Here, quickly, are a few small paintings from last week in Tuscany. I was there doing some organizational stuff, and didn’t have a lot of time to paint. I was also enjoying a bit of a break after all my work for the South Carolinian show in May.
Portrait of a Young Girl. 35 x 25 cm, oil on panel.
Ben Painting at the Torricella. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
Outdoor Self Portrait. 35 x 25 cm, oil on panel.
I painted only portraits and still-lifes. As I’ve wrtten before, the Chianti region of Italy is one of the most beautiful places in the world to visit, but the ‘big views’ aren’t great for plein air painting. The small olive trees make for poor compositional elements, the hills are too close together, and the ubiquitous vineyards consist of parallel lines, which landscape painters do best to avoid.
Here are a couple of larger studio landscapes done from smaller plein air studies done on site in central Tuscany in September. I realize I haven’t posted anything in a while as I’ve been working on these larger studio paintings and they take a long time. I have three more on the easel and I’ll try to update the post as I finish them.
Castelmuzio. 120 x 150 cm, oil on linen.
Scrofiano. 90 x 110 cm, oil on linen.
Update: Here are a couple more, I’ll keep posting them here as they come off the easel. Some are heading for the Grenning Gallery this summer, one is off to Constantine Lindsay in London.
A quick post with some of my paintings from last week in Tuscany.
Late May/early June is my favorite time to paint in the area south of Siena, as the wheat fields are at their best, just before the harvest. The Senese is probably one of the more picturesque places on earth, and it is arguably the place where the first landscape paintings since antiquity were painted in the Allegory of Good and Bad Government frescos by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in the town hall of Siena.
Fiat Panda. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Mario. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Castelmuzio. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
Montisi (unfinished). 20 x 30 cm.
We were lucky with the weather. There were thunderstorms around Montisi (where we were staying) but with the big skies of the Senese we could see where they were growing and move around them.
Sant’Angelo in Colle #2. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
On the Beach, Roccamare. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
The last few paintings are of the sunset every evening from the farmhouse where we were staying outside of the village of Noce, near Tavarnelle val di Pesa. It’s part of a continuing series I’ve been working on which I intend on framing all together in one large frame. You can see some of the ones from last year here.
Afternoon on the Beach, Cala di Forno. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
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).
Deer and Olive Trees. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
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.
The Old Well, Cala di Forno. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Stone Pine. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
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.
Tina Painting a Watercolor. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Ben Painting Beatrice. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Ignacio Painting on the Beach. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
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).
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.
Tamara and Moss. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
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.
Irene on the Beach. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
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.
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. 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.
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:
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. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
And in the evenings I painted a series of sunsets from the house:
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.
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.
Burning Leaves, Montisi. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Piazza del Carmine. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
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 – Picos de Europa.
And Camille Corot’s best works are usually backlit:
Camille Corot – The Bridge at Narni.
As are Dennis Miller Bunker’s:
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.
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
Martín Rico y Ortega – View of Paris from the Trocadero.
Rubens Santoro – On the Mediterranean Coast
Isaac Levitan’s best paintings are usually frontlit (or overcast).
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.
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).
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 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:
Three Tuscan Cloud Studies. 20 x 14 cm ea.
Laundry and Lemon Trees. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
Hay Bales along the Road, Noce. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
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 on a Sunday in July. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
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.
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.