The weather in the Jura mountains is changing. This is climate change, the residents tell me. Once, the snow came reliably every year, bringing skiers. Now, the snow is unreliable. “It shouldn’t be like this,” they said, looking out at the slushy rain. This is February: high skiing season. “It should not be like this,” they say again, sadly.
Here is a sketch made looking out of the window into the rain and melting snow. The lady at the Post Office added the stamp.
I made that picture with just watercolour: no pen.
The Hôtel de France celebrates the fine engineering expertise of the area with a collection of typewriters. There were several in the meeting room where we worked. Here is one of them.
This was a busy visit. My arrival had been delayed by a storm, and so work was compressed into a few hours. My next sketching opportunity was while I waited for a lift to the station.
Here is a machine that was used to make music boxes:
The machine is about 100 years old. It still works. It sits with its colleagues and companion machines in the workshop of Dr Wyss, in Sainte-Croix. Dr Wyss collected the ancient machines, as the music box industry declined in the region. They are now looked after in a dim and oily machine shop, in a semi-basement of an unremarkable building. Mr Théodore Hatt is their carer, curator and operator. I had the great privilege of spending some time in the workshop, quietly drawing, while Mr Hatt showed the collection to a visiting engineer from Germany.
The machines operate from huge and very dangerous-looking belts in the ceiling. At a certain point in his presentation, Mr Hatt sets all these belts in motion. They create a gentle rhythmic noise, rumbling down the length of the workshop. He connects different machines, driven by the belts. Each machine changes the noise slightly. His explanations, in German, come to me in harmony with the machine beats.
I drew the electroplating machine, and the drill:
Here are some work-in-progress photos, and a close-up of the cogwheel in the first picture:
On the way home, in Geneva airport, I drew the view:
From gate B32 Geneva airport
“Amidst runway fog a hawk circles and plummets. The crows are annoyed.”
At the Wellcome Collection there was a special exhibition on colour. It was called “The Pharmacy of Colour”. A short film pointed out that certain substances used as pigments were also used as medicine. A red pigment called lac, produced from grinding up lac insects, was also used as a medicine. Saffron is both a dye and a medicine. And the terribly poisonous Red Lead was also cheerfully described as a red paint on medieval manuscripts, mixed with egg yolk. Don’t lick the pages. It was also, alarmingly, used for treating intestinal disorders. A cabinet held jars of bright pigment, well protected behind glass. Yellow Ochre was there, and Ultramarine Blue, both of which I use. I’ve often wondered about the colours in my box, and the real chemistry behind the names.
Interesting though this was, it didn’t take long to look at, and it had been a long walk to the Wellcome Collection. So I went to their other current exhibition “Teeth”. This was mainly about dentistry through the ages. The images were alarming and I was unprepared. I found some of the exhibits calming though. Here is “Junior Dental Chair” from the 1950s. It reminds me of my very first dentist, Mr Gant. He must have had one of these. I can almost smell it, the leather at the back, and that hard, sculpted, bow in which you rested your head.
There were many people drawing in there. An art class, perhaps.
The equipment was strangely humanoid.
I read that “Patients from the 1960s and 1970s, when amalgam filling use peaked, are known to dentists as the “heavy metal generation”. That would be me then. Amalgam is mercury, silver, tin and copper.
I also read that “Tooth decay is the number one reason for child admissions to hospital.” I paused at that statistic. The woman next to me was reading it too. I commented that I found it surprising. She said it was because “People can’t afford to take their children to the dentist.” She spoke with authority. Dental charges have gone up, she explained. The hospital is part of the NHS and so is free of charge at the point of use. “So people wait until it’s really bad, and then take the child to A&E,” she said, speaking as though a practitioner. She smiled grimly and walked away. A strong woman, upright, informed, articulate, opinionated, caring. A dentist herself, perhaps, or an NHS administrator, or medical person, I thought.
I’m just back from another visit to Sainte-Croix in Vaud, Switzerland. Mostly I was working, but I managed to do a few sketches.
I started sketching at the airport. The flight was full.
Here’s one of the outside of the hotel, done in 1 hour and 50 minutes, sitting on the pavement in the sun.
In between work on the computer and discussions, I made small quick sketches of what was in front of me. I experimented with watercolour sticks, which are very messy, but deliver strong bright colour.
Breakfast: Ovomaltine container and cup, done with watercolour sticks.
Experimental study of breakfast items, using watercolour sticks.
Flags on the outside of the hotel.
Here’s another experiment with the watercolour sticks. I was walking back from the swimming pool, and saw this sweep of land and the farmhouse sheltered by trees. I was shortly due back at the hotel, so I made this sketch in about 10 minutes, sitting on the road. The watercolour sticks throw the colour on very quickly, and don’t allow me to fuss.
Here is a sketch made in about 20 minutes, while waiting for a meeting to start. I was looking out of the window…..
At the end of my visit I sat at a table on the terrace and looked across to the Mont de Baulmes.
Pen and wash, 20 minutes plus 20 minutes later.
Here are the watercolour sticks in their new/old box. It’s an old cigarette box. I just discovered they all fit into it nicely.
Here’s a drawing on location:
With thanks to Marina and Rolf, proprietors of the Hôtel de France, 25 rue Centrale, Sainte-Croix, Vaud, Switzerland. www.hotelfrance.ch
I visited the Hôtel de France, Sainte-Croix in Vaud, Switzerland. Here is the hotel, from the street outside, just after I arrived.
I had to wait in Geneva train station, for the train which goes to Yverdon-les-Bains. The sun came through the windows and people walked through the lighted space.
The Hôtel de France is known for its absinthe.
I sketched the absinthe table. The bottles look like a group of people waiting for something to happen. Like people, the bottles have common basic characteristics, but each has their individual variations.
Glasses, too, have their characters.
I walked down the ancient salt road to the village of Vuitebœuf. Here is the Église de Vuitebœuf from the rue du Culaz, which I afterwards found out is also on the ‘Via Francigena’ pilgrims’ route Canterbury to Rome (1900km).
This church was constructed in 1904 to the design of Charles-François Bonjour.
I travelled back to London late Sunday night, on a crowded ‘plane from Geneva.
From gate B42
Boarding the aircraft
Here are links to previous drawings in Sainte-Croix.
Walking on the way to the print studio I decided I would do two colours. Furthermore, I thought that the second colour, with black, should be green, as absinthe is sometimes called the “la fée verte”. Rooting about in the leftovers box at the Print Studio I found some green ink.
The long process of making the plates took all morning. I watched the rain fall into the canal. Perhaps some of this atmosphere went into the print. Making a two-colour print means:
placing the colour-ink plate on the press.
roll over until the plate is out but the paper is trapped under the press roller
lift the press blankets and remove the plate without shifting the paper or the template
get the black-inked plate
put that plate very carefully in the same place on the template
replace the press blankets and roll back over
The potential for error is great. The most obvious error is to put the second plate in up-side-down.
I printed the plates in the afternoon. The error that happened first time round was that the green ink didn’t print at all. Not a dot. Examining the tube very carefully, reading the writing between the splodges on the tube, I saw that it was “block-printing ink”. Lesson: block printing ink does not work for etching/intaglio process. OK.
This is why the background is brown, using the Charbonnel etching ink which I had brought with me. This is very reliable, but is brown not green.
Here is the single colour black, one plate in hard and soft ground.
Here is an out-take, the very first print of this series. The bottles are in hard-ground only, and the registration is totally off. But perhaps that weird dislocation is appropriate for a picture of an absinthe table.
Here’s a sketch of the absinthe table from February this year: