Tag Archives: photography

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.

Assisi (31)

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.


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


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


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


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.



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

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.

Early Morning Walks

Italian track

Morning Mist

Every morning, nice and early, I take to two dogs out for walk. Along the damp white road we stroll, shrouded in mist with a pale sun poking through the cloud. Past the crumbling farmhouse, the delapidated barn and the swirling ford. At present this is a torrent of muddy water, after the recent spell of rain.

Wood shed

Wood shed

Beneath the rusting, iron bridge, we turn and continue along the railway line.  Where you can just making out the rickety wood shed and then we are out amongst, the now empty tobacco fields and the knarled old grape vines.

grape vines

Ancient Vine

Late winter at this time of day¬†is lovely. There’s normally a light mist and a slight bite to the chill morning air. It wakes you up nicely, focusing the mind and helping to set out the day ahead.

Italian train

Rural Grafitti

Occasionally the muted landscape is cut by the noise of a grafitti decorated, train, In the morning light it is loud, bright and brash against the subtle green of the Umbrian countryside. And just as suddenly as the clattering of the train arrives, it is gone, leaving a calm, tranquility for the three of us to walk.

Damp Tobacco

Damp Tobacco

All photographs are available to buy as greeting cards here