Tag Archives: drawing

Gubbio – Sister Painting

The next project is the Umbrian town of Gubbio. This is to be a sister painting to the last one of Assisi.

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Gubbio’s Roman Amphitheater

Sister paintings

Sister paintings came from the reality that if I painted something for my wife my sister-in-law would want one too and visa versa. Therefore many of my watercolours have a twin, painted around the same time and are similar in style, colour or content. These tend to be two pictures that can comfortably sit side by side.

Gubbio’s history

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Cable car ride

Gubbio is a fascinating place and sits in the foothills of the Apennine mountains. It is claimed to be one of the original twelve cities created by Noah after the great flood and is the place where Saint Francis had a word with a wolf that had been stalking the townsfolk.

 

Clustered around the base of Mount Ingino are Gubbio’s narrow, medieval streets, leading to its piazzas and some of its iconic buildings, such as the Palazzo dei Consoli. As you approach the town you also pass the large

Gubbio Tree

The World’s Tallest Christmas Tree

park, which houses the ancient ruins of the amphitheater that is still in use today.

Drawing the town

Crowning the mountain is the Basilica di Sant’Ubaldo, that can be reached by a cable car, gliding over the wooded slopes and gives you a great view down on Gubbio’s streets and buildings.

 

GubbioSketches (2)

Gubbio sketches

An element I’d love to include in the painting is the world’s largest Christmas tree. Each year the hillside is lit up in the shape of a fir tree. I think I might be able to hide brightly coloured dots amongst the trees that mark out the famous landmark. We’ll just have to see how it goes.

The one event I’ll pass on this time is depicting the crazy Ceri race that takes place each year. This is when three 25 foot totem poles are carried through the town and up to the Basilica di Sant’Ubaldo. A mad dash skywards that in 700 years has always finished in the same order.

Okay, lets get Gubbio painted.

 

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Using Google Earth to Paint

Assisi painting

Assisi cartoon

When setting up a painting I like to take a fact finding trip, do some sketches, take photos and get a feel for the location I’m planning to paint. My work is an emotional, visual interpretation of the landscape, so a good investigation of the area is essential.

However, once you’re back in the studio and working out your composition there’s always a nagging doubt about a particular point. Did you capture a certain angle correctly? Were the photos clear enough? Did you position yourself too far away to see any detail? This is where I find Google Earth comes in handy.

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Assisi photograph

No matter how long you spend researching a location there’s always something you miss or while thinking about the picture you discover another interesting point of view in the landscape you hadn’t considered.

Researching Assisi

The Assisi painting is a great example. I spent a warm summer’s day there, took lots of photographs of the town and sketched many fascinating features. When I was back in the studio I began thinking hard about the composition and how best to interpret Assisi.

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Google image – Fortrezza Minore

I was taken with the idea of having the town wall and its gates along the bottom of the picture. Big problem, I’d only been through two of the eight gates. Also, perched above the town is the Rocco Maggiore which, in the middle of August, was far too hot a day to go climbing up hills.

Google Earth view

So Google Earth to the rescue, although I’d got images of the castle, I needed a little more

Assisi_Photo_View

Photo view

detail. A quick wander around online and I’d gotten a better idea of how the fortress was constructed. The same for the missing gates, virtually walk along the road and you can explore the town wall and locate the missing entrances.

 

Once I started filling out the buildings that make up Assisi, I looked for patterns and shapes within to give it a sense of place. These came from a long range photo, so the detail and construction was somewhat ambiguous. Google maps

Assisi_Street_View

Google street view

allowed me to get up close to the buildings and see where the windows were, how the building was put together and gave me an idea of the colour and texture.

Adding detail

What the site allows you to do is look at the landscape in greater detail, from more angles and positions than are possible during your visit. You can check out distant points of interest to see what they actually are, instead

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Tower sketch

of jumping to an uneducated conclusion. Was that blimp on the horizon a church, windmill or a statue? Use Google Earth and make sure.

You can also use it to scout suitable locations for drawing or painting. Have a virtual walk around your painting destination and see where the best views are. Your subject matter, composition and time in the field can all be enhanced with a little online research. It is a useful tool for artists painting landscapes and takes the guess work out of landmarks.

Why not check out Assisi on Google for yourself.

 

 

Designing Assisi

Assis Sketch2

Assisi Sketch

Just how do you go about drawing a famous, 28,000 peopled town with a 3,000 year old history and a number of famous saints and landmarks?

Painting landscape

When drawing an iconic place it is important to identify the patterns, lines and shapes that make up the town. What is in the surrounding landscape and the natural forms that define it?

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Assisi bell towers

What are the key buildings that make up its skyline and how do people remember it? Where are its landmarks and stand out buildings? Once all that has been worked out it’s time to consider the colours and textures of the town. Once all these questions have been answered the town’s shape and essence will form.

 

Sights and shapes

It isn’t important to capture every window or roof tile but you need to draw its likeness. When someone looks over the

Assisi Sketch3

Rocca Maggiore, Assisi

final image, will they recognise it as Assisi or will it be just a confusing collection of buildings, set amongst an undecipherable landscape? If you’ve done your job properly the answer is no.

Defining Assisi

So what are Assisi’s defining characteristics?

It sits on the slopes of Mount Subasio, with it’s gentle curves and distinctive shape. The lower reaches are covered in lines of olive groves and vineyards. Trees also lend a sense of place to an area and the Umbrian countryside is full of Cyprus, Umberlla pine, oak and the occasional palm tree.

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Assisi’s gates

The saints of Assisi

The striking feature of Assisi has to be the Basilica of Saint Francis, rising majestically from the valley floor. It dominates the mountain and can be seen from miles away. The town is also famous for Saint Clare and Saint Rufino, who both have cathedrals here.

 

Bell towers and castles

Perched high above the city’s churches, houses and streets are the ruins of the 12th century castle, the Rocca Maggiore. Long abandoned but still a formidable sight.

Leading off from the defensive fortress are the

Assisi Sketch1

St Francis’ Basilica

remains of the town walls with the eight main gateways. Unlike Spello, which is situated at the other end of Mount Subasio, Assisi’s gate designs are pretty unremarkable but they do add to the town’s overall splendour.

To create a true semblance of Assisi you need to accurately capture these features. Its varied bell towers, the clock tower, the Medieval buildings surrounded by greenery and curvy hillsides. And of course, you can’t ignore the domineering presence of Saint Francis.

 

12 Medieval Manuscript Cats

Cat10The idea of the cat meme or cute kitten video on YouTube is nothing new. People have always adored and recorded their cats lives. In ancient Egypt they even went as far as creating a cat cult, worshiping and mummifying their remains.

While cat owners know their pet’s daily activities and ability for unconditional love, it might be surprising for people to discover Cat9that cats are one of the most depicted animals on Medieval manuscripts.  Maybe, it’s  their sly attitude, persistent nature or their calming influence that makes them popular figures.

Feline features

Cat11It is perhaps  some of these very traits that encouraged scribes to use them as a comment on individual characters in the courtly and religious life of the times.

Cats could equally be used as a metaphor for a particular aspect of religious doctrine or belief that

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the patron either supported of ridiculed. This way comment could be made without directly pointing a finger.

Social commentary

A portrait of the bishop as a sly tomcat, the local lord depicted as the cruel moggy or a cat simply on the page as a symbol of stealth.

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The commissioning of a manuscript was not a cheap affair but it afforded the buyer the chance to record their own thoughts, feelings and political aspirations, sometimes in a concealed manner.

 

Cat7Musical cats

There are a number of bagpipe playing felines, which would seemingly allure to their caterwauling and even more showing them as great hunters catching birds andCat8 mice. While it could be the owners wish to include a humours  image of a much loved family pet, it is equally probable that they illustrate some allegiance or grievance.

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Marginal cats

The decorative borders, marginalia and gold leafed Cat12initials were filled with fanciful animals, mythical beasts and hybrid human-animals.

Entwined, the way cats do around a persons legs, you’ll see them amongst the foliage and flourishes of the page, ready to pounce are the many cute, crazy and scary images of the humble pussy cat.

 

 

Drawing Gothic

The early styles of the International or High Gothic period are dominated by a lack of perspective. Artists at this time were rediscovering the ways of showing three dimensions and their attempts are an interesting exercise in drawing.

3bec70db40e6dfde02ae3a4769e550faGothic art

They were aware that things changed over distance but were not sure how to depict distances or foreshortening. Although devices are commonly found in Greek and Roman art, down the years the techniques had been discouraged and lost. Now artists found themselves experimenting to reinvent the illusion of depth.

With a relaxing of regulations by the church controlling art and a growing merchant class with money to spend, more naturalistic lifelike studies  began to emerge. People, landscapes, buildings and vegetation all appeared in paintings.

Drawing perspective

DUCCIO FIRST DENIAL OF PETERThe first uses of perspective were simple oblique projections, whereby angled ,parallel lines were used to indicate that a building was going into the distance. Ariel perspective, the bluing of the horizon, was another early device for showing objects further away.

Gradually the idea of vanishing points took hold and artists had all lines converging at a single point. Quite often this was the centre of the room and painting panelled ceilings and tiled floors were popular to show their mastery of the technique.

There was however a tendency to give each object their own vanishing point in the picture, which gives the scenes a chaotic but interesting look. There are chairs at strange angles, beds that Annunciation of Death of the Virgin_Siena,Museo dell opera del Duomoseem to float and objects that sit in a completely different plain to the things they rest on.


Painting nature

By the end of the High Gothic artists could comfortably draw ellipses, understood how objects sat next to each other and where shadows naturally fell. All important developments in illustrating three dimensions.  As each mystery unfolded their worlds took on a more realistic appearance.

KitchenDrawingOver the next two hundred years the skill of using one, two, three and four point perspectives would be unlocked and by the start of the Renaissance  artists were comfortably creating realistic rooms, elegant street scenes and marvelous landscapes.

It was through these early experiments during the Gothic period that led to the later, accomplished designs. They do provide an interesting instruction on how to draw perspective and show how the different ways effect the look of a painting.

 

Sketching Trip to the Lake

Lake Trasimeno

Island of Polvese

I took a nice sketching trip out to Lake Trasimeno yesterday to get some drawings and photographs for my next painting. Early autumn can be a great time for packing up your tools and going into the wilds to draw.

 

Lago Trasimeno Rocca

Polvese Castle ruins

Autumn art trip

It was a warm day with that particular bright, piercing sunlight you get in September. The subject for this picture is Polvese, the largest of Trasimeno’s islands and the least inhabited.

Once a thriving fishing community lived here and its ruined castle and abandoned monastery attest to the fact that it used to be home to many more people than it is today.

Isole Polvese

Water logged trees

Walking tour

The island is a lovely place to walk, the gradients aren’t too steep and there are plenty of interesting corners to photograph or paint and a little cafe bar to pick up a snack.

Like the neighbouring island of Isole Maggiore there is a regular ferry,

Monestario Polvese

Polvese Monastery ruins

running almost every hour (except lunchtimes) and it doesn’t cost a fortune. Alternatively you can cruise around the lake capturing the towns along the shoreline and the olive grove strewn hills behind.

If you should find yourself on an art holiday in Umbria, then a day on the lake is a rewarding way to fill up a sketch pad. Happy drawing 🙂

Planning Orvieto

Orvieto drawing

Orvieto sketch

I’m working on a painting of Orvieto in the southern part of Umbria. This ancient town stands on top of a tuff outcrop, which are the remains of a long extinct volcano.  This already dramatic sight is made all the more so by the  magnificent duomo that proudly highlights the town.

Orvieto-braun_hogenberg

They started erecting the cathedral in 1290 and it features frescoes by Fra Angelica and Luca Signorelli‘s masterpiece, “The Last Judgement”, painted around 1449.

For this Signorelli was paid 800 ducats, lodgings and two measures of wine each month.  Now I like that idea, especially as Orvieto is famous for its pale yellow wine, favoured by popes and princes alike.

OrvietoG2The soft tuffa rock beneath Orvieto, makes tunnelling easy and along with a 65 metre well there are numerous caverns, rooms and secret passage  ways. These are also prone to collapsing and from time to time there are the odd landslides . Lets hope the erosion doesn’t cause the same fate as nearby Civita di Bagnoregio, which these days is all but abandoned.

The painting shows off the town’s sheer cliff face with its ramps and walls with the sprawling collection of woodland, olive groves and of course vineyards around the base. We’ve had a couple of days of impressive, stormy weather recently, so the sky will most likely reflect this. Lots of orange, yellow and pinks with rays of light piercing the scene.