Postcards from Italy

Below are some paintings from my week here in Italy. I was supposed to be on the lakes up North this week, but I got rained out. Here in Tuscany the weather is a bit more summery, even if there is an early Autumn chill in the air (and we’ve had a few days of rain here too).

san gimignano Postcards from Italy

San Gimignano. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

I lived in Florence for 20 years and never painted the classic, postcard view of the Duomo. I also spent my summers about 20 minutes away from San Gimignano and never painted the towers. I thought this year I would get them both out of the way.

piazzale michelangelo Postcards from Italy

Tourist Stands, Piazzale Michelangelo. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Most of the time I stayed in the countryside working on this larger piece:

mulberry tree tuscany Postcards from Italy

The Mulberry Tree. 90 x 110 cm, oil on linen.

I’m hoping for one more day of sun to finish, but it’s not looking good.

Here is the sketch:

mulberry tree study Postcards from Italy

Mulberry Tree Study. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

And in the evenings I painted a series of sunsets from the house:

torricella sunset 1 Postcards from Italy

Torricella Sunset #1. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

torricella sunset 2 Postcards from Italy

Torricella Sunset #2. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

torricella sunset 3 Postcards from Italy

Torricella Sunset #3. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Backlit Tuscany

Below are some paintings from a very short (weekend) trip to Tuscany. Since I had so little time to paint I chose only subjects that were backlit, i.e. had the sun behind them.

Mercato Santo Spirito Backlit Tuscany

Market Stall in Piazza Santo Spirito. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

It’s probably different for every painter, but I find I can work much faster and get better results when painting towards the sun. It becomes much more about drawing and values. Frontlit subjects require a painter to capture every small nuance in hue and chroma which, for me, takes much longer.

Montisi Backlit Tuscany

Burning Leaves, Montisi. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Piazza del Carmine Backlit Tuscany

Piazza del Carmine. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Pescatori sul Arno Backlit Tuscany

Fishermen on the Banks of the Arno. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

It’s interesting to look at historic landscape painters and their preference for lighting in their views. For example, the Spanish painter Carlos de Haes went for the backlit subject in many of his plein air and studio landscapes.

haes 600x380 Backlit Tuscany

Carlos de Haes -La Torre de Douarnenez

picos de europa c 1875 600x374 Backlit Tuscany

Carlos de Haes – Picos de Europa.

And Camille Corot’s best works are usually backlit:

Jean Baptiste Camille Corot 006 600x414 Backlit Tuscany

Camille Corot – The Bridge at Narni.

As are Dennis Miller Bunker’s:

Chicago art inst bunker larmor 600x381 Backlit Tuscany

Dennis Miller Bunker – Brittany Town Morning.

The French Impressionists were also big on the midday backlit view, which is surprising since their draftsmanship wasn’t the best and they seemed so focused on color.

Claude Monet   The Cliff of Aval Etrétat   Google Art Project 600x427 Backlit Tuscany

Claude Monet – The Cliff of Aval.

On the other hand, the Spanish painters Joaquín Sorolla and Martín Rico y Ortega seemed to love the bright whites, dark skies, and strong hues of frontlit subjects in Spain and Italy. And the Italian painter Rubens Santoro painted some amazing sunlight-filled views of Italy which are also often frontlit.

Sorolla 600x311 Backlit Tuscany

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida – The Return of the Catch, Valencia Beach

view of paris from the trocadero by martc3adn rico y ortega c 1883 600x297 Backlit Tuscany

Martín Rico y Ortega – View of Paris from the Trocadero.

santoro 600x354 Backlit Tuscany

Rubens Santoro – On the Mediterranean Coast

Isaac Levitan’s best paintings are usually frontlit (or overcast).

levitan 600x491 Backlit Tuscany

Isaac Levitan – March.

And finally, on the other side of the world, the great Australian painter Arthur Streeton also used the frontlit view often to show the heat of the Australian summers.

streeton 600x398 Backlit Tuscany

Arthur Streeton – Sunlight.

Obviously, all of these great artists tried to capture a wide variety of light effects in their paintings. Still, looking over a single painter’s oeuvre, it’s fun to try to discern a pattern. Some of the other great landscape painters I (briefly) researched for this post were John Singer Sargent, Telemaco Signorini, and Edward Seago, but I wasn’t able to see any preference in their work (even Sorolla was a bit of a stretch).

The Tuscan Summer

woman under an olive tree The Tuscan Summer

Tina Reading under an Olive Tree. 110 cm x 90 cm, oil on linen.

Here are a few paintings from the last week in Tuscany. I did this large portrait of my wife reading under an olive tree. Being able to get far back is really great for painting portraits, even outside (I’ve discussed this before).

Here was the set-up:

portrait in chianti The Tuscan Summer

Plein air portraiture in the Tuscan countryside.

As idyllic as it looks, it was ridiculously hot. After the last four hour midday session I got sick from the heat and had cold sweats, nausea and a headache. An occupational hazard.

These were some of the smaller sketches:

cloud studies The Tuscan Summer

Three Tuscan Cloud Studies. 20 x 14 cm ea.

laundry and lemon trees The Tuscan Summer

Laundry and Lemon Trees. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

haybales in chianti The Tuscan Summer

Hay Bales along the Road, Noce. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

pistoletto headache The Tuscan Summer

Pistoletto’s “Headache” at Porta Romana, 20 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

The above painting went face-down into the dirt when the dog pulled the easel over, hence the debris. Another occupational hazard. The trick to getting much of the dirt or sand out is to let the painting dry completely, then clean it.

piazza santo spirito The Tuscan Summer

Piazza Santo Spirito on a Sunday in July. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Rainy May in Tuscany

Here are some sketches from the end of May in Tuscany.

tuscan farmhouse Rainy May in Tuscany

La Torricella #1. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

wine on the terrace Rainy May in Tuscany

A Glass of Wine. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

It’s been very cold and wet in Southern Europe. I painted inside by the fire a lot.

torricella Rainy May in Tuscany

La Torricella #2. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

fireplace Rainy May in Tuscany

Fireplace Sketch #1. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

This last one is a sketch of a couple of friends’ ten-week-old baby.

moss portrait Rainy May in Tuscany

Moss Sketch. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Bordeaux and Chianti Sketches

Here are some of the plein air landscape sketches from Bordeaux and Chianti painted the last month. We stayed in the little village of Pujols near Saint-Émilion (Bordeaux) in France, and then in Chianti near Tavarnelle val di Pesa.

My liver will need some time to recover.

haybales2 408x600 Bordeaux and Chianti Sketches

Haybales near Pujols. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

The Dordogne east of Bordeaux is especially interesting for plein air landscape painting as it is unusual to have such strong tidal effects so far inland.

dordogne Bordeaux and Chianti Sketches

Boats on the Dordogne. 23 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

dordogne2 Bordeaux and Chianti Sketches

The Dordogne at Castilion-le-Bataille. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

petanque Bordeaux and Chianti Sketches

Petanque. 30 x 40 cm, oil on panel.

branne 505x600 Bordeaux and Chianti Sketches

Branne. 30 x 25 cm, oil on panel.

Saint-Émilion is a beautiful little city for plein air painting. We took the workshop students there a couple of times with great success.

st emilion Bordeaux and Chianti Sketches

Gate at Saint-Emilion. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

gensac Bordeaux and Chianti Sketches

Gensac. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

pujols church Bordeaux and Chianti Sketches

Sketches of the Church at Pujols. 20 x 15 (ish) cm each, oil on panel.

Here are a couple of plein air landscape sketches of the annual grape harvest, or Vendemmia, in the Chianti region of Tuscany. It was interesting to paint the workers en plein air as they moved quickly up the vineyard rows. I would paint the vineyard row ahead of them, then move row to row to paint the grape harvesters as they worked.

vendemmia Bordeaux and Chianti Sketches

La Vendemmia. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

onion patch Bordeaux and Chianti Sketches

La Vendemmia #2. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

I’ll post the rest of the Chianti plein air landscape paintings later in the week.

Chasing Effects

As a follow up to the ‘into and out of effects’ post below, here is a short video of a plein air landscape sketch from this week. It was painting as the light moved from late afternoon into sunset into evening.

(Apologies for the quality, I need to upgrade the slow-as-molasses-in-winter netbook I do all this with while traveling).

The great thing about working from life, be it in landscapes or portraits, is that as effects or expressions change you can either add them or leave them. Many painters coming to landscapes from studio work find the changing effects challenging. In their studios everything is controlled. The trick is to see the constant mutations in nature as a blessing. Leave what was better before, add what improves.

I find this especially true in portraiture, where working from life allows you to capture fleeting effects such as the moment the sitter’s face lights up when a loved one enters the room. You also end up with a likeness that expresses a number of different facets of the sitter’s personality, as witnessed over the week of sittings.

In the painting video above, the final work becomes a montage of the best effects from the various changing light and cloud positions over the two hour session.

(Here is the final image):

santa maria novella1 Chasing Effects

Santa Maria Novella. 30 x 40, oil on panel.

Recent Studio Landscapes

A few studio landscapes from the last six months. Most are enlarged from plein air sketches done over the last couple of years.

bolgheri road Recent Studio Landscapes

The Beach Road at Palone. 90 x 110 cm, oil on linen.

umbria Recent Studio Landscapes

Poggio delle Corti. 90 x 110 cm, oil on linen.

baratti Recent Studio Landscapes

Dawn at Baratti. 70 x 90 cm, oil on linen.

senese Recent Studio Landscapes

Wheat Fields in the Senese. 80 x 100 cm, oil on linen.

la pieve Recent Studio Landscapes

Cemetery at La Pieve. 60 x 80 cm, oil on linen.

volterra Recent Studio Landscapes

Le Balze, Volterra. 90 x 110 cm, oil on linen.

Volterra Sketches

camoldolese Volterra Sketches

Badia Camoldolese #1. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Here are some of my sketches from our plein air workshop near Volterra. We had good weather for the ten days, even if the wind was problematic at times. I find wind can be harder to work with than rain.

camoldolese21 Volterra Sketches

Badia Camoldolese #2. 30 x 40 cm, oil on panel.

volterra dawn2 Volterra Sketches

The Fortress at Volterra, Dawn. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

volterra midday Volterra Sketches

The Fortress at Volterra, Midday. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

baccelli Volterra Sketches

Fragole e Baccelli. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

poppies Volterra Sketches

Poppies in the Alfalfa. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

emma Volterra Sketches

Emma Studies. 35 x 25 cm, oil on panel.

era2 Volterra Sketches

The Era. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

P1180055 Volterra Sketches

San Giusto #2, Volterra. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Villa le Rose Sketches

Mura Villa le Rose Sketches

The walls at Villa Le Rose. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Winter has set in and pushed me indoors so I’m currently enlarging the small sketches from this summer for shows next year. This was the last batch of Tuscan plein air sketches from the warm October we had there. They are all painted at the beautiful Villa le Rose property just south of Florence.

Continue reading

Montalcino Sketches

Here are a few of the sketches from our trip to Castiglione del Bosco.

befa Montalcino Sketches

View from La Befa. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

graveyard Montalcino Sketches

Graveyard at La Pieve. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

quinciano Montalcino Sketches

Cypresses at Quinciano. 15 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

silos Montalcino Sketches

Two views of La Piana. 30 x 20 cm, and 35 x 25 cm, oil on panel.

ardenga Montalcino Sketches

La Badia Ardenga and Montalcino. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

piana Montalcino Sketches

View from La Piana. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

montalcino Montalcino Sketches

Montalcino from Bibbiano. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

bibbiano Montalcino Sketches

Construction at Bibbiano. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

scalo Montalcino Sketches

Bibbiano Scalo. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

There are also a couple of larger plein air pieces which I’ll post when I’ve finished them.