Sasseta is a typical Ligurian mountain village in the valleys behind the Cinque Terre, 55 people live here including me and my family and the surrounding area is called Zignago that has a community of 550 which covers an area of 2785 km, made up of rural farmland and woodland.
Sometimes Italy feels quite densely populated due to the geography of the land and many people live in the sprawling towns on the flat or as near to the coast as possible but right here in the mountains life slows down, less people want to live so remote and there is more space and fresh air even though the neighbouring wild boar can be pretty annoying!
I really enjoy painting the colours of the countryside in winter, so many reds, pinks and greys find their way onto the palette and with the recent mild weather the trees still have most of their orange autumn leaves still on the branches.
Last week I was lucky enough to go and visit Portovenere which is a small medieval Italian fishing village near the Cinque Terre. The houses are each painted in bright colours, tradition being the fisherman would find their way back home easier from the stormy seas.
The Church of San Pietro was originally a 5th Century Pagan temple dedicated to Venus and was then consecrated in 1198. It is small and simple inside with a great sense of history and an incredible position thanks to the Pagans who chose to build their temple over looking the sea on all three sides. Luckily for me it wasnt stormy weather when I happened to visit and I found the perfect painting spot, not because of the view as I am sure with more time on my hands to look around there would have been many more interesting compositions to choose from, but because I had found an old washed up tree with holes just big enough to hold my brushes in 🙂
Painting out of the sudio can be uncomfortable if you are not well prepared which sometimes I am not so I was glad to come across this spot. Portovenere is a great place to visit if you are visiting the area, you can get a boat from here to the Cinque Terre or if you feel energetic walk along the rocky cliff paths from here as far to Monterosso in 6 hours, just watch out for the sheer drops down to the sea!
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!
Tip of the day: When painting in the English cold or any cold weather keep moving your feet or they will freeze to the ground. Tried and tested while painting here!
Luckily I had wollen fingerless (cashmere wool which I couldnt get dirty because they were my sisters’!!) mittens for my hands which kept them warm enough compared to my feet. I also read that to keep your hands even warmer you can wear a wool sock with a small hole in the end which allows you to hold a paintbrush with your bare hand and still have all the control you need, while the paintbrush tip pokes out from the end with no mess. I am looking forward to trying this as I am not sure how tricky it would be changing over brushes.
Also standing on a piece of cardboard can keep your feet from touching the freezing cold/snowy ground whereas helping to keep your whole body more comfortable which leads to longer comfortable sessions…but I guess hand knitted 100% woollen socks could help too!
Lambourn and the surrounding downland is a really pretty area best known today as a major horse racing centre and the Downs have many nice views to paint.