Holiday in Heaven

I spent a week holed up in a lovely old farmhouse on Montopoli behind the hermitage of St Francis. This is the place where the saint meditated on life, walked the countryside and ultimately received the stigmata from God. So religiously it’s quite a big deal. Above the monastery is La Penna, the rocky outcrop on top of the hill and below the village of Chiusi della Verna.

St Francesco's hermitage

Monastery at La Verna

I spent a week holed up in a lovely old farmhouse on Montopoli behind the hermitage of St Francis. This is the place where the saint meditated on life, walked the countryside and ultimately received the stigmata from God. So religiously it’s quite a big deal. Above the monastery is La Penna, the rocky outcrop on top of the hill and below the village of Chiusi della Verna.

Painting la Verna

Its religious significance and spectacular beauty have made it a popular destination for artists and poets for centuries. The site is full of works by

Stigmata St Francis

Andrea della Robbia and there is Ghirlandaio’s rendition detailing the site as it developed. However, perhaps one of the more surprising references to the site is in Michelangelo’s fresco “God creating Adam” in the Sistine Chaple in the Vatican.

The artist lived some ten kilometres to the south of the monastery, so it is no surprise that in preparing for his epic ceiling in Rome that he came to La Verna to make some studies.

Michelangelo’s landscape

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The Creation of Adam

If you look at Adam, he lays on a rock with a mountain in the background, as God, reaching out, touches his finger, giving life. The rock and mountain in the painting are at Chiusi della Verna, the skyline is the peak of St Francis’ sacred mountain.

Rocca della Adam

The Rock of Adam

Today you can stand on the same spot that inspired Michelangelo and look towards his imagined heaven. While the buildings around have most probably changed over the years, rocks and mountains wear down much slower.

Heaven on earth

The farmhouse at Casalino, in which I stayed,

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Monte Penna and the Enchanted Forest

is on a hill directly behind La Verna, so technically speaking I spent the week in heaven. This peaceful location truly lived up to its impressive billing, surrounded by the Enchanted Forest, the sounds of running streams and the howls and barks of nature you could really relax and leave your worries behind.

Medieval Yoga Girl

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Medieval Yoga Girl – 48 cm x 33cm Watercolour & ink

20200708_081603[1]The Medieval Yoga Girl is part of the Lockdown Project, which explores peoples attitudes, interests and coping methods during the COVID epidemic.

Painting ideas

This idea came from one of my English students (I teach English as well as painting) who was always telling me about the online yoga classes she attended.

This got me thinking that with many people doing yoga, Pilates or mediation online how would I portray a Skype lesson in a medieval style? What would a remote tutor look like, how could you listen to relaxing music?

Medieval yoga

So here you have it, folks. The video connection is a hand-puppet show, giving instructions and showing positions, whilst a chatty songbird sings calming meditative tunes to help your session.

 

The Lockdown Project

As the Covid19 virus gripped the planet, countries went into lockdown to protect their populations. In Italy, between the 9th March and 18th May, 60 million people stayed at home and observed the requests to halt non-essential movement.
Quarantine Medic

Plague Doctor

Lockdown life

During this period, whilst sat in my small apartment, in Umbria, I painted and taught English online. These paintings are the start of a series looking at the ways that people used to keep their spirits up, how they filled their days and carried on living the new normal.

I was lucky to be able to speak with people around the world on a regular basis and got a good view of how people were coping, what the outsider’s viewpoint of Italy’s plight was and saw the effects such prolonged isolation had on individuals.

Daily life in Quarantine

Food in Quarantine

Deliveroo order

The studies in this series are for larger paintings, each with a different topic that looks at daily life, as the pandemic spread throughout the world. Many of the people I spoke to adjusted to the situation quite well. Discovering new ways of doing their yoga, cycling and jogging.

Some Italians took up new hobbies, lots sang from balconies, while others read books and held virtual parties. This was my experience, I saw no lines of military trucks taking the dead away, suffering patients or solitary funerals. The Lockdown series I’m creating doesn’t dwell on any of this, it focuses on afternoon terrace picnics, nude sunbathing and the novelty of midweek, afternoon sex. This was how many people remember their lockdown.

Medieval style

Italy Balcony

Balcony Singing

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Drink!!

As always, I draw on the medieval motif for my work. The manuscripts and frescoes of the period are full of tales of plague, and of people going about their every day lives. So these paintings use these as a basis for a modern view of quarantine and how people got on with things. They will be peppered with strangely shaped individuals, all will have a religious air to them but with a weirdly modern connection.

Saint Corona

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St Corona – watercolour and ink, 11cm x 15cm

Painting St Corona

During 2020, Covid-19, the pandemic swept the world and it was then that the remains of a little known saint in Aachen came to the forefront.  The Coronavirus has, so far, killed thousands of people and  so began an interest in the saint.

The Saint of Covid19

She lived in the 2nd century AD and was martyred for comforting St Victor after he had his eyes put out. Corona, is the patron saint of butchers, gamblers and those with money difficulties, was then tied between two bent palm trees and killed.

In the 10th century, her remains were brought to Aachen cathedral, where they are kept to this day. Ironically, it was planned for her shrine, newly restored, to go on show to the public in 2020 just as the pandemic struck.

How to Make a One-Page Artist’s Book

 

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One-page Artist’s Book

Recently people have been asking me how I make my one-page artist books. These are a simple way of taking a painted image and turning it into a fabulous looking handmade book.

Making a book

Firstly divide your painting into eight equal parts, each of these will be a separate page.

Starting from the second page from the left on the bottom, create your images in sequence. Turning the painting around when you reach the right-hand edge. These images will now be upside down in comparison to your first three pictures. 

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Once the picture is turned around

Folding the pages

 

Once you’ve finished painting you cut a slit down the middle of the paper between the first and second pages. Then you fold the picture in half, lengthwise.

Taking the ends, you push the pages together, folding them over on themselves, finally folding the front and back pages over each other. Et voila, a one-page book.

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Now all that needs to be done is to cut out two pieces of thick card for boards, cover them with leather, cloth or paper and glue the book into the jacket.

Examples of One-page Books

Medieval Landscape

Of Good and Bad Governance

One-Page Book, Of Good and Bad Governance.

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Of Good and Bad Governance – watercolour book

The one-page book “Of Good and Bad Governance” takes its inspiration from Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s famous fresco in the Palazzo Pubblicco in Sienna. This massive three-sided painting, completed in 1338/9, sits in the council chambers and serves as a reminder to the councillors of their duty to the people of the city.

Lorenzetti’s Sienna

lorenzetti-good-governmentThe original is a massive fresco and must be considered to be one of the first true landscape paintings. The perspective is somewhat off, the colours are too bright and the condition is poor in parts. However, it depicts Sienna in a particular time in history.

In the 14th century, the city was a rich, prosperous place. It could afford to commission the best of the time to decorate its buildings. Then suddenly the Black Death struck. It wreaked havoc with all aspects of society. Rich, poor, young and old all were killed by it. Amongst these were the artistic Lorenzetti brothers in 1348.

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City Walls Layout

Design Layout

What this painting does is to draw on the analogy of sensible government for the people, building protection and keeping them safe. Or knocking down the walls of defence and so, leaving them exposed and vulnerable.

 

This is not a Lockdown painting. Although, created, as it is, during the Covid 19 period. Our modern-day, Black Death.

What it does is look at the genius and imagination of Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s fresco, his use of perspective and colour and then re-imagines them.

The landscape, while completely fictitious, draws on the Italian countryside through which I travel daily. It is a representation of this, using Lorenzetti’s style and colour. Nothing more.

Making the book

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Folding the pages

It uses the format of the one-page book to create a different and interesting way of viewing a painting. This way, the artist leads you through a story. Each page tells a tale of your own imagination. Once viewed opened up, you have a simple landscape to observe.

 

Other art books –

One-Page Book – Medieval Trees

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Medieval Tree Book -leather bound, watercolour plates. 15cm x 9cm

Making a one page booklet

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Finished page

This format allows you to paint a picture on one piece of paper and by folding and citing it make an interesting book. It’s a very simple but fun way of making something that looks elegant and creative.

20200428_130517Book layout

By painting the trees in a particular order you are able to read your way across the landscape from left to right. A slit is cut in the middle and the piece of paper is folded over and pushed together to create the pages.

Assembling the book20200428_130601

The paste down page and boards are cut to shape and glued on and then the whole thing is covered in leather. This came from an old jacket I bought at the market for three euro. Tie strings are then fitted to secure the book and voila you’re finished.

Medieval trees

20200428_184038The watercolour follows the Medieval tree series, a larger, 24-page book, similarly leather bound. The landscape features differing styles of tree as they’re traditionally depicted in Medieval manuscripts.

Designing to please

To add some focal points there are stone wall surrounds, an old neal-winfield-book-treeswooden barrel and a cave. The background features a meandering hilly skyline .
This is a great way of taking a simple painting and turning it into something unusual and special. Although this book is covered in a piece of a leather jacket, you could just was easily use cloth, wood or plastic to make an interesting binding.

The SacriFruital Grove

 

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The SacriFruital Grove is a garden where, in order to keep the tribe safe, you can offer up fruits of the fields to the gods. Under times of great stress and danger, it is important to make sacrifices and pay tribute to ensure the harvest.

Celtic art

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This Celtic inspired place of reverence and worship offers hope by giving the gods tasty titbits that might appeal to their tastes. Who doesn’t like strawberries and a little lemon, especially in a Spritz?

One end has a wooden platform, the idea for this comes from the film “Little Big Man” where Dustin Hoffman’s father decides it’s time to die and lays down, in the rain, on a raised structure, hoping his body will be picked clean by the birds.

Art outside

20200417_200704At the other end is a blazing fire pit, topped with an impressive stone cairn. Okay, it’s a tea light with some stones on top but you can use your imagination with it. The flickering candle lights up the terrace at night, casting a safe, comforting light around. We are protected here.

The desolate forest in between represents the abuse of nature by humans. Our constant craving for profit over care, wealth before support and concrete ahead of nature. Or it’s a couple of twigs in a plant pot. You decide.

Terrace sculpture

The ArmaGarddon Project looks at Coronavirus isolation from a person in an apartment dealing with the present. The garden is a series of sculptural plant pots on a terrace in the middle of Italy.

Due to the lockdown, there are no florists open so we’re unable to replace last years plants and this is the only space where you can get a little sunshine. Therefore, you turn the tubs into mini-gardens that reflect the time and enjoy the space.

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The Great Sensory Machine

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The Sensory Machine

The weird and wonderful Sensory Machine is part of the ArmaGarddon Project and represents the four senses, smell, sound, taste and sight. Due to fears of the Coronavirus and social distancing, the sense of touch had to be omitted.

20200413_121549Garden sculpture

The ArmaGarddon Project uses objects I find on my walks with my dogs, trinkets I’ve collected over the years and interesting junk retrieved from drawers and boxes around the house.

The starting point for the Sensory Machine was a rusty, old bike lamp and some miniature, air-freshener bottles that I’d kept for a rainy day. So the rain had arrived.

Art in the garden

20200417_092337(0)[1]The strange-looking machine was to resemble a series of interlinked collection points where the ambience of the terrace could be captured and processed. It was also to add a little colour and impact to what otherwise would be a dull, dank corner.

So the bicycle lamp represents sight, light and images, while the sounds of the countryside are collected via a tambourine device, cut from an old leather jacket.

20200417_092403[1]The sense of smell is an old lemon net bag, containing shells, while our taste buds are represented by a sponge and the air-freshener bottles. A large monolithic pebble powers the system and an old, corked bottle, store the results.

Art on the terrace

The design also takes inspiration from the drawings of Al Jazzari’s manual of everyday constructions from the 12th century.

Like the paintings, these sculptures use very simple shapes to convey the function of the machine, giving it a fun, playful aspect. Just what we need to take our mind off things, in these dark times.

 

The Armagarddon Project

 

20200414_133804[1]The Coronavirus has brought about many changes in people’s lives, some tragic, some heartwarming. All around the world, this has been a difficult time for many. As I live in Italy I’ve been under lockdown for five weeks and what has amazed me is the level of creativity that has been shown by the people to keep their spirits up.

Spring Art

As spring arrived and there were no florists or garden centres open, I decided to create the Armagarddon Project and make plant pots on my terrace a little more interesting. The winter had left them a little forlorn, weeds, dried twigs and rotten vegetation scattered around.

20200414_133657(0)[1]Garden worlds

So each planter and tub is gradually becoming a little world of its own.

The rules in Italy dictate that other than going to the shops and chemist, I can only stray 200 meters from my house. Each day, while walking my dogs, I look around for interesting stones, sticks and random objects that can be used to create an Armageddon garden.

Stone circles and henges

The early ones were simple constructions from the 20200404_182442stones leftover from a previous project that needed a prehistoric stone circle. However, things then started to get more complicated as I tied and glued objects together to make more interesting structures.

Along with the ancient stone monuments, there are now fire pits, a wooden altar and palisades. The basil plant now grows on top of a stone cairn and an unused ashtray lights up the evening sky.

The scarecrows, from last year’s work, will now become the “Guardians of the Garden” or some such nonsense. They just need a little tender care to bring them back to life but with a little added colour they should brighten up the terrace.

20200413_125021Art in the Garden

The latest piece, “The Sensory Machine”, combines sculptures that pay homage to the senses of sight, smell, sound and taste. Social distancing has meant touch is kept well away at present.

Future plant pots will include the Curearium, a series of bottles, candles and pipes that search for a vaccine and the Tub of Fools that will sail idiots away from the gardens.