Tag Archives: sketch

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.

 

JMW Turner in Umbria

Turner_selfportrait

Turner Self-portrait

By 1819, Europe had returned to relative peace, Napoleon had been defeated at Waterloo and tourists were once again travelling the continent. This was the year the painter, Joseph Mallord William Turner first journeyed into Italy. At the age of 44 he created a collection of images detailing his travels as he meandered his way to Naples.

 

Turner’s sketchbooks

Upon his death in 1851, Turner gave his sketchbooks to the British people and some of these are now available to look through online, while you can thumb through others, under supervision, at the Tate Britain Gallery. Upon discovering this I sought out the books relating to his tours of Italy and have had fun tracking his route though Umbria, where I now live.

Turner’s skill in conveying, in very simple lines, the complexities of the Italian countryside cannot be understated. Using these small sketches and with the aid of my own knowledge of the area and Google maps, I have been able to follow his tour along Umbria’s eastern borders.

Crossing the Alps

PiazzaRepubliccoFolignoJMW, like many before, crossed the Alps at Mont Cenis through the Simplon pass and travelled down through Milan to Florence. Then making his way over to the Adriatic coast, visiting Ancona and negotiating the Apennines, into Umbria. Passing through Macerata, Coliferito and Pale, his first major destination in the green, landlocked province was Foligno.

PiazzaRepubliccoFoligno_001

Piazza della Repubblica, Foligno

Wandering around Umbria in the 1800s was much like driving around the countryside today in a well-worn Fiat Panda with a dodgy suspension over rough terrain. The ride was very rickety, which is evident from some of the drawings that he did along the way. Sadly, in Umbria, the intervening 200 years have not seen much in the way of highway progress and the state of many of its roads still leave much to be desired. Potholes, landslides and large muddy puddles were as much a part of travel then, as they are now.

 

Visiting Foligno

RoadBtwFolignoTreviThe coach didn’t stop in Foligno but by following the order and pictures, it seems the travellers simply skirted the town walls and headed on out along the via Flaminio in the direction of Terni. Here the trip takes Turner along the foothills of the Apennines through the village of Sant Eracole, the Torre di Matigge and passed the towering vistas of Trevi.

It looks likely that one of the stops was at the

TorreMattige

Torre di Matigge

Roman temple of Clitumnus, where he made a number of sketches of the scenery and a detailed study of the building. After this break the bumpy ride continued on to Spoleto and here again it looks like Turner just rode around the town walls, making notes of the town as he went.

Spoleto sights

He did manage to catch some views of the ViaRomaViewSpoletoRocca that dominates the skyline and an interesting drawing below the Torre d’Olio, a view that has changed quite a bit over time. Leaving Spoleto, he recorded the Ponte della Torri and the castle, a picturesque spot that is still a popular photo opportunity with today’s visitors.

Carrying on along the via Roma and over

ViewViRomaSpoleto

View leaving Spoleto

the Somma pass he sketched the village of Palazzaccio di Strettura with what was then a ruined castle nestled in the valley. Today this ancient fortification is a modern, refurbished hotel and makes a great resting point on the way to Rome.

Terni and the waterfalls

Reaching Terni, Turner jotted down a few of the town’s Baroque buildings and made sketches of the town’s inhabitants Papigno_001as he relaxed. The Terni of today is a different place from the one he visited. After his time there the industrial revolution changed much of the landscape as it became a thriving steel centre. This was further altered when 80% of the town was bombed during the Second World War. Sadly many of the drawings from this time show places long lost to development and war.

Papigno2

Papigno

While in the area, Turner, like many artists and poets before him, took a detour into the hills above the town to visit the magnificent, 2,000 year old, man-made waterfalls at Marmore, the village of Papigno and tranquil waters of Lake Piediluco. He spent a good many hours around the area, chronicling the landscape and making notes of the hills and villages, before heading off to Narni.

The magical land of Narni

NarniWestNarni, dominated by its formidable castle, is one of those hill towns that is visible for miles around. Turner recorded his progress towards the town gates with a series of drawings. Judging by the quantity of sketches he made, it’s fair to suggest he spent at least the night here.

Narni is famous for its Augustinian Roman bridge, much ruined, as you’d expect after

NarniEast

Narni

2,000 years but still with sufficient structure to be of interest. Here he drew various views around this landmark, as well as the interesting looking medieval bridge with its own tower at one end. Unfortunately in an attempt to slow the Nazi’s retreat during WWII the Allies saw fit to bomb this old monument. While an arch and three pillars of the roman bridge can still be found, you can now only imagine the other pretty bridge.

On to Rome

RomanArchNarni_001Continuing south down the slopes of the Narni hills he finally left Umbria and entered the province of Lazio. At this point the coach wound its way along the River Tiber in the wide open plains of the Tiber Valley. Passing through the villages of Borghetto, Otricoli and Castello Formiche, drawing as he travelled until finally reaching the town of Civita Castellana. Where it looks like he spent another day exploring.

RomanArchNarni

Roman Arch, Narni

From here Turner bounced on to Rome where he made a series of sketches of the ancient monuments along with a number of paintings. After the eternal city he went on to the culturally diverse Naples and like many tourists both then and now he took in the spectacle of Pompeii. Again producing a number of watercolours from the resulting drawings he made on his trip.

Returning to Umbria

?Borghetto; and Another Sketch 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Turner made his return journey in the winter, which is perhaps why he appears to have drawn less. He retraced his path through Rome and back up to Umbria, passed Borghetto, Narni, Terni and Trevi once more, making a few sketches as he drove by. At Foligno this time the coach went on to Assisi and probably below Perugia before skirting Lake Trasimeno, leaving Umbria then heading towards Cortona. As this part of his journey is

BorgettoCastle

Borghetto Castle remains

not documented, it can only be assumed that this is the route he took. This is a flatter road with bigger towns to stop.

Despite spending roughly two weeks travelling around Umbria, all that remains are his sketches. The draw of Venice, Rome, Naples and Pompeii seemed to have been greater subjects for his paintings. The diaries of his journey do make interesting viewing and while some areas have suffered destruction and heavy industrialisation there are many parts that have hardly altered at all over the last 200 years.

Turner’s Tour Map

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.

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. …

Painting the Walls of Citta di Castello

I’ve 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

Cantiano Composition

Cantiano composition

Cantiano composition

Well the planning and design is all sorted, we’ve got Cantiano roughed out in the bottom left hand corner, with its river and the hill that it curls around. Over towards the right is the motorway and the bridge under which you drive to reach Pantano and Il Borgo, higher up in the mountains.

Filling the hills

Each little hills is like a mini-landscape and has to be considered so, while the larger stylised trees are used to divide the picture up into sections.

On the top left is Mount Catia with its massive steel crucifix and the hills above Il Borgo fill the right hand side. The countryside is mainly scrub land, woods and the occasional area of cultivated land, such as olive groves. These are all linked by the meandering roads that steadily climb the slopes.

Drama Queen Sky

Drama Queen Sky

Next I need to decided on the colour scheme. One thing I am sure of it a dramatic sunrise/set, just like the ones we saw during our stay in Le Marche.

Although by tomorrow morning I’m likely to have changed things again.