The Role of the Artist

During our pilgrimage in India last May, we visited several ashrams, and had the chance to meet a some very interesting swamis.
In Uttarkashi, we visited Swami Janardananda, who has been doing, among other projects, educational activities with the young people in his surroundings.
After school, children and teenagers can walk up the hill to his small ashram, and are invited to do yoga postures, meditation, or chanting on a voluntary basis. With this comes spiritual teachings from the ancient yogic tradition, that foster strength and peace of mind, along with a strong sense of community.

When Swami Janardananda started this initiative some 30 years ago, ignorance, violence and alcoholism were rampant among the population. After children started coming to the ashram, they brought home new insights and practices, inspiring their siblings and parents. Now the children of these children come, and will in turn influence another generation.




Children walk up the hill to the ashram after school




At a time when India is developing at an incredibly fast pace, this is vital work, and quite an inspiring story. During a few minutes of casual conversation, I asked Swami Janardananda a question that often is on my mind:

What is the role of the artist in society?

He thought for a moment, then answered: “Express, not exhibit. Everything is divine. If it comes from the heart, it will be divine.”

(I understood “not exhibit” to be meaning not to show off rather than not exhibit art in venues).

A simple yet deep and wide-meaning answer. I appreciate the openness it leaves, because it is impossible to define the artist’s role: to create is an impulse, not a duty. It has to remain free. And connected to the heart.

What a way to go about our daily work, not only an artist’s work, but everyone’s work.




There was also some good advice given freely by the roadside.

Photo credits
Anya Sluchak: Swami Janardanada
Louise Jalbert: Mother and Child Climbing Stairs to the Ashram
Karsten Verse and Julia Noelle: Lady by the Road Sign

More Grass

“Green is the color of youthfulness; it is full of spring energy. It is the color of the earth aflourish. Green is not static but full of the energy and direction of growth, urgent on its journey towards the light. Gravity cannot keep it down; the call of light is always stronger. Green is the color of relentless desire. Even from under earth smothered over with concrete or tarmacadam, the green blade will rise. Nothing can keep grass down.”

John O’Donohue,
Beauty, The Invisible Embrace, Harper Perennial, 2004, p.105

Louise Jalbert, “Grass with orange and pink”, 2015, Watercolor on paper, 8.5 x 11.5 inches


“”By working in the garden you will serve the trees and plants and living with them try to become like them. Let the trees be your Guru. A tree gives fruit and shade. When the fuit is ripe it falls down, it is sweet to the taste. The wood of the tree you use for cooking your food. So the tree gives itself entirely, it holds nothing back.”
“Watch how the trees grow and learn from them. Also from the grass. Grass is lowly and puts up with everything. People tread on it, cut it and it does not defend itself. So also the earth; everyone walks on it; you hammer it, powder it-do anything you like with it, it remains quiet and friendly.”

Anandamayi Ma

Excerpt from “As the Flower Sheds its Fragrance”, Dairy Leaves of a Devotee”, compiled by
Atmananda, an Austrian born lifelong devotee of Anandamayi Ma

Louise Jalbert, “Grass with Yellow and Violet”, 2017, Watercolor on paper, 8.5 x 11 inches. Photo: Guy L’Heureux

A Pine Tree Sketch

Here’s a pine tree study. A simple, non-revolutionnay pine tree study. Because when I paint outside, my focus is on observing, not inventing.

I keep a receptive attitude, open to register colors, movements, smells, and everything up to the tingling of the pine needles. There is a selective process going on, there has to be (I did not paint each branch individually, nor every crack of the bark), but the exercise is one of careful study.

Not every artist goes through that process, but it is essential for me. These conscientious studies teach me; they feed my imagination, grounding it in reality. And they allow me to be in contact with what I want to express that lies on a more subtle plane.

How close do I need to be to the real thing? I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter. Each sketch expresses what I could capture, then and there.

As I work on these sketches, a dialogue is formed between what I notice (Did I grasp the essence of this pine tree? Did I manage to express the splendor of it, the strength of it’s trunk or the softness of it’s foliage? How about that swooping sound the wind makes in the branches? Can I ever get all of this???) and what I intuitively perceive, that lies beyond the sensory impressions.

It is this subtle perception I am after. It reveals itself while I am sketching a tree or a lake. It comes casually, when I am attentive, not searching for it.

Louise Jalbert, “Pine Tree, lac Paré, July 27th, 2018”, Watercolor on paper, Moleskin Album, 8 x 23 inches

Painting Outdoors

Why paint outdoors?
Because you learn a lot by observing. It’s that simple but not so simple to do.

I do sketches more than paintings, but the exercise is the same. They are a first step in my work. The rest happens in the studio, based on these sketches and the experience that came with them.

Because outside, things happen. The eleven o’clock light has disappeared at noon, clouds get carried away by the wind, a bird sings then stops, it’s hot, it’s cold, now it rains and the lake has become gray, the water making a clapping sound.

Meanwhile, I try to grasp a little something: the diagonals formed on the surface of the water, the clouds that are reflected on it, the colors right under my nose or farther away. In this array of details, I make choices; each essay is a unique lesson.

This is better than being at the movies with special glasses on, because my whole body gets involved. Between what happens, what I manage to do and what comes as I do it, this little exercise is a bit of a happening in itself. It’s rather simple, don’t you think?

Louise Jalbert, “Lac Paré, July 27th, 2018”, Watercolor on paper, Moleskin Album, 8 x 23 inches


is one of my favorite words. “Go and play outside, children”, my mother would say, and it was free time, winter as well as summer.

Oh! The snow forts we built and the fun we had on swings! Maybe that is why I so love to paint from nature, because I feel so alive outside. As soon as weather permits, I love to take my gear outside and work there.

For practical reasons, I use techniques like watercolor and drawing, because they are easy to carry and organize. What matters to me is to feel and capture life as much as possible, let myself be infused by light, colors, sounds, smells which all contribute to inspire me.

This is why I’ll be happily out of the studio as much as possible for the summer. Acrylics will wait for a rainy day and will benefit from the harvest.


Painting by a lake, Lanaudière, Québec, summer 2016

(Français) Juillet

Summer is here, with all it’s might here in Québec, with temperatures that feel more like Delhi than Montreal. Vacations and water come to mind, and I thought I’d give you a refreshing sight to cool you off.

Here’s a glimpse at the sketchbooks I do outside. They are an important part of my summer routine.


Louise Jalbert, “Watercolor sketchbook, Lacs Pinatel”, July 14th and 15th, 2016, Watercolor in Moleskin sketchbook, 8 x 23 inches.

Back to the Drawing Board

I am back in the studio, my head still busy with the impressions of India. Most of what I am doing now is still uncertain and a bit of a struggle, it’s still too fresh.

This is a drawing I did during the trip. It stems from my previous work, but points to new development in what I am striving for, an all-over composition, inspired from the spirit of nature. The birds are a new addition.

It came as a vision one morning around 4 or 5 am, while I was half asleep. Somehow, in the Himalayas it was easier to wake up that early, and totally worth it. I bolted outside my room to catch the light coming up. Sitting in the small garden overlooking the Ganges, I drew quickly, holding the image in my mind. Birdsongs were rising as the sun was slowly making it’s way over the mountains.

This small sketch is a reminder of that moment. It is also a first step my further development of the idea of tapestry, or how things and beings are intertwined, which I what to convey in a bigger way.

I’ll be developing that idea in the next few months and share the process with you. Let me know what you think on Instagram!

Louise Jalbert, “Upanishads in a dream”, 2018, Feltmarker in sketchbook, 6.5 x 4.5 inches

In Between

End of March is a time in-between, or so it seems here in Québec. Winter is receding by a few inches of melted snow each day, and spring is in the air, but not quite obvious yet.

It seems as if nature was holding it’s breath, before the grand renewal.

But light is already playing out: it is raw, intense and free to dazzle everything it touches. Trees do not have leaves yet to filter it’s glare, and the last patches of snow reflect it brilliantly.

Everything else seems to be is in waiting, or in preparation, just about to explode in an unabashed rush of vitality in plants, animals and us too.

It is a moment in between, undefined, and poised before the great leap.


Louise Jalbert, “Before Spring”, 2018, Gouache on paper, 8 x 10 inches

Change of scene

Winter has arrived here in Québec, settled in comfortably with a few inches of snow to set the scene.

All is white now. The snow reflects light which further pales everything.

I always dread losing the deep colors of fall. As I do moving away from the sumptuousness of summer. The range of colors that surrounds at the present time is restrained and sober: whites, grays, browns and some blues.

On some evenings, there are pinks and violets.

And sometimes, after a fresh snow, sparkles of cristal shine in the sunlight. This is magical.

It takes me back in time, some Christmases ago. I was given a set of paint, in small plastic jars with a small brush, and to my amazement, one was gold and the other was silver, both with sparkles.That was very new, then.

The gift now is the exercise in restraint and nuance these months of austerity bring to my my eyes. I get to see better, with more subtlety.

And the wonder lives on, when I look, and when I paint.

May your Hollidays be Joyous and Sparkling!
May 2018 bring you Peace, Health and Joy!

Louise Jalbert, Bushes and Blue Snow, 2017, Watercolor and gouache on paper, 4 x 7 inches