Tag Archives: design

Stained Glass Course in Italy

How would you like to spend a wonderful week in the beautiful Umbrian hills, south of Lake Trasimeno learning the ancient art of stained glass production?

DSCN7188Well! In August, 2018, I’ll be running an introductory stained glass course at the lovely Arte Umbria venue. This will be a great opportunity for you to visit Italy, experience its unique atmosphere and learn a new skill.

Beginners stained glass course

The course is aimed at beginners and will give you a taste of the 1,000 year old practice that has left us with some of the world’s most colourful and distinct artworks. By the end of the week, you will be able to design patterns for glass, cut glass and lead and solder a panel together.

DSCN7199You will have all the necessary equipment and materials supplied and there is a kit with the most essential tools to take home so that you can practice on your return.

There will also be a series of informative talks about the history of leaded lights, style and design, and a fascinating guided trip to the nearby Piegaro Glass Museum where, for centuries, they manufactured handmade, Chianti wine bottles.

Accommodation and food

Arte Umbria is set in 225 acres of verdant, hilly countryside, teeming with wild flowers, woodlands and all manner of animals. The landscape, as far as the eye can see, is studded with hill top towns, old castles and Medieval watchtowers. IMG_20170616_0001

The course is full board and along with the well appointed rooms, in a traditional Umbrian style, with a swimming pool, library and peaceful walks around the grounds to be enjoyed. There is a daily feast prepared by the on-site chef with ingredients grown or bought locally, giving you a real taste of Italy, there’s also plenty of wine from around the area.

For full details, dates and prices, or check out Arte Umbria‘s site for more information on the venue. Hope to see you in the summer.  Neal 🙂




Dressing the Part


Martini’s Altarpiece with predella designs below

Sometimes art requires that you do strange things.

On a recent project with Dr Gaie Burnet, about a lost predella of Simone Martini,


Peasant with mop staff

I was given the opportunity to try on women’s skirts in the name of art. This was not out of some sexually repressed need to dress as a woman, after all, I’m British and this comes as second nature to us. However it was necessary for me to capture the likeness of medieval peasants for the panel.

And why?

It did come as a surprise to my wife, when I walked into the sitting room to ask her a question, wearing one of her skirts, I did explain it was for artistic integrity. Bags, walking sticks, a dressing gown for a flying monk’s habit, hats and belts all helped in creating the right look for the drawings.

My dogs were somewhat concerned by my behaviour as I darted around, changing clothes and then setting the camera to timed, running across the kitchen to strike a pose. Only to repeat the chaotic process two seconds later. For them balancing, prone on a stool, to imitate the flying saint was the final act of a madman.

Martini in Siena


Flying monk




In this way and with the absence of my own willing peasant I managed to create a series of pictures that were used in drawing the missing panels from Beato Augustino’s altarpiece, which is now on display in the Palazzo Siena (check). The exercise was an illustration for Dr Burnet’s own work on the painting and how it may have been used for religious instruction and as a way of establishing the Augustinian Order during a time of great change.


Peasant with cloak

Both Dr Burnet and myself found the process of working together an interesting one and exploring Martini’s works at Assisi and Siena was a wonderful experience. It was fun to see how these great works were not just pretty frescoes illustrating the lives of the saints, bishops and Christ but were being used for political propaganda, very much like today’s elaborate electioneering boards proclaiming one belief over another.

Dissecting the message

While I was able to bring my knowledge of painting, colour and design to the project, for me, it was fascinating to hear the political and religious history around the time the artist was working and discover the messages his patrons were most likely trying to convey. What, on the surface of things, appear to be simple depictions of people are quite often more complex, with much of the true meaning being forgotten over time.

I would thoroughly recommend artists and academics working together on projects like this, as both stand to gain a lot more than they realise about the process of making art. Both from a practical perspective of painting and design but also in terms of understanding what clients were trying to get across when commissioning these great works.


Beato Augustino flying in



Saint saves baby

Inside Borgo Santa Giuliana

After the excitement of the Niccone Valley project and finally completing the long thoughtout Mount Subasio and Assisi painting, it’s back to Santa Giuliana.

Painting the borgo

Village in the mist

Foggy village

Borgo Santa Giuliana is so unique, I never get tired of painting this little Medieval walled village. And when Janet and Jed told me they’d like a painting of the place I jumped at the chance to get inside the walls.

This is truly an example of how you properly create a gated community. Siege engines struggled to get into this compact village, which consists of some twelve dwellings. In the end the attackers gave up and picked on someone less well prepared instead.

Visiting Santa Giuliana

On a sunny Sunday afternoon I finally got to see what I’d been drawing and painting from afar. It’s a magical spot, fascinating architecture, narrow sunken alleyways, a church and all around breathtaking views of the Umbrian landscape.

Medieval village Umbria

Santa Giuliana sketches

Until now I’d not managed to get a close up view of the gatehouse and its portcullis. So armed with sketches and photos of the main entrance and the fact that you can see Janet and Jed’s house from this angle, this is the view I’m painting this time around.

Also, just like Citerna in the  Valtiberina painting, I’ve decided to create an undisturbed view of the curtain wall and its buildings by raising and lowering the treeline to give a nice, open view but retaining the feel of the surrounding vegetation. Lets get started then. …

Solving the Problems of Painting Lippiano


Tuscan Umbrian Hill Town



The views of Lippiano

Lippiano Tuscany

Views of Lippiano

Lippiano is a small hill town on the Tuscan/Umbrian border between Monte Santa Maria Tiberina and Monterchi. In the main, an unremarkable place but there is a nice castle that’s open to the public, a good cafe and fabulous views. The castle has been recently renovated and it’s possible to visit it on certain days so it’s worth checking first  There is also the interestingly shaped church as you approach Lippiano, said to have been a Templar refuge.


Sketching Lippiano

I had problems with Lippiano from the start. I wasn’t sure how to set it out but at least the sketches were looking good. Once I got the first picture underway, it was obviously not working. There was just something about the whole composition that didn’t feel right. So I decided to scrap it and start again.

Lippiano sketch

Lippiano first draft

Normally I persevere with a picture but this time I just felt it was beyond salvage. I think the problem was down to poor planning and that I hadn’t thought the composition through enough. I’d also managed to confuse the layout of the village and discovered the church wasn’t half way down the hill as I’d remembered. 

Rip it up and start again

Initially I wasn’t happy with the second attempt but after leaving it for a bit and working up number three, I decided there were some nice touches to it and managed to save the painting.

Not working out

Not working out


Try again

I liked the idea of giving more prominence to the piazza and with a little reworking it seems to fit. The church gave me some cause for concern. Along with its positioning, the colour had me stumped but the green banding works for me anyway and so it stays.

The third version takes a view from around the corner and dispenses with the piazza, which was causing me problems. This concentrates more on the field patterns and uses the village as a skyline. However, that’s one for later.

Prints of all these paintings are available at Fine art America.



New Banner Design

After a lot of umming and ahhing I finally came up with an image I liked for the top banner. The default one was okay but not quite what I had in mind. Eventually I found an image of the precariously situated Civita di Bagnoregio, Viterbo.

ImageThis ancient town sits on top of a volcanic tufa whose crumbly nature has put the inhabitants in constant danger of losing their houses. Plans are afoot to reinforce the cliff face and preserve this spectacular site that guards the Tevere Valley below.

Many buildings have been destroyed over the centuries, both through erosion of the hillside and earthquakes and visitors can see the remnants of old cellars, stairways and drainage cut into the disintegrating rocks.

The drawing is for sale, measuring 30cm X 10cm and executed in pen and ink. Although I will retain the right to use the image as it forms a part of the website.

ink sketch banner

Headline Banner Design