One of the reasons I enjoy writing Sophie’s Adventures is that it allows me to vicariously enjoy the places she travels to. I love planning her trips and what she’ll see and do, all the while she’s on the trail of a thief or a conman.
Sophie’s undercover role as a tourist means she can go on river cruises, visit places of historic interest like the Big Ben in England or the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow.
But there has to be a reason for her to travel. In The Pompadour Necklace, she’s on the trail of a conman who’s stolen a valuable necklace. In Theft in Sleepy Hollow, Sophie is after an art thief with a penchant for stealing valuable Impressionists.
In fact, Interpol strongly suspects Fairchild, our thief, of having set his sights on a Monet in the hands of a private collector in Sleepy Hollow.
Fairchild creates genuine fakes—that’s to say he creates reproductions of valuable art, and these are sold as reproductions. As someone who creates works in the style of a particular artist, Fairchild also conducts workshops on how to work in the style of the artists he reproduces.
Needless to say, Fairchild’s pretext for being in Sleepy Hollow is the workshop he’s conducting at the Warner Library on Degas’s techniques.
Pastels are notoriously difficult to work with. A powdery medium, it can easily fall off the support. It can be difficult to blend colors or to build up layers of pigment without unintentionally smudging and blending colors. Fixative might help, but is itself a problem because it darkens and dulls the pastel colors.
But Degas had developed techniques to overcome these difficulties and managed to create superb works in pastel. His ballet dancers are the most famous example of these. Naturally, I enjoyed researching his methods. I doubt I’ll ever use pastels, but it’s fascinating to see how Degas worked with the medium.
What I admire most about Degas is his use of opaque white to add highlights even to sketches. And so pencil sketches of animals take on a more realistic tone and seem to hint at texture and substance—all through the use of well-placed highlights.
Degas is a master of light and the way color responds to it. It takes a very well-developed eye to see objects as a composite of lights and darks of varying hues that together are perceived by the eye as white or red or some other color. The way he captures flesh tones is simply extraordinary. You can almost feel the texture of the skin, so vividly does he render cheeks, arms, and legs. And he uses colors—greens, blues, yellows—that no one would think of using.
It takes a concerted effort to really see those colors because the eye tends to simply put them together into a pleasing whole.
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