Painting at the Mediterranean Sea

Short memoir of a painting trip to southern France

By Kajo

I remember going to the Mediterranean Sea - my wife joined me, but we left our dog Lasha at our home in Tirana. We drove for about five days from Albania to France in our old Volkswagen. We stayed at a small campsite at a place called Antibes. This was in the most southern part of France, in the famous Cote d’Azur (something like 'Blue or Azure Coast') region, the French Riviera (we found out that many great artists had their winter residences there).

For about two weeks we would walk to the beach every day. Doing so we walked along a beautiful white avenue, a real French boulevard. The houses on both sides were painted white and the occupants grew cactuses and Nerium Oleander species in their yards. We often made stops to drink coffee or a soda, and we would buy bottles of wine at a marché (French supermarket) to drink during the day. After a while we left the main road and we would hit a dirt track, used by local farmers, leading to the coast. It was so hot during this time in august, sometimes it seemed even nature stopped making sounds at noon. But I still wanted to paint in the sun on the steep cliffs overlooking the beautiful Mediterranean Sea.

Antibes Mediterranean Sea

When I found a nice spot to paint I would first just stand there and look at the shore and the sea. What were the colors like? How about the shapes? I always envyd the landscape painter - and at that time I considered myself such - for they encounter their designs 'ready-made': already existing out in the world. I really wanted to see and not paint according to what I thought I saw, so this process could take up to half an hour. When I was ready I would put up my easel and started to paint the first layer. At that time I used oil paint which I would carry in an old worn-out bag. The bag was stuffed with painting materials; brushes, paints and different mediums. (I actually prepared several painting mediums so that each subsequent layer of paint contained a little more oil than the preceeding layers; this would ensure a long life for the painting without cracking.) When something in the painting didn't look right, a quick look at the source would reveal what corrections needed to be made.

During this time I made two great paintings. The tricky part was to get them back safely and unscratched to Tirana. Fortunately the paint was already quite dried-up thanks to the heat. The finished paintings were allowed to dry for a week further back in Tirana, and then I applied a very thin retouching varnish to unify the surface of the painting. Different paints dry at different rates, and it is important to see the entire painting with homogenous specularity to confirm all the colors are correct. The paint on my paintings was applied fairly thin, and so after a additional period of about a month, I applied a final sealing coat of damar varnish - the perfect gem-like surface for an oil painting. Let me finish by telling you that outdoor painting is still one of my favorite activities. You get the best of two worlds; making art and be out in the open. Hopefully I will be able to visit France sometimes again.