Looking back

One of my first big projects after coming to live here in the early 90s was the interior of a restaurant, which was to be called Les Fresques. It was attached to a Château in the throes of being gutted and restored as a hotel complex. On a previous château commission I had divised a way of creating  a chalky fresco and paint finish for the walls to be in keeping with the crumbling, decaying old château and this was going to be perfect for the type of finish for Les Fresques.

The owner for this new project had thrust a magazine cutting in my hands to use for inspiration, a picture of a beautiful old crumbling Italian interior, so with this limited source, I did some test pieces on boards which were accepted. I plastered the walls with a plaster type finish, coloured into it, then designed and painted renaissance details round the doorways and on the walls inventing the details as I worked round the space, nowadays I would design the whole thing first and get approval, but then I had to think on my feet.

During my first couple of years here one drawback I had was not being familiar with French building materials and paints, whilst I knew my materials in the UK fairly well, coming to France it was like being a novice again! I’d go round the DIY stores surreptitiously opening lids and sniffing to see what the various products were, trying to find meths, solvents, white spirit and glues. (surprisingly, white spirit is the same, only it’s pronounced white speereet, and if you don’t pronounce it correctly you don’t get understood!)

They didn’t have PVA as such so, sniffing at a pot of wood glue, I deduced the smell was near enough, so I used that as my paint medium, mixing it ( diluted ) with tubes of colorants intended for colouring household paints. I even used diluted wood glue, as a final protective varnish. 

These days proper varnishes have been developed for this purpose, however the restaurant decor is still there after 30 years, proof that it worked well!

Here are some doorways, the first opens through to a garden scene I painted inspired by the Roman Villa of Livia, just north of Rome (these were the loos to the restaurant).

Here’s the first Château I worked on in 1991 developing the fresco technique, keeping the finish subtle and non intrusive, so that was a soft background for the antiques

Influenced by the frescoes I then used the same technique in a few of my own artworks: here’s one example, my mum with Lucy kitten on her lap in 2005 (1.20m x1.70)


12 thoughts on “Looking back

  1. The mural work looks an exciting project. It must have been hard rediscovering materials. Do they also have something like Idenden, or ‘idoodee’ as Pete O’K used to call it :D.
    I really like the one of your mum, sort of reminds me of Bonnard. How big is it? .

    • Hi Andy, it’s 1.10 x 1.70. I never did find an Idenden equivalent, that sharp ammonia type smell, I can still remember it! Those days of research and telephone calls, asking in shops, It’s so much easier to find products nowadays, you just type it in something always comes up!

  2. Hello Liz

    You will remember another grand projet that you completed for us in Lalinde.

    I am just writing to say that although our garden(s) have changed hugely since then, your work remains in largely pristine condition. It has been much admired.

    We have just sold our house in Scotland and have become French residents – if we can get back, with the Covid situation!

    If you would like to check out your work some time, perhaps with an apero, please do give us a call.

    We hope to be back from 17th July.

    Best wishes


    • Hello Peter,
      how lovely to hear from you. I’m glad the mural has stood up to time!
      We’d love to see you again , I’ll email you , make sure you get my reply all the best

  3. Dear Liz This is a lovely story. I know you sent it a while ago and I regret not reading it until now. You are such a talented writer and I love your fresco work; it is so elegant. I didn’t know you knew Italy so well. It is one on my favorite places in the world. I think I traveled more in Italy than in France. John and I considered moving there, but realized France would be an easier place to live.

    I have been so busy writing, organizing myself, but being disorganized, distracted, focused, excited, obsessive, creative — doing whatever interested me, studying, researching… . I could go on but the net effect was that I didn’t even notice the confinement. Reading your piece nudged me to look at what I’ve been doing for almost nine months, starting not long after that wonderful picnic in September.

    Hope to see you soon. Love you Nancy

    • Lovely to hear from you Nancy! We too, started off with the intention of living in Italy, but we ended up here just as you did!
      I still remember that wonderful picnic we had together, all that food and wine in posh glasses! I’m glad you’ve been productive, sadly lockdown and restrictions had the opposite effect on me, I’ve no idea why, because I’m used to hunkering down and working alone; it must be the uncertainty and huge changes in life as we know it. The days of hopping on a plane to see family and travelling where you like have ceased for a long time to come, “ you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone!” Much love Liz zie

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