I clearly have enough northern blood to feel at home with the gray weather and the moody atmosphere, because I find St Malo to be magical. Before going this time I reread the novel, All the Light We Cannot See, which is set there amid the terrible human grayness of World War II when lives - in this case, those of 2 young children - were torn apart by the idiocy of war. St Malo was heavily bombed by American forces as part of the late push to rid Europe of the Nazis. Very little was left standing, but in a supreme act of human will and courage, the old city was rebuilt, stone by gray stone.
My scene, drawn from the ramparts, shows the wall of the old city that bravely fronts the harbor, daring the winds, the sea, and the weather to make a dent in its busy prosperous facade. For centuries St Malo was a rich treasure of a town, home to daring privateers with a thirst for wealth and adventure. Statues of the most famous of these pirates figure prominently around the city. Down below, rows of shop signs and awnings tell a story of simpler lives then and now.
Gray gets overlooked, shunted aside as a default, a watered down idea of something stronger and more forceful: a cup of tea instead of a hearty ale. But really it's a philosopher's color - subtle, always slightly on the edge of where you think it might be, a bit cool, a bit warm, a bit elusive.
Here are several stages in my scene, from the raw sketch through the process of adding a wide range of color and value, until the final moment when I clean it all up and add my signature.
It doesn't show in this scene, but one of the gifts of gray northern weather is that it can suddenly disappear, swept away by the wind. A day that started out with pouring rain became, in a few marvelous moments, glorious and golden, a thing to behold.