Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Contender


Dermott & his little friend Bella

Katherine Tyrrell of Marking a Mark has posted the first part of her Making a Mark Blogging Art Awards for 2007.

Dermott is extremely chuffed to discover he was a Contender for 'The Moose' - Best Animal in an Illustrated Blog Award. He was less chuffed when he discovered The Moose had been awarded to a cat! He's left it to me to congratulate Gayle Mason Fur in the Paint on her wonderful 'Out of Sight'.

As Katherine points out Dermott learned to type this year and started his own blog I Am Dog, Hear Me Snore. Had he won 'The Moose' I'm sure there would have been a stewards' inquiry, due to the fact that he has recently been flirting outrageously with Katherine.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas To Do List


Anticipation - Snowy and Dermott waiting for Santa

I still haven't finished my Christmas shopping - and certain people in this house are getting anxious. Dermott has already peeked into the bottom of the wardrobe and he isn't impressed!

The other important thing I have yet to do is get my nomination in for Best Blogger's Painting of 2007!

Katherine Tyrrell of Making a Mark is offering a PRIZE.

She is asking us to identify and nominate a candidate for the best drawing or painting we've seen on an art or illustrated blog in 2007. THE DEADLINE FOR NOMINATIONS IS 21 DECEMBER!! So don't add it to your Christmas To Do list - get over there NOW and vote to make a fellow art blogger know just how much their work has been appreciated this year.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sketching and Snowing


Pitt Artist Pen & Pelikan ink wash

When we first arrived in in Tuscany I was distressed at the sight of a crippled old tom cat dragging himself past our house. I thought he'd probably been hit by a car until I saw him one morning, high on a rooftop, hunting!

This is a bit heavy handed as a sketch, but I think it would make a nice woodcut if only I could make a woodcut!

I've been suffering from Snow Envy for a couple of days after seeing Casey Klahn's photos of his new studio sitting in a beautiful snowscape. My inner child was delighted to wake this morning to a small helping of our own snow.


It doesn't seem that long since our favourite neighbour was sunning himself on one of those lounges. It's blowing a gale now and we are expecting more of the white stuff in the morning.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

From watercolour to pen sketches




My watercolour course has officially come to an end but I keep turning up each week because of the two new friends I've made and all that I can still learn from Gabriele. The watercolour above is after a pen and ink sketch of his. I drive past the Chiesa della Consolazione on the way to my lesson. The church is an octagonal building of 1565, possibly designed by Vasari.

I'm very fond of Gabriele's pen and ink sketches so he is now helping me learn some approaches to capture the local architecture. I'm still too heavy-handed and need a lot of practice to free up my arm.


Doodling with a fine Pitt Artist Pen.

In the spring Gabriele plans to take us sketching on location. After a lifetime of living and painting here, he knows all the best spots.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

From Tuscan Villa to Tropical Island


Watercolour 19x24cm

I used to pass this villa on my morning walk, before it got too cold and dark to get out of bed.

This is the coldest autumn we've experienced since we arrived in Tuscany. I'm starting to miss the sun.

I was looking for some cloud references in the WetCanvas image library when I found a lovely photo by Carlanna and did a quick watercolour sketch from my computer screen. My wonky dinghy was actually a rubber duckie in the photo. The sunny image really warmed me up and raised my spirits.

Watercolour 16x19cm

Speaking of high spirits. While I was painting, I was listening to the results of yesterday's Australian Federal Election. With a win for Labor my homeland now has a government with a commitment to the environment; withdrawing our troops from Iraq and encouraging racial and religious harmony. Oh, and hopefully, supporting the arts.

Now there's a lot of pressure from family and friends for HWEM to come up with a new justification for continuing to live in Italy. Actually, the dogs tell me they aren't ready to go home yet and if I'm absolutely honest, I too love it here.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Guess whose studio/cupboard has a window!



Ever since HWEM (He Who Encourages Me) purloined the annex on our terrace which had been proposed as my studio - and left me with a windowless cupboard inside - he's been feeling a tad guilty. As he should.

He decided if the 'cupboard' had a window it would become a 'room' and he wouldn't need to feel guilty. Since the window would open on to an internal staircase it wasn't exactly going to flood my world with light but I do have a great studio light. At least I'd no longer have to turn the studio light on in order to pick something up from my desk.

Since our apartment building is considerably older than I am, the window needed to be of a style sympathetic to the rest of the structure.

Now it's finished it does look rather nice but a bit like a nun's cell. I wonder if HWEM expects me to take a vow of silence.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A New Palette


I sometimes suspect I only paint because it's an excuse to buy art supplies. I was at it again in Rome earlier this year. I treated myself to a lovely little metal box of Schmincke watercolours. That was months ago and the paints were unused because I just didn't like them. Now before Schmincke starts slitting its wrists, I should mention Laura has wonderful things to say about the extend Schmincke range and the proof is in the beautiful work she has been posting recently. Anyway to my taste there were too many opaque colours in the 12 half-pan set so yesterday I took action.

I dug the paints out of a tiny Cotman by Winsor & Newton 12 half-pan box. I don't like those either but I do love Winsor & Newton's Artist Watercolours which I buy in tubes. I put the Schmincke pans in the W&N box and then filled up the empty pans from W&N tubes. Now I have the tin I love with the paints I love!

The inspiration for my new palette came from Australian artist John Lovett who has a fantastic website with lots of inspiring tips. I love his watercolours. JL recommends a basic palette of Indian Yellow or Quin Yellow, Raw Sienna, Alizarin Crimson, Burnt Sienna, Phthalo Blue and Ultramarine Blue. In addition he sometimes uses Cobalt Blue, Indigo and Permanent Rose or Rose Madder. Since I still had some spare slots in my tin I couldn't resist adding Smalt (a gift from Marta), Brown Madder, Cobalt Turquoise Light, Perylene Green and, because I love them so much, Green Gold and Stil de Grain Bruno from MaimeriBlu. So I now have a total of 15 colours in a very portable little tin. Over time I'll discover which of them earn their keep because I have so many other beautiful colours waiting to get into the tin. So much for my resolve to apply the discipline of a limited palette.

Since I've been spending (wasting?) such a lot of time playing with palettes I don't have much to show for my efforts this week. I do have another excuse but that is the subject of a future post.

The tree was painted at last week's watercolour class.

The street (below) is a disasterous attempt at mixed media - watercolour, pastel pencils, white guache and brown ink. I've ordered some 10 minute DVDs from John Lovett, so I'm hoping to do better down the track.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Craving Colour


San Nicolo - Cortona 24x32cm CP watercolour

San Nicolo is a lovely little church rather a steep walk up through the streets of Cortona. I took a photograph about a year ago and used that as a reference for this watercolour. I'm getting increasingly frustrated with photo references and realise no matter how quick and rough a sketch you make, there is a chance of a better result simply because the sketch will alert an inexperienced artist (like myseslf) to problems not immediately apparent in a photograph. The photograph is then really a great secondary resource.

In watercolour class I've been working a lot with subdued colour and different approaches to texture. Today I realised I had a craving for colour. Below is the result - same subject with watercolour, oil pastel, charcoal and pen. A bit like polishing off a whole bar of chocolate ;)


Mixed media on Cotman CP

Monday, November 05, 2007

Autumn in Tuscany


Watercolour HP paper

There is no surer sign that autumn is here than when the persimmons ripen. The Tuscan countryside is a riot of warm colours but I always find the gold of the persimmons the most beautiful and most elusive. When the autumn palette has faded and fallen, this gorgeous fruit clings to the trees right into the winter. A persimmon tree in the snow is an unbelievable sight.

I painted this one in a small hand bound sketchbook made and presented to me by Marta when we met in Florence. I've finally christened it, Marta and thank you the paper is beautiful!

Still experimenting with watercolour on gessoed paper. Not as pleased with the persimmon below as I was with my first attempt in the previous post.



Watercolour on gesso

We've been painting autumn landscapes in watercolour class. I needed help from Gabriele to get our distant hilltop town right.


24 x 32cm Canson Fontenay CP 140lbs

The other sign that autumn has taken hold is the difficulty in getting enough colour temperature to photograph paintings in natural light. The greens and yellows are more vivid in the original. Before you suggest it, I've never had any luck scanning watercolours.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Strange Fruit


Watercolour on gessoed A5 watercolour paper

Ever since Casey rue Manuel bis blogged about painting watercolour on gesso I've been keen to try it. This was just a little experiment so I didn't take too much care with the sketch. As a result it's quite loose and I quite like it! I love the rich glossy look of the colours on the acrylic gesso and it is wonderful being able to lift out highlights so easily. I will be trying some more of these. It's a great way to use up paper one doesn't like or to paint over failed watercolours. Thanks Casey! :)

The strange fruit was a gift from Jean and I have no idea what it is called. They are like little apples and have a sweet nutty taste. They start out green and are ready to eat when they are completely brown. Anyone know what they are?
Coloured pencils in Moleskine sketchbook

This clever little gift box was folded for me by Marta. I'm afraid if I take it apart I'll never get it back together again. It has joined the collection of lovely little objects I'm gathering on my desk.

Watercolour 18 x 26cm

The landscape is my effort from last week's watercolour class. These Vincaia trees used to grow all over this part of Tuscany apparently, often supporting grape vines. You don't see so many now.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Pen and Ink


Mont Blanc fountain pen & Pelikan Brilliant Brown ink
large Moleskine sketchbook

I wanted to paint a huge beautiful vase of lilies given to me by L & J. I managed to sketch three of them and then, because I've just bought Jos A Smith's The Pen and Ink Book, I decided to practice making clean bold lines with my pen. I used white gouache for highlights. White ink (as suggested by Mr Smith) would have given me a better contrast.

I've been tagged - again - twice! I'm really touched that the tags came from two artists whose work I greatly admire - Anita Murphy and Jeanette Jobson. Thank you :)

Last time I was tagged I gave far too much away so I'm not going to link back to that! I have to reveal seven things you don't know about me.

1. One of my ears sticks out more than the other.

2. I have two cigarette burns in my favourite Helmut Lang coat.

3. I gave up smoking February 21, 2001

4. I wear my favourite clothes forever

5. I like to eat sweetened condensed milk from the tube. (I gave that up too but I'd still like it).

6. I have a weakness for cashmere

7. I darn the moth holes in my cashmere now I don't work.

I am tagging the following:

Sognatrice from Bleeding Espresso - and other little known side effects of moving to Italy because I really enjoy her writing and because she is so entertaining about her new life in Italy.

Liz Patterson who has an enviable collection of pitchers (I call them jugs) and features them in beautiful sill life paintings.

Joan Y for her stunning drawings of nature.

Joan of Watercolors by Joan for her lovely watercolour landscapes and the inspiration she provides by constantly painting. I think she's currently sketching in Spain.

Finally Dermott of I am dog, hear me snore in order to distract him from rubbing up against the lounge and to get stuck into some writing.

Finally a little watercolour exercise from my class last week.
Moleskine Watercolour sketchbook

Sunday, October 21, 2007

What is it about Florence?


What's in that bag, Marta? An Italian handbag perhaps?

I had a lovely day in Florence yesterday, meeting for lunch and sketching with Marta of Marta's Art, who is holidaying in Europe with her family. After lunch we planned to sketch. We lingered long over lunch and I had a chance to see Marta's gorgeous sketches she's been posting throughout her trip. She's managed at least a sketch a day which can be a real challenge travelling with others.

We spread our sketchbooks out over the table and Marta gave me a watercolour pan of Smalt in exchange for a pan of my new Dragon's Blood. What great names for colours - like something out of Harry Potter!

I had promised her a visit to Zecchi, my favourite art shop. Our bitter disappointment when we found it shut was only matched by the bitter weather.

It wasn't all bad because it meant I had time to show Marta one of my favourite places in Florence - Piazza Santissima Annunziata. Apart from being the site of my favourite hotel (a former convent of the Servi di Maria), this piazza is famous for Brunelleschi's Spedale degli Innocenti (Foundling Hospital) considered one of the highest points of the Renaissance architecture. The foundlings are commemorated between the arches in lovely blue and white medallions of glazed terra-cotta by Andrea della Robbia.

The hospital with its inner courtyard and fabulous loggia is a sketcher's paradise. We didn't sketch a thing! This is the third time I've carried my sketching kit to Florence and not made a single mark. Sometimes I think it's because I'm overwhelmed by choice. This time the cold had a heck of a lot to do with it.

Sorry for the awful weather, Marta. But it did snow when I brought my daughter (below) here in 2005.



We did manage to fit in a promised visit to the Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella where Marta met an angel that I really must sketch some time!

My photos don't do her justice. Sorry Marta, I really shouldn't operate a camera without my glasses.

I see from your blog you got lost after you left me at the station. I also see you made use of the time to sketch the Ponte Vecchio. So it turns out only I failed to sketch in Florence!

There's always next time. Marta is determined to come back to that art shop.

It was a delightful experience to meet a blogging friend face to face. I recognised her immediately from across a square. Marta had a wonderful and generous surprise for me, but that will have to wait for a future post.




Saturday, October 13, 2007

Bad Back

I've had a bad back for the past few days so I can't sit for long. Fortunately I can stand, so today I've been making bread instead of art.

This is a little doodle from happier times, inspired by Barrington Barber - The Complete Book of Drawing.

Since I can't sit long enough to paint and Katherine - Making a Mark - can't stand long enough to draw, I figure between us we would have the game sewn up.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Poppy Field


Watercolour - Cartiera Magnani 9" x 4.5" 140lb block

In this week's lesson, Gabriele demonstrated his way of capturing a field of poppies in watercolour. I haven't nailed it yet but I think come Spring I will at least be game try a poppy landscape.

Gabriele prefers subtle colour. He discourages pure greens - or pure anything really. It's a bit of a struggle for me, particularly after recently being so influenced by Shirley Trevena's Vibrant Watercolours!

Working wet on wet on this paper gives a very furry blotting paper effect. Not exactly what I was after.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

More Walking and Sketching


I slept in this morning. No motivation to walk. After we took the dogs up to the bar for coffee and pastry, it had turned into a beautiful day so, better late than never, I headed into the hills. I'd been up this particular road many times looking for a little white church I'd been told was in a beautiful location. Each time I've turned back without finding it.

This morning I trudged on. The Val di Chio is dotted with lovely villas. I could have stopped anywhere to paint.

The little country road curled on through a paese (little villiage) and continued on uphill. Finally I came upon an olive grove more manicured than usual and then I head the bells.

A bit further on I finally found the church.


Madonna del Bagno

Rather grand for this quiet spot among the hills but much loved judging by the number of cars departing from morning mass. Soon I had the whole place to myself so I lit a candle for world peace. Mightn't do any good but I figured it wouldn't do any harm. As I left I was feeling pretty peaceful myself.

A little further down the road I found a beautiful view through the olive trees of our hill-top town and settled down to make a quick watercolour sketch. No, I'm not going to post a photo reference, I'd be too embarrassed. I didn't think much of my effort at all but it was my first attempt at painting a landscape without first sketching with pen or pencil. Less impressed with the performance of my waterbrush today. I think I'll take proper brushes and water next time. It was all a bit wishy washy in the end. But I liked it more when I got home and didn't have to compare it with the view.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Images from a Tuscan Landscape


Haystacks - Large Moleskine Watercolour sketchbook

You can still sometimes see old fashioned haystacks in the Tuscan countryside though it is more likely to be big machine-made rolls of hay. My watercolour teacher, Gabriele is very fond of the old style and has painted them many times. So this is a scan of my watercolour after his watercolour which is actually after one of his oil paintings of haystacks in the snow. Monet I am not!

Gabriele also decided I should learn to sketch the beautiful white Chianina cattle. When he was boy they pulled the plough and the wagon. Today, sadly, they are bred for their famous beef.


Caran d'Ache Technalo water-soluble pencil

If you are lucky there's still an opportunity to get close to these beautiful animals during Medieval parades. These two passed right by my front door. Which reminds me that I must one day post about all the strange and wonderful sights that pass by my front door.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Walking and Sketching


W&N Watercolour Sketchbook 10 x 7"

Most mornings I try to roll out of bed around seven and head off into the Tuscan countryside for a walk. These Autumn mornings are the best time of year here. The other day I finally took my sketchbook and made a quick study of this old aqueduct. The watercolour was added later.

Katheryn Tyrrell of Making a Mark has been blogging about Gardens in Art for the past few weeks. Today she has a wonderful post on Monet. I've been dying to join in but I find masses of foliage really challenging. Hopefully little exercises like the one above, might eventually lead to a garden painting. I am happy with play of light.

There are also lovely views of our hilltop town along my wallk. Something else to tackle in the future.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Watercolour Class Update


Moleskine Watercolour Sketchbook


My watercolour teacher does a demonstration for me at the beginning of each class and then I attempt my version of the picture. Gabriele paints most of his own pictures en plein air. Once painted he is able to recall it, so his demonstrations are all from memory/imagination.

There are thousands of little shrines dotted all over Italy and you come across them in the most remote and unexpected places. Almost always, someone has recently left an offering of flowers. Gabriele chose this one to give me some practice painting stone walls.

I am hopeless at painting in class, stage-fright I think, so I usually have a second attempt at the subject once I get home. The little painting above is from my memory/imagination of Gabriele's memory/imagination.

Gabriele almost always puts a figure or more into his compositions. I'd never noticed that I don't. I didn't even include them when there were dozens leaning over a bridge I was trying to sketch in Venice! So now I'm learning to paint little people as well.

Friday, September 21, 2007

After John Singer Sargent


After JSS Campo dei Gesuiti (Venice) watercolour 26 x 36cm
Original painting 1902-1904 is 35 x 50cm (Private collection)

This is my second attempt to copy a John Singer Sargent watercolour, the first some time ago, I think was more successful.

The Sargent and Venice exhibition I saw earlier this month was inspiring. It would have been wonderful to paint in the gallery which I had pretty much to myself, being on the tale-end of the exhibition. Unfortunately not enough time.

It isn't until I try to copy Sargent that I realise how deceptive is the simplicity of his watercolours. This palette is quite simple but the values are very hard to get. I will attempt this picture again, taking a little more care with my vertical lines and proportions. Next I will try this palette with one of my Venice photographs.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Sketching Frenzy



Watercolour thumbnail from photo reference

I won't bore you will all the quick sketches I've done today, suffice it to say I was in a sketching frenzy. I'm so excited to finally have a teacher and so depressed that I haven't focussed enough before on quick sketches from life. So after a few more thumbnails with various media this morning, I headed out to tackle some quick sketches before the weather turned sour.

Charcoal pencil & water

The challenge here was to sketch in minutes rather than my usual hours. Raindrops all over the cheap sketch pad spurred me on. This is the first time I've mixed charcoal with water and I rather like it.

On the way home the sun came out so I stopped at the San Francesco church and tried my Pental waterbrush with watercolours. I was amazed how well it worked just wiping the brush on a paper towel between colours.


10" x 7" Cotman CP 140lb paper
fineline uni pen and watercolour wash


Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Watercolour Teacher at Last!

Thumbnail - fountain pen and brown ink

Thumbnail - black watercolour pencil

With the help of our Italian neighbours, yes, the ones who feed Dermott because he sits on their cisterna slobbering, I have finally found a watercolour teacher. Yowza! His name is Gabriele and he's a delightful man who has a passion for painting spaventapasseri (scarecrows) and makes wonderful pen and ink caricatures and political cartoons.

I carted a modest selection of my watercolours along to our first meeting. He looked at a couple of them and put them aside. That's when I knew I'd be starting from the beginning. He started sketching tiny monochrome Tuscan landscapes - beautiful. Then he handed the brush to me and I froze. That's when he took me for a walk in his orto (vegetable garden), where he fed me bunches of grapes oozing with sugar and ordered me to stand clear while he shook ripe peaches out of a tree for me. I was sent home with a bag of fresh green radicchio and instructions on exactly how to shred it and soak it to remove the bitterness before dressing it with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I have a lot to learn.

I have another lesson in a week's time. I think when I'm up to scratch with these little pen and wash or watercolour thumbnails, I will be set loose in the Tuscany landscape. It could take a while, judging from my first efforts (above).


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Venice Door, Take Two


Watercolour 7" x 10" /Cartiera Magnani HP Portofino

I think this is better than my first effort but not close to what I was hoping to achieve. I want these Venice paintings to be looser than my usual efforts and I'm really struggling against too much detail. While these narrow canals deliver beautiful reflections they are usually devoid of dramatic shadows.

Next step, I think, is to attempt to copy some of John Singer Sargent's watercolours , before I come back to my own images.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Venice Door


Watercolour 10 x 7 in Cotman CP Not

I'm struggling to find my Venice palette. This is much too warm and cheerful for my taste. I think I'm a bit closer with the water.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Sargent and Venice


Pen & Watercolour Pencil large Moleskine sketchbook

I've just had a couple of magical days in Venice wining and dining with Margaret and David and enjoying a feast of art. I couldn't believe my luck when I discovered the Sargent and Venice exhibition had been extended into September. A couple of hours with John Singer Sargent's inspiring watercolours was such an education. The next day, looking for a quiet spot to sketch I stumbled upon an Albrecht Durer print exhibition which was a rare treat too. I desperately wanted to sketch the cloister at the Museo Diocesano which was the venue for Durer but I had a train to catch and they don't allow photographs. Finally an exhibition Artempo: Where Time Becomes Art at the Palazzo Fortuny was an the opportunity to see the amazing Veiled Lady 'Purity' by Antonio Corradini.

And sketching in Venice? Not very productive I'm afraid. I should have heeded Katherine's advice on sketching en plein air and realised that the friendly early morning sunlight was going to turn into a blazing torch before I'd finished my drawing. I had to complete it at home.

I 'd carted watercolours and paper along with my pencils and pens in my sketching stool/bag on my back, but such were the crowds and other temptations I didn't get to use them. I did manage some photographic references that I hope to make into paintings in the next couple of weeks.


Venice is even more special now I see her through the eyes of Sargent, Turner and Whistler and the thousands upon thousands of dreamers like myself who stand clutching a sketchbook, awestruck by her beauty.
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