We spent the day in a tiny hilltop village of Monte Bianchi. It’s very picturesque so the inhabitants are used to painters, and just carried on, greeting us pleasantly but incurious about our efforts. There were splendid views all round from both the grassy lawn in front of the church at one end of the village, and the modern hotel and restaurant at the other.
Full of confidence, I went straight in with paint! It was such a simple view -the distant, tree-covered mountains covered with early morning mist, the grass green lawn with its little tree, then the pillar of the church porch. We were given 20 minutes to capture this view. There was a slender palm tree with a mop on top on the right hand side that would have balanced the composition , but time ran out.
We repaired to the restaurant where we well provided for, and sat in the shade finishing the carafe of wine. Perhaps that was an incautious thing to do, for we another painting to do, this time the view from the hotel terrace.
In view of what I have just said, you will understand that this is less than perfect. The mountains, the trees and the drive are OK, but that large dark green cotton wool ball on the right is not one of my most memorable paintings.
It was a splendid holiday and taught me much. I don’t think I’ll be going out painting as Autumn and Winter approach, but I’ll be out there come the Spring.
Today we were whisked off to the ruins of an old monastery, closed down in the 1500s I think, and now privately owned and run as a wedding venue. The Cloisters were still intact and made a cool and complex place to paint. Again, they had been opened for us only. The interest lay in the interweaving of the curves of the ceiling and the patterns of sunlight and shadow.
I think I lost the plot here, as the colours look cold and uninviting. Painting from life on this occasion gave me a more grey palette than I would have used, had I thought about it a bit more. Had it been a photo, I would have used Ultramarine Violet as my base for the shadows. This would have helped to differentiate the blue grey flags in the courtyard, and pillars, too. The floor was much warmer too, being faded red tiles, some of them whitened with age. It’s a difficult drawing, though, and I think I won there.
We had a splendid picnic, beautifully laid out in the loggia of the monastery taking in the sun and the wonderful views, then returned to the Mill to paint a “personal choice”. I returned to the river, where the rushing milky water and the exposed pebbles had interested me on our first visit there.
I’d learnt some sense by this time and the equipment I carried was considerably reduced – my smallest water pot that sat neatly in my paintbox, (I’d taken out the holder for paint pans), half a dozen tubes , two brushes, my watercolour paper pad, a paint rag, and an easel. I hadn’t appreciated how much I used the paint rag to control the amount of water in the brush, and found a convenient place for it at the top of the easel, both hands being fully occupied. I enjoyed this experience but had to stop after an hour and a half as my concentration slid away.
We visited a town clustered around a castle called Verracola that presented a myriad of painting opportunities. Mike suggested this view, standing with our backs to the castle with the bridge over the stream/river below us. You could see this becoming a raging torrent in winter, but the colouring was pleasant, the day was warm, and I had an easel to rest my pad on!
This took the morning to do, and I was beginning to remember technique though still uncomfortable with too much equipment. The organisation of paint, paint tubes, water pot, brushes, seemed to be a juggling exercise though the easel did improve things. I’m reasonably happy with this painting. The view through the bridge needs sorting. I stopped because I lost concentration. So I’ve learned two things: I need an easel, and two hours is the maximum I can paint for in such a concentrated fashion.
That afternoon, after a splendid lunch in a restaurant in Verrucola that opened specially for us, (the outcome of the contacts The Watermill had built over the years), we returned to the Mill to paint a waterfall viewed from the grounds. This was a very different plein air experience! We trekked through a small wood to the river carrying our equipment. The footing was unsure for we were standing on cobbles in the river bed. The easel stood sensibly as the legs were adjustable but juggling everything else (I still had too much!) and doing a sensible painting took some determination – not easy after a morning’s concentrated painting and a good lunch. Then it started to rain, and in good earnest, so we retired to the studio. The trees kept most of the rain off so we weren’t drenched. The watercolour elves have been at this one, which improved as I slept.
I thought the first attempt at a Koala had much going for it, but it didn’t look like a Koala, so I tried again.
As you can see, I attempted the same loose style. This is the best way I know for learning how to judge the water/paint ratio. You start with a mark of strongly toned paint then use water to guide it where you want it to go. If the mark is in the wrong place, you can heavily dilute it to make it vanish, while the addition of more strongly toned paint will restore or increase the required contrast. The very visible brush marks add movement and continually dampening the edges softens them.
This painting does look more like a Koala, but it has lost the energy of the first attempt, repeated here for comparison. I know Koalas are reputed to be sleepy animals, though the first one I saw was galloping round its enclosure in a real strop! However, a painting needs its own energy to connect with the viewer. This is the perennial problem of repeating a painting. I rarely achieve a truly satisfying result at the second attempt. Correction – I never achieve a truly satisfying result at the second attempt.