Art & Travel: Sketching Provence

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I’ve just returned from a very relaxing week on the French Riviera. It was a slow-paced trip, with plenty of time for reading, swimming, and admiring the views. I got in a bit of sketching time, as well. I love sketching in a new place. It’s such a good way to pause and really take in a new environment. In addition to capturing a bit of the visuals, I try to take notes about the temperature, sounds, smells, and movements going on around me.

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I’ve been invited to give a talk at the Edinburgh Art Fair in November on the subject of art and travel. I’m using it as an opportunity to research what other artists have to say on the subject, as well as putting together my own thoughts. Do you have a favorite artist whose work reflects their travel experiences? Do you make art when you travel?

Into September

Stockbridge Rooftops by Julie Galante

Stockbridge Rooftops, oil on canvas, 50x50cm. One of my paintings on display at the Stockbridge Library through 23 September.

It’s been a busy week. I brought work home from one show, hung another show, and found out my art has been accepted into a third show. While updating my exhibitions page, I realized that that makes six times I’ll have exhibited my work this year. Very pleased with that number.

I’ve also been rejiggering my daily schedule, hoping to keep actual studio time from falling through the cracks too often. After reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, I decided to try doing certain important things every day. She makes the argument that it is sometimes easier to commit to doing something every day than, say, every other day, or three times per week. So now I am making a point to spend some time making art every day, even if it’s not for very long some days. I’m doing this in the mornings, in part because I am less likely to skip studio time this way, and also because winter is right around the corner, and the sun doesn’t shine very long into the afternoons here in Edinburgh in the winter months. So far it’s going pretty well, and hopefully I’m on my way to making morning studio time a habit.

For September I’m participating in Leslie Saeta’s 30 Paintings in 30 Days challenge. I love a good challenge to get me to try something new. This time around I’m posting a new painting in my shop each day, paintings that I haven’t offered for sale anywhere before now. They are all new, and some of them are pieces I might not have otherwise gotten around to posting – there are always some paintings that I love but am not sure whether anyone else will respond well to them, so I don’t end up sharing them anywhere. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned during my art career, it’s that people are constantly surprising me with their reactions to my artwork, so it’s usually worth sharing a piece on the chance that it will speak to someone. You can see my growing collection of 30 Paintings in 30 Days here.

Painting my way through the Edinburgh Festivals

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Edinburgh International Book Festival on Charlotte Square is one of my favorite parts of August. Mixed media on paper.


I’m still working my way through my 100 sheets of parchment. It has turned into a longer project than I expected – originally I was thinking I’d do mostly quick sketches and the like, but I keep finding myself working on some of them for longer amounts of time. Not a bad thing, as several have turned out well enough that I might consider them to be proper artworks. Others are just playful larks, but hopefully I’m learning from them, too.

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A mixed-media (mostly watercolor and pencil) sketch of the Royal Mile during the Fringe Festival.


This month is a very busy one in Edinburgh. August is all festival all the time around here, with not just the Fringe but also a book festival, an art festival, and the original International Festival, plus I’m sure a couple more festivals that I’m forgetting. So of course the festivals are finding their way onto my pieces of parchment.

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My interpretation of the flyer for Citizen Puppet.

I’ve done several cityscapes attempting the capture the crowds and atmosphere, as well as a couple of sillier things in which I’ve used flyers as inspiration. Another thing about Edinburgh in August – the streets are full of people thrusting flyers into your hands, beseeching you to go see their shows. I have developed a habit of accepting these flyers (it’s just easier that way) and bringing them home to add to a pile that will serve some unidentified purpose before getting recycled. I’ve had vague notions of using them for some sort of collage project, but their shiny surfaces make them less than ideal for that purpose. I’ve found it fun to pluck one out of the pile and paint it – the ones featuring creepy puppets are especially well-suited to this.

Speaking of the festivals, I should mention that two of my Gardenstown pieces are currently on display at the Macmillan Art Show, on now through Sunday, 31 August at Bonhams Queen Street. If you’re in Edinburgh, please stop by. It’s full of lovely work from local artists, and sales go to a good cause.

100 pieces of parchment

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We’re in the middle of a big home decluttering project (inspired in part by Marie Kondo’s excellent book). In the course of sorting through our office supplies, I came across a ridiculous amount (4 boxes) of ‘fine parchment’ ivory-colored printer paper, no doubt acquired by both my husband and me for printing resumes right out of college.

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I’m guessing it is no longer the style to present one’s resume on paper that looks like it should have burnt edges and emo love poetry. Plus, all this paper is US Letter sized, which is not used here in Scotland. I was about to chuck it all into the recycling container when it occurred to me that I could try to use it for art.

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Turns out, this wasn’t a half-bad idea. The paper is very sturdy, and takes water and scrubbing well. I decided I’d use it to make 100 artistic experiments, since it’s been a long time since I last worked in such volume (arbitrary challenges like this one can bring some interesting new energy into an artistic practice).

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So far I’ve made about 10 (that I’ve kept, anyway), and most of them are versions of Scottish seaside towns based on sketches and other works I’ve done this year. I’m using a variety of media, including watercolor, acrylics, inks, charcoal, pastel, pencil, and probably a couple other things that I’m forgetting. They are a lot of fun to make, and feel a little bit too much like play to count as work, but hopefully by the end of the 100 I’ll have some new ideas to inform my more serious art.

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Finish it or ruin it: Gardenstown edition

Seaside Town 2

Seaside Town 2, mixed media on watercolor paper, 27x37cm. Available.

Some paintings go from idea to finished work quickly and fluidly. Plenty of others get started and then cast aside, lingering around the studio in a half-finised state. Over time I manage to figure out some of these pieces, but there are always those that continue to stick around, not making their resolutions obvious to me while also not inspiring me to give up on them all together. Every once in a while I have to declare a “finish it or ruin it” week to deal with these misfits.

I gather up all the unresolved pieces in my studio and get to work. My goal for each one is simple: either resolve the piece, or ruin it trying. It’s always delightful when I manage to produce a few good paintings this way, but even the ruined ones have their value. Failed pieces can teach me a lot about composition, color palettes, the limits of my materials, and more.

Seaside Town 1

Seaside Town 1, mixed media on watercolor paper, 37x27cm. Available.

This week I took up two pieces I started way back in Gardenstown. They consisted of some image transfers and thin washes of acrylic paints on watercolor paper, and I had managed to ignore them for quite a while, not really sure what to do with them next. I taped them onto a drawing board and started in on them, rather confident that they were going to end up in the ‘ruined’ pile. Several layers of acrylics and pencil later, and I’m quite happy with how they turned out.

On my easel this week: Stockbridge, lighthouses, Ardnamurchan

Stockbridge Edinburgh painting

Work in progress: Stockbridge, Edinburgh. Oil on canvas, 40x50cm. The high street in my neighborhood in Edinburgh. I started this one a while ago (last seen here) and put it aside for a while. Now I think it’s almost done.


I’ve been busy inside the studio and out these past couple weeks. It’s daylight out almost all the time these days in Edinburgh, so it’s easy to fit in painting time. My subject matter seems to have drifted to be all Scotland all the time at the moment.

Orkney Lighthouse Painting

Work in progress: Lighthouse (Orkney). Oil on canvas, 30x40cm. There’s still a lot of the canvas showing through on this one, but I might leave it that way. 


I’m also hard at work rebuilding my website. Most of the pages and parts are already there, and I think it looks pretty good so far. I’m still adding paintings to the shop, and tweaking things here and there.  Feel free to pop over and have a look, and let me know if you have any feedback for me, any particular features you’d like to see.

Ardnamurchan Painting

Work in progress: On Ardnamurchan (Western Scotland). Oil on canvas, 40 x 50 cm. This is painted on top of a half-finished Highland scene. I really like the textures that come through from the underpainting.

Sketching outside

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Ardnamurchan view

Aided perhaps by the long days and sunny weather, I’ve been getting back into sketching outdoors recently.

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sketching at Greyfrairs Churchyard in Edinburgh

It helps that I’ve finally sorted out my sketching kit. For the longest time I was unhappy with my options, and could never quite work out how to improve things. I love sketching in charcoal, but don’t like having to bring fixative with me (or worry about smudging). Same with pastels (plus I never seemed to have the right colors with me). These days I’m down to an efficient little set of materials that fit in my purse, so I can carry them every day.

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I’ve got an A5 sketchbook with two binder clips on it (essential for keeping pages in place on a windy day); a small pencil box containing various pencils, an eraser, a sharpener, a paintbrush, and a few bits of charcoal and pastel; a travel watercolor box (with a thumb ring on the bottom, so it can perch on my left hand) and a small container of water.

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It all fits into a 17x24cm ziplock bag (along with a paper towel or two). I also usually have a couple of black drawing pens floating around in my bag, as well.

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Greyfriars Churchyard

Since putting the right materials together and having them with me almost always, I have been much better about using spare moments to sketch rather than play with my phone or whatnot. I look forward to arriving places early, in order to have time to sketch. I know all this sketching is good for my eye, and my art. You learn so much about a subject by sketching it, things that a photograph can miss.

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Old Man of Hoy

Painting the Isle of Skye

Talisker Distillery

Talisker Distillery, Isle of Skye, 40x50cm, oil on canvas, ©2015 Julie Galante. Prints available.

It’s a busy week in the studio, as I’m finishing up some oil paintings and framing some works on paper for the 3 Harbours Arts Festival.

As I was cataloging my new landscapes, I realized that a fair number of them were inspired by the Isle of Skye, a beautiful island off the west coast of Scotland. There’s one of Talisker Distillery, where we did a delightful whisky tasting one afternoon. There’s one of the bay where we went sea kayaking for the first time (we were lucky to get a mirror-flat sea for that). And there are several of coastline or views across bays. Looking at them all together is making me long to go back.

Perfect Day for Sea Kayaking Skye

A perfect day to go sea kayaking, 40x50cm, oil on canvas, ©2015 Julie Galante. Prints available.

I’m pretty happy with the work I’ve got for 3 Harbours, which will be my first time exhibiting at an arts festival. If you’re near Edinburgh between 30 May and 7 June, please stop by and say hello! My work will be in the Chalmers Memorial Church Hall in Port Seton. I’ll be exhibiting paintings and drawings of Edinburgh, Gardenstown, Isle of Skye, and some of my Tokyo work.

View from Skye study

View from the Isle of Skye (study), 24x30cm, oil on canvas, ©2015 Julie Galante. Prints available.

I also realized I haven’t sent out an email newsletter in many months, so I’m going to pull one together soon. If you’d like to receive it, please sign up for my mailing list. And if you’re already on it, thank you so much!

A week in Gardenstown

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The view from our studio.

I’ve just had the privilege of spending a week on the Scottish coast at a workshop led by Gillian Lee Smith, an incredible artist and teacher. The workshop was held in Gardenstown, an impossibly tiny and adorable village with one pub, one cafe, and no mobile phone reception.

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A page from my sketchbook

We started the week with a lot of outdoor sketching. The Scottish weather was unusually good for this, and the Gardenstown scenery provided plenty of subject matter.

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Gardenstown from the cemetery, mixed media on watercolor paper, ©2015 Julie Galante. Available.

Every day in the studio Gillian did a demonstration of one of her techniques. We started with a mixed-media process which involved drawing into a clear oilbar base, which produced a lovely line quality.

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Gillian’s glorious tray of soft pastels

Later in the week we moved onto pastels and then painting. It’s impressive how much we did in just five days in the studio.

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Some quick faces

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Gillian Lee Smith at work on one of her morning demos.

Gardenstown itself provided an idyllic setting for the workshop. Its smallness and relative isolation meant there were few distractions, allowing me to focus on artwork in a way I never quite manage at home. Most nights I was dreaming about drawing. The only road out of town is up an impossibly steep hill, although it is possible to walk to the next (even smaller) coastal town of Crovie along a path that runs along the shore. The locals were friendly and welcoming, and happy to chat with us on the beach or in the pub. Edinburgh feels like a booming metropolis in comparison.

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Gardenstown houses, mixed media on watercolor paper, ©2015 Julie Galante. Available.

Now that I’m back in my home studio, I hope to be able to hold on to the inspiration and artistic momentum that Gillian’s workshop provided. I’ve returned with hundreds of photos and dozens of sketches to work from.

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Inside the Gardenstown heritage center

I’ll be exhibiting several of the pieces I made in Gardestown at the 3 Harbours Arts Festival which starts at the end of May.

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Fishermen study, 18x28cm, acrylic and pencil on watercolor paper, ©2015 Julie Galante. [SOLD]

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Gardenstown study, acrylic and pencil on watercolor paper, ©2015 Julie Galante. Available.

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Gardenstown’s beach on lunch break one day.

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Gardenstown harbor

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Crovie, the even tinier town next to Gardenstown.

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A view of Gardenstown from the ruined church on the hill.

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Gardenstown beach at low tide

Christmas markets and springtime in Edinburgh


Edinburgh Christmas Market, 21x29cm, mixed media on card.

It’s spring in Edinburgh. The sun has been out more than not, trees and flowers are in bloom, and the days are quite noticeably longer. Everyone, even me the winter-lover, seems to be happy about the direction things are heading.

In the studio, I’m a bit all over the place. I like to be able to work on several different pieces at once. I have one area set up for oil painting, and another for mixed-media pieces. I’m also working on a wide variety of subjects at any given time. When deciding on my next subject, I flip through my photos and sketches and go with whichever one inspires me in the moment. Which I suppose is how I ended up welcoming spring with this piece depicting a chilly afternoon at Edinburgh’s Christmas market in Princes Street Garden.

I love working with images that include the skyline of Edinburgh’s medieval Old Town. It distracts me every time I walk through the city.