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Can You Capture a Backhand in a Watercolor?

Painter "conjures" historic tennis site with watercolors.

ByABC News
February 10, 2009, 10:52 AM

PARIS, June 6, 2007 — -- In an age of SUVs, he pedals to work on his bicycle.

As millions tap messages on computer keyboards, he communicateswith pencil and brush.

And when television cameras shoot digital images of French Opentennis matches across the globe, he captures his images by hand onpaper.

He is Franck Lehodey, a droll, unassuming artist whose subjectis the 2007 international tennis championships at Roland Garros,one of the shrines of French sport. His assignment is to captureits flavor with a series of watercolor portraits.

Lehodey is following a tradition. Over the years, a smallprocession of artists have accepted commissions to make art atRoland Garros. Three years ago, Joel Blanc, who used pen, ink andoils, drew a series of sketches shown on French television.

Now, like Blanc, Lehodey continues to defy digital technology,but finds himself a captive of it. To publish his sketches, hisworks are being scanned and conveyed digitally to the printers.

A former newspaper reporter and photographer, Lehodey is nostranger to modern publishing. His day job during the tournament isto write headlines for a glossy French tennis magazine printed eachnight during the two weeks of play at Roland Garros.

"I make the titres (titles)," he tells an American reporter.

So, in his head, Lehodey works with words at night and with hishands, he works with watercolors by day.

With many deft strokes, he captures the look and feel of thevast Chartrier tennis stadium built in 1927, its exterior southwall covered with ivy.

Lehodey's eye is on the wide view: the shape and look of thespectator boxes, the slightly stooped posture of a photographer,the reflection of light on the ivy.

Anyone expecting to see the jet-fast action of a tennis strokeor the angry blur of a player disputing a line call won't find themin Lehodey's sketches. There is too little time to compose an actionshot, he complains with a slight smile.

"If you are good," he said, "you can draw someone moving fast.(But) it's very difficult to compete with photography."