After a bumpy drive uphill you will find yourself here at 1000 metres above sea level, (maybe with a flat tire too), out of the hot weather and into cool breeze mountain views of Val di Vara that overlook the Ligurian sea.
Just outside Cuccaro Club (a hotel/restaurant that is more retro than my Granny), along the road leading to the Casoni where I chose to paint on a couple of occasions this summer, grows an imposing pine forest that covers several hectares. It is considered among the most beautiful of the Ligurian Apennines, with trees that stand out clearly against the grassy slopes. It was planted almost 100 years ago to stabilize the land in wet weather due to the intense deforestation that over the centuries, weakened the mountain slopes of the area. The work was ordered by Mussolini and involved a large number of workers. A sign of prosperity and longevity and facist propaganda. Hopefully it won’t come into the hands of another facist leader to fill in the holes in the roads…
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!
My favourite time of day for painting is in the early evening, around 5pm when the light is softer and the shadows a little longer. I am glad to show my daughter that painting or drawing nature is a valuable lesson and it is helpful for her to notice the small and simple things as well as all the wonderful colours that it offers which can sometimes go unoticed. P.S. My dog Gwen who is a retired sheepdog likes to keep watch over the cat now that she has no sheep!
I have these white roses in my garden grown forty years ago from a single cutting taken from a rose bush by a man in the village nearby. With its dark glossy leaves and pale cream flowers it puts on a show during the spring without weakening to disease like most roses do. I was proudly told by the locals that the rose was an antique variety and a native rose from the area. Here near Genova when speaking in the Genovese dialect it called Rosa Gianca which simply means white rose.
During the spring I noticed the same variety of rose growing in most gardens out and about and I discovered after painting it that it had been created in the early 1900’s in France and was then diffused in most of Europe with the French name of Albèric Barbier!
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!