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Picturing Paris with the Little Brown Pen

paris-cafe-greenInterview by Linda Donahue. All photos by Nichole Robertson.

Parisien Salon readers are already familiar with Nichole Robertson and her stunning Paris photographs. And the blogosphere has had its compass pointed to her blog, Little Brown Pen, for quite some time. The self-described “girl of many words and few exclamation points” is also a writer, married to Evan and currently dwells with him and their two sons in a charming New Jersey hamlet–when they’re not spending a few months a year in Paris.

I recently had a chance to chat with Nichole about her relationship to Paris, her inspiration and the success of her Etsy shop.

 

When was your first visit to Paris?

My husband Evan and I went to Paris on our honeymoon in March 2003. He had been many times, but it was my first. I had always wanted to go to Paris, but things like college tuition and rent always got in the way.

I am happy to have experienced Paris for the first time with my husband. He carefully planned visits to the places he knew I’d love, and they didn’t include the Eiffel Tower and Champs-Élysées My most memorable first was the first time I stepped inside Notre Dame. I’ll never forget the fragrant incense, dizzying heights or the weight of the collective human will to achieve something so grand. I’ve never been to Paris and not visited Notre Dame multiple times.

Paris-yellow-wallYou moved to Paris (briefly) last year. What led to that move?

Temporary insanity? Reckless abandon? Butter?

If I’m being honest, it was likely a marriage of all three coupled with the realization that it was now or never because we had children who were not yet in school. Evan and I made the decision over a glass of wine, and never looked back. We had refrained from buying a home during the housing bubble, so the move wasn’t stymied by selling a house. We notified our landlord, downsized, sold or gave away most of our belongings and left. At the time, we honestly didn’t know when we’d be returning. It was incredibly exhilarating, and a bit terrifying, but it was a shake up in retrospect I know we both needed.

You and your family spend three months a year in Paris? Is there a favorite neighborhood you stay in?

We’ve always stayed in either the Marais or Montmartre. I love them both, but I am partial to the Marais, because of its proximity to Notre Dame, the Falafel shops on Rue de Rosiers and the carousel in front of the Hotel de Ville. I have many fond memories both as a recently married young woman and a mom.

What do your children think about Paris?

My children have distilled Paris into the three Cs: carousels, chocolate croissants and crepes. They are 5 and 2, so I won’t hold their narrow views against them yet.

Do they speak any French yet?

They know some basics like bonjour, au revoir, the numbers 1 through 10, but I don’t expect that they’ll be chatting up the toddlers at the park any time soon. It’s sad to see them attempt to engage with French children who return their English greetings and pleadings for swings with blank stares. Our oldest is starting to work on it at home, and we plan to enroll them both in French classes very soon.

You have several themes that run through your photography—color, shapes, etc. Does your eye pick up on the themes while you’re out with your camera, or do you see the themes emerge later after the photos are processed?

I’m usually on the lookout for a specific color or two. I’ve discovered that it’s a wonderful way to explore Paris. I’ve taken photos of vents, grates, letters on the street, etc., that I would absolutely overlook had they not been the color I was searching for. It’s become such a habit for me now, that I have to remind myself to shoot other things.

By the way, you’d be surprised by the number of beautiful air vents there are in Paris. They look like flowers.

What kind of camera equipment do you use?

I have a Nikon D5000 and nine times out of ten I shoot with a Nikon 200mm zoom lens. Parisians aren’t too fond of people getting up close and personal with their bread, their flowers, their shops, etc., and I find it’s a whole lot easier to stand back and snap away unnoticed. I’ve endured my share of “pas des photos!”

paris-cafe-chairsHow did the idea of taking your photography and turning them into calendars come about?

I had been collecting photos in colors and planned to parlay them into art for our home once we returned to the states. One night I was surfing around on Flickr, and I came across a college student who had made a perpetual calendar out of Polaroids and Post-It notes. I showed Evan and we both agreed that we had to make a perpetual calendar of Paris. We assessed the photos we already had and collected more numbers on subsequent trips.

The actual printing of the calendar was kind of a risk for us. We had to invest quite a bit of money to have them offset printed because we needed to print on very heavy cardstock. It was a financial plunge that was terrifying at the time, but it all worked out.

Talk about the different calendars  (and other products) you’ve created and sell?

In addition to the perpetual calendar, we have a 2010 calendar that features some of our favorite photos, and a few color series in sets of nine that we love. The idea for the color series prints came from my blog readers who emailed me asking if I planned to sell them.

My favorite part about the color series is the paper they are printed on. It’s a heavy, matte, fine art cotton-rag paper, and the texture is just gorgeous.

How is your writing influenced by Paris? Do you feel more creative when you’re in Paris?

Gosh, this seems like such a cliché, but yes, I certainly do. I have no idea why, but when I am in Paris, I am doubly creative and half as lazy. It’s a good combination.

During your next stay in Paris, is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to seeing or doing?

I am really looking forward to our next trip. My parents, both of whom have never been to Paris, are going with us, and I’m giddy. I’ve been begging them (really, really begging them) for years to go to Paris, but they’ve always replied with “next year” or “when we retire.” Well, I don’t know what changed, but this time when I asked they said yes.

I can’t wait to take them to our favorite places, and for them to finally get to see the place that makes me sublimely happy.

Any words of advice for a first-time visitor to Paris?

Allow yourself a few days to see the popular spots, but give yourself at least three days to follow your bliss and traipse about with no itinerary. Just walk, and walk, and walk, breathing in the fragrant food, basking in the abundant lights, eyeing the colors, taking in the street sounds, all of it. Let your senses lead the way.

Note: Since this feature originally ran, Nicole published a gorgeous new book, Paris in Color. You can buy it online at Little Brown Pen’s website.

 

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