The Last Trimester at the FAA and Upcoming Projects

With another academic year about to begin, and our major summer trips behind us, I’m thinking more and more about the new projects that I’m about to tackle at the FAA. This next and final year will be dominated by painting still lifes, portraits and the figure. In other words, it will be filled with very fun and very challenging work.

The preceding years of training at the Academy are essentially designed for preparing the students for the third year, during which they tackle projects that are usually more close to their hearts and artistic outlooks. This not only because students get to choose their own still life and portrait projects, but also because projects taken up in their final year often direct their future artistic choices.

Before I immerse myself in all the exciting work in my final year, I want to share with you how I’ve been preparing for it during my last trimester at the Academy.

The big change in the last trimester is that I almost entirely switched from drawing to painting – first in grisaille (ivory black, led white and raw umber) and subsequently in limited palette (all of the mentioned above, plus English red and Roman ochre).

In other ways, the type of work I did in my last trimester did not dramatically change – I continued to work with casts in the studio and nude models in the model room. The only new type of project I had as a part of the curriculum was my first portrait drawing in charcoal.

As far as the lessons learned in the last trimester, the emphasis was put by the teachers on the accurate description of the flow of light, the turning of form, variety of edges and plane changes, as well as the correct paint application. While the first four fall in the range of lessons previously taught, lessons in paint application were new and inevitably tied to the change of medium I was going through.

I was taught that, ideally, one should start by applying paint thinly at the beginning stages while working out the drawing, and moving towards thicker paint application as the project progresses. One should also try to apply the brush strokes so as to convey the changing rhythms and planes on the subject. At the Academy, students are required to premix their paints before the start of each session, in generous amounts. This was definitely a novelty for me, as I am used to mixing paint as I go, sometimes not only on the palette, but also the canvas itself.

Another big difference from the way I usually work was the fact that blending and smoothening paint, scraping off, glazing and scumbling are discouraged at the FAA. Instead, a student is supposed to always premix (on the palette, not the canvas) the right value and color, so it meets the one next to it. In doing so, one should keep building one layer on top of the other until a successful result is reached. This is, we are taught to avoid shortcuts and learn how to accurately respond to changes of planes and the underlying structure on the subject.

Makes sense, but ‘old’ habits die hard 🙂 And while there are admittedly different schools of though on this, my biggest struggle in the past trimester was trying to get rid of my pervious habits tied to paint application. As you can see below, my paintings still very much show signs of blending paint, scraping off, glazing and scumbling.

So, while it remains to be seen how successfully I will tackle the new challenges ahead of me, here is the work produced in the previous term, in chronological order. I hope you enjoy it! 😉

 

Second Cast Painting (Grisaille). Oil on Canvas, 50 x 70 cm.

 

First Figure Painting (Grisaille). Oil on Canvas, 50 x 100 cm.

 

Second Figure Painting (Grisaille). Oil on Canvas, 50 x 80 cm.

 

First Portrait Drawing. Charcoal on Toned Roma Paper, 48 x 66 cm.

 

Final Cast Painting (Limited Palette). Oil on Canvas, 65 x 105 cm.

 

Third Figure Painting (Limited Palette). Oil on Canvas, 50 x 75 cm.


New Watercolor and Oil Painting Plein Air Setup

Since the end of the academic year at the FAA, I’ve been travelling around the US and, for the most part, landscape painting. Thus far, I’ve been very lucky to be able to work outdoors pretty much every day, surrounded by beautiful sceneries, good weather and amazing people.

Partly what makes my landscape painting experiences on this trip so nice is my new setup – custom built by my dear husband, Marc Dalessio. He has been experimenting with carbon fiber, trying to design an ultralight oil painting setup for himself. So he kindly offered to build something similar for me too. In my case though, the challenge was to design a setup that works both for watercolors and oil paints, since I work with both media.

Together, we’ve come up with a solution that, thus far made my painting while travelling really satisfactory. Since I’ve received many questions from fellow painters as to the setup I am using, I wanted to share the current one with you here.

So, let’s start with a visual. This is what the setup looks like when used with watercolors:

And this is what it looks like when used for oil painting:

All the crucial parts, when unpacked are reduced to this:

They consists of: 1) a custom made carbon fiber board that attaches on to the easel and to which I tape my paper or panel; 2) the carbon fiber tripod easel (Sirui t-025x, bought on Amazon), with a custom made bar holding my palettes in place; and 3) and 4) depending on the paints I’m using, a custom made carbon fiber pochade box, or a metal watercolor palette.

Now, the part of this setup that I find most practical is the bar, which you can see attached by a hinge to a small tube warping around the easel. This bar folds out and contains heavy-duty magnets holding in place either of my palettes (which both have metal parts). It also has a small hook at the end that can hold a water container, for when I’m using watercolors.

This little but very practical addition to my equipment makes my setting up process super fast and efficient, allowing me to start working fast on sight. I literally unfold it, place either of my palettes on top of it, and I’m ready to go.

Here are a couple of close up images of this mechanism:

And for scale, here is a photo of me using the whole setup on sight:

I’m very happy with it. It weighs little, packs down to almost nothing and makes for a very sturdy little setup for painting outdoors. For extra stability, especially when there is a bit of wind, I hang my backpack on the easel and that does the job of holding it in place.

All in all, I’m very grateful for this new piece of equipment. And I hope this helps those of you looking for a new setup to come up with some new ideas.

Our journey continues, as we make our way from Carmel Valley to Lake Tahoe. I’ll make sure to update you soon on the output of our recent adventures 😉

Meanwhile, be well and have a great rest of the summer!


Extracurricular Work

Time has come for a long overdue update on the work I’ve been producing outside of school. In the past months, alongside my academic paintings and drawings, I’ve been trying to continuously work on my personal projects. Those are the ones that truly fill my heart, as well as show me how I am evolving as an artist.

They are comprised of watercolours, as well as some oil paintings and pastels. For the most part, these works done in my free time are inspired by our beautiful Tuscan home. In a sense, they represent a visual journal that has been spontaneously evolving through a painterly documentation of my new surroundings.

They thus provide the best insight into my life outside of the Florence Academy of Art and my growth as a painter. So, here they are – I hope you’ll enjoy them.

 

Florence From Our Window. Watercolor.

 

Last Persimmon. Watercolor.

 

Winter Daisies. Oil on canvas.

 

In Front of the Frescoes. Oil on Canvas.

 

Grace. Oil on Canvas.

 

Nutcracker. Oil on Panel.

 

Coat rack. Watercolor.

 

Playing with Pastels. Pastels on Toned Paper.

 

Rain over Florence. Watercolor.

 

Emma Sleeping in the Sun. Watercolor.

 

San Barnaba Canal, Venice. Watercolor.

 

Santa Maria della Salute, Venice. Watercolor.

 

Early Morning over the Grand Canal. Watercolor.

 

Almond Blossom. Watercolor.

 

Olive Trees and Wild Daffodils. Watercolor.

 

Peach Blossom. Watercolor.

 

Sunset over Florence. Watercolor.

 

Aloe Vera. Watercolor.

 

Abandoned Farmhouse. Watercolor and Gouache on Toned Paper.

 

Icelandic Poppies. Watercolor.

 

The Old Wheelbarrow. Watercolor.

 

Apple Blossom. Oil on Canvas.

 

Hellebores. Watercolor.

 

Lady Banks’ Rose. Watercolor.

 

After the Rain. Watercolor.

 

Irises and Terracotta Pots. Watercolor.

 

Garden Detail. Watercolor.

 

Stefano’s Irises. Watercolor.

 

Garden Detail. Watercolor.

Garden Detail. Watercolor.

 

Irises and Wisteria. Watercolor.

 

Floral Collage. Watercolor.

 

Gratitude. Oil on Paper.

 

Rosy Garlic, Sage and Roses. Oil on Canvas.

 

Before Sunset. Watercolor.

 

On the Banks of the Arno. Watercolor.

 

In the Footsteps of the Macchiaioli. Watercolor.

 

Poppies. Watercolor on Toned Paper.


Recent Curricular Work

With another busy trimester behind me, the time has come for an update on my recent academic efforts. The first big novelty is that I started to work in new media: white chalk, alongside charcoal on toned paper, as well as oil paint on canvas. Another new thing I experienced as a part of the second year program at the FAA is an increased focus on rendering light and the way it hits the planes of the drawn object. In that sense, aside from the sight-size method, the teachers at the Intermediate level are putting more and more emphasis on construction and the way the object interacts with the context and atmosphere around it.

While still applying the same method as before, students are asked to push their abilities further in order to capture not only what they see, but also the impression they get of their subject matter. In that sense, the importance is increasingly put on approaching the subject matter as a whole, rather than piecemeal. Having said that, I should clarify that this does not mean being able to somehow do less rigorous and precise work. On the contrary, the accuracy of the drawing now has to be boosted even more, by not only copying what we see, but also by paying even closer attention to how what we see relates to the whole in terms of hue, chroma, value, etc.

For me the biggest paradigm shift in that regard is the focus on light and the rendering thereof. My natural tendency is to pay closer attention to the shapes of dark than light while searching for an accurate description of my subject matter. Ideally, however, one should focus just as much on the light, seen so to say as a negative space around the darks, and render it properly. This is one of the challenges I hope to tackle in the next term. It will be fun to see how it goes, considering that most of the upcoming projects will be done in oil paint, with large brushes, starting with grisaille and later moving on to the limited palette.

I will keep you up to date how things go. For now though, I leave you will my large projects from the last trimester. I hope you enjoy!

 

First cast drawing in white chalk and charcoal on toned paper.

 

Second cast drawing in white chalk and charcoal on toned paper.

 

First cast oil painting.

 

Long pose drawing in charcoal.

 

Long pose drawing in charcoal and white chalk on toned paper.

 


A Few Words on my Motivation and Inspiration

 

Lately, I have been asked by several people to explain what it is that drives me as an artist. Specifically, I’ve been asked what is it that so strongly motivates and inspires my painterly pursuits, and why.

I have given it thought and wanted to share a few words articulating, as concisely as possible, my current stance on this.

In my opinion, art, perhaps more than any other social phenomenon, best reflects the shifting tides of human consciousness. So, being involved in arts, and more particularly, being a part of the artistic movement that at its core entails a careful observation, admiration and respect of the natural world around us, gives me a strong sense of purpose and hope. This reemerging naturalistic movement that I consider myself a part of, rests on humility and acknowledgement of how precious, beautiful and fragile our world is.

As an artist who considers it her mission to inhale the beauty that surrounds her, and exhale it as art, I hope to gently remind others of that same truth regarding the miracle and delicacy of human condition. And in doing that, I hope to become a small drop in the river of thought pointing to the more general shift of human consciousness towards a deep respect for our Mother Nature. For we all are, in every aspect of our existence, intrinsically tied to it.

On this note, I leave you with the painting I just completed. If my words weren’t clear enough, I hope at least this last piece of work of mine can shed some light on where my artistic enthusiasm and my sense of purpose comes from.

 

Olive Trees and Wild Daffodils. 22 x 25 cm, Watercolor.


Figure Drawing

 

With my first trimester at the Florence Academy of Art behind me and the New Year already rolling, it is finally time for a long overdue update.

First of all, let me just confirm my first impression of the school and say that studying at the FAA is well worth it! In the past few months, I have learned so many valuable lessons and, consequently, made noticeable progress in my work. From what I can tell, so has each and every one of my fellow students. It is both wonderful and rewarding to observe this learning curve emerge and I feel very lucky and grateful to be studying with the team of people who know exactly how to make it happen.

I still feel I am learning the most during the figure drawing sessions of a nude model, so I decided to devote this blog post to explaining in a bit more detail what this process entails and what the students are expected to aim towards.

The so-called ‘long pose’ lasts for five weeks. Typically students get a chance to work on two long poses with a nude model during one trimester. Unfortunately, because our first model was involved in an accident (she is ok now), my group only got to complete one long pose this term as visible from the photos below. And by complete, I mean finish the drawing of the model and the simplified background within the assigned period. I should clarify here that students tackle the long pose in charcoal on white paper during the first year of studies at the FAA. In the first part of the second year they continue drawing in charcoal, on toned paper, with the addition of a white chalk. Later, starting with a limited palette, students move on to painting the model in oils.

However, one does not simply start the large charcoal project on the first day of the long pose. Instead, in order to understand their subject matter better, students are first required to complete a series of studies. This includes several studies of the model in pencil from both the chosen standing position for drawing the long pose, as well as one from a different position in the room. This is in order to get a better idea of how the form turns in space. The pencil studies should focus on an accurate description of the gesture, proportions, outline and shadowline. They are very useful for understanding how the pose changes over time as the model settles in it and, consequently, for choosing the exact moment or pose that one is actually drawing.

Another study done in the preliminary stages of a long pose is a value study in the same medium that a student uses for the large project, in our case charcoal. A value study, just as the name suggests is supposed to correctly map out tonal relationships, on a small scale. In a value study, one needs not to focus on the accuracy of the drawing, but rather the correlation between the lights and the darks, as well as the idea of the flow of light.

Once the small (usually A4 size paper) studies are complete, which is normally after 3-5 days, a student moves on to the large project. As far as the size of the working surface goes, the first year beginning students are typically working on a 50 x 70 cm ROMA paper (using the reverse side of it, where the water stamp spells AMOR, because it’s less bumpy), while the more advanced students of the same year often tend to use slightly bigger sized, white Arches papers.

Here is a photo of my working board, in the preliminary stages of the ‘long pose’ project, including the start of my big charcoal drawing and its small accompanying studies:

 

 

As I already mentioned in my previous posts, the method employed in tackling the long pose, along with most other projects at the school, is the sight-size method. When using it, the first and the foremost thing that the students are supposed to get right are the big proportions of the model and the nature of the gesture. The steps we follow in doing that are, as previously mentioned, drawing out the outline, then the shadowline and finally the shadow. In finding the accurate contours, and while moving from a more abstract to a more organic drawing, a student is supposed to pay close attention to rhythms in the line, subtle angle breaks, the variety of shapes and edge quality.

As students progress with their work, they are always being reminded to go back to the big proportions and the gesture in order to establish whether they accurately describe the pose. So, at the beginning of each new day spent on the pose, one is advised to check the major heights and widths – because is that’s off, everything else will be too, no matter how fine the finish is.

The fun part starts when the values are introduced in the picture. Compression of values is here the key, as well as preserving a beautiful flow of light. That’s why students are advised to gradually approach the shading process and squint a lot as they are doing it. One thing that comes in very handy with regards to establishing correct tonal relationships is a black mirror or, in the absence of one, a smartphone with a black, glossy and flat screen (for more info, see http://www.marcdalessio.com/iphone-painting-tool/). I’ve also seen teachers and students ware hats with a wide brim, as it reduces the glare coming from the rooftop windows and helps them establish the values more correctly.

As far as values go, I got some tips from my teachers and found them very useful in establishing the correct tonal relationships in a drawing. One is to press, rather hard and only once, the bottom of the charcoal stick, slightly grated off with the tip of the nail, in areas on the paper where the darkest darks are. Also, I’ve been told that an alternative to squinting, which can make one feel dizzy if done excessively, is tilting your head slightly backwards and looking through your eyes half closed. Another really useful tip is to use the back of the fan brush (the wooden part) to slightly knock down the values in some areas, by quickly and lightly moving it back and forth across the paper. And finally, I’ve learned how cross hatching, both with the finely sharpened charcoal, as well as the finely created tip of the kneaded eraser can help create refined effects.

Speaking of finesse and fine finish, things to look for and improve at the final stages of a drawing are, amongst others: 1) smooth and beautiful transitions, while retaining a clear delineation between planes and a clear description of shadow shapes; 2) finding/reinforcing the variety of edges (with some completely lost in the background); and 3) putting the focus in a chosen area, while achieving the atmospheric effect in others.

This about sums up the process of drawing the long pose in the Intensive drawing program at the FAA. Soon, I’ll be able to report how the process changes in the higher years of studies, as I am very happy to share with you that I’ve been transferred to the Intermediate program (that is the 2nd year of studies), starting this January 🙂 I feel very honoured to have been promoted by my teachers and hope to successfully tackle challenges lying ahead.

In the meantime, I leave you with the results of my larger school work in the first trimester at the FAA and wish you all a very happy New Year!

 

First Bargue drawing in charcoal.

 

Second Bargue drawing in charcoal.

 

Cast drawing in charcoal.

 

First figure drawing – half of the ‘long pose’.

 

Second figure drawing – first completed ‘long pose’.

 


Extracurricular Activities

Since the program at the Florence Academy of Art has started, things have been very busy at school. I promise to write a longer update on my work and education as soon as the holidays start, as there is a lot to report on and not much free time for extracurricular activities.

Yet, despite the very concentrated and intense schedule, I have promised my self to continue painting  as much as time allows. This is not only in order to test how my increased ability to draw informs my painting skills, but also in order to keep thinking in terms of color and to take the needed break from the black and white world (of graphite, charcoal and paper) that I live in when I’m at school. In addition, I find that the ability to paint is like a muscle that needs to be exercised. So, I didn’t want to risk undoing all the work that I have done thus far in the painting sphere by focusing purely on drawing.

For all these reasons, I have continued to paint as much as I could along side my school and here I wanted to share with you the products of my extracurricular work from the past two months.

I hope you enjoy!

 

After the Rain. Watercolor, 9 x 12 in.

After the Rain. 9 x 12 in, Watercolor.

 

Stilllife with Quinces, Plum and Grapes. Watercolor, 12 x 16 in.

Still Life with Quinces, Plum and Grapes. 12 x 16 in, Watercolor.

 

Orchids. Oil on Panel, 20 x 30 cm.

Orchids. 20 x 30 cm, Oil on Panel.

 

Flowers from the Garden. 22 x 25 cm, Watercolor.

Flowers from the Garden. 22 x 25 cm, Watercolor.

 

Sunday. 22 x 25 cm, Watercolor.

Sunday. 22 x 25 cm, Watercolor.

 

Chiesa di San Lorenzo. 22 x 25 cm, Watercolor.

Chiesa di San Lorenzo. 22 x 25 cm, Watercolor.

 

In the Garden. 23 x 33 cm, Watercolor.

In the Garden. 23 x 33 cm, Watercolor.

 

Dried Poppy Pods. 10 x 14 in, Watercolor.

Dried Poppy Pods. 10 x 14 in, Watercolor.

 

Palette Knives. 20 x 30 cm, Oil on Panel.

Palette Knives. 20 x 30 cm, Oil on Panel.

 

Garden Roses. 22 x 25 cm, Watercolor and Gouache.

Garden Roses. 22 x 25 cm, Watercolor and Gouache.

 


Florence Academy of Art – First Impressions

My training at the Florence Academy of Art (FAA) has finally begun! Before I get into the specifics, I just wanted to write a general blog post on the school and my impressions thereof. For that purpose, let me first briefly focus on the form and then on the substance.

As of this year, the FAA has moved to a large new space just outside of the city of Florence – which now hosts all students of all years, both sculpture and painting, as well as the teachers’ studios. It also encompasses a student café, a lounge area, large lecture halls, a library, a small shop for art supplies, outdoor spaces for relaxation, administration offices, apartments for visiting lecturers and lots and lots of working space. All in all, it’s a very beautiful and a very functional space, and I feel extremely lucky to be the first generation who will be trained in it from day one.

The biggest advantage to this new space, in my opinion, is the fact that all the students of all levels of education will now be training in the same place, which will facilitate not only their personal, but also artistic exchanges. Until now, each year had their own separate space in different parts of Florence, so students would seldom be exposed to their senior or junior peers and the products of their work. In that sense, moving to one unified little ‘campus’ brings about a very positive change.

Now, to the substance. As a beginning student, I am enrolled in the intensive drawing program. It is exactly what the name says it is: a concentrated program (five days of the week, from 9 AM till 7 PM) in drawing exclusively (in pencil and charcoal).

During our first year, our days at the Academy are divided in two major parts: one half of the day, we draw the figure (live model) and the other half we draw Charles Bargue plates, later to be replaced by plaster casts. In the evenings, depending on the day, we have anatomy lectures, evening drawing of live models, or art history lectures.

So, the school essentially becomes our second home and, I can tell you already, the intensity of the program really pays off. I feel I have learned so much already and I have only been drawing for 7 days now.

The part of the program where I feel I am learning the most at this stage are the drawing sessions of a nude model. There are two reasons for that. First, I never had a chance draw a model before. Second, it is the most challenging part of the program because you are working with a living being who is infinitely more intricate, beautiful and mobile then any Bargue plate or plaster cast you’ll ever see.

So, how do we tackle such complex assignments? It’s actually quite straightforward and goes back to some of what I wrote about in my earlier blog posts on cast drawing.

At Florence Academy, we use the sight-size method and we are taught to construct our drawing in stages.

First, we are advised to look for the big shapes, big proportions, major inclinations and main reference points. We start by marking the top and the bottom of our subject on the paper, as we see it from our standing position. In order to do that precisely, we use a plumb line (a string with small weight attached to one end).

We then look for the major reference points such as the chin, shoulders, the pubic bone and knees. By introducing a vertical into the drawing (which is also done with the help of a plumb line), we are able to construct the major shapes and find the proper inclinations better. This preliminary stage of the drawing, when completed, leaves you with the so-called ‘envelope shape’ for the body.

When one is more or less confident that the major shapes, proportions and inclinations are right, one moves on to giving these very abstract lines (which form a rough outline) a bit more organic form. At this stage, one can also can move on to slowly introducing shadow lines and basic shadow shapes. The key is to constantly compare inclinations, check the distances and relate shapes one to another

During this entire process, the idea is to draw very lightly and keep moving things around until we get them right. If for no other reason, adjustments will be necessary as the model will eventually move a bit.

To make this less abstract, here is the example of the construction of my drawing. It represents a two day pencil study for the five week long pose to be tackled next in a bigger format in charcoal.

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I should mention here that a very useful tool for discovering problems in a drawing is a mirror. So, at school, asides from a plumb line, we’ve each been given a small rectangular mirror to help us in the learning process. Namely, by reversing the image in front of us and comparing it to the drawing, the mistakes become much more apparent and consequentially easier to fix, so a student is advised to use a mirror a lot. Here is Marc demonstrating how to do it.

Obviously, we are not completely on our own in fixing the mistakes we make in our drawing. At school, we have a number of great instructors who will come to give a critique every once in a while during a drawing session. This is very helpful and I would say the foundation of the learning process. Yet, the majority of the time at school does comprise an independent training of our eyes to see better and our hands to draw more accurately. And in that sense, self-correctional tools such as a mirror are highly advised.

All in all, after just a week at the FAA, I feel I have already learned a ton and look forward to see where this training takes me in the future. I will keep you posted and share what I learn here. For the moment, I can say that based of my experience so far, I give the highest ratings to the school, the instructors and the training in general.

To end this, here is a quote we were introduced to on the first day, which reflects well the principles and philosophy taught at the FAA:

“Drawing, which is much like language, is the art of communication with others through the illusion of shapes, and you learn to draw, paint and sculpt by coming to shape conclusions. We draw what we know and not what we see. And when we know something, we begin to see it as it really is.”

– Robert Beverly Hale


Painting En Plein Air – From a Sketch to a Finished Oil Painting

This September, I was lucky to be a part of a landscape painting workshop taught by my husband, Marc Dalessio, and Daniela Astone, a principal painting instructor at the Florence Academy of Art.

The workshop took place at Daniela and her partner Simone’s beautiful property in Tuscany, aka Studio Chianti, and provided me with a great chance to once again return to the basics of plein air painting.

Given the circumstances, I figured I should take it slow this time around in order to learn as much as possible and get all the valuable advice I can from these two great teachers. For that purpose, I decided to go back to oil painting – since both Marc and Daniela work primarily with oil paints, and since I could finally truck along all the equipment I needed (the painting venue was only 30 min away from our Florentine home).

Also, since we stayed at the same location during the whole workshop, I could allow myself to keep working on the same paintings day in day out. Occasionally, I did some watercolors (if my light did not correspond to the chosen effect for my oil paintings), but my primary focus was oil painting.

Now, one of the most important pieces of advice that Marc always gives his students is to draw more and rush less. That is to say, before starting an oil painting, it is advisable to do a pencil sketch of the envisaged subject for a painting in order to get a preliminary idea of the composition and potential problems attached to it. Why? Because what can often go terribly wrong in a painting is the design (I talked more about that in one of my pervious blog post on landscape painting, so I will refrain from discussing it again here). And when the design goes wrong, that’s when you have the so called “turps party” – that is, the not so joyful experience of erasing your entire painting with turpentine.

So, in order to avoid having too many turps parties, one should sketch more. Only once one is satisfied with a chosen subject and the composition thereof, should one move to painting it in oil. At that point though, one (and by one, I mean a student like myself) should still go slowly about tackling their subject in paint in order capture it accurately, in all its variety and complexion.

The problem that often occurs during plein air painting workshops of this type is that students see a teacher do a demo very fast (often even faster than the regular pace at which a teacher paints) and then the students try to paint at that same pace during the rest of the workshop. This frequently results in a mass of rushed student paintings and very little knowledge acquired about the middle and later stages of painting.

In that sense, it was explained to us that students who paint slowly and accurately will eventually get faster, but students who paint fast and inaccurately will never get more accurate. Makes sense. In other words, if you’re a student who likes realism and wants to work in that genre, do not rush through your student artwork.

So, in order to avoid any disastrous outcomes of sorts, I decided to go slowly about my oil paining and make sure I get the most out of it this time around.

Following the given advice, I first sketched my subject out very roughly in my sketchbook.

 

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I was aware that this is not the kind of perfect landscape painting view where a foreground, middle ground and background compose well together. To begin with, there is no foreground in my view. Nonetheless, I decided to go for it because I found it interesting and beautiful (for its quintessential depiction of Chianti), yet simple enough to tackle. Also, it gave me a nice opportunity to practice atmospheric perspective in painting. And since we were told a major historic point of landscape painting is to get a sense of distance (depth) on a flat surface, I figured this view would do.

Once I was content with the choice of my view and the sketch thereof, I put my easel in the chosen spot and drew a slightly more precise sketch of my view onto the canvas before starting to paint. They say behind every great painting is a great drawing, so I made sure I literally have one behind mine 😉

 

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In doing this, I applied the sight size approach, which I talked about in my previous blog posts. With the exception of a few ‘unfortunate tangents’ created by the distant mountains, I made sure to capture the rest of the view accurately and follow the rhythms in nature. Partially, this is the reason why I decided to do a rather detailed pencil sketch on the canvas first (despite the risk of the graphite showing through in time).

Another possibility was to sketch it out in oil paint, which a lot of painters do. But given the intricate nature of all the little bushes and trees in my view, and the fact that I didn’t use oil paint for some months now, I did not want to risk loosing track of the actual shapes of the vegetation and fall down the rabbit hole of dreadful repetition when I actually got around to painting it.

After my sketch was finished, I started applying the first layer of paint. In doing so, I tried to mass out the big shapes and leave any details for later. One of the useful pieces of advice I got from Daniela in that regard was to avoid using small brushes, especially in the initial stages of an oil painting. The reason for that is that students often get caught up in painting the details (like individual leaves) and get the big shapes all wrong (like the overall shape of a tree).

At the end of day one, this is how far I got:

 

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On day two, I continued covering the canvas with paint and once the first layer was done, I proceeded to improve the accuracy and add variety to the things in my view. Shapes were corrected, some details and highlights were added and smaller brushes were introduced for that purpose.

 

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Yet, despite adding to the painting in many ways, I kept my palette limited. In fact everybody at the workshop was advised to do so, as it results in more harmonious looking paintings. Our palettes were thus very basic, containing only titanium white, cadmium yellow light and cadmium yellow medium, yellow ochre, cadmium orange and cadmium red, cerulean blue, cobalt blue and ultramarine.

On day three my goal was to add some more detail, give texture to my painting and add some variety to my brushwork. I was also very lucky to get some beautiful clouds in my view that day – for the first time since that very first sketch I did – so I made sure to put those in. This is a great advantage to working from life – as the elements improve, you can improve your painting with them.

 

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While painting the clouds, I was advised to make the closer ones bigger and the further ones smaller, even if this did not correspond to reality. Another thing I had in mind while painting them was the advice given to me previously – about making sure that things get not only smaller, but also lighter and bluer in the distance. Both of these tips are very useful for achieving the sense of depth and atmospheric perspective in a painting, so I made sure to follow them.

And finally, the last important advice given to me was not to overwork it. So, once I was more or less content with the similitude of the painting and the scene in front of me, I made sure to stop and call this painting done.

Et voilà! That was the process and here is the photo of the finished product:

 

Morning in Chianti. Oil on Canvas, 20 x 30 cm.

Morning in Chianti. 20 x 30 cm, Oil on linen.

Although working outdoors can be tricky because of the constantly changing effects, I’m happy I took this one slow and didn’t try to frantically chase those effects. This allowed me not only to achieve batter accuracy, but also resulted in a painting based on informed choices rather than happy coincidences. At the end of the day, this is what the learning process should be all about.

As for my other paintings done during this workshop, I do have to admit they were made on a faster pace. The second oil painting I did was finished over the course of two days and with no preliminary sketching in graphite involved. The watercolors, on the other hand, were completed over the course of a few hours with the obligatory sketch in graphite pencil. But that’s a totally different medium, which requires a vastly different and much faster approach, so I don’t feel guilty about that. Here are the results of these other efforts.

I hope you enjoy them!

 

Orcio. 20 x 30 cm, Oil on Panel.

Orcio. 20 x 30 cm, Oil on panel.

 

Villa Coli. 22 x 25 cm, Watercolor.

Villa Coli. 22 x 25 cm, Watercolor.

 

Young Apples. 22 x 25 cm, Watercolor.

Young Apples. 22 x 25 cm, Watercolor.

 

Daniela's Nest. 26 x 36 cm, Watercolor.

Daniela’s Nest. 26 x 36 cm, Watercolor.


Postcards from Croatia and Some Reflections on a Watercolor Setup

 

I am happy to share with you that, since my last blog post, Marc, Emma (the dog) and I have successfully moved and settled in our beautiful new home in Florence. We absolutely love it and feel so blessed that we have found such a perfect spot to embark on our future projects.

Yet, just as we finished unpacking and started to relax a bit, we were Croatia-bound once again. This time for a very exciting reason, my best friend’s wedding. The ceremony took place in the ancient town of Zadar and was absolutely wonderful.

After an intense month of packing and unpacking, being on the coast and sinking into the easygoing Dalmatian vibe was a real treat, so we decided to extend our stay in Zadar to a full week.

I frankly had no idea whether there would be any time available for painting on this trip, but decided to bring my equipment nonetheless. As it turns out, the pre and post-wedding activities were all very relaxed and spontaneously organised, so I managed to squeeze in a few painting sessions.

Interestingly, I had a bit of a stage fright, so to say, before I started my first painting. I am not sure if it was because I hadn’t painted regularly for the previous few weeks and was worried I wouldn’t be able to pick up where I left; or was it the fact that I was painting en plein air in my native country for the first time and was concerned about doing justice to its beauty; or both.

Either way, it all went smoothly once I got going and I was content with the overall experience – especially with the fact that I got back to painting after a few weeks long break.  

In fact, having done a couple of few hour long workshops this summer in Ireland at the Art in the Open plein air painting festival (which I highly recommend!), I noticed I felt more confident painting watercolours then before. As it turns out, watching my teachers, Claudia Araceli and Grahame Booth, paint taught me how to simplify more and apply washes better. 

I should mention in that regard that, thus far, I was totally self-taught in the watercolour medium. So, I found these teachers’ demos very helpful and felt like I experienced a sort of a breakthrough after taking their workshops.

This reminded me how beneficial it is just to watch someone else (who knows what they are doing) paint and how much one can learn through pure observation of a master at work.

Another thing I realised after these lessons is that my watercolour setup is less than ideal. Namely, so far, I had a sitting setup with a small foldable table next to me, where I would put my pallet and a water container, while my pad would sit on my knees. This is basically what it looks like:

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While it is quite comfortable, this setup is problematic on multiple levels. It provides me with a painting surface which is, first, not very stable and, second, not positioned at a proper angle. As I have learned, one should have their watercolour block (or a panel to which the paper is attached) tilted at a minimum 45 degree angle. This is in order to allow those preliminary rich washes to flow properly, and to be able to get rid of access water if necessary, by allowing it to drip down. 

Another problem I noticed with my current setup is that I often get much better views from a standing, rather then a sitting position. Namely, being up higher in many instances provides a more interesting perspective, and helps me avoid having various obstacles (such as fences, bushes and tall grass) block my view. In addition, since I scout for my views while walking around, it’s easier for me to determine what the view will amount to while standing, instead of sitting.

So, in the near future, I am hoping to figure out a better, lighter and taller setup, which would ideally work both for watercolours, as well as oil painting. I will keep you posted on how it goes. 

In the meantime, I leave you with a few of my paintings from the recent Croatian trip. I hope you enjoy.

 

Petar Zoranić Square. 9 x 10 in, Watercolor.

Petar Zoranić Square. 9 x 10 in, Watercolor.

 

Church of St. Donatus. 9 x 11 in, Watercolor.

Church of St. Donatus. 9 x 11 in, Watercolor.

 

St. Mary's Church. 8 x 9,5 in, Watercolor.

St. Mary’s Church. 8 x 9,5 in, Watercolor.