Tag Archives: drawing

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 ūüôā

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.


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.


Cartoon of a Medieval Village

Medieval Village sketch

Santa Giuliana Gatehouse

Drawing the village

Setting out the composition for the gatehouse at Borgo Santa Giuliana I decided there were four main areas that should draw the eye. The gatehouse itself, the tower, the twin cropped pine trees in the foreground and Janet and Jed’s house.

Santa Giuliana, Umbria

A little more detail

Rather than paint another distant image, this time I wanted to get in the thick of it, paint the walls and windows in more detail and give a real impression  of this magnificent walled village.

Taking a liberty

Santa Giuliana is situated on the steep hillsides of Monte Corona and at this point, is hidden from view by many trees. So I had to take a little liberty with the composition, artistically chop down the woodland. I’ve still left you with a feeling that this is a wooded area but made enough space to see the buildings and gate and bell tower without having to dodge the foliage.

Skething in Umbria

Santa Giuluana Cartoon

The pine trees have moved around a little during the design stage and are now echoed by the clouds on the opposite side. There is also a strong left to right diagonal, which draws the eye to the building in the centre. While the house and the shrine on the left, with the olive grove behind give a sense of the village being a part of the landscape.

Santa Giuliana’s history

Santa Giuliana

The village from below

In it’s heyday the slopes would have been cleared giving the defenders an unobstructed view of approaching armies. In a way this returns the village¬†to its historical past and shows what an imposing ¬†figure it would have been in the landscape. ¬†… Okay! Now for a bit of colour.

Painting the Walls of Citta di Castello

I‚Äôve tackled Citta di Castello’s walls on a couple of occasions but this time I fancied painting a long section of the ancient defences. Previously, the works concentrated on the area around the Duomo but with the encouragement of Pamella, I decided to depict the whole of the west wall.

15th Century German Woodcut

15th Century German Woodcut

German woodcuts of the 15th century have always appealed to me, I love the way they big up the height and importance of their fortresses as if to deter invasion through art. So I thought Castello’s walI should be formidable and prominent in the picture.

Buildings everywhere

This poses a couple of problems, firstly there are a number of buildings opposite the wall, secondly there are lots of trees obscuring the view. So the way around it is to use the Medieval process of painting unimportant things to a smaller scale, therefore the buildings are tiny in comparison.

City Wall

City Wall

The trees likewise needed trimming, as there are great clusters of cropped firs, a stand of palm trees, some shaped garden trees and a lot of empty deciduous trunks.  The best way to take on the trees was to paint one of each group and make them fit around the wall, either painting them taller and thinner or drawing them small and squat. Problem solved.

Google Earth – Useless

Citta di Castello

Town Wall sketch

Next comes the structures behind the wall. With all this foliage, stones and concrete it’s impossible to see what it looks like over the edge. Even driving up into the hills a mile away proved ineffectual. Google Earth was no use as the Google car stupidly decided to drive out on a foggy day when nothing was visible.

The solution to this one was a stroll around the streets drawing the buildings from ground level and imagining them from another view point. I was also lucky to be teaching at the Unicredit Bank, where I discovered they have a marvellous reproduction of a sixteenth century map of Castello. This gave me additional ideas for the buildings around the wall.

Umbrian background

Castello Duomo

Duomo Drawing

The background always sets the theme with the sky providing the drama. Citta di Castello should never be without the beautiful Belvedere Monastery nestled in its wooded slopes. I plan on having the Apennine Mountains on the horizon and some farms, villas and maybe the Cyprus filled cemetery on the edge of town.

As spring is in the air I think a nice blue sky with a blazing sun and the odd fluffy white cloud scattered about. This should set the tone for future paintings as we leave the leaden skies of winter behind. It will mean that there is less distraction from the busy streets of Castello below. Hey, let’s see how it turns out.

Castello wall

Panorama of CdiC Wall

The Journey to Sanctuary

Monte Corona Abbey

Badia Monte Corona

The latest landscape painting sounds like it could be ¬†a board game or the next film in a vampire franchise. The reality is that it follows the trip I’d been taking throughout August up Monte Corona, south of Umbertide, where I was staying at Prato di Sotto during the summer months.

The directions are simple and this picture, guiding you, has the feel of an old treasure map seemingly detailing, albeit in a slightly distorted fashion, the landscape of an earlier time.

Medieval village

Borgo di Santa Giuliana

Once you cross the bridge, make sure you avoid the monastery and travel up and around the hill. Continue down the road until you reach the iron bridge and the little cabin. Turn left onto the white road.”

“Follow this rough, stone trail for 4Km, past the houses, the wood piles and over the little bridge until you reach the picturesque medieval village. Do not turn right at the farm and head into the valley but carry on up the hill until you reach the B&B. If you push on further up the hill, you’ll reach the sanctuary of the hermitage of San Salvatore on top of Monte Corona.¬†” ¬†GAME END!


Eremo Hermitage San Salvatore

The style still contains the elements taken from the Lorenzetti and Gozzoli frescoes but features more modern houses and bridges. The trees are purely influenced by these early Renaissance artists and copies that exploratory feel that their work possesses.

Drawing Monte Corona

Monte Corona Skecthes

Once again I’m planning on having a dramatic sky, all oranges, pinks and purples but we’ll see how that turns out. At the moment I’m just struggling with how to paint a page full of trees and foliage. ¬†Let’s wait to find out how it ends up shall we?

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.



Five Ways to Improve Your Drawing

Keeping up with your drawing ability is an important activity¬†for any working¬†artist. Just like sportstars and professional musicians, it’s important for an artist to keep their hand in,¬†practice.

Why practice drawing?


View from a train

A great way to improve your drawing ability¬†is to make fast,¬†30 second sketches. True they’re not going to sell for millions but they will fine tune your skills. Remember these are warm up exercises, they’re not for public consumption.

Quick drawing exercises develope the hand and the eye to observe and commit objects to paper. They teach you to look at scenes and evaluate them.

How can you develop your skill?

Sleeping dog

Sleepy Megan

Laying out simple everyday objects and timing yourself for rapid sketches can get you started, but there is always the temptation to add a few seconds on at the end to finish the drawing.

Remember the excerise is about learning to instantly see an object and record it. So here are some ideas to take away temptation from your sketching.

Draw on the Move

Drawing on the train or bus presents you with a landscape that will rapidly be changing and every second a new picture developes. Practice capturing the essence of what is happening as you travel.

Sketch things that naturally won’t keep still

Kids and pets are great for this. They normally have boundless amounts of energy and you need to be on the ball to catch the scene. You have to be fast because you never know when they’ll be off doing something else.

waterfall Italy

Marmore Waterfalls

Sit down and paint the sky. Rapid records of the moving clouds is a relaxing way to practice your skills. It can provide a perfect way of stress release, patiently watching the sky change.

Running water, especially if you live near a lively stream, can be a excellent way of honing your abilities. Running tap water will do but its not the same as a river. You could fill the sink with dishes and put the plug in. Add an element of chance to see if you finish before you get water everywhere.

Blind drawing can also be fun

Stare at an object for a minute and then turn away and draw it. This helps with your memory and picturing a scene. You quickly learn to break down objects into parts and build up a memory shorthand when observing things.

These short exercises will help you to develop your style, encourage you to look and understand things more closely and improve your technical ability.

The more you look, the more you’ll see and the better your drawings will become.