Monday, September 26, 2016

Italy - Pisa and Cinque Terre

Hello from Italy! It's been a whirlwind week since I left Pittsburgh with seven friends, bound for Rome. The trip was grueling, but we finally landed in Rome, and after several hours of standing in security lines and customs lines, we took off for Pisa where we were picked up by a driver to take us to....

the Leaning Tower of Pisa! We spent some time with a tour guide there, learning more about the buildings on the Piazza Dei Miracoli.

The cathedral was impressive, as all European cathedrals are, with soaring columns, and gorgeous mosaics, sculptures, and paintings. The ceiling was covered in 24 carat gold!

Then it was time to head to our next destination, Cinque Terre. It was wonderful having a driver, so we didn't all have to schlep our heavy luggage on and off trains and up and down steep flights of stairs.

Here's our adorable B&B in Manarola, which would be our home for three nights....

Affittacamere San Giorgio

Cinque Terre is a place of indescribable beauty. You really have to experience walking those almost-vertical streets to even begin to understand what it must be like to live here. The people are all fit and trim - they're used to hiking the hills and climbing the seemingly endless steps that lead from the lower part of town into the upper streets.

Our first day there, we explored Manarola and spent some time sketching, then took an afternoon ferry boat ride up the coast to see the five villages from the water.

Here's a view of Manarola from the water...

We enjoyed a fantastic dinner at Il Casello in Monterosso, overlooking the beach and the Ligurian Sea.

Cindy, Candy, Judy, Teresa, Katie, Carol, Cathy, Jan, and Linda
 After dinner, we strolled along the water....

and walked through town where restaurants and shops were filled with people enjoying the warm evening.

Time to run down and have breakfast now, then head for Certaldo. I'll catch up with you later and share more pictures from the trip so far.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Looking Back at Italy, and Ahead!

I leave for Italy in a little over a week! I'm so excited to be going back to Tuscany! My mother decided not to come with me this time, but I won't be traveling alone. This time I'll have seven of my local students/friends flying out of Pittsburgh with me. We'll be flying into Pisa, then traveling on to Cinque Terre where we'll meet up with two more friends who are coming from Florida. We'll have a few days to explore Cinque Terre before the workshop starts at Fattoria Bacio. I can't wait!

I have some sketches from last year's trip that I never got around to sharing, so here's a little something to get you in the mood for my posts from Italy...

All sketches are ink and watercolor, done in a 10x7 Stillman & Birn Beta series sketchbook.

Casa Dante is one of the historic buildings that's part of Fattoria Bacio, the country estate where we'll be staying near Certaldo. This year, I think I'll sketch a few more of the buildings, and I definitely want to explore the old chapel that's right next to Casa Dante. Somehow I missed that last year.

One of the prettiest spots at Fattoria Bacio is the lawn in front of the villa. From there you can look out over a panorama of vineyards, olive groves, hilltop villas and distant mountains. In the middle of the lawn sits a picturesque old well, which I spent a relaxing morning painting last year.

I'm really looking forward to the delicious meals I'll have while I'm in Italy. Why is it that even the simplest salad tastes better there? Is it just because I'm so happy to be there, eating that salad in ITALY (!) or is it the fresh, organic ingredients and the care with which it is prepared? I'm not sure. All I do know is that everything tastes AMAZING!

One of our day trips will take us to Siena. I'll never forget my first walk through the Duomo (cathedral) there. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the building, the intricate patterns on the marble floors, the metal grillwork, the paintings and statuary...there's so much to take in, everywhere you look! Last year, I really wanted to sketch something while I was there, and what impressed me most was the marblework, so I devoted this sketchbook page to copying some of the designs found on the floors and columns in the church, with two angelic sculptures added to the mix. I penciled in the designs, creating the page a little bit at a time as I toured the building. Later on at home, I tidied things up and inked and painted the page. I love how it turned out. The busyness of the page reflects the impressive visual clutter of the Duomo's interior.

Bustling cities, medieval villages, and idyllic country settings - our week in Tuscany will have it all. One evening, we'll be visiting La Meridiana International School of Ceramics. We'll have a tour, meet some of the artists, do some sketching, and enjoy aperitifs on the veranda as the sun sets over the Tuscan hills. Last year, it was one of my favorite times during the week. The ceramic school is housed in a 17th century farmhouse, surrounded by gardens, barns, a pond, fruit trees, and vineyards. It's a peaceful place with quiet nooks, broad vistas, and surprises around every corner, like the "peeping Tom" statue semi-hidden in the front hedge...

Another one of my favorite places to visit is San Gimignano, the city of towers. We'll be there on market day - I can't wait to see what treasures I'll find! San Gimignano has lots of great shops, wonderful cafes, beautiful churches, and incredible views from the centuries-old town walls.

I'll try to post regularly from Tuscany while I'm there, but I plan to do a lot more sketching and journaling this year than I did when I first visited Fattoria Bacio, so I won't have as much time to journal on my blog. I'll be sure to share some sketches in progress, and I know I won't be able to resist showing you some pictures of the gorgeous scenery, so I'll be in touch. I wish you could all come along! Hey, there's still one spot available for my October 1-8 workshop, so if you're a spur-of-the-moment type, dust off your passport, pack your bags and join us. (Click on the "Italy Workshops" tab above for all the details.)

I'll be announcing my 2017 schedule soon after I get back from Italy. I have several exciting workshops in the planning stages. And don't forget about Provence coming up in July 2017. It's going to be an incredible trip!

Now, to finish packing and practice up on my Italian phrases, the most important of which is "Un gelato, per favore!" :)

Sunday, August 28, 2016

"Sketch Your Life!" Workshop at Summerhill

Last weekend I hosted my first three-day "Sketch Your Life!" workshop here at my home, and we all had a great time exploring the possibilities of sketchbook journaling.

I injured my toe when I was rearranging furniture for the workshop. Ouch!! I ended up with a nasty infection, but it's healing nicely now, thank goodness!

Everything went fairly smoothly (except for that trip to Urgent Care on Friday evening!) and by the end of the weekend, we all felt like friends. The students came from all over - some were local, a few drove in from across the state of Pennsylvania, and others came all the way from Maryland, Mississippi, and Kentucky. They all had one thing in common, a desire to try a new approach to being creative.

Or did they only come for the great food? :)

Yes, my mother and I fed them well!

Mocha Sundae Pie with Oreo Cookie Crust

Our lunches included Corn and Basil Tart, Wild Rice Artichoke Chicken Salad, and Pizza Pizzazz Salad, plus lots of yummy side dishes like Cantaloupe-Peach Soup with Blueberries...

and desserts that that were to-die-for, like Mocha Sundae Pie, Bourbon-Pecan Tart, and my famous Chocolate Pavlova.

Bourbon-Pecan Tart

The ladies worked hard each morning, sketching and learning and trying new things. They deserved to be rewarded at lunchtime!

Most of them were new to sketchbook journaling, so I started them off with an introduction to drawing and watercolor. I think it was a big help to those who were complete beginners.

They learned how to design interesting lettering styles and simple border designs, then they put their new-found skills to use on their first sketches...

Next they did a page using a color block or box to make their subject pop off the page...

Later, they sketched fruits and vegetables from varying angles or in different stages to make an interesting "Multiples" page...

It's always so much fun to see each person's style begin to emerge as they work through the projects.

One afternoon, I had them do a speed-sketching challenge where they drew a gridded page filled with candy in a very limited time. Choosing just six pieces from the candy box may have been the toughest part of this exercise!

The candy bin had lots of cute, colorful penny candy, but we reserved our calories for the good stuff...

Thanks, Carol, for bringing us these yummy temptations all the way from Maryland!

A little chocolate makes the sketching so much more fun!

Carol designed some beautiful borders...

and don't you love this sketch? Those complementary colors just sing! And how about that plaid background? She got the idea for the pattern from my laundry room wallpaper. Inspiration is everywhere

I decided to mix things up a bit on Saturday afternoon, so I gave everyone a break from their watercolors. I had them find a spot somewhere in the house or outside in the yard or on the porch, and try doing a sketch directly in ink without any preliminary pencil drawing first. The twist was that the ink in the pens was water-soluble, so, when they touched the lines with water, they dissolved into soft grays, resulting in nice mid-tone shadows. My sketch at the top of the page is an example, drawn with a Platinum Preppy pen with Platinum ink. And here's Bobbie's sketch of my porch swing...

Charlotte and Lu sketched the view from the classroom...

Carol, Sara and Lory drew in the living room...

The sketches were done in nothing flat, and everyone really enjoyed playing around with the shadow washes.

Another fun project we did was to illustrate one of our favorite quotes. There were some really good ones - here's one by Angela...

Sunday afternoon, after three days of me standing up front talking about sketchbook journaling and showing pages from my sketchbooks, it was finally time for everyone else to have a turn. Each person shared their sketches with the group and talked about what they had created.

It was touching and funny and heartwarming to hear them talk about their work. And the encouragement that flowed back to them from their new-found friends made it even more special.

Charlotte had us all laughing!

It's amazing how much they accomplished in just three short days! And seeing their confidence grow over the course of the workshop was a wonderful thing. They're excited about sketching now and are making plans to do a September challenge. They'll learn so much if they stick with it.

All of my preparations - the writing, printing, emailing, meal planning, grocery shopping, house cleaning, cooking, and studio prep - were worth it, to see the happiness on their faces as they said goodbye. This kind of teaching is a lot of work, but the rewards are priceless.

I hope to offer another "Sketch Your Life!" workshop here at Summerhill in 2017, but haven't settled on the dates yet. I still need to firm up some travel commitments first. Stay tuned...

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Sketches from Maine - Part 4

Andrew Wyeth painted hundreds of paintings in Maine during his life, and the Olson House was one of his favorite subjects. It's now part of the Farnsworth Museum. We visited on a beautiful summer day and had a chance to sketch for awhile after touring the house and watching a documentary about Wyeth.

The house is stark and spare. It looks like an Andrew Wyeth painting come to life. From the house, grassy meadows lead down to the shimmering waters of Penobscot Bay and a small cemetery where the artist is buried. I chose a spot among the wildflowers and settled down to draw.

All sketches were done in a 9" x 6", Stillman and Birn Alpha series hardbound sketchbook.
For this one I used pencil and watercolor.

My landscape vignette has the breezy, sunlit look of coastal Maine, with its clapboard house and barn, evergreen trees and beautiful meadows filled with wildflowers. The border frames the sketch nicely without overwhelming it.

Each year when I'm in Maine I take my students to visit the Rockland Breakwater Light in Rockland harbor, but this year I decided to stay on shore rather than walk the breakwater out to the lighthouse. While I was waiting for them to return from the nearly two mile round trip walk, I sketched a dredging barge anchored just off-shore.

The sketch was drawn with a black Pigma Micron 01 pen. The border was added later. I used a variety of pens for it, including several sizes of Pitt Artist's pens, a Platinum Carbon fountain pen with Platinum Carbon ink, and a Pitt brush pen (color cold grey 232).

After the workshop wrapped up, my mother and I headed up the coast to Acadia National Park where we met some friends for a week. We had a little cottage near the water on Goose Cove, not too far from Southwest Harbor in the part of Mt. Desert Island that they call "The Quiet Side". It's away from the hustle bustle of Bar Harbor and the main attractions in the national park.

I thought the little "Beach" sign that pointed the way to our private cove was really cute, so I did a quick sketch of it the first morning we were there. I used a Pentel Hybrid Technica gel pen that Joe Miller had given me when I taught at Cheap Joe's back in May. The pen glided over the Stillman & Birn Alpha paper nicely and was a pleasure to draw with. The ink is water-soluble, so after the drawing was finished, I used a waterbrush filled with clean water to dissolve some of the lines and draw out the gray color to make shadows. I love this technique, and it's so quick that I'm able to get a sketch finished in no time.

The tides in northern Maine are dramatic, with huge changes in the shoreline happening every day as the tide comes in and goes out. At low tide, I enjoyed exploring the cove to see what I could find. Mostly I was searching for sea glass, but there was lots more to see. I sketched various types of seaweed, a sea urchin shell, barnacles, a dead crab, mussel shells, snail shells, sea glass, and even a few minnows that had been trapped in a tide pool.

Trying to fit all the different shapes in on my page was a lot of fun. The minnows were the last thing I drew, after the lettering had been added. I wish I had planned for them a little earlier, so I could have had one of them actually coming through the "D". Still, I love this page.

This last sketch was a quickie done at a sidewalk cafe while we waited for our lunches.

I'll share the rest of my Maine sketches when I have a chance to finish them, but they may have to wait awhile. I have a couple of house portraits to paint, a three-day "Sketch Your Life!" workshop next weekend here at my house, and Italy coming up in September. These are busy days!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Sketches from Maine - Part 3

During my June workshop in Maine, I waited all week for the perfect day to drive to the top of Mt. Battie and spend some time sketching. My patience was rewarded when we awoke one morning to abundant sunshine and clear blue skies.

The view from the top of Mt. Battie is spectacular - deep blue ocean as far as the eye can see, dotted here and there with low-lying islands. Off in the distance, fifty miles or so to the northeast, Mt. Desert Island and Acadia National Park jut out into the sea. Down the hill lies the picture-perfect village of Camden.

"Pretty Little Camden, Maine, "9" x 6", Stillman and Birn Alpha series hardbound sketchbook, ink & watercolor

The expansive view from the top of the mountain can be overwhelming for an artist. How do you capture the vastness of it all? Well, this year, I didn't even try. Instead, I focused in on the pretty little town of Camden and attempted to capture the feeling of its houses nestled in among the trees next to a snug, protected harbor. Zooming in on a scene is a great way to limit your view and narrow your selection of subject matter.

I used a Platinum Carbon fountain pen with Platinum Carbon ink and an extra fine nib for the drawing. The extra fine nib was a good choice for this scene with its tiny details. The sky and water were painted first...

Step 1 - Paint the sky and water

The next step was to paint the distant islands and fingers of land jutting out into Penobscot Bay. Moving into the mid-ground, I painted the bright yellow-green fields and some grassy areas along the water's edge and put the first bits of color on the buildings.

Step 2 - Paint the distant land and begin picking out some of the mid- and foreground details.

Moving into the foreground, I painted a lone evergreen and the light and middle values on the rocks.

The foreground grasses came next.

Step 3 - Paint the foreground grasses

While the first light yellow-green washes were still wet, I added darker tones to indicate shadows. As they dried, strokes of darker color were added to suggest texture/foliage.


Next, I painted the dark spit of land above the Camden woods and began adding more color to the houses so that when I began painting all the green trees in the mid-ground, I wouldn't accidentally paint over a tiny house.

Step 4 - Paint the dark peninsula and add more color to the buildings.

It was finally time to tackle all the greenery in and around the town.

Step 5 - Begin painting the trees around the buildings.

I started with light to medium values of olive green and varied it by adding ultramarine blue for shadow tones. Sap green was used, also, and combined with ultramarine and burnt umber or burnt sienna for the deepest shadows.


I contrasted light, sunlit sides of trees with darker areas that were in shadow. Individual trees were painted wet-in-wet, but, where I wanted a hard edge, I had to let some of them dry so that the adjacent tree color wouldn't run into them.


The last step was to paint the woods that were beyond the little town.

Step 6 - Finish painting the more distant middle ground woods and the buildings in town.

I made these darker and more subdued, to make them recede into the distance and focus the eye more on the foreground and the town. They were painted wet-in-wet, but I left bits of sparkling white paper here and there to keep the area from feeling dull and lifeless.


The homes and commercial buildings peeking out from behind the trees were finished simply and blue-grey shadows were added.


Then I called it done!
Pretty little Camden,'s always held a place in my heart, and now it's in my sketchbook, too!
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