The Biggest Croissant I Could Paint
And the scariness of trying something new
As a former pastry chef and lover of all things gluten & butter, one of my favorite hobbies is to find a good bakery wherever I am. There is this bakery here where I live in Richmond, Virginia, and It’s maybe one of the best bakeries in the country (it most definitely is). They buy grains from east coast farmers and mill their own flour and just about everything is naturally fermented. They bake all of their beautiful sourdough loaves and laminated pastries in the same big, wood-fired oven. It’s a skill to bake delicate buttery pastry AND hearty sourdoughs in the same space. Sub Rosa bakery is just the best. I can honestly say it’s one of the reasons I’m most proud of my city. When people come to visit, it’s number one on my list of spots to hit up for a snack or special treat. They make my favorite polenta sourdough loaf (which I also painted), and my very favorite croissant.
I painted this large watercolor painting of one of Sub Rosa’s perfect croissants in 2019. I had been invited to do a solo show at Blenheim Vineyards, and it would be my first solo show since college. I had been wanting to paint larger pieces for a very long time and the upcoming show was the excuse I needed to try it out.
It’s scary doing something for the first time, we all know this. And, it’s amazing how often we have an idea to try something out and wait on it for AGES before giving it a real chance. And tragically, sometimes we don’t do it at all. Watercolor was a comfortable medium for me in a very small and manageable kind of compositional space, but I craved larger blank spaces to fill. I had envisioned this croissant taking up more space because it deserves it! Its delicious beauty is too great, and all the textures and reflections cascading on its buttery surface were just asking for longer broader strokes and colors.
So much goes into our creative endeavors. Everything we decide to make, whether we choose it or not, is influenced by every other aspect of our life going on. There is a wonderful and often unintentional way of representing a moment in time in all of its realness and richness, within one single painting. It can tell the story of a life. I painted this piece a few months before I was getting married. I was in a real golden era those six months before my wedding. It felt like I was floating, knowing this big monumental and joyous transition was in my near future. I’d like to credit some of the skill I found in this time to that expanding love. It was definitely casting a rosy hue on my life and bringing me lots of feelings of support, bravery and excitement, which was just what I needed to take on a much bigger blank canvas. Love can make you feel unstoppable.
The first thing I learned about painting with watercolor on a larger scale is that you have to work with a bigger brush and you have to work a bit quicker. Also, the paper seems to warp a bit no matter what you do. I know some watercolor artists who swear by using a hair dryer on their pieces as they work, (blow drying the layers of paint dry so they can more quickly add another layer on top) but for me it feels like it would interrupt my flow too much. I think this croissant piece was the first time I decided to incorporate a little colored pencil. I used Stonehenge paper (my favorite, as mentioned in my last newsletter), and once the layers of paint were dry, I went in with some brown and golden tan Prismacolor colored pencils, and the waxy depth of color applied so well to the painted areas. I was able to highlight some richer detail and pronounce the highlights so much more.
The thing to remember about watercolor is that you can always get darker, but you can never get lighter. That’s why it’s a really good rule of thumb to leave your highlighted areas totally blank until most of the other areas around it are filled in with depth and color. Then you can add the nuanced lighter hues leading into the bold highlights- if any shading is needed at all. The way to make the highlights really pop is to notice the contrast between the light and the dark spaces, right in where they meet. Usually there is quite a clear line somewhere there, and that is where you enhance the depth with some well placed colored pencil. You can also control the thinness of the line really easily with a well sharpened colored pencil, so you get more impact and in a more detailed way.
I tend to reserve the pencil for deeply shaded areas because watercolor has that beautiful translucence that you don’t want to totally cover up. That is where the lovely layers of color really shine.
The other thing about working so much larger with watercolor is that you also get to see the details on a much bigger scale, and can capture so much more. Everything you see is information for your eyes, and the larger what you see is, the more information lays inside of it. It’s a lot easier for me to capture the detail from a subject that is printed out on a big scale vs. a small scale. I photograph my subjects and then get them printed at the scale that I am going to be working at so there is no guessing games when I apply my pencil and paint to the paper. I have the exact representation of size in front of me and it saves me a lot of mind energy (and my eyes from squinting).
With most flour/bread like items I have had the pleasure of painting, the subject seems to turn into some vast sandy landscape, full of undulating hills and caves and crevices. There’s a soothing quality to painting a croissant, all of the many layers wrapping over each other, always flowing into the next. They are good friends these layers, hugged by butter and magic.
This piece along with my whitestone oyster piece indeed were hung in my solo show at Blenheim, and I was so excited about them that I went on to continue to paint with a larger scale and still do so when the subject inspires me.
And! We had chocolate filled croissants at our wedding instead of cake :)
What is something that you’ve wanted to try for a long time and have yet to dip your toes into? What are you waiting for? Sometimes it just takes starting to see where you end up.
Current Musings (flour related and otherwise)
This croissant painting is only offered as a limited edition print in a large size (27x30”), and I only have about 10 left. This is where you can get yours.
This episode of On Being with Rick Rubin is absolutely wonderful and will give you all the courage you need to dive into the vast creative collective.
I’m just totally obsessed with Martha Beck and love this advice she gives in her podcast The Gathering Room on How to Begin.
I just made these cookies for an upcoming weekend with some good friends and I’ve been making them for at least the last 10 years. They are SO satisfying.
All paintings by Francine Van Hove, but particularly this one
Speaking of flour and delicious breads and pastry! The Common Grain Alliance is so great, and they host so many wonderful ways to connect with other bakers- “Common Grain Alliance connects and supports farmers, millers, bakers, and grain artisans to build a vibrant, integrated, equitable, and regenerative grain economy in the Mid-Atlantic.”
Also very cool! Bakers Against Racism. I get to help organize the local chapter here in Richmond and we’ve raised a lot of money for a lot of important and impactful local organizations.
Happy taking leaps, bold new steps, daring decision and baking of laminated doughs everyone!