A couple of weeks ago I went to an outdoor painting exhibtion where artists were invited to paint in a local boatyard harbour here in Le Grazie in Italy that was hosting a weekend of Regatta of Classic boats. It was great fun to be able to see so many beautiful classic sail boats. The weather was fine, the wind was good for sailing and the people friendly – it was a great weekend!
I dont really have much experience in painting boats and every boat I chose to paint in the foreground disappeared after half an hour so I never got to finish the masts and the rigging, a bit of memory was needed and also the help of the camera to remind me where to put the rigging was extremly helpful. It made me wonder how marine artists in the past were able to paint every little detail, it was either from memory or very careful sketching over long periods of experience spent in the boatyards. Mastering the art of human anatomy is probably the same sort of thing I imagine you would need to paint a boat.
During the time I was painting I tried a new medium for oil paint: Poppyseed Oil. The advantage of this oil is that it doesn’t yellow like linseed oil and it dries very slow which was an advantage when I added the rigging to the boats back in the studio because the sky hadn’t dried and I was able to work wet into wet. When using poppyseed oil the painting should be finished all in one go instead of waiting for layers to dry as it will crack if the layers havent dried properly and used underneath linseed oil should be avoided. Linseed oil dries much faster, the only weak point is that when dry it tends to yellow or darken the whites and paler colours unlike poppy oil that is transparant.
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!
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.
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!
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!
One of the most exciting things in Spring is waiting for the Wisteria to burst into cascading purple flowers (yes, my life is pretty exciting 😉 ) but after painting this I am pretty glad to wait another year until it flowers again.
Apparantly purple is a colour linked with royalty and mystery and it is also a difficult colour for our eye to discriminate because it has the shortest wavelength in the light spectrum. I definently found this to be true while painting and comparing the flowers to the green grass!
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!