Updated on 15 November 2022
Reading time: 5 minutes
Here I am…following in the footsteps of Claude Monet and his friends, standing at the top of the dramatic cliffs of the Alabaster Coast, cherished by impressionist painters. Today it’s my turn to set up my easel outdoor and experience those same overwhelming feelings on a plein-air painting class led by Sophie. Never have I had such an opportunity to take part in a workshop so effective that it completely changed the way I paint.
Trying to paint in the style of the Impressionists
Before setting up our easels on a clifftop along the coastline of Fécamp, we are kindly greeted by Sophie in her own painting studio, in the centre of town. Her spirit of welcome is so unique in creating a strong foundation for the guest experience! More than a physical space inhabited by the artist, her workshop is a window plunging us into Sophie’s world. An immersive world made of colors, lights, shadows constantly in motion. Sophie has turned her studio into an extravagant site of self-display, where her canvases hanging on the walls come in all sizes.
We enjoy a nice cup of coffee together and discover her collection of art books showcasing her passion not only for painting techniques but also for Impressionists painters themselves – notably the master Claude Monet – for she admires their persistent pursuit of an art of spontaneity, sunlight, and color. When I notice a palette covered with layers of paint, Sophie explains how she profoundly and sustainably shifted her art practice by making her own paints using pigments. We are also delighted to get a sneak peak into her storeroom before our artistic adventure begins. For this, we head to the edge of Cap Fagnet, the highest point of the Alabaster Coast, towering over Fécamp. Offering fantastic panoramic views up and down the coast, this is one of Sophie’s top spot for painting: she even calls it “ the roof of the world”.
Cap Fagnet: epic views From dramatic cliffs
As we arrive at Cap Fagnet, we understand the importance of this obvious strategic point during WWII. Today however, we have come to capture the natural beauty of the site and practice our technique in peaceful surroundings. Time to set up our easels and get to the heart of the matter!
This painting class caterers for all ability levels; from beginners who love immersing themselves in this creative pastime to more experienced artists hoping to shake up their Impressionist style. To start, Sophie guides us through the basic knowledge of color through the color wheel: the visible spectrum of primary, secondary and complementary colors. This is a useful tool which helps to explain what happens when we mix different paints together. Then, we scrutinize the landscape and pick the section we wish to paint. We frame the chosen area with our fingers: in the distance, the majestic cliffs of Senneville provide endless inspiration. Nature’s palette is everywhere we look.
Capturing the light, the moment and the freedom of composition
Surprisingly, we start off by coating the white, blank canvas with orange, creating a background into which we can easily blend our landscape dominated by the color blue on this day. “ When we look at a landscape”, says Sophie “ we see a mass of color and light”. Under the expert guidance of our friendly mentor, we try and depict the cliffs on our canvas with loose brushwork to capture the momentary, fleeting effect of light on the eye. Individually, we are taken step-by-step through the basic techniques and composition.
In a fascinating way, Sophie mentions many unknown colors whose names are derived from the pigment that makes up each colour: Naples Yellow, Venetian Red, Burnt Sienna, Indian Red, Ultramarine Blue… We use a variety of different sized brushes, yet Sophie invites us to use our fingers and other supports such as grass instead of a brush to tackle specific areas. The best thing about oil painting is that you can paint over areas that you’re not satisfied with! Another advice we follow is to stand back regularly and see what works and what doesn’t, as the impressionists often did. Reflecting and considering quick modifications turns the learning into a rewarding experience for everyone.
I survey the horizon and the landscape, admiring the cliffs disappearing into the distance, getting lighter and lighter in tone. In addition to unleashing our creativity and producing some beautiful art work, painting soothes the nerves, awakens our senses, conveys a sensation of well-being, and forces us to be ‘in the present’. Just like the Impressionist did, we get to experience our own connection with the glorious and awe-inspiring Normandy coast.
Located 20 minutes from Etretat, Fécamp is a lively coastal resort very proud of its maritime history. It was, once upon a time, one of Claude Monet and Berthe Morisot’s favorite spot to set up their easels, just like Delacroix before their time. The fine art section of the Pêcheries Museums displays stunning impressionist paintings and is worth a visit!
All year round, on Wednesday mornings.
55 euros per person for a 4 hours class.
Good to know
All levels (beginners accepted).
Maximum 5 students per session.
Bring suitable clothing comfortable for using paint. Bring warm clothing in case the wind picks up (the weather changes quickly in Normandy).
If the weather gets really bad, the class will be held inside the art studio.
All of the above information is subject to change