• Inspiration
October 4, 2023

Retracing Grandma Lu’s Steps and Sketches

Looking through his late grandmother’s sketchbooks, Max Romey was inspired to paint the views that she once did from the places she once stood.

By Max Romey & The Art Toolkit Team

A hand sketches the ice field with a pocket palette on location.

Artist, videographer, and Art Toolkit Ambassador Max Romey is undertaking a massive project and shared some of the highlights from his latest trip with us! The project in question? Max has been following in his grandmother’s footsteps, literally.

Max’s Grandmother Lu was an avid plein air painter and sketcher and left behind a whole collection of sketchbooks—103 of them, to be exact. In looking through these sketchbooks, Max was inspired not only to find the places she sketched years ago but also to stand in the exact spots she did and paint the views himself.

This summer, Max left his home state of Alaska and traveled to Europe with watercolor supplies and a mission. In the video below, Max shows us what he brought in his Art Toolkit on his improvised table of choice (a very nice rock in the French Alps).

“There’s no real substitute for actually being able to be in the place and to be able to sketch this spot. Also, it’s kind of a fun little studio tour because the studio keeps on changing!”
—Max Romey tells the camera after sharing what’s in his Art Toolkit.

For some of these sketches, Max found himself in Chamonix, France, where the studio was in the French Alps, surrounded by cascading mountains and the stunning greenery of a late summer day.

A sketchbook, toolkit, watercup, binoculars, and palette on a rock with a hand finishing up a painting.
Max sketches his view of the surrounding mountains.

Max’s Art Supplies

We asked Max to summarize what he found most surprising about his trip to France. In response, he shared his thoughts and feelings about what it was like to stand in the places his grandmother stood, connecting over art through time and space.

A person holding a sketchbook stands on a wooden lookout deck with a mountain and spire in the background.
Max sketches at the Aiguille du Midi in 2023
A black and white photo of film with an older woman posing in front of a rocky promontory.
Lu at the Aiguille du Midi in 1989

From Max

One of the things that surprised me the most was just how much some things didn’t change and how much others did. At the Aiguille du Midi, I was able to find exactly where my grandmother stood, and it was like she could have sketched in her sketchbook hours before I got there. It was like nothing had changed from the birds to the greenery.

At first, I had a hard time finding them. But then I was able to find some of the spots, and when I did that, they lined up like a puzzle piece. It was the coolest thing because when it lines up, I know that that’s where my grandmother stood and sketched. Especially with perspective and things like that, if you move just a little bit to the left or a little bit to the right, the buildings, mountains, and walkways won’t line up perfectly. So, I found some of the exact places where she was sketching 34 years ago and sketched the same stuff, with the same style, in the same medium.

Hands hold up two sketches of the open-skied view behind them, looking down on jagged mountain peaks.
Climbers at Aiguille du Midi (2023 & 1989)
Two sketchbooks show the same rocky outcropping, one in color one in black pen, next to an art toolkit palette.
Sketches by Lu and Max, side-by-side (2023 & 1989)
Hands hold up two sketches of the glacial view behind them, looking out on a mountainside.
Sketches by Lu and Max (2023 & 1989)
Max paints his surroundings in the Alps.

What surprised me was how the sketch from Aiguille Du Midi felt like she could have been up there the day before. It felt like she might have made a painting there hours before and not 34 years ago. Seeing the world through her eyes in that way was incredible, and then I got to make a sketch of my own and fill it with watercolor.

Even more surprising was seeing one of the glaciers she painted. It took me two tries to find it because it was so different from what she had sketched. I thought it was much further down the valley, but it turns out that it had just shrunk tremendously in 34 years. It was fascinating to see that some things have stayed the same and others have changed a lot.

An open sketchbook with hands completing a sketch of a glacier with a palette clipped to the sketchbook and the sun setting over the glacier in the backgroud.

But either way, it was such a cool way to reconnect with my grandmother, almost like a time machine but a sketchbook. I’m excited to look for some of the other 6,000 pages in those 103 sketchbooks that she made all around the world.

An elderly woman sits at a picnic table and sketches.
Lu sketches at the Aiguille du Midi in 1989
A woman with white hair leans on a handrail with white mountaints in the background.
Lu poses at a look-out point in front of a snowy mountain (1989)

Thank you so much, Max, for sharing this incredible journey you’re on with us all, and we cannot wait to see where your Grandma Lu’s steps take you next.

Person in a light long sleeve holds up a painting in a mountain valley with art supplies on a rock beside them.

To keep up with Max’s adventure, check out his website or follow along on his YouTube channel!

All images courtesy of Max Romey.

An artist sites on a rock, dipping a paintbrush in a Pocket Palette.

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