Cala di Forno

Plein air painting of the beach in the afternoon.

Afternoon on the Beach, Cala di Forno. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of morning clouds.

Morning Clouds. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Cala di Forno is a magical little spot on the southern Tuscan coast. It’s a tiny clump of buildings just next to the beach, in the middle of a large natural park. Much of the park is off limits, even to those staying in the houses, so there is a lot of wildlife around. Down near the houses there are tame deer that stand under the fig trees, waiting for the kids to pick the figs for them (though they don’t stand still enough to paint with any accuracy).

plein air painting of deer in the parco dell"uccellina, maremma, tuscany.

Deer and Olive Trees. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of a deer by the old well in Cala di Forno, Italy.

Deer by the Old Well. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

We spent last week there with a few other painters. After walking all over Rome in the heat, it was nice to be restricted to a tiny area in which to work. Many of my paintings were done within 10 meters (30 feet) of the front door.

plein air painting of the old well at cala di forno.

The Old Well, Cala di Forno. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of a stone pine tree in cala di forno, maremma.

Stone Pine. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of the houses in Cala di Forno, Italy.

Houses in Cala di Forno. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painters often look for people who are going to be in the same place for long enough to paint. Fishermen, for example, work great as subject matter as they move very little over the course of hours. I spent a few sessions painting the other artists while they worked. Other painters make great subjects since I have a good idea of how long they take to finish a piece, and thus for how long they’ll stay still.

plein air painting of a watercolorist on the beach.

Tina Painting a Watercolor. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of Ben Fenske painting Beatrice on the beach.

Ben Painting Beatrice. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

plein air painting of a painter with his family.

Ignacio Painting on the Beach. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of another painter painting.

Ben Painting. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

The beach can be accessed by boat, so many arrive and park their boats in the little bay. The water is so shallow, they often just walk from their boat to the shore (swimming the first bit, obviously).

plein air painting of boats in the surf at cala di forno, tuscany.

Boats in the Surf, Cala di Forno. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

I spent a lot of time trying to paint people on the beach.

Plein air painting of a mother and child on the beach.

Tamara and Moss. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of a woman backlit in the sea.

Backlit. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

I even tried painting kids, though I have no idea how Sorolla did it, they moved much to fast for me.

Plein air painting of a kid on the beach, cala di forno.

Irene on the Beach. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of kids playing on a beach in Italy.

Kids Playing on Driftwood. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

In plein air painting, sometimes I find restricting myself to a small area in which to work can be better than moving around a great deal. The extra time not spent scouting and traveling means more time for the paintings.

Plein air painting of sunset at Cala di Forno, Italy.

Sunset, Cala di Forno. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

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).

Plein air oil painting of San Gimignano.

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.

Plein air landscape painting of the Duomo of Florence from Piazza Michelangelo.

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:

Plein air painting of a mulberry tree in Tuscany.

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:

Study for a large painting of a mulberry tree in Tuscany.

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

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

Plein air landscape painting of sunset in Tuscany.

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

Plein air landscape painting of a Tuscan sunset.

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

Plein air landscape painting of a sunset near Noce, Tavarnelle val di Pesa.

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.

Plein air painting of Piazza Santo Spirito.

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.

Plein air sketch of Montisi.

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

Plein air cityscape oil painting of Piazza del Carmine, Florence.

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

Paesaggio in olio, pescatori sul riva dell'Arno.

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.

Carlos de Haes -La Torre de Douarnenez

Carlos de Haes -La Torre de Douarnenez

Carlos de Haes - Picos de Europa.

Carlos de Haes – Picos de Europa.

And Camille Corot’s best works are usually backlit:

Camille Corot - The Bridge at Narni.

Camille Corot – The Bridge at Narni.

As are Dennis Miller Bunker’s:

Dennis Miller Bunker - Brittany Town Morning.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

Rubens Santoro - On the Mediterranean Coast

Rubens Santoro – On the Mediterranean Coast

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

Isaac Levitan - March.

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.

Arthur Streeton - Sunlight.

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

Plein air painting of a woman reading under an olive tree in Chianti.

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:

Plein air portraiture in Chianti

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:

Plein air cloud studies from the Tuscan countryside.

Three Tuscan Cloud Studies. 20 x 14 cm ea.

Plein air sketch of laundry and lemon trees, Tuscany.

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

Plein air sketch of hay bales along a road in Chianti

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

Plein air painting of Pistoletto's sculpture at Porta Romana

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.

Plein air painting of piazza Santo Spirito, Florence

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.

Oil painting of a farmhouse in Tuscany

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

Oil painting of Tina with a glass of wine 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.

Sketch of a farmhouse in Tuscany.

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

Oil painting of a fireplace 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.

Oil painting of a newborn child.

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.

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.

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

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

Petanque. 30 x 40 cm, oil on panel.

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.

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

Gensac. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

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.

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

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 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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