The nearest town, walled, of course, is Fivizzano, and we spent the day there. There was a fairly busy, fully masked, market in the town square where I did my least successful painting, in fact I didn’t even finish it, not because I was dissatisfied but because I ran out of time! The photo enhances the painting, and I will finish it from the photo I took, though that is not ideal.
I discovered I can’t paint happily with my pad on my knees. I need a wall or an easel as support. My quick sketch was more lively. The sketch was done in situ in pen, and the paint added later.
After lunch we migrated to the city walls, and attempted the valley below. Here I had a wall to rest on so was able to work more comfortably. It was a difficult view for me with my very young drawing skills, looking down on all those lines and angles, though right up our tutor’s street! I still found mixing colour problematic, forgetting all my knowledge about aerial perspective, never mind wrestling with the terrestrial kind. Gradually I dredged up my old skills. Painting out of doors is not just a matter of turning up and painting the view. Even the things I do almost instinctively when in the studio have to be adjusted to changing light and unhelpful colourings. But some kind of satisfaction was achieved.
The above diary doesn’t begin to explain the deep delight of a painting holiday at The Watermill in Posara, near Pisa in Italy! Just seven small pictures chronicle seven days of adventure with brush and paint in the great outdoors.
My purpose was to find out what was needed to successfully paint outside, and indeed I fulfilled that purpose, due in no small part to the comprehensive but unobtrusive organisation and care of our hosts, and the focussed help of our tutor. It was a working holiday – there was no doubt about that – two paintings at different sites every day, and the sites so varied, mountains, sea side, villages, cloisters, hill towns, fast flowing rivers. But such was the level of planning, that the biggest non-painting decision I had to take was whether to red or white wine at dinner, real bliss to be able to concentrate on painting alone.
Day one, and we were painting in the courtyard of the Mill itself. This is the corner of one of the buildings that surround it, a beautiful golden render (Quinacridone Gold and a touch of Orange) with big shuttered windows. It was a baptism of fire, straight in, no drawing, don’t spend too long at it – exhilarating. I did more than one but this is the best of the bunch.
Then, after lunch, we were up a grassy alley to paint some of the houses of the village. Here is a longer view, a more considered painting. I think you can see I was struggling to cope with water, paint brush, paper and easel! In fact, I forgot how to paint! Colour mixing ideas went out of the window, brush strokes didn’t exist. Nothing seemed to be where it usually was when painting at home. It took me a day or so to realise that I had taken too much equipment with me. By the end of the week, a big pocket, rather than a big bag would hold most of what I needed.
I have to say, I’m rather pleased with this. It doesn’t look much like a Koala – the eye is too big for the size of the head – more of a rat or squirrel with long hairy ears, but the loose style, especially for an animal, is a new achievement for me. The beast, whatever it is, looks alive! I’d never have got here if it hadn’t been for the experimentation I’ve been doing lately. My thanks to Mike Wildridge and Jean Haines.
I started with the eye and sighted the nose from there. A little modelling to join them up, just light spots of colour whisked away by wetted brush. Next I tried to define the shape of the head at the top, again whisking the rather darker paint away following the fall of the hair on the ears. I’ve lost his chin (Hazel Soan: form first then texture, why don’t I remember?) and needed to resort to Opaque White to find his ruff, but it is certainly worth another go.
This is an excellent example of my new mantra, “If you want to paint loosely, you must learn to draw accurately”!
This is altogether a brighter image. It’s the usual shot of the front and side of the engine, referred to by railway photographers as a “three quarter wedge”. I’m using paints fairly new to me, Quinacridone Red and Indanthrene Blue. These are carbon colours, transparent, making a beautiful purple when mixed together.
This time I started with the Engine itself, free hand, straight in with the paint. I wanted the image to be crisp, rising out of the blur of ground, under carriage and sky. Then I sloshed in the sky allowing it to blend with the red as it came towards the ground, thought “this isn’t going well!”, left it to dry and found the watercolour elves had been at it. It has possibilities, after all.
It looks too much like a bus but the vestiges of an undercarriage will help. Neither colour alone will give a very dark tone, but the two mixed together at their most intense are blissful.
Working on the dry surface, I tried vigorous strokes of intense blue alone, and mixed with red to give energy to the motion of the train, and completed details of the nose to express the immense height of the beast.
The drawing is not up to scratch but there is some sense of the train arriving at speed. Certainly I have a painting, not a copy of a rather uninspiring photo but I still haven’t truly understood how to translate such a hard edged image into a painting I’d want to sign. So I’m going to try a Koala next.