Having been to Paris several times I’ve already checked most of the “must-do” sights off my list once if not more – Eiffel Tower, check. Notre Dame, check. Louvre, Orsay, Pompidou, all check. And while revisiting many of these iconic sights as well as other lesser-frequented pockets of Paris will never get old, I wanted to seek out more experiential activities during my most recent visit, like smaller museums, special exhibits and perhaps a cooking or art class or both. When in Paris, right?
The City of Light has been a beacon for artists for centuries, from pre-Revolution times when the very best painters and sculptors from around Europe came to Paris for royal commissions to the early 20th century when the who’s who of writers, painters and composers were drawn to the beauty, romance and creative spirit of this vibrant city just as travelers are today. Simply put, being an artist in Paris has always been très chic.
Yet to my surprise, finding an art class that spanned only a few hours was a bit of a challenge. I found many longer, more in-depth classes and only one that was precisely what we were looking for, however the artist was not offering classes during the time of our visit. In a city with such a strong artistic foundation I refused to be so easily defeated. I continued to scour art boards and resources for English-speakers and finally came across a listing for Draw with Claude in Paris. It sounded perfect, quintessentially French yet could pass for a weekend afternoon show on PBS that makes drawing easy and fun for serious artists and novices alike.
I reached out to Claude (a fitting name for a Paris-based artist, which I assume is short for Claudine) to coordinate a private art workshop for my husband and I during our time in Paris. We exchanged emails about our experience, what type of subject matter we would most be interested in and potential locations, from which we choose the gloriously gorgeous Jardin du Luxembourg. In the weeks leading up to our meeting date Claude also provided a list of suggested materials so that we would come properly prepared and encouraged us to bring photos of previous work to review before our lesson.
So…aside from a few local paint with wine nights at neighborhood bars, I don’t think I’ve had much of an opportunity to do “art” in the last 15 to 20 years, nor was I able to get back in the saddle prior to our trip due to a tiny distraction at home (i.e. my at the time 10-month-old son). Luckily we got our artistic stride once we arrived in Paris, attracted to the city’s ever-inviting park benches to capture its beauty not with our iPhones but with a pencil. Already we’re off to a good start.
On the day of our class we met Claude promptly at 10am at the entrance to the Luxembourg gardens. The 3 of us found a quiet area to review our sketchbooks, talking about each of our drawing styles and possible direction for the lesson. I am one of the many who swoon over the green metal chairs in Paris’ parks, so naturally this influenced where we decided to set up shop for our plein air sketching session. Claude bounced back and forth between my husband and I, offering guidance over our shoulders and encouraged us to experiment with new materials and techniques. Our 2 hours with her flew by to say the least, and we lingered in the park even longer to put the finishing touches on our work. Voilà!
After seeing the “best of” Paris, I discovered that the next best thing was to turn my attention to the often overlooked details that have made this city such a magical place for centuries. For example, as many times as I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower I never really stopped to study the specific pattern and intricacy of its iron lattice design (it really is truly lovely). Opening up a sketch book helped me do just that, and honestly we would have sketched a lot more during our time in Paris had the weather not been so drizzly. I found sketching to be not only relaxing but also a rewarding way to take in a city I thought I already knew, and hope to do more during future travels.