Europe, first month

It’s been more than a month since we left Montréal for our months-long trip to Europe. How time flies! We spent the very first week of our trip in Paris (which I visited last year but Paul has never been). It was mostly cold, cloudy and occasionally rainy. I wasn’t at my best but we still had a lost of fun walking around the city, visiting the Louvre, having picnics everywhere! After this first week, the adventure began: we went on the road, visiting parts of France (Normandie, Bretagne), moving from place to place with our rented car, and sleeping in it! I can say we sleep fairly well! We are very careful when it’s time to transform the car into an hotel (ha!) and I can already tell you that we don’t regret our decision to travel this way! It gives us total freedom to decide where and when to go, to move or to stay. We check our budget regularly and it’s going really well so far, which is quite reassuring after a month on the road!

I was looking forward to that feeling when you’re in an unknown country where people speak a foreign language… expatriated? So I was very much looking forward arriving in Spain! I understand Spanish up to a certain point and this is excellent practice! What struck me first when we arrived in Spain are the mountains! They are splendid and make the landscape completely different from France where it’s very flat, at least where we’ve been. I love the new landscape! Having grown in the Laurentians (region in Québec, Canada), I am used to a mountainous landscape and I love it. I realised, arriving in Spain, how I missed the mountains! They are quite different from the ones I know, though. Ours are soft and very round, here the mountains are sudden and abrupt. They remind me of the mountains of Monteverde in Costa Rica!

The Spanish are absolutely charming, and we get on well with the little Spanish remaining from my Spanish classes and the google translate app ( and that will be even more useful in Germany and the Czech Republic !!). Coffee is delicious here, and I treated myself to café con leche (latte) and tortilla (potato omelette) in the first spanish rest area where we slept. We have been lucky so far since the beginning of the adventure on the road, we find working wifi relatively easily, and thanks to Paul who did tremendous work in preparation of the trip ( he read all the travel guides and compiled the information on a map he created in his computer… a lot of programming, I’ll let him explain it to you in good time). We know what we want to do and see! Paul is the chief organizer and I am the master photographer! 🙂

We were very motivated before the trip to blog regularly, but we have come to realize that travelling as we do is a lot of work! So we have decided that we wanted to live and experience this moment at our own rhythm, and so we put te blogging aside, but we haven’t forgotten it ( i have to mention that my computer is kaput, and with the speed of free wifi it is very difficult to add photos to the blog posts and takes a lot of time and patience (read frustration)). Maybe we’ll have more time to blog in the future!

In the meantime, here are a few dreamy pictures from the last weeks 🙂

My art journal

Today, I would like to tell you about my art journal practice.

At that time, I was going through my art journals to gather all the notes I had taken on journal keeping and drawing inspiration for a project

For me, my sketchbook is a travel journal, a sketchbook, a journal, a portative studio, it’s the place where I record my everyday, where I experiment and where I express my feelings. I have kept an art journal for more than 10 years already! My practice has made me discover watercolor, a medium I adore and that I use daily now. At the very beginning, I showed my journal to very few people so it was a private space still (except for my grandmother: I used to tell her to look but not to read and she just read everything haha).

Watercolor on the beach

I began my first “official” art journal at the end of high school, when I participated in an exhibition project with my arts teacher and other students. This project changed my life and my perception about arts: we met practicing artists, visited exhibitions, galleries and museums, and we realized artworks around a theme very inspiring to young people (and not so young): it was called À Part Être (it evokes appearances, being, rejection). The title of the project  inspired us unique and various artworks and throughout the project, we had to document it using a journal with notes, sketches, and we even had a disposable camera! It was a months long project that really marked me in terms of what it means to be an artist.

Drawing/painting with neocolor II crayons and watercolor

In college, I began my second official art journal. I had a teacher that made us all do those sketchbooks/journals during her class (she bought them at the dollar store so there was no stress about ruining good paper). We had to fill 5 pages a week every week, and she told us to put everything in it: our art class notes, projects sketches, grocery list, etc. This is more like how I use my art journal now. I was looking for inspiration and found Danny Gregory. I call him my guru. His philosophy is simple: draw your life, the everyday objects, and draw directly with ink (no sketch!). It really resonated with me and I began to draw everything, things that didn’t seem worth it or interesting before, but that mark moments and times in my life (shoes, a particular handbag, my coffee cup, etc). Those discoveries fed my art practice. I later discovered other artists that all have a very unique and personnal art journal/journal/sketchbook practice, and an universe of possibilities. I’ve had periods when I am not very motivated and my inspiration is low, but I never stopped. So in college I began this magical art journal practice, I kept it mostly for myself or sometimes showed it to my family but it was mostly private.

An insect wing I found and glued with transparent scotch tape and some decorative washi tape

University: Ha, I miss you. When I was a university student, my art journal became very interesting with all the artists I was taught about, among other things. I asked my friends a few times to draw me something during class, so I would have a trace of that moment and that person. My practice really has developed at that time with everything I was seeing and learning. I was told once by a french exchange student at school that what I was doing was simply nothing, because in France they had to fill a journal like mine every month or week (so, make a lot MORE). At that time, I was filling a journal every 3 months. I didn’t write a lot but I tried to note down important things happening in my life or in life in general. Something my grandmother told me is to keep a diary because we forget everything.

Pink coffee

My art journal became much more public during university because my friends wanted to see it, and it made me happy to share my art (can’t be an artist if you don’t like showing your artwork!), so I was censoring myself enough so anyone could look and read through my art journal without problem. And it was fine, it is part of my path and I experienced having a “public” art journal. I used my art journals in quite a few class projects, so I also received reviews from my teachers on what is normally a private and intimate thing.

Drawing of my favorite pens and fountain pens

Since I finished school (almost 7 years now), I show and share my art journal a LOT less (almost not at all!). So my art journal became a space that I have total control over, it doesn’t go around a table or a class in stranger’s hands, I show it to almost no one now. I realize that I regained intimacy. I am rediscovering my personal journal, my private thoughts, and I do whatever I want, I write whatever I want without censorship or thinking about what would other people think. Taking back control. I don’t think about others, only about me. This is a learning, that took me years and is not finished. The realization that this is not a public space but is now a private space came slowly, and it feels like discovering a new language within me. I think it’s magical to discover that I can draw whatever I want, I can try and fail, and nobody has to know because it’s mine, it’s my secret space and I control access.

Architecture drawing practice

I would have liked to know what I know today when I was a teenager, having an art journal would have helped me so much when I was bullied at school or when I was depressed and anxious. Maybe I wasn’t ready? It is a time investment, time that I am used to take so I don’t think about it anymore (it’s a habit!) but I am proud of my consistency and to have kept this habit. I feel productive when I fill my art journal with random doodles and ramblings, lists, ugly (and pretty) drawings, paintings, infinite sketches of my watercolor kit. It all makes me happy. When I haven’t worked in my art journal for a few days, I feel incomplete. Even if I don’t make 8 paintings a week, my art journal is also a work of art in its way. A series. Depending on the context, it can be an ordinary diary, but it is also a transformation of the everyday into artwork.

Let’s keep thinking and experimenting.

Life is beautiful. So is art.

Palette and its drawing (I have a few palettes)

Drawing and watercolor of autumn leaves

The cover of my latest art journal: a picture I took with my phone, printed with photo paper and glued with washi tape and duck tape

Drawing with sharpie

Drawing and watercolor from pictures I took on the road in Maine with my mom, and some collage

Boston map and business card from a bakery

Drawing of a Salem building, on a pamphlet about the Salem witch trials

A portion of my art journals: I have a lot!

Drawing and watercolor

Drawing and watercolor


Roadtrip down south

On the road

On the road

A few weeks ago, I went on a small trip with my mom to get out of the city and the everyday life.

We began by going to the Maine to refuel in a place we know and love. We went to the sea to listen to the soothing sounds of the waves, and the following day we went on the beach. We also went to our favorite restaurant there, slept, relaxed under the sun, and drank cocktails! Vacation life 🙂

Me and my mother

Me and my mother

Morning face in Wells

Morning face in Wells

Installed to journal and draw in the hotel

Installed to journal and draw in the hotel

After our short trip to Wells, we decided to visit Salem to enjoy the fresh autumn weather and sun. Salem is a beautiful city, there are a lot of magic and potions shops, psychics studios and whatnot. We mostly visited on foot, so we didn’t do any paying attractions or museums.

Finally, we went to Boston! Another beautiful city, completely different from Salem and Wells. The the mix in architecture style (very old and new) is super interesting, and I loved the old red bricks buildings we could find everywhere.

During this trip, I took my pictures thinking mostly of models to draw architecture later. We can always get better and I like to work on different subjects, and before the trip I was thinking about architecture! I want to get better and broaden my creative field so new possibilities arise.


Tribulations of a young scientist

Lately I’ve been participating at a few scientific events within the framework of my master’s degree and it has been a very busy and stimulating couple of months. Approaching the end of my journey in my supervisor’s lab, the pressure to produce enduring results is increasing steadily: I’ll need notably to write one or two paper(s) to publish. So in the meanwhile, I had to share with the scientific community my results so far and their meaning in the grand scheme of things.

Since I’ve not yet introduced properly my work on this blog, let’s get rid of that now. Doing a master’s degree in the biological science department of Université de Montréal (Québec, Canada), I’m interested in the invasive species systems where populations of wild animals or plants are experiencing a great range expansion across the territory, colonizing new habitats. More specifically, I’m studying the impact of range expansion on the population genetic structure of the Mountain Pine Beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae).


Source: USDA

For those of you who are unaware of this little beetle, it’s a small insect (about the size of a grain of rice) native of pine forests of western North America (from British Columbia to north of Mexico). Found in great numbers during an outbreak, these beetles mass attack several pine tree species and drill holes in their bark, laying eggs underneath it. The larvae then develop while eating the phloem (the living tissue of the tree): this herbivorism along with the introduction of pathogen fungi species rapidly kill the host tree. When there’s millions of these beetles across the landscape, the forest stands swiftly turn from green to red.


Source: USDA

Historically, the Canadian populations of the mountain pine beetle have been secluded by the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia and have been part of a natural equilibrium of forest regeneration. However, since the beginning of the current outbreak (early 2000s), populations have undergone a massive range expansion, crossing the mountain barrier to Alberta and heading northward to the Canadian territories and Alaska.


Present and historic distributions of mountain pine beetle and pine species. Dotted arrows represent potential expansion.

Several agents may be in cause: climate changes allowing warmer winters and higher survivability of the beetles, forest industry’s logging methods homogenizing the stands properties, upper atmospheric winds transporting beetles kilometers away, etc. Of course, we can’t tell for sure what’s behind this new behavior. One hypothesis researchers attempt to verify is the possibility of an evolutionary process granting beetles the sufficient tools to continuously expand their range through novel habitats and novel tree hosts. Unfortunately, current statistical methods aimed to answer those kind of questions perform poorly on populations experiencing a massive range expansion. My humble task in this story is to identify the conditions where those statistical methods can’t be trusted and when it is important to analyse genetic data with more caution.

So going back to my recent scientific “twists and turns”, here’s an overview of the meetings I have been attending.

2016 US-IALE Annual Meeting in Asheville, NC


The International Association of Landscape Ecology (IALE) is a huge association of academic and governmental researchers mostly working in USA and all working on various questions related to landscape ecology and spatial analyses. For example, I assisted to presentations sessions about spatial connectivity in fragmented landscapes, on natural disturbances such as forest fires, on landscape genetics… Even on thermodynamics! This great variety of subjects vulgarized by more than 200 participants made my first week of April a stimulating one. I had the opportunity to chat with specialists in my field of research: people I’ve been reading papers since two years now! On top of that, I gave a presentation on the first morning and it went very well, my English coming out better than I would expect. I received interesting questions and commentaries, and some of the attendees seemed quite involved with my project.


Great place to have a taste of the vast selection of local beers!

And of course, I can’t skip saying two or three things about the meeting’s location. Leaving a cold and harsh Montréal, I was quite surprised and glad to step out of the plane in a sunny and springlike Asheville. Trees were blossoming and temperature was perfectly cozy. My colleagues and I had a great time each night picking which of the hundreds of bars and micro-breweries we would try and wandering around the atypical streets of this booming city nested in the forest and mountains. Although being quite busy all week, we had the chance before leaving to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and have a peak at this vast wild landscape.


Snowy and windy at the top!

10th Annual Conference of the CEF

Back in Montréal, I attended a short meeting of two days at Université de Québec à Montréal (UQAM), reuniting a wide range of people working in the forest industry in Québec: among which many researchers, students and forest engineers. The Conference was good, but a bit far from my personal work interests for me to be really engaged during the talks. In spite of this, my presentation went really well again and I had a good time interacting with other students and my lab colleagues.

TRIA-Net Annual General Meeting

Shortly after the previous conference, I had to take a flight to Edmonton (Alberta) where I had to present along with a colleague a scientific poster. This meeting regroups a network of Canadian researchers trying to figure out together what we could do about that mountain pine beetle situation in Canada. It was my second presence to this meeting and it’s always great to see again all those interesting and competent persons working every day directly with this insect. I didn’t had the chance to explore Edmonton, but the University of Alberta campus and its surroundings sure are much nicer than our own campus at Université de Montréal.


Source: TRIA-Net, University of Alberta

FCM Summer School

I had to cut short my participation at the TRIA-Net meeting to go to a summer school a bit north of Montréal, after taking a red-eye flight from Edmonton. This formation is offered by the Forest Complexity Modelling program who financed my researches last year. The one week formation happened this year at the Station de Biologie des Laurentides, a research facility owned by my university in a wild setting, not far from Montréal.


Source: Virginie Angers, UQAM

Arriving on Wednesday, I was a bit groggy after the night flight but I soon recovered and was able to take part in discussions with other students attending the course. Through the rest of the week, we had good presentations from researchers on various topics, mostly about the modelling of forests ecosystems. My colleague and I quite enjoyed the spot, that we know very well by now, although there were lots of black flies.