Quiet Times in Truffle Woods

‘Le Truffier 2’ (Truffle Woods 2)
medium size oil on canvas
65 x 54 cm (25,5 x 21,3 inches approx)
© adam cope
A milky light breaking through the cloud cover softening the hard landscape. High May grass, deceptively soft, hiding stones & spikey semi-desert plants. Bluey green greys, mauve hay seed-heads, bright photosynthesising May yellow-greens.The oak in this painting is an example of what is known in gardening as ‘specimen planting’ : where one species is palnted like an island alone in the sea, a solitary specimen in 360 degrees of surrounding emptiness. Except for in this case, here in this truffle wood, it wasn’t done for reasons of asethetic design but by the hand of the farmer, Monsueir Vincent, who is patiently restoring the oaks. Actually, there’s rows of young saplings hidden in the high grass but you couldn’t see them for ‘La Mouliné’, which is up to a metre high.

Lawns in gardens are the empty spaces that act as a foil to show off the specimen & beds. In terms of making a painting, it was a real effort to leave such a large ’empty space’ with not much going on, not many brushmarks… only the odd wild flower floating… the occassional slash suggesting the long grass….surprising how much restraint & pictorial discipline empty spaces takes.

In this painting, I wanted a calm feeling. Meditative. Not a frenzy of brushmarks. The quiet I find in the deep countryside. Did I achieve it?

Painting of Truffle Woods in Quercy

‘Le Truffier 1′ (Truffle Woods)’
medium size oil on canvas
36x 48cm (approx 15 x 14 inches).
© Adam Cope
Light & shade in this old truffle wood in the Lot. ‘Chene de Causse’, the semi-desert oaks of Quercy. Orchids, wild fowers & seed heads. The high grass which ‘paysans’ used to mill, ‘La Mouliné’, indicating the presence of water somewhere below, well-hidden in the micro-fissures in the karst limestone. It turns a beautiful silver yellow, retaining all winter long a bleached reminder of summer heat. The apparent softness of early summer grass only superficially hides the underlying toughness of the landscape. Monsueir Vincent (Pere), whom I’ve known for over twenty five years, has been trying to regenerate this ancient truffle wood, along with honey, peaches & saffon crocus elsewhere in these woods. Not an easy task as truffles retain something of their elusive sylvan mystery.



# En 2002, le prix moyen était de 390 €/kg.
# En 2003, le prix moyen était de 1 200 €/kg.
# En 2004, le prix moyen était de 900 €/kg.
# Le mardi 23 décembre 2008, 150 kilos de truffes ont été vendus à des prix oscillant entre 250 et 900 euros le kilo, lors du quatrième marché officiel de Lalbenque (Lot), au cœur du Quercy

‘Landmark Oak & Path’
Medium Size Oil on Canvas
46 x 38 cm (approx 14 x 18 inches)
© adam cope
Strong, bright, clear sunlight, limpid & luminous, late evening shadows going to rose. Memories of long summer evenings.

Same landmark oak as below, painted from further down down the path:

‘Chene, Chemin & Grande Distance’ (Monmarves)
Oil on Masonite
© adam cope

Go over the brow of the hill, down the path & look back up the hill from the otherside. Corn again in the field this year:

‘Blé & Chene’
65 x 50 cm
oil on canvas

Cézanne said he could find a hundred different paintings just by slightly inclining his neck & seeing the same subject from a different angle. Here, less demandingly, the plein-airist happily works his way along a favourite path, in different seasons & with different set-up points. Same ‘landmark’ tree, a guiding anchor point for miles around.

Red Soil, Green Growth

‘Pruniers et Chemin’
Medium Size Oil on Canvas
46 x 38 cm (approx 14 x 18 inches)
© adam cope

The heavy rain of last week has past & the strong sunshine of South West France has returned. The delicate tapestry of reddish soil & fresh spring greens laid out with the promise of summer. With the wind in the south & sparkling azure skies, the green will soon take over the red of bare soil with profusion & fertility. In the merry month of May, tra-la-la-la!!


‘Terre Rouge, Printemps’
Oil on Masonite
30 x 40 cm (approx 12 x 1,5 inches)
© adam cope

Pruniers 5

‘Pruniers 5’
medium size oil on canvas
36 x 48 cm (approx 14 x 18 inches)
© adam cope

Very pleasant evening yesterday. Long, light, bright sunshine. A warm wind from the south (‘L’Antan’) carrying the sweet smells of spring. The landscape now covered with green. A fresh lime green of new leaves photosynthesising. Lovely, I choose to paint this rather than chase the coppery new leaves or the next waves of late blossoming fireworks. The soil breathing sweetly, smelling good & gleam pink/violet in the late afternoon light.How does one paint this miracle of sunlight? This miracle of photosynthesis?

Path through an orchard, beautiful place to be.

BTW, this the same orchard as always, the one we can see from our kitchen window. Le verger de Mr & Madame Verdier. You can’t see our house in this painting but it is situated just behind the third plum tree, the one next to the edge.

WHERE the bee sucks, there suck I

‘Cherry, Quince, Bay’
medium size oil on canvas
36 x 48 cm (approx 14 x 18 inches)
© adam cope
WHERE the bee sucks, there suck I:
In a cowslip’s bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat’s back I do fly.
After summer merrily:
Merrily, merrily, shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the boughGentle Will, The Temptest, Act V, sc.i
M-L remarked that this spring-time painting has a lightness of fresh touch & keyed to light pastel tones, after the hoary winter trees & cliffs that I’ve been working on during recent winters.

‘Walnuts & Brambles 2’
medium size oil on canvas
36 x 48 cm (approx 14 x 18 inches)
© adam cope

Cliffs at St.Avit Senieur, Dordogne

‘Cliffs at St.Avit de Senieur, Dordogne
Medium Size Oil on Canvas
36 x 48cm (approx 18 x 15 inches).
© adam cope

Not long now untill the cliffs become dressed with a green canopy veil.

‘Sous le Ruth 1’ (dans le Vézère)
© adam cope


St.Avit de Senieur, Dordogne

st.avit de senieur,dordogne, paintng of rock cliffs

‘La Route montant à St. Avit de Senieur’
Medium Size Oil on Canvas
36 x 48 cm (approx 14″ x 18″)
© adam cope

‘La Route montant à St. Avit Sénieur’

The road going up to St.Avit de Senieur – the cliffs reel above your head dangerously and the road cuts through right underneath them. There’s no lay-by & no stopping possible. Cars, lorries, tractors come flying down past you, and once a goat leapt out in front of me. I’ve been wanting to paint these cliffs for a long time but haven’t yet figured out a safe way of doing it. And after painting ‘Bicorne Deux – bis’ last time, which was besides a busy road (why do boy racers have to honk their horn when they see a painter?) & near to the entrance of a quarry (the wheels of the heavy plant being higher than my head), I’m feeling a little ‘carred out’. So this was painted from a peaceful spot the other side of the valley. No cars…. but no goats either.

ps. the goat’s name is ‘AVITUS’ after the local hermit saint who lived in these rocks in the time of Alric.


a painting holiday at St Avit with Adam Cope

‘Maison Troglodyte dans la Vallée de La Couze’
65 x 54 cm (25,5 x 21,3 inches approx)
Medium Size Oil on Canvas
© adam cope

‘Maison Troglodyte dans la Vallée de La Couze’


This is the same place that I described in the post : Watercolour of an Owl Hut built into a Cliff in Dordogne

A photo from my underexposing Cannon 400 D EOS. The sheer quantity of bright spring sunlight should have made the camera shoot off the scale. Instead the greys look really quite dark & not the near whites that I had to squint at to see as there was so much sunlight bouncing off the cliff. This was before I started :

And this photo was after packing up, just before leaving the site. The light had gone, the owls where hooting & it was spooky.


Sizes of Canvases in my Oil Painting Practice

This is a medium size oil on canvas. It’s a french format, a 15 Figure. Normally I use a 12 Figure for medium size oils, as it’s large but still just about achieveable in one plein-air session, without too panic, without the feeling of being rushed to finish that painting a large sized oil such as a 25 Figure (81 x 65 cm; 32 x 25,5 inches). Especially for subject so difficult as cliff faces, with the speed at which the light changes across the nooks & crannies; the sheer amount of startling & intricate details, which don’t fit easily into a standard ‘model’ of ‘how to paint’ such as an apple for instance.

French formats over & above the International formats

I like very much French formats over & above the International formats. The proportions are pleasing & seem to have more harmony & generousity than elsewhere. I read in Mayer’s Artists Handbook that they were based on Golden Section, but as I’m no good at maths, I let that one by. My eye seems to move easily around their graceful proportions. It might just be what one get used to but they please me. The figure is more square, the landscape more elegantly thinner than the standard 3X4 or 5×7. Then there’s the marine & the panorama as well. I like the figure very much. I bought this batch of 15 F by mistake, thinking that they were 12F, my standard large-medium. My wife, stalwart supporter & source of feedback, was delighted as she thinks that my large oils are my strong point. No postcard-sized minatures here. 30 x 40 cm is small for me (12 x 16 inches).

‘Sechoir à Tabac 3 – Crépuscule’ (Tobacco Drying Barn 3 – Twilight)
Oil on Canvas
38 x 46cm (approx 15 x 19 inches).
© The Artist.
Available – email me

Some photos of this huge, magnificent tobacco drying barn.

My Reference Photos of ‘Sechoir à Tabac’


Wish there was a person by the door so as to give you an idea of the size. He wouldn’t even come half way up the red door! Amazing effort on behalf of this agricultor & co. Humbles me.


The sheer length of it makes me think of the long wooden huts of Saxon culture in the Dark Ages.

The shutters for the air current to dry the leaves of tobacco hence the east-west orientation of tobacco barns.

This barn is particuarly dilapidated, partly I suspect the farmer cut his criosote with red iron oxide aka haemitate aka the red earth. Partly because it is situated in the Lot & Garonne, & not the chic Perigord Noir near Sarlat where property prices are about thirty percent more. There it would be converted into a gite, tourist accommodation or maybe even a painter’s barn. Jackson Pollock had a simular barn as a studio. Soulages would be in sympathy as well.

A huge white barn owl flew out – ‘La Dame Blanche’ . That would have made a superb photo! But I wouldn’t disturb the sleep of an owl knowingly, not for a meer photo.


1. Reference Photos for Plein-Air Painters

NB. I paint mostly outside ‘en plein air’ so please don’t go thinking that I paint from photos inside the studio. I often take my camera out in the field with me however. I’ve got about 3 000 photos of places in the SW France. Not many as I throw out most of what isn’t of use to me as a painter. The process of binnning is helpful & critical to getting towards the good. I think only about 20 are any good as photos, independant of my painter’s interests. The other 2 980 are still useful to me as a painter.


2. Gerard Richter – ‘Atlas’

Do youknow Gerard Richter’s Atlas ?

“The comprehensive Atlas collection – the newspaper clippings, photos and sketches which are the source material for much of Richter’s work.”

Part of his ‘Atlas’ amounts to being a project to catalogue his world. His painter’s world. The world of his interests. Many hundreds – and I mean hundreds – of his reference photos are published up at his web site. Image after image presented in contact sheets. It seems to me that the ‘art element’ is carefully deconstructed in a deadpan way. Post-modern hoovering irony. I like it but it does disturb me. Challenges my classical roots, my debt to one of masters: Claude Lorrian. Most postcard views to this day are still constructed according to Claudian composition. Maybe the time has come for me to shake of Claude? Funny but when Richter turns to painting (probably inside a studio, using photos as reference), the composing habit frequently returns. Look through his Atlas & his paintings & you will see him returning to the classical idiom then rejecting it (for which he first became famous).

Gerhard Richter
Landschaft (Landscape)
100 cm X 140 cm
Oil on canvas
Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, USA

Here’s the reference photos for the above painting from his Atlas. Would you know the above painting was of Venice? In fact, looking at it on internet would even know it was a painting & not a photograph? It doesn’t have the typical ‘Richterian’ painterly look. Curiously, it’s the photographs that have the painterly feel. Look at the size of it as well. It must be fabulous painting in the real.

Gerhard Richter
Venedig, Gran Canaria
Venice, Gran Canaria
Atlas Sheet: 360

“For me there is no difference between a landscape and an abstract painting . . . I refuse to limit myself to a single option, to an exterior resemblance, to a unity of style which can’t exist. A color chart differs only externally from a small green landscape. Both reflect the same basic attitude. It is this attitude which is significant.” – Gerard RICHTER

Fascinating as, in fact, Richter’s ‘Atlas’ also dismantles the idea of photography as ‘truth’ by way of ‘if all these are true, where then lies the unique & absolute truth?’ There’s no effort to make one unique photograph that sums up that particular subject. They aren’t framed in the standard way.

Gerhard Richter
Atlas Sheet: 765

Look at this page of photos of a wood. As if he were just walking about taking photos, any photo except the one that conforms to the classic view that you expect to find on a postcard.

Gerhard Richter
Atlas Sheet: 300

It’s that exactly that effort to sum up a view or an idea about a view that will save you from blindly dumb copying. At a certain stage in a plein-air painter’s trajectory, a decision needs to be taken about what you paint. Edit out the rest. Discard it. Ignore it or just enjoy it, in the sense “well that’s nice but it doesn’t need to be painted. Not by me. That’s not my thing.”

Knowing what interests you can save a lot of wasted paint. Taking time to reflect on your reference photos when you are not actually painting will help guide you to this knowing.

3. My Reference Photos

I like to look at my reference photos on my computer late at night. Dreamy time. Sometimes I see things I didn’t see ‘in the flesh’, in the real 3-D world. Mallarmé was always talking about that, as was William James:

“Remembrance is like direct feeling; it’s object is suffused with a warmth & intimacy to which no object of mere conception ever attains.” – William James

Developing the Proustian element to plein-air gives that ‘warmth & intimacy’.

Sometimes reference photos give me an idea for another painting I didn’t see ‘on site’ the first time. Scouting for paintings, finding them in the world, is a skill that a plein-air painter must develop. Sometimes the mechanical eye of the lens distorts things into focus that would have otherwise remained unseen. Hiding behind a camera is a lot less of a shock than painting ‘en plein air’, which is more like a head-on meeting, an encounter between the painter & the world. Sometimes it feels more like a collison… self meets the the world.

Before we even mention all that painful business of trying to make a painting, of the feeling ‘I can’t do this’… self meets the world meets painting…

Of the struggle to realise a painting which may not have been properly concieved of in the first place. Reference photos can help you concieve of a painting before you even go out in the field. And it’s so easy now days with a digital camera with a view finder. But your attention! Sometimes you need to sleep before you dream. Sometimes you need to use your mind’s eye before you can see the painting.

It helps to have an idea of what you are trying to do.



Reference Photos for Plein-Air Painters 1 – Gerhard Richter’s Photo Atlas

Reference Photos for Plein-Air Painters 2

Reference Photos for Plein-Air Painters 3

Le Cingle de Tremolat 2003 – postcards & landscape painting