives on Rue St. Denis, which – how to put this delicately – is where “working ladies of the night” and their clientele meet. That, however, is a whole other story.)

Nuit Blanche or not, Paris is known as an art capital year-round, with a bazillion museums and art galleries to its credit (close approximation). You may remember my gushing about the recent Yves Saint Laurent expo. Not only did I love the exhibition, but I adored being in the Petit Palais (little palace) at midnight.

That outing gave me the idea to pitch a short article about other Paris museums where you can get your late-night art fix. I picked a few major museums and coupled them with dining suggestions and voila! My latest published clip at Girls’ Guide to Paris!

Enjoy the article and bon weekend!

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Making out at the Musee D’Orsay

Musée D'Orsay
A few weeks ago, I went to the Musee d’Orsay for the first time. I know, I know; you don’t even have to say it. How in the world have I lived in Paris this long and never visited this fabulous museum?

Well, I have now, so there will be none of that.

The Musee d’Orsay is as wonderful as everyone says. The museum itself is gorgeous, a former railway station originally designed for the 1900 Exposition Universelle. And what it contains! A spectacular collection of impressionist (and post-impressionist) art with all the heavy-hitters: Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Matisse. Just to name a few, of course.

Be warned: Renovations are currently under way and the permanent collection from the (skylit) fifth floor has been moved down to the first two levels of the museum. This being Paris, though, even the renovations manage to be classy.

Practically, this also means that a fair number of the permanent pieces are out on loan. My friend Sarah was heartbroken that her favorite painting was currently at the San Francisco Museum.

But, we found plenty to feast our eyes on, as we meandered our way from one dreamy landscape to the next.

We were taken out of the artistic reverie by one pretty shocking display, however: a couple making out directly in front of the descriptive text introducing the museum’s collection.

I’m not talking a little kissing, either. (This is Paris! There is art! That could be forgiven). No, I’m talking about pushed up against the wall, hard-core, do they need a hotel room pawing. I’m no prude, but I felt so uncomfortable that I just had to leave the room (after picking my jaw up off the ground).

Now I know I’ve been encouraging a more friendly Paris lately; this is not at all what I had in mind, however.

Recovering from the incident and from taking in so much beauty, Sarah and I treated ourselves to lunch in the gorgeous restaurant. What would be become a 3-hour affair.

Now, I wouldn’t normally think to indulge in such a thing. Lunch in a museum would be overpriced, right? Not even. I had a delicious risotto for 16 euros, what you’d pay in a lot of places in Paris, and yet I felt like I was dining in a palace:

Fine dining at the Musee d'Orsay

One thing, though: it seemed we couldn’t order wine by the glass. I guess there are worse fates than being forced to spring for an entire bottle (or half-bottle) of Sancerre. (This might have accounted for why we spent 3 hours talking away – more and more animatedly, I might add).

All in all, well worth a visit. Both the museum and the restaurant. I love visiting museums at night, too. If you do, as well, the Musee d’Orsay has extended hours until 9:45 PM on Thursdays.

At that hour, who knows what frisky couples will be up to, though. Beware!

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TIP: The Fantastic World of Flateurville

Tucked away in a discreet passageway in Paris’ 10th arrondissement is the weirdly fantastical Flateurville, an imaginary city with a real-world address. Artist Laurent Godard has created an entire history and narrative for his fake village, and the space feels truly out of this world. If you didn’t think it possible to step inside someone else’s creative mind, come give this place a try.

When you first enter Flateurville, you’ll feel a moment of confusion. The first room is small and somber; there probably won’t be anyone lingering here. A TV might be playing, a few art objects scattered about, but otherwise the room’s a bit suffocating.

Head through the small hallway, however, and you’ll enter a room with a small stage, Christmas trees and other foliage (yeah, you read that right). This is where bands and other performers are invited to play.

Les Elles du Tambour - fabulous all-female percussion group

But the exploration has just begun. Next is a brightly lit room with paintings on every wall and a large vault in the center of the room. So many random elements, though you get the impression everything is there for a reason.

Frolic in the “playroom” on one side or head to the room on the other. Old black and white photographs, paintings, and machines; the first time I visited, I didn’t know where to set my eyes, there’s so much to see.

The largest room features not only Godard’s artwork, but also temporary exhibitions. It’s big enough to house cars, pianos, motorcycles, and bathtubs, too. On expo nights, enjoy cheap drinks and free snacks.

When writing in English I try not to slip into Franglais. But two French words seem the most apt to describe the feeling of wonder when I discovered this place: delirant, hallucinant. (Delirious and hallucinating – not an elegant translation, but believe me, those are the words that spring to mind).

If you’re looking for a different experience in Paris, head to Flateurville on Thursdays to see what’s on. You might not understand what world you’ve stumbled into, but you probably won’t forget it.

24 cours des petits ecuries
Paris 75010
Metro Strasbourg St. Denis

Note: Thursdays are open to the public starting at 6:30 PM, though it’s more animated later on. You can also visit by appointment – information available on their website. I’ve walked from the metro to Flateurville solo before, but it feels more comfortable walking in that area with friends.

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paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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