Virtually every peregrino I met was walking towards the west - towards Santiago. The Camino Francés appears to be a one-way street.
For Painted Steps, I need to figure out where along the green/ sienna/ gold/ band I should paint the little pictures. I need benchmarks, a plotting of towns, villages along those 500k from St Jean to León.
I use the information given to us in St-Jean at the office of Les Amis de Saint-Jacques- Friends of St. James/Santiago.
The sheet plots the elevations of the Camino and the distances between towns and pueblos from St Jean to Santiago.
SO, several, (several!) hours later of scanning, cropping, stitching parts together with PAGES, printouts, scotch tape, re shrinking another 5%, my own spin on ‘cartographic welding’, I produce an 88 inch long elevation line map St Jean to León.
This map reads as usual left to right (west to east) so I reverse it by tracing the line of elevation onto transparent tracing paper and flipping it over.
(The flip/flop is something I’ve used a lot in printmaking where plate and imprint are left/right reversed). I spread the painting, the 2 sheets of Somerset, on my long table, tack the tracing paper in place and redraw the line with sufficient pressure to transfer the pencil mark onto the painting.
Here it is on the painting. It’s an abstract plotting of the elevations of the actual path but it appears to be a mountain range in a landscape! Change of perspective....
Now I can locate the towns, I can place the little pictures.
I have another idea. The somewhat relentless band of grey is meant to be another place for this same line.
I transfer the the line onto the grey with white conté using the bottom of the band as the bottom of the image …then flip it and hang it upside down in a mirror image.
It’s created a rhythm.
I like the way it also makes a path in the space between the two elevation lines. I want to make it feel like the act of the Camino, step by step …pasito a pasito ….
The little white ticks mark the towns and pueblos. At each shift in direction of the lines I pencil a vertical, making sort of lines of ‘latitude’, segmenting the continuous space, suggesting to me -day after day- step by step- heartbeat followed by heartbeat.
I try painting tonal intervals, trying to give a sense of the up and down my feet felt, the large and small shifts in effort and incline. Quite beautiful, but impossible as a system.
I tried the idea of a kind of contour map to describe the changes in surface of the path. The problem is that I was forcing a square peg into a round hole i.e. a the concept of a 3 d space, the actual foot path onto the concept of a 2d line the elevation map…
The dilemma discussed with my partner, we came up with the idea of using colour rather than tone.
Obvious to some!
For me, using etching as a fundamental medium and paradigm I’ve long been able to compartmentalize these aspects; tone, light, dark, composition design/ hue saturation etc.
Now I have to learn to use paint.
I start painting the intervals. Beautiful! Each and every segment a different colour, contrasting more or less abruptly, smoothly warmly, shining, dull. Like the weather, like the landscape ...new each time.
Alto de Perdón
The peak is the Alto de Perdón -a nice long climb up from Logroño, (Fortunately there is an ice cream van at the top.This is not the West Coast Trail) and a very steep hike down on loose stones.
I can paint about 8 inches at a sitting. (Camino questions.."how much did you do today?")
Simply painting in the intervals makes a good change from the finicky tracing and computer work and/or from the intensity of painting the little representational pictures. It’s really relaxing and soothing but also absorbing to paint ‘just’ colour.
So, to quote from another well known journey- Salut to another rosy-fingered dawn!
The journal of the process of making 'Painted Steps'
I saw in Madrid, a most significant object, linking the gold in the churches, the path of the Camino and home: Juan de la Cosa’s mapamundi (map of the world), made in 1500 that includes the earliest surviving European mapping of the Americas.
on parchment 3' x 6' approx.
Having laid the ground (literally the background) of Painted Steps, I’m gathering up images of individual things about the Camino I want to put into the painting, like the little pictures of people, cities, sea monsters and gods, found on maps like this.
I make lists of the birds, plants, animals, structures, dovecotes, peloté courts, oats, peas, barley, wheat, almond trees, a dust devil, goldfish, bugs, butterflies, outcroppings, wild boar…..
......remembering the first day, the first place, I came across this new creature, or thing.
I make pen sketches and gouache studies using various sources: my souvenir photos, my partners photos, brochures picked up and carried along the Camino, and images from the web: from personal and commercial websites about The Camino, government, agricultural, scientific, and historical websites, universities, clubs, societies, and Wikipedia, in English French and bits of Spanish.
Las urracas – magpies- on the green lawns of the Opus Dei Universidad deNavarra on the outskirts of Pamplona / Iruña - a lovely parkland walk as we head out for the Alto of Perdón.
I was thrilled to see the storks, a fairy tale bird–reminds me how European fairy tales actually are. My first sighting was a nest on a pole/tower as we approached Puente la Reina. I wonder if those poles were built for them, or what else is their purpose? There, the medieval church tower held 4 or 5 of their bulky nests. We stopped under the stone archway to hear the bells and the chanting.
Studies of Cometa Rojas, Red Kite- fabulous! We stopped and watched them swooping over the hills around Zubiri. If I were a lamb I would be nervous.
Distant barns…all that delicious pork? A reality check.
The unique sighting of el Jabalí -wild boar -on an alternative Camino trail- “the one less travelled” (another quote from Robert Frost) with our Camino friend Terry from Seattle.
The highway barrels straight through the narrow streets of Villafranca Montes de Oca, where we are staying overnight. Huge semis drive 2 feet away from the door of the Supermercado, little convenience store. The hungry peregrinos/pilgrims rush across for the 5pm opening to buy supplies for supper. Accidents? The residents are hopefully used to taking precautions.
Where along the green/sienna/gold band of the painting do I place the pictures? Well, extreme right is St Jean - the beginning, extreme left is León,- the end, so I need to lay in a map of distances.
I will do this with the chart given to us by Les amis de Saint-Jacques, the friendly and informative pilgrim helper association in St Jean-Pied-de Port -French, San Juan Pie de Puerto- Spanish, Donbane Garazi - Basque.