Monthly Archives: July 2014

How to Paint the Sky Purple

The Niccone, so far

The Niccone, so far

Finishing off the painting of the Niccone Valley was proving difficult  but then mother nature intervened with an art show of her own. I had an idea to continue the dark blue, purple sky from the previous painting. To echo the composition of Lorenzetti and the previous picture of the Morra Valley.

The approaching storm

Gathering Clouds

Gathering Clouds

Tonight the sky lit up. Orange, green, yellow, white, pale blue, sky blue, ultramarine and purple. The distant lighting and rumbles of thunder added to the occasion and painting in such a setting was magical. Painting though with a limited palette and poor paper leaves you searching for better techniques to record the moment. Enter the digital camera.


Storm Clouds

Storm Clouds

These are beautiful photos of the stormy sky at dusk. They are not meant to be classical photographic  studies of the sky at the day’s end but a recording of the event for further use. Close up a sky like this has a definite watercolour quality to it, with swirling patterns, bold shapes and bright exclamations of colour. Luckily the neighbours are used to my moments of artistic investigation and put it down to me being a foreigner, rather than insanity.

Using the colours

Storm Approaching

Storm Approaching

How to use them is the question as even a display like tonight still doesn’t resolve in my mind the best way to complete the sky. Probably purple and blue will do the trick, too much fussing may over complicate the background.  They are lovely studies though.

The Renaissance Garden’s of Florence – Giusto Utens

Castello Gardens Florence

Villa Medici di Castello

It took a long time before landscape painting took off. There were flashes of it emerging in the fouthteenth centuary and then again during the fifteenth. However one of the greatest illustrators of formal landscapes, parks and gardens was the Flemmish painter Giusto Utens.

Utens was commissioned by the Third Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinando Medici, to paint lunette of their country estates, parks and gardens. These were carried out between 1599 and 1602 and acurately, allbeit with a little artistic licence for compositional purposes, record the landscape of the time.

Florence villa

Medici Villa di Vetturino

Using a birds-eye view he perfectly captures the Florentine scenery in all its glory. It is fun to match the paintings against the modern skyline and see just how  the suburbs have changed. Some are still very rural locations but others these days are at the heart of busy urban districts.

Overall, Utens captured 14 of the Medici estates that surround Florence and today you can now visit and walk around many of these villas and gardens. If you track down the villas around Florence on Google Earth, and using a 45′ view you can recreate the view point that Utens himself used.


Villa Medici di Marignolle

Although in many instances the buildings have changed and plants and trees have been removed, there is still a lot of patterns in the landscape with which to line up the original paintings.

The  Medici Florentine gardens in the Utens collection are –


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  • Villa Medici del Trebbio
  • Villa Medicea di Cafaggiolo
  • Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens
  • Villa Medidi di Castello
  • Villa Medici la Petraia
  • Villa Medicea di Pratolino
  • Villa Medici dell Armbrogiana
  • Villa Medici di Lappeggi
  • Villa Medici di Poggio a Caiano
  • Villa Medici do Serravezza
  • Villa Medico la Magia
  • Villa Medici di Marignolle
  • Villa Medici di Montevettolini
  • Villa Medici di Colle Salvetti


One Valley, Twelve Miles, Six Castles, Two Borders

Valle Niccone

The Niccone Valley

My latest painting is going to be a large 75 cm x 30 cm picture of the picturesque Niccone Valley in Italy. This luscious landscape is criss-crosses by the Umbria and Tuscany border. For centuries rival lords from Perugia and Cortona built castles to protect their territory.

Some of these are ruins and others have been refurbished into stately homes. A trip along its length and drives up into the wooded hillsides gives you a wonderful chance to explore this scenic part of Italy.

Castles of Niccone 

Castle Montalto

Niccone, Castello di Montalto

High above the village of Niccone stands the now worn remains of Mont Alto. Guarding the entrance to the valley and providing Umbertide with advanced warning of trouble from Citta di Castello. Now abandoned and set in a thick forest, it is only accessible by foot.

Next you have the splendid Borgo di Migianella. In the centre of this restored hamlet you’ll find the remains of the ancient castle and gateway. It’s loft position offers great views along the Niccone and the steep climb made it easy to defend.

On the hills behind Niccone you can spot the tower of Castello di Polgetto, which is now a luxurious hotel. Again its high position looking down on Umbertide provided the town with notice of any comings and goings in the valley.

Sorbello and Reschio

Reschio Castle Umbria

Castello di Reschio

Halfway down the Niccone there is the stand off between Tuscany’s Sorbello Castel and the lavish Reschio on the Umbrian side. These two fortresses have faced each other for 1,000 years and are embroiled in many of the dark tales of the mirky politics of the area.

At the head of the valley you reach the villages of Liscione Niccone in Umbria, with its run down but still lived in castel. And the monumental, ruined keep of Castello di Pierle, which stands on Tuscan soil, above Mercatale.

Megolithic Pierle

Pierle Castle Tuscany

Castello di Pierle

Pierle must have been quite spectacular in it’s day. You can understand why, in the sixteenth century, the Medici lord, Francesco, slighted the building. Destroying the walls he said would prevent it from becoming a haven to bandits.

Composition of the painting

Researching the painting, I took a drive along the length of the valley and explored the surrounding hillsides, taking photos and making sketches enroute. Getting into the countryside is a great way to get the feel for a painting and how the eventual elements will fit together.

The composition follows the previous, Morra Valley painting and references the style of Lorenzetti in his “Good and Bad Government” fresco in Siena. This continues with the study of High Gothic, Early Renaissance landscapes and how they were viewed by artists 700 years ago.

The Morra Valley – Storm Clouds Gathering

Lugnano, Morra

The Morra Valley with Lugnano
Watercolour and ink 36cm x 16cm (For Sale)

This time I’ve slightly adapted the series, painting the landscape and not just the hill towns. I was also inspired by Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s painting “The Allegory of Good and Bad Government”, a fresco on the walls of the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena.


The Allegory of Good and Bad Government

It was painted in 1338/39 and is probably one of the first large scale landscapes produced. What struck me about the fresco was the navy blue almost black sky he’d painted and although in the photo it looks more pink, it is in fact a deep blue.

Morra Valley drawing

Lungnano Sketch

(Update) having seen the picture in another light I’ve realised it is pink. Not to worry though as this is the exact colour I see when there are heavy, dark storm clouds gathering. So, all is not lost as this illustrates another of the challenges I face when painting.  Plus it looks quite funky, as do storm clouds.

The landscape also features a very stylised hill shapes and basic building shapes, which I also emulated in the work. I liked the simplicity of the elements and think I’ve managed to create a homage to Lorenzetti’s piece. Most of all I like the strange colour combinations.

If you like this then you can buy prints here…….. 🙂