Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Almond Tree in Flower

Il mandorlo in fiore - sounds beautiful in Italian. This started as a quick impression in my sketchbook but ended up rather tighter than I intended. Difficult to capture the blossom against a pale watercolour sky. I ended up adding a little Gouache.
Have you seen Van Gogh's oil painting Peach trees in blossom? Beautiful. I'm tempted to try this almond tree in acrylic in the VVG style but not sure that I should be distracted by acrylics again at this stage.

We finally got our Italian driver's licenses yesterday! It only took five months! Even more reason to beware on the Italian roads ;)

Monday, February 26, 2007

Hey Charger!

I have a weakness for gadgets and to my shame I have left a considerable trail of abandoned contraptions. Never again, I said to myself when, under the cover of darkness, I added an electric pasta machine to the council cleanup. It was a great, and genuine Italian, pasta machine. It made the dough and extruded spaghetti in minutes. It took hours to clean! Then there was the Vegetable Sculpting Kit - we won't go into that, except to say I never managed to produce a watermelon chrysanthemum or a carrot dragonfly. What I'm getting around to is how proud I was of myself when, a year ago, I came across a website featuring The Watercolour Charger. I was only beginning to experiment with watercolours so, although I read every word of this exciting new invention by British artist, John Salmon, I resisted. I held out for a year! Organising my bookmarks recently, I came across a link. It was fate.

John isn't into the hard sell. He actually provides FREE instructions on his site to build your own Charger and FREE tutorials on how to use it. Faced with having to source the bits and pieces from our local hardware shop where the owner already hides under the counter when he sees me coming, with my fractured Italian and obscure demands, I asked John if he could possibly make me one. As I pleaded - I need all my fingers.

So I have my Charger. I won't go on here about all its benefits because John does that in detail on his site. It does require a little practice, but unlike the dreaded Vegetable Sculpting Kit, I am using it every day. Now my 'clean' water is immaculate and my 'dirty' water is clean and I'm not wasting expensive paint. I'm also having enormous fun experimenting with precise graduated washes and 3D effects. Hey Charger!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

House on the Hill

Long before we decided to buy in Tuscany, even though HWEM had been lobbying from the moment we arrived, I fell in love with a little house on the hill. When we walked the dogs, I used to point at it behind the wall and say 'If I were going to live here, that's the house I'd want. After we bought our apartment, the garden of which backs on to the wall, I realised it was directly in front of 'my' house on the hill. My pointing finger was obviously off target!

Today I rugged up and took my sketchbook out to the top of the garden and sketched the view in pencil. By the time I finished sketching my bum was starting to feel numb so I retreated to my 'studio' to add the watercolour. I hope it's a sign that I am becoming more adventurous and will spend more time sketching and painting en plein air this year. The detail of all the foliage and terracotta usually overwhelms me. I think the time I've spent this month trying to learn from the marks of Van Gogh, has made me a bit more confident and much less literal.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Making a Mark: The Van Gogh Project: the artists' contributions #2

Making a Mark: The Van Gogh Project: the artists' contributions #2

Katherine Tyrrell has posted a treasure trove of links to all things Vincent Van Gogh on her Blog. Creating complex links has eluded me, then this morning, a miracle, I was able to copy the link to Katherine's summary of all the artists who have taken part in the VVG Project. Just follow the link to Katherine's blog.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Tree for All Seasons

I tried to paint my favourite persimmon tree as she is in the winter mist but I was seduced by colour, probably because of all the monotones I've been doing as part of the Van Gogh Project. I may try for the misty version at some later date. This is more pretty than elegant, I'm afraid.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Could it be Spring?

I couldn't manage to make anything that pleased me today, and then when we walked the dogs this evening, I found a sight that pleased me very much. The almond tree next door to our garden is in bloom - could it be spring?

The other sights that pleased me were Dermott and Snowy fresh from grooming.

Now if only HWEM would go to grooming, he could appear here too!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Ups and Downs with Van Gogh

Persimmon in the Olive Grove

What's this? Two posts in one day! Too much coffee I think.

Pressing on with Van Gogh, I bit off more than I could chew. This little Persimmon is one of my favourite trees - she is beautiful in every season. This is her best outfit - her fruit, deep gold baubles throughout the winter. This Christmas she was hung with tiny white fairy lights. Tiffany's eat your heart out. But all this I leave to your imagination because as you can see, I made some bad choices here. Why on earth I put in that horrible building on the left, when it isn't even there! And why did I put in the young Cypress, which is there but does nothing for my composition. I guess I thought it was very Van Gogh! We won't mention the darks in the olive trees - please!

So what am I left with from today's study? Well, I quite like the lines that define the ground - these I learned from Vincent.

Valentine's Day Whimsy

Chance Meeting - A little still life I lucked upon in the Dentist's Waiting Room. It started life as a quick pencil sketch and then I refined it slightly in my Moleskine sketchbook which isn't getting enough attention lately.
Happy St. Valentine's day everybody. Now back to Van Gogh......

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Van Gogh inspired colour

I printed the scan of my original sketch for the Cloisters on a piece of very old 90lbs Canson Montval watercolour paper. I did a light wash of Cad Yellow and Cobalt Turquoise WN watercolours and then went to work with the watercolour pencils (Lyra Rembrandt and Caran D'Ache Prismalo). My inspiration for the colour was Vincent Van Gogh's Hospital Hall.

I masked the drawing with masking tape which proved to be a disaster on this paper. It ripped shreds off when I removed it! What did I learn from this exercise, apart from the nasty masking tape lesson? This is far from the actual colour of my reference (below), so it really has encouraged me to be much bolder with colour choices in future.
The Entrance Hall of Saint-Paul Hospital - 1889
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Cloistered with Van Gogh

This is the Cloister of the Church of San Francesco here in Castiglion Fiorentino. Rebuilt at the beginning of 1600, it has a Tuscan-style double loggia in a rectangular plan. I began this time with a pencil sketch which I inked over using a fountain pen with Pelikan Brilliant Brown Ink. It was a relief to discover that even Vincent liked to give himself a pencil outline as a guide. I tried to replicated many of Van Gogh's marks and the little bird in the sky is a tribute to him. I'm rather pleased with this one!

I can't go on aping Vincent forever but what I can take away from this project is the realisation that there is more than one way to make a mark. I hope that in future the marks I make will give my sketches a great deal more energy.

Since the pencil sketch took so long (I find arches really difficult) I scanned it and printed a copy to practise my marks on rather than risk spoiling the drawing. I am now going to use the scan to play around with this image with some watercolour pencils. Since I originally posted this I have replaced the scanned image of the drawing with a photograph, which shows the true colour.

See the link in the previous post for more about the Fine Line Artists Van Gogh Project.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Did Van Gogh get his sleeve in the ink?!

I wonder how many people over the years have sat stabbing at a piece of paper with a bamboo pen trying to channel Van Gogh. If I ever make contact I'm going to ask him how he avoided getting his sleeve in the ink.

I revisited that marvellous learning resource at the Metropolitan Museum of Art website How Van Gogh Made his Mark as part of my ongoing exploration of the artist. I wanted to move on from charcoal to ink. I don't have a reed pen but I had a virgin Hake Series Bamboo Pen and some rather nice brown inks. What I was interested in was how VG made all his hatches, dots and curlicues. I've concluded that curlicues are definitely beyond my present level of skill. I think the Met. site is for children but since my inner child is alive and well it suits me down to the ground.

I then went off to the Vincent Van Gogh Gallery - what a debt we owe to the creator of this site! The Fine Line Artists February Artist Project will be long over before I have sampled more than a morsel of what is on offer there. The drawings are amazing. I was totally unprepared for the extent of VG's genius for sketching. I am inspired by everything but spent a good deal of time look at Harvest in Provence and the Courtyard of the Hospital in Arles 1889.

I look around and realise how blind I have been until now. I take lots of photographs but I never really know how to exploit them in a non-literal way.

So, taking baby steps, with eyes wide open, I'm going to follow Van Gogh on a journey through Tuscany. For sure we are both going to be happier when the weather warms up a bit and we get out of my tiny, windowless studio into the countryside.

First attempt above is Olive Farm - Cortona. I lightly drew myself a little map of the design of the landscape in 2B pencil and then went in with the ink. I've made quite a mess in spots and of course, managed to drag my sleeve through the ink.

I think you will find a link on Katherine's blog of all our fellow travellers on this Van Gogh Journey.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Palazzo Pretorio

I've joined the Fine Line Artists Van Gogh Project with the intention to study this wonderful artist during February, in an attempt to improve my work by drawing some inspiration in line, colour and composition from a master. Of course I've dashed right in with a charcoal sketch, when I really should be making a serious plan of attack and pondering exactly what is is that makes Van Gogh - Van Gogh. In a way, I think the answer is in the fact that I couldn't wait to get started when I saw, for the first time, his drawing The Weigh-House (Building in Eindhoven) posted by Casey Klahn as part of his Van Gogh project.

The charcoal sketch above (26cm x 20cm) is from a photo I took a couple of days ago when we were walking the dogs in the late afternoon sun. The big building is Palazzo Pretorio (1412), which has been modified since medieval times. It is currently our local library. The small church on the right is the Church of S. Angelo (12C) which is now the Municipal Art Gallery.

I think Van Gogh would have been attracted by the dramatic shadows and the interesting pattern of grass and paths. I've never sketched a landscape in charcoal before (hate getting my fingers dirty!) but I must say I'm really excited by the potential. I may come back to this picture a few times during the project, to see what I can make of it in pen and ink and possibly watercolour.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Natura Morta con Muffa

NATURA MORTA CON MUFFA (Still Life with Mildew)

Since I can't beat it, I figured I could find beauty in it! Thick stone walls combined with central heating can cause some interesting things to grow on one's walls. Come Spring we hope to get the painters in and then, maybe, I'll look back fondly on our Muffa. And in the Spring the dry pods can be replaced with new poppies. Maybe then this watercolour will have a companion.

Friday, February 02, 2007

My Life in a Cupboard

Great excitement this week when my studio furniture finally arrived from Ikea. It rather took the shine off things when I discovered it was in more than 100 bits - not counting knobs, screws and Allen Keys! HWEM did offer to help but I quickly pointed out that my father was a carpenter. Besides HWEM had already dealt with the two delivery men from Florence whose truck was too big to drive through the gate and up the narrow streets of our town. Fortunately our dear neighbour, Lorenzo, happened to be passing and came to the rescue with his Ape (a little three-wheeler 'truck' that is actually a motor scooter at heart) .

Neither of my 'heroes' looked in great shape after loading and unloading the boxes and carting them up two flights of stairs. It only took two days and a crushed finger for Carpenter's Daughter to get it all assembled! That which was once cupboard is now Studio. When my special studio light eventually arrives, I won't even miss the window!
If those cupboard doors look a little crooked it is because I was a little unhinged by the time I got the final bits in place.

I'm still sharing space with dog leads and Snowy's wardrobe of coats - but what is this blog called after all?

And in case I sound too deprived, I do still have my little table at the window overlooking the garden.
I'm actually the happiest cupboard dweller in all of Tuscany.
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