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.

 


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.

 


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.


Glazing an Oil Painting

Recently, I learned how to glaze an oil painting, so I wanted to share with you experience. Now, let me first explain very briefly what glazing means. Glazing stands for a procedure usually performed at the middle to final stages of an oil painting, which essentially consists in applying a thin layer of oil paint broken down with lots medium and turpentine over the existing layer of dry oil paint. It is done in order to subtly alter the color effect and add translucence to specific portions of an oil painting.

For reasons yet unknown to me, glazing an oil painting seems to be a somewhat controversial issue in the fine art painting circles. While some think it should never be done, others argue it is the best thing ever. Personally, I like the effects that glazing can create – mainly getting a glow in the color that can’t be achieved with direct painting. So, after being shown how to do it, I have decided to try it on a small section of one of my own recent paintings.

Specifically, in my recent painting of Peruvian lilies, previously featured on this blog, I glazed a lead white highlight. I wanted it to get that glowing yellowish-white effect we see when light hits a copper tone metal surface. In other words, I wanted the previously purely white highlight to get a subtle yellow glow that would make the highlight look more natural. So, I glazed my highlight with a touch of cadmium yellow light and Roman ochre, mixed with a generous amount of medium and turpentine. Here’s the short video of the process:

First, I dipped my brush in the medium (a mix of sun-thickened linseed oil and Canada balsam) and put a small amount on the palette. Then, I dipped the brush into turpentine and added a small amount to the medium already on the palette. I then proceeded to add a smidgen of oil paint to the previously made mix of medium and turps. Once satisfied with the color and transparency of my glaze, I applied it to the highlight.

As you can see, glazing is quite straightforward. The important thing though is that you glaze over dry paint. You should allow your painting to dry for at least 6 months before glazing it. Doing it over a perfectly dried painting not only prevents the muddying of the underlying paint, but also allows you to reverse the process if you don’t like its outcome. You can do that by simply wiping off your glaze with a clean tissue or a paper towel. It’s a simple as that.