I had a birthday this week and amongst my presents was a very generous gift voucher to my favourite art shop from the youngest son. He had a look and couldn’t decide what I would like best so left me to choose. I love a gift voucher to this shop as it means I can buy something I’d like to try but wouldn’t normally spend my money on.I’d been eyeing off these Derwent Artbars for some time but never could justify their hefty price tag so it seemed fated when I saw they were just $1 more than the voucher.
They’re a lovely set of watersoluable wax bars set out in brights, lights, earth tones and darks. I love the triangular shape which gives lots of edges for mark making. I had a play this weekend and here are the results…
First I just played with the artbars, drawing loops in bands of colour and then laying in a water wash. Then I turned the paper 180 degrees and layed in more loops over the wash while it was still a little wet. I loved the way the bars slipped over the wet surface yet left quite discrete marks. This was a great way to try the colours and the result is a little geometric rainbow.
Next I tried a little impressionism. Inspired by a photo taken in Tuscany of a field of wildflowers in sunlight and shadow I made some basic swathes of colour for the sunlight and shadow, dropped in some water to blend the colours a little. While it was still wet I jabbed away with the artbars making marks for flowers and later dropped in a little watercolour. Finally I finished up with some soft pastel highlights. I quite like this little field of flowers.
I definitely enjoyed these artbars and will have to try incorporating them into some of my mixed media paintings. I also enjoyed making small square paintings and might work on an artbar squares series as a way of developing ideas on how to best use them. Art is exploration after all!
I’ve unpacked the suitcase, done the laundry and distributed the gifts. I’ve settled back into work reacquainting myself with the myriad small disasters of the working day. I’ve rearranged the studio and tidied up a bit. So now there’s so more excuses for putting off starting on the post holiday paintings.
It might surprise you to know that as much as I love painting there’s something a bit daunting about sorting through my memories, masses of photos and all those small sketches I did and trying to distill the essence of the holiday that I now want to capture in larger pastel paintings.
Sometimes I absolutely know what I’m interested in. One holiday it was patterns- roof tiles, fields of different crops, rows of lavender, five metal jugs on a wall, bicycle wheels- stone fences-the list went on. Other times it takes a while for a them to emerge and this last Italian holiday was one of those.
When that happens sometimes I just decide to jump in and start painting whatever and see what develops. So here are my first three paintings and I think what might be developing is a visual essay on the varied landscapes of Italy.
When you live as far “down under” as we do, in southern Tasmania, it’s a long way to Europe and our usual approach is to whittle away at our wish list across 2 or 3 countries each trip. This holiday we spent 5 weeks in Italy instead of our usual 1-2 weeks and it really made a difference. We were able to stay a week each in four very different regions and explore a bit more in depth than we usually have time for and I think the vastly different landscapes, architecture and traditional work is what captured our interest. Of course this variety shouldn’t be a surprise given that the Italy we know today is a very recent entity .
A gentle morning landscape with mist rising over the Tuscan wheatfields, the emerald waters of Sardinia and snowcapped mountains reflected in Lake Arpy in the northern Italian alps – the start of a series celebrating the diverse landscapes of Italy.
There’s something special about the light in Tuscany. The last few days has been a parade of misty mornings, sunny days and stormy afternnons resulting in some stunning landscapes. Here’s just a few.
When I haven’t been absorbed in the larger landscape I’ve been seduced by the details. The polished doorhandles, small window decorations, intricate patterns on the church facades. Everywhere is detail and it brings another level of richness to travelling in Italy.
Sometimes the two coincide in a happy moment of serendipity as happened this morning while I was visiting a small and beautiful 12th century cloister in a tiny village. The sun came out casting wonderful shadows through the black and white arches and lighting the fiery red geraniums in their terracotta pots.
Amidst all the pleasures of travel light and detail are top of my list.
I really loathe the expression “point and click”. The word I really object to is point. It’s such a sneery term implying that as the owner of a digital camera with a very good auto function I will simply point my camera at any scene and click away with no more thought than if I were flicking a light switch.
The Writer often extolls the virtues of his digital SLR- talking all that photographer speak of f stops and iso . I remind him that I’m not a photographer, I’m an artist. Red Velvet, my lovely red camera, is simply another artistic tool in my studio and whenever I use her I am most concerned with composition . I NEVER “point” and click.
Sunset Hokitika New Zealand
I could go all technical if I had the inclination , after all I run an MRI unit where I’m constantly concerned about signal to noise, contrast to noise, resolution and image quality. I know how to manipulate factors to improve image quality and provide high quality diagnostic images of the human body. Of course I could learn to manipulate my camera’s many manual features if I wanted to- but the truth is I don’t really want to. There’s been a lot of R&D gone into fine tuning her auto functions and I can tell you they work just fine without ant intervention from me. I’m never going to be one of those people who carry round a notebook and jot down the ISO for this shot and now what does it look like with a different ISO? Just don’t care! Surprisingly I’ve done some of my best work from less than perfectly focussed or lit photo references!
What I do care about is using my artistic sensibility to frame in an inspiring way. To see an imperfect scene and crop before I shoot. Of course I’ll keep cropping afterwards because cropping is my friend. …but why would I want to just point when I can frame?
Tuscan evening sky
Taking photos for me is another form of sketching. I’m making little thumbnails of a scene, I take one in portrait, one in landscape, then I move the horizon low …what about if I make it all about the sky and move that horizon really low? I’m already working on the painting that might not materialise on canvas or paper for several years. I’m storing up visual memories that will lay dormant until some time in the future when I search through my archives for inspiration and bang! there are all my thumbnails , the composition options already thought out and one will leap out at me and I’ll be excited because all those memories of being there, on the spot, will come flooding back. If I had just pointed I wouldn’t have the scene so firmly etched in my memory.
Tuscan clouds and wheat fields
That doesn’t mean to say I don’t use a sketch book as well- but sometimes a camera is more convenient. When I’m travelling with The Writer we often hike through amazing scenery and he hikes a lot faster than me! If I were to stop and sketch every sketch worthy scene I would never make the ridge , the top of the mountain or the end of the track. So I take along Red Velvet and frame and click away with just the occasional sketch when we stop for a break. Later that night I’ll make some more sketches after dinner to fix the subject even more firmly in my memory banks.
Monumental rock peaks in the Italian Dolomites
So that’s why I hate that phrase. I don’t judge you if you like to mess about with your ISO and F stops so don’t judge me just because I love the auto functions on my digital camera!
I fell in love with pastels for their bright and glorious boldness but as our relationship developed I began to appreciate more and more the quiet beauty of the muted greys. So in this video I explore the more restrained colours that can help develop a more subtle mood.
Not that I’m counting -but there’s only 33 days till we head off to Italy again for 5 glorious weeks. It’s been 2 years since we last visited. There are some things I just can’t get anywhere else so I’m a tad excited at the prospect of 35 straight days of Italian pleasures.
We spend a lot of time in the countryside and because we always hire a car we get to drive around early morning and late evenings as well as long, lazy, lovely days. The summer fields of wheat look beautiful anytime of day but I love this shot of the sinking sun turning the wheat golden against the lengthening evening shadows.
Then there’s the summer wildflowers. I know you can get wonderful wildflower meadows other places but the poppies are such an integral part of a summer in Italy that I miss them and if I have a summer without poppies I feel I’ve been florally cheated!. One year we went a little later than usual and the poppies were gone only to be replaced with fields of deep red/purple clover. After years of visiting Italy I discovered another pleasure of the Tuscan countryside.
When I’m dreaming of Italy it’s the colours that I’m longing for … all those ochres, reds, oranges…warm and earthy with the summer sun bouncing off them. The reflections in a Venetian canal capture all the colour, movement and essence of Italy. The iconic cities never disappoint!
There’s the unexpected like this zing of orange leaves against the bright blue sea I captured on a walk around the island of Capri.
….and the night time reflections as we walked the Cinque Terra trail after sunset.
Of course there’s all the little details as well. Doors and doorknockers are right up there for me. Also tiled terracotta rooftops with their variegated oranges brightening up the village skylines. The flap of white clothes drying in the breeze on lines slung across the laneways. Roses climbing up stone walls. Pots of geraniums making a windowsill all the garden that is needed. Fountains with their sweet sound of cool water in the summer heat.
Not least of all is the food! I just cannot get ice cream as good as Italian gelati anywhere else in the world…and I have to eat enough spaghetti vongole to last me till our next trip.
If you’ve seen many of my paintings you might think I only use brights. It’s true I’m a bit of a colourist and my hand naturally gravitates to those jewel bright sticks in my pastel box but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the muted pleasures of soft greys. Tonight I pulled out my box of Great American Artist greys to use in a small painting of a Tuscan evening sky and I didn’t miss those brights at all.
I’ve had this photo on my idea board for a while . It’s a quick snap I took a few years ago on a trip to Italy. We were driving home one night and the sky was just beautiful – full of soft pinks and mauves with a typical Tuscan farmhouse and cyprus trees silhouetted against it. Well – I took more than one snap that night but this is the one I’ve been thinking about lately. I’d planned to paint it fairly large but as I walked past my painting area a scrap piece of purple paper that looked just right caught my eye so I decided to go small and paint right then!
The photo doesn’t show much colour in the foreground so I wanted to up the colour there for a little more interest. The sky was the main inspiration so I planned to render that area fairly faithfully . The tree on the right didn’t seem to serve any purpose in the composition so I got rid of it. I decided on more contrast between the fields and the foreground bushes to add a bit more depth to the picture…and that was my planning process before I started painting.
This is a fantastic set of greyed pinks, blues, purples, browns and greens. They’re so useful for evening skies, soft shadows and understated subjects. These weren’t a cheap buy but I don’t regret a cent – they’re a must have in my collection. This is the set I used for tonight’s painting with the addition of a few darks. It’s surprising how few pastels you actually need to paint a subject like this.
I’m reasonably happy with this little 20 minute painting. It has a bit of verve, I haven’t overworked it, there are some lovely soft colours in the sky that give the glow I was looking for. True ,the house roof could do with a bit of quieting down and a few of the trees are looking a bit stunted , but overall I’m pleased with the results of my box of muted greys.