Happy to introduce guest contributor Anene Tressler-Hauschultz. I am jealous of Anene’s opportunity to spend a week at an art colony in France. However, she was gracious enough to allow us to live vicariously through her experience by offering us a day-in-the-life of a writer at the colony.
Day in a Writer’s Life in Giverny, France
By Anene Tressler-Hauschultz
I spent a week this summer in France with Art Colony Giverny—a retreat for visual artists. But I’m a writer, not a painter. The distinction turned out to be greater—and smaller— than I’d expected. Here’s a day of my adventure:
6:30AM – My roommate and I rise and dress in layers. Mornings and evenings are chilly, although mid-day heats up considerably. We don’t say much…we’re both exhausted from 18-hour days but we want to seize every opportunity.
7AM-8:45AM – We’re staying at Le Moulin des Chennevières, a 17th century mill-turned-B&B. We’re just minutes from Monet’s home and garden, but the painters’ gear requires transport by van. It takes a couple of tries to fit it all in. I carry my journal in my pocket.
We’re admitted through the gardeners’ entrance. The Monet Foundation permits a few artists to work in the garden before and after official visiting hours. During our sessions we are a group no more than ten—quite a contrast to the garden’s 500,000 annual visitors.
8:45AM-9:30AM – Back at the B&B for breakfast, the painters discuss their work and the morning light. They worry over a forecast of rain…and tell stories of painting outdoors in sub-zero weather. We feast on locally-sourced foods and fresh-from-the oven croissants. My coffee cup is the size of a melon.
9:45AM – I check email for news about work and home. There’s little I can do about client questions from here, but it’s a habit I keep.
10AM – En route to Lavacourt, we pass a field of poppies; the painters let out a collective gasp. The driver stops and they scramble for photographs. Several say they’ll paint from their pictures. Others insist photos cannot capture the true scene. The “discussion” nears the pitch of argument.
At the day’s plein air location, the artists quickly get to work. I am surprised that they talk and listen to music as they paint; I need silence when I write.
Making art demands observation. After working on a sketch of Lavacourt’s cathedral for about thirty minutes, I realize a line of purple traverses its roof. Painting is like writing: The more you focus, the more you discover.
12:30PM – Two of the painters are sunburned. We lunch at a small café. Over glasses of wine, the conversation becomes less guarded. One of the painters asks why I’m here since I’m not an artist. Isn’t a writer an artist?
2:30PM – Immersed in the play of language, I journal about the artists’ lunchtime revelations. A painting might show a sad woman, but her history and circumstances require words.
5PM – Back in Giverny, I walk to Monet’s house. His studio, where he painted his water lilies, has been turned into a gift shop. I’ve visited the homes of a few writers, but even among the most famous, the mercantile opportunities never matched the magnets, calendars, posters, jewelry and scarves that crowd the displays. Is it because so much of the writer’s life is in the mind, and not so easily shown?
5:30PM – The painters set up for their evening in the garden. They share supplies, offer pointers to one another. I consider past writing workshops. Were they ever so straightforward, so painless?
8:30PM – We dine outdoors at Giverny’s Hotel Baudy. One artist recounts selling a favorite painting—a scene done in Italy—and how she regrets it. I realize that copies of my book—whether hardback, trade paper or e-Book—offer the identical story. In the world of visual art, there is only one original.
11PM – We climb the stairs to our rooms. As my roommate organizes her supplies for the next morning, I reach for my journal to record impressions and thoughts about the day. I’m tired, but afraid I may forget details. So I push myself…much as the painters do, when they rush against the dying light to capture a scene.
Anene is a freelance writer and co-owner of Blackbird Creative, a partnership specializing in corporate communication, including film/video and events. Her award-winning novel, Dancing With Gravity was published in 2011 by Blank Slate Press. You can find her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter at @AneneWrites, and you can view her book trailer here.