Just one building sits on top of this mountain, the Sanctuario della Madonna del Dragnone. Monte Dragnone is just over 1000mt high and it lies in the area of Zignago, in the La Spezia region of Liguria. It has a very steep and rocky path climbing up beneath the pine trees to the summit where todays Santuario sits. Built in the 1800’s on a pre-christian site signs of the bronze and iron age have also been found.
As popular tradition tells us the Madonna appeared infront of a deaf shepherdess miracolously bringing back her voice. The spiritual following of the Madonna del Dragnone, Patron of Zignago, is still very popular and on the 8th September pilgrims from far and wide, old and young make their way on foot to the top of Monte Dragnone to the Sanctuary.
This 17th century sanctuary of Nostra Signora dell’Ulivo is built on the hills overlooking Brugnato, a small Ligurian town that sits in the valley below Monte Dragnone. The Sanctuary has been built on one of the several oratories that were constructed by the Brugnato monks in the 7th Century. There wasn’t much room to get a good view of the facade, (and the same problem happened in the Dragnone Sanctuary!) however after a bit of exploring I preferred this view amongst the olive trees overlooking the valley. Each olive tree has metal plaques with names and dates on tied on chains around their trunks, if you are born here in this community then you can have an olive tree planted in your name.
When I draw or paint a subject outside from life that doesn’t move much I find the painting process can sometimes give to longer sessions which in a way is a good advantage but then again also a disadvantage. Things can start to get fussy because areas of the painting get rubbbed out to be seen in a different way and then painted over again, and so loosing the first impression.
Sketching moving things is a good exercise because your brain only has a short amount of time to memorize and decide on how to tackle the subject before putting it down in paint. There is no going back after the first brush stroke because there is probably no chance to do it again. It’s a take it or loose it situation! These are good and fun exercises in learning to be more spontaneous with the paintbrush and in finding quick and simple compositions.
Painting the frogs was really interesting, even though they are not my favourite reptile I did get to respect and learn alot about who there were as they swam about in their habitat. At the moment it is mating season and rivers and ponds are full of frogs and toads, they are not shy at this time of year and some can keep still for a quite a bit. These two who didn’t have hot dates were sulking at the bottom of the pool, giving me enough time to paint them.
In these two sketches from life I aimed to capture the movement in what was infront of me instead of fussing over a bigger composition and trying to make a more interesting picture. A raging torrent after a big storm and a sun filled, bright yellow Mimosa tree that was exploding with yellow flowers are just a couple of March’s crazy offerings.
Today it is International Womans Day and it seemed a good day to post a picture of Mimosa (in Italy it is the number 1 flower today!) and lets give hope and courage to women and their familes fleeing from war torn countries.
This year 2016 the Italian goverment has given 500 euros for each 18 year old to spend on museums and cultural events. What a shame that I am not 18 so here’s to 2016 and maybe a lottery win (!!) to dream and spend on a round the world ticket to go and see these well known paintings from life that inspire me.
Giorgio Belloni (1861-1944) was a well known artist from the north of Italy. He painted Italian alpine scenes and portraits and specialised in seascapes which were painted from life during summer stays near Genova and the Ligurian Riveria near to where I live. His paintings are distinguished by a poetic and evocative atmosphere and I love his use of light in this painting.
I enjoy looking at Sorolla’s (1863-1923) beautifully painted representation of a group of Spanish fishermen and their wives (?) sewing the sails under the dappled sunlight of Valencia in 1896. Measuring 222 x 300cm it is a big canvas and full of life.
Authur Streeton (1867-1943) is known for his landscapes that capture the unique light and colour of the Australian outback. Often when he painted he bought with him poetry to read, ‘The Purple Noon’s Transparent Might’ is a title influenced from a poem by the poet Shelley that embraces the natural world, the sun, sky, water and mountains. Apparantly the painting was painted in two days while experiencing a fiery trance due to the sweltering Australian heat!
Here we are looking over the shoulder of the Italian artist Ambrogio Raffele while he paints in his cramped and untidy hotel bedroom during a summer holiday in the Italian Alps with Sargent and his friends. I think this painting is one that Sargent has handled with an extraordinary display of brilliant brushwork. My eyes keep on looking at the back of the artists head as he contemplates his painting.
All the Best for 2016 and thankyou for your support and inspiration!
Last month I subscribed to Making a Mark a practical and well known blog for artists. It is packed full of information, techniques and tips for art and business in the art world.
I was happy to see a mention of my painting During the Summer which was exhibited in the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, 2015 London show in December. The author goes to many art exhibitions and writes up a blog review afterwards. This was one of them.
Here is the link to her review and from here you can continue to read her other posts:
A brief scattering of snow in the hills above where we live is all what was given for this quick painting before the year is out. (It was quick because after a bit of standing around I find dark forests get cold and creepy!)
Last week I was having a conversation with an Italian about the differences between the English and Italians on the beach in Italy. We noticed that when an English person embarks onto the sandy shores they will hunt for a secluded spot in the shade, lather on a fair amount of sun cream and immerse themselves in a book, remaining quiet and semi clothed until the midday temperature rises when they will use this opportunity to go and sizzle in the sun.
On the other hand the Italian will be heard arriving 1km away, habitat the most dinstictive spot on the beach and occupy unneccesary quantities of umbrellas and deckchairs. They will then stand around the deckchairs and talk non stop about food, last nights’ terrible sleep due to the heat and why it is too hot to even be at the beach.
This painting was done in the shade under the pine trees (being English) at the beach in Liguria I often go to. I liked this little view with Porto Venere and the Palmaria in the distance (once you get past the couple having a loud discussion about how “Basta!! This place is rompendo i coglioni and we have to go away to another beach immediately because someone has taken our reserved sun lounger”! Finding shade is important when painting outside because working under the sun is hot and uncomfortable not to mention having sunlight on your canvas and pallet which will cause the values to be misjudged, i.e when you take your painting indoors you will find out you have painted everything too dark. If you have to paint in direct sunlight without an umbrella then you can mix your values lighter to compensate and if you have an umbrella dont attatch it to your easel on a windy day, you can imagine what would happen…it would be a case of a rompicoglioni moment!
The Palmaria is a small island near the Cinque Terre that lies infront of Portovenere and you can reach it by boat either from La Spezia or from Portovenere. With cool sea breezes and clear, clean blue waters it is by far the best place to be, both for swimming and sunbathing and especially painting. I look forward to going back and walking around the island which you can do in about one hour to search out more painting spots.
The first painting I did is looking toward the Gabbiano beach in the afternoon, the clear sunny colours and the beach stretching out into the sea inspired me to paint this view.
The second painting I did while using the same spot and same time of day when I painted the first painting but just turning around 180 degrees. Now the light was coming towards me so the church of San Pietro and the sunbathers were silhouetted against the sky which is an idea I like in this composition probably because the painting process was quicker as I was using a less colourful palette and concentrating mostly on the shapes.
Spring here is pretty busy but I didnt want to forget to do a few painting exercises! These two sketches were done alla prima which in italian means at ‘first attempt’ while painting with wet paint on top of wet paint and giving myself 40 mins max for each. I tried to catch just the gesture of the subjects using thick paint in some areas and leaving the darker areas with less. It is a fun and fast way to paint and I found it a good exercise in trying to be confident in putting down each brushstroke and then leaving it, a way which will hopefully earn me in the future to be a quicker painter! Using subjects that are constantly moving is another interesting way to work as you need to remember what you see because when you look back up at the subject from putting down a brushstroke it has changed yet again!
April 25th is a national Italian holiday commemorating the end of the second world war and the end of Nazi and Facist occupation of the North of Italy. Today is the 70th Anniversary. The liberation put an end to twenty years of fascist dictatorship and five years of brutal war. Now I am glad to walk peacefully through the landscape but today I remember what our countries and the Partisans who fought here had to go through first so we could live in Sasseta, a small village at the base of the Ligurian Appenines.
The worst conditions and fighting took place in mountainous areas like this where the Gothic line was drawn. Resources were scarce and living conditions were difficult. Many soldiers both English and American came to these mountians for refuge, relying on the locals for support and supplies while sleeping in abandoned farms and farmhouses as they fought with the Partisans against the Germans. There were no roads in those days, only narrow mule tracks that confused the Germans who were used to broader fighting grounds, infact many were killed in a battle nearby due to their more agile enemies. There is still a group of old Partisans who come to Sasseta to remember this day, each bringing their story to tell. How many innocent victims for freedom and justice.
A couple of years ago a lady from Sasseta bought her grandchild to my daughters birthday party at my house, she said the last time she came here it was to hide during German round up raids seventy years ago. This is a painting of the ‘modern’ road that now leads to our house were we can drive up and down whenever and wherever we want, how times have changed!
What I find interesting in painting outside is for example what happens when the sky blue, why on sunny days are the distant hills purple, and the closer ones blue/green etc? Trying to understand the answers helps me paint more quickly instead of guessing which colours to put where.
Most of the time I begin or end up painting the sky too dark, forgetting that it is the lightest value in the landscape even when it is bright blue like this or overcast. The sky is really important, once you paint in the right colour then it will help anchor the rest of the painting. There is no such thing as flat tone in nature even though the sky may seem to be just blue, infact it is a huge space with more than just one value which changes towards or away from the sun and from the horizon to the zenith even on a grey cloudy day. As you go closer to the sun you are faced with a colourless glare, and then across the horizon in the opposite direction the blue gradually gets darker. The horizon being the farthest away point from us is lighter because there is more atmosphere to see through and the zenith above our heads is the darkest area as it reaches into space.
Here is a grid with the mixed blue values I used in the sky above:
Horizon = cerulean blue, white
Zenith = Ultramarine, cobalt blue light, white
Left = cerulean blue, white, cobalt blue light, white
Right = cobalt blue light, ultramarine blue, white
Whatever we paint is lighted according to the time of day and the weather because the particles that make up the atmosphere surround and affect everything we see. I did this painting at midday, there were no green leaves on the trees so the scene cast an overall blue hue because of the sky colour that was reflecting off the ground, rock and trees etc.
Sometimes when I get stuck I find it helps to take a photograph of the painting and then change the photo into black and white. If it is too grey and lacks contrast then the values do not have weight, most of the time it’s the sky that is too dark so I try and remember why it is and how it is and then next time it might help me paint more quickly and without guessing where to put the colours!