Recently, I had the joy of running a painting course in Umbria for a group of visiting artists whose tutor had been injured days prior to leaving. It was a great opportunity to meet new people, get outside and paint and impart some of my own particular thoughts on painting.
The event was organised by the Civitella Ranieri Foundation and was based in the fabulous, 15th century castle near Umbertide. This location is perfect for artists, perched high above the old town with expansive views of the Umbrian countryside.
This time of year the weather is somewhat unpredictable so we had studio based exercises on the cloudy, windy days and trips out, painting au plein air on the sunnier days. Here, high above the Asino Valley, we spent our time capturing the hills, woods and fields before us. A couple of days later we followed this with a drive into the beautiful hill town of Montone, where the students painted the buildings of the town.
Art in Umbria
The highlight of the week, for me, was visiting the Archeologia Arborea just outside of Citta di Castello. This is a tree museum, where they care for over 400 native fruit trees, grape vines and wild flowers. It’s a lovely peaceful place to sit and paint but sadly the weather was against us on the day we were there. Despite this, it was a thoroughly enjoyable trip with Isabella, the owner, explaining the history and importance of the orchard.
All in all the week proved to be an inspirational success for everyone, with students picking up new skills and experiences along with unforgettable memories of the Umbrian countryside.
If you are interested in a painting course or guided au plein air trip to study the landscape of central Italy, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org 🙂
Sketch of Supersized Assisi
I have been commissioned to paint a supersized version of Assisi. Once framed the picture will measure around 1300 cm x 900 cm.
A Child’s view
The commission is for a young lady who bears the name of this wonderful city. The intention is to create a painting full of detail with alleyways, gateways, buildings and wooded hideaways where a child can let loose their imagination and make up tales of wonder and mystery.
Assisi will feature prominently in the centre with vineyards and olive groves filling the foreground. This is pretty much in keeping with the landscape around the town. Field boundaries, copses of trees and little isolated farmhouses will lead up to the start of the town with its gates and walls.
On the left, sitting low to the horizon, will be the Basilica of San Francesco. The upper slopes of Mount Subasio will then fade off on the right hand side. The sky will be a bright, sunburst, a mixture of yellow, orange, pinks, blue and lilacs perfect for this setting.
I’d also like to fill the picture with secret letters, numbers and images to fire a young person’s imagination and get her to look deeper into the painting. We’ll see how this idea pans out though.
Towers, steeples and archways
The size of the watercolour will allow plenty of space to paint a fantastic, magical landscape where kids can have fun adventures. The hope is that people can return to it time and time again and discover new things hidden within the picture.
With the paper successfully stretched it’s time to get painting Assisi in all it’s magnificent detail.
Ponte Rialto, Venezia – watercolour & ink. 60cm x 40cm (For Sale)
Painting in Venice
The next set of paintings sees a trip to northern Italy, to the watery city of Venice. This is a wonderful city full of magic and wonder. There are no cars on the islands and all transport is done on either the vaporetti and gondolas or you can take a traghetto across the Grand Canal and of course you can travel along the canals by foot.
Rialto Bridge, Venice
The first painting, in the set, is the famous Ponte Rialto, which has stood since 1591. A popular attraction with visitors it spans the 48 metres of the Grand Canal and has shops built into the bridge. One of only four such bridges in the world today.
Watercolor on the Grand Canal
This picture uses three different view points, from the centre of the Grand Canal, looking directly at the bridge, and on either bank to achieve the flat perspective. The feeling of depth is created by over lapping the buildings and piers as well as diminishing object size with difference.
The painting makes use of aerial perspective and dark shadow to give added depth. The idea is to show how a completely flat painting can still exhibit three dimensions and create a visual puzzle for the viewer.
Prints, postcards and mugs are available to buy from my on-line shop.
Gubbio – The Saint, The Wolf and a Race, watercolor and ink. 36 cm x 68 cm (For Sale)
Gubbio is a fascinating town in Umbria, said to be one of Noah’s first twelve cities, it is also the place where St Francis spoke to a wolf, who was terrorising the residents. Each May there is a famous mountain race where three teams carry 25 foot totems to the basilica above.
Ceri dei Gubbio
The main landmarks around Gubbio are depicted including the ancient Roman amphitheater, the churches of saints Francesco, Ubaldo and Pietro as well as the magnificent Palazzo dei Consoli.
The painting is a sister to the one of Assisi with the sky following from one to the other. It is painted with a lack of linear perspective as a way of exploring differing ways of depicting depth.
Palazzo dei Consoli
The style is a modern interpretation of the Medieval Gothic work of such artists as Giotto and Martini who were both active in this region over 700 years ago. Great examples of their works are shown in Assisi.
The painting employs a pallet typical of the era. With earthy tones and the occasional splash of colour thrown in. Ultramarine was especially reserved for depictions of the Madonna and so a cerulean blue is used instead for the sky.
The greens are mainly viridian, sap and terra verde with titanium and Chinese whites providing the highlights. As always vermilion is used for the bright red roof tiles.
Prints, postcards and mugs are available from my on-line shop.
Gubbio was one of the first 12 cities created, by Noah, after the biblical flood. It is also where St Francis talked a wolf out of terrorising the residents. The painting shows the main landmarks and obvious points of reference around the town.
Cable car view of Gubbio
Perched on the mountain top is the Monastery of St Ubaldo that can be reached by cable car. It is here that they light the famous giant Christmas tree each year. In the foreground is the ancient Roman amphitheater, which is still in use today, along with the Palazzo dei Consoli and the churches of St Francis and St Peter.
Halfway up the hillside the remains of the town’s defenses poke out of the olive groves and scrub, with the crumbling towers and debris clearly visible as you approach the town. Gubbio itself is a maze of narrow cobbled streets and interesting buildings, fountains, piazzas and shops.
Giotto’s trees in Assisi
At present the painting starts to capture the grey and tan stonework that have been used in the town’s construction. These are played off against the trees and bushes that are scattered around Gubbio’s streets.
The large trees pay homage to Giotto di Bondone, who worked around Umbria 900 years ago and a collection of his frescoes can be seen in Assisi.
A little more work and we’re there.
Assisi – watercolour and ink, 35 cm x 70 cm. (For Sale)
This Assisi watercolour is a very busy painting filled with lots of detail and colour. Like the town itself, you can easily get lost looking at the buildings, alleyways and churches. The three major cathedrals of St Francis, St Ruffinus and St Clare are all prominently featured, as are five of the medieval gateways.
The sky is a beautiful sun burst pattern, one commonly seen in the Umbrian dawn. While the picture is divided into three views by two trees, which depict the styles of Giotto and Simone Martini. Both of whose work can be seen in the magnificent Basilica di San Francesco.
Streets of Assisi
As you walk the streets, what strikes you most is the array of arched doorways and windows. The town is full of arches, some ancient ones, long blocked in, others leading to delicious restaurants and bars, while others lead you down interesting back alleys to new and captivating piazzas.
Marmore Waterfalls – watercolour and ink, 90 cm x 30 cm (For Sale)
A question, often asked of artists is “how long did it take you to paint that?” Well the waterfalls at Marmore took me 8 years. I first visited them back in 2009 and decided I had to capture the area on paper.
The actual design, once I put pencil to paper, took about two weeks to dream up. Those who followed the paintings progress on Facebook know that it took five days to paint. So depending on how you look at these things, anywhere between eight years or three weeks.
Some times you can’t rush things.
Umbria Film Studio
Behind the painting
The painting features the 2,200 year old, man-made waterfall at Marmore, popular with artists, the medieval hill top village of Papigno, through which your drive on your way to the base of the falls and pass the Umbria film studios.
The studios are where Roberto Benigni filmed his classic movie “La vita e bella” and has a strange collection of building facades along the river, with the large, metal cladded buildings behind.
Around the corner from the studios you come across the waterfalls. If you visit, choose your times carefully as they are not always flowing. The water is diverted through a hydro-electric plant and for the greater part of the day they are quiet.
However, twice a day the sluice gates are opened and you can experience the full glory of the water cascading over the cliff face and through the trees. It is this spectacle that artists and poets down the ages have come to witness and area is a truly tranquil place to explore.