Monday, May 27, 2013

Sketchbook Journeys: Italy - Day 4 (Marostica & Poianella)

Coming from a relatively young country like the US, I was continually impressed with how old everything is in Italy. The historic buildings have a look and feel to them that only comes with the passage of time.

10" x 7", watercolor & ink (black Pigma Micron pen), Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook

Everywhere you turn there are stone walls from Roman times, marble balconies carved during the Renaissance, hand-hewn doors with antique iron hardware, and terra cotta tile roofs that look like they've been keeping out the rain for centuries.


Each building is unique, and they all have so much character. I took hundreds of pictures of balconies, shutters, gates, and wooden doors, and there were thousands more that I wanted to photograph or sketch. It got to the point where I felt a little silly taking a picture of one more old wooden door, but each one tugged at my heart and called me to stop. There's just something about those old handmade things that speaks to me.  


The castle tower in the sketch above is one of twenty-four in Marostica, all part of a castle built in the 14th century. On the misty, rainy day that we were there, the castle on the hill almost seemed like a mirage, sitting with its head in the clouds, in the place where it has stood for over six hundred years.
  
10" x 7", watercolor & ink (Pigma Micron pen, brown), Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook

On page 13 of my journal, I drew a picture of the home where we stayed in Poianella. My friend, Ann, and her husband were so generous in allowing us the use of their house while they were away. It's a lovely place with high ceilings, marble floors, a gorgeous new kitchen, and plenty of space. It was within walking distance of the little town of Poianella, but right on the edge of town, so we had the pretty countryside just steps away from our door.

10" x 5.5", watercolor & ink (brown Pigma Micron pen), Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook

Most of the houses in Italy have shutters or shades for security and to keep the blazing summer sun out, and almost all of the yards are fenced and gated, very different from where I live here in the states.


Now, back to painting, so I'll have even more Italy sketches to share with you!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Sketchbook Journeys: Italy - Day 3 (Sandrigo)

The little town of Sandrigo was just a short drive from where we were staying in northern Italy, and it was filled with picturesque scenes just begging to be painted.

10" x 7", ink & watercolor, Stillman & Birn Beta series sketchbook

I drew this adorable gourmet shop as I perched on my three-legged stool on the sidewalk one afternoon, pausing occasionally to nibble on the amazing meringue cookie I had bought at the bakery down the street.


Friendly locals stopped to talk to me, and we tried to communicate despite my lack of Italian language skills. "Molto bella! (very beautiful)," one woman said with a broad smile. I wondered if they were surprised to see me drawing something that they walk past every day and barely notice.

In the building next door, an upper window caught my eye. In front of a set of ancient wooden shutters sat three terra cotta pots of cyclamen, bringing a spot of spring color to the muted exterior of the stucco building.



I did a quick line drawing that day on location and painted it later at home in my studio. I first laid down a pale wash of yellow ochre on the wall area of the sketch and let it dry. Then I added some burnt sienna and a touch of ultramarine blue to the yellow ochre paint and sloshed it onto parts of the wall. I crumpled up some plastic wrap and pressed it onto the wet paint, then left it to dry. A few hours later I removed the plastic wrap and found a perfect stucco texture on my sketch.


To make the small red circles that frame the cyclamen sketch, I dipped a pencil eraser in a puddle of dark red paint and stamped it around the edge of the pink circle I had painted.

The main square in Sandrigo is centered around the church. I decided to sketch the scene because I liked the warm glow of sunshine that lit up the whole side of the building (and that cute octagonal newsstand!) It was fun sitting and watching the busy townfolk bustling to and fro, going about their business. I think Suzie and I were the only tourists for miles around. This was the real Italy, and it was so cool to be a part of it.

10" x 7", ink & watercolor, Stillman & Birn Beta series sketchbook

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Sketchbook Journeys: Italy - Days 2 & 3 (Mmm - Italian food!)

The food in Italy is AMAZING! (That's the understatement of the year!) Everything is prepared with extra care and attention to detail. The ingredients are fresh, the flavors are incredible, and everything is beautifully arranged and served.

10" x 7", ink & watercolor, Stillman & Birn Beta series sketchbook

Even though I have to follow a gluten-free diet, I was able to have wonderful meals everywhere we went. The waiters and chefs were, almost without exception, knowledgeable about gluten and happy to help me find suitable choices from their menus. Instead of feeling like an oddity or a nuisance, as I often do in American restaurants, I felt accepted and reassured that I would get a meal which was safe for me to eat.

Our favorite restaurant, La Colombara, was just ten minutes from our house. They had a gluten-free menu, great food, reasonable prices, and a helpful waitress who spoke English...an unbeatable combination! The pizza was out-of-this world!


They even had gluten-free rosemary crackers for me to eat while everyone else was enjoying their bread.


Since we were lucky enough to be staying in a private home, we cooked many of our own meals. Shopping in an Italian supermarket was an interesting experience - lots to learn, and the language barrier made it all the more challenging, but with lots of laughter and plenty of signs and gestures from helpful customers and clerks, we managed.

The produce in the grocery stores was so beautiful and fresh! We oohed and aahed over the radicchio, white asparagus, and pretty little baby artichokes. I wanted to sketch right there among the fruits and vegetables, but I settled for adding a row of produce to my sketchbook later that day.
 
Even on a page filled primarily with text, I like to add some color accents with a simple border or a small sketch.

A swirly line helped to tie all the tiny fruits and veggies together.


This next sketch was painted the first morning I was in Italy, and I think the exuberant colors and loose style show just how euphoric and happy I was feeling at the time. Maybe it helped that I was pumped up on espresso, too!

10" x 7", ink & watercolor, Stillman & Birn Beta series sketchbook

I started this composite page of food sketches when I had my very first cappuccino the morning after we arrived. It was so tasty, and I knew it was probably just a hint of all the delightful things to come, so I began keeping a visual record of some of the best things I ate in Italy. (There were so many yummy new taste sensations that, after filling this page, I started another one further along in my sketchbook.)

10" x 7", ink & watercolor, Stillman & Birn Beta series sketchbook

Can you believe I actually had enough self-control to draw and paint the cappuccino before I drank it? It wasn't easy!


Later that day, I had my first gelato when we escaped the drizzle in Marostica to sit in a cozy little coffee shop/cafe and try the first of many flavors of this ubiquitous Italian treat.


I drew the apple torta one evening when we splurged on dessert at La Colombara. I dashed off a quick pencil sketch, but there was no way I was willing to delay eating that yummy cake while I added paint. The paint could wait; I couldn't!

This hazelnut nougat candy beckoned me from a pastry shop window in Venice...delicious!


Polenta with mushrooms and freshly grated Asiago and Parmesan cheese - my lunch in San Giorgio.


And lunch in Venice...


Asiago cheese is made in the area around Vicenza, and we ate plenty of it while we were there. Fresh asiago has a buttery texture and a milder flavor than the harder aged Asiago that is commonly found in the US. With crackers, apples, and glass of wine, it made a great light supper.


We treated ourselves to cappuccino almost every day during our trip and occasionally I was able to find a little something gluten-free to go along with it. In Vicenza, I found this lovely macaroon biscotti.


One morning I decided to try hot chocolate instead of my usual cappuccino. What a surprise! Italian hot chocolate is thick and rich and decadent, like drinking chocolate pudding. I ended up eating it with a spoon as it cooled and got even thicker. I think I prefer the hot chocolate I make at home with Trader Joe's cocoa powder, but it was fun having a chance to try the very different Italian version.

Coming up next: a castle on a hill, a sidewalk cafe, and cyclamen on a windowsill

Monday, May 20, 2013

Sketchbook Journeys: Italy - Days 1 & 2 (The flight over + our canine companions)

A sketching trip to Italy - what a dream come true! I left Pittsburgh, PA, at 4:00 in the afternoon on April 2 and watched the sun rise the next morning over the Swiss Alps. I'd wished for this for years, and I almost had to pinch myself to believe I was actually on my way to Venice!

10" x 7", ink and watercolor, Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook

I had hardly sketched at all for almost two months prior to the trip, despite having every intention of practicing and loosening up before I left. But as soon as I settled into my seat on the plane, it was like someone had fired the starting gun at the beginning of a race and said, "Start sketching! What are you waiting for?!" The adventure had begun. It was time to dive in and do what I'd been saying I was going to do... draw!


We flew across the full width of Pennsylvania. The land was just beginning to show hints of the luscious spring green that we've been waiting for all winter.


The sun was low in the sky as I flew into New York, and the Manhattan skyline looked all dreamy and soft, silhouetted against the distant hills. I sketched this in the 30 seconds it took to fly past as we made our approach into LaGuardia (and painted it later at home.)


At JFK, I met up with my friend, Suzie Althens, who had flown all the way from Anchorage, Alaska, and before we knew it, we were on our way to Italy! Try as I might, I can never sleep on airplanes, so I got to enjoy the view from 36,000 feet above the Atlantic... a deep indigo blue night sky with millions of stars, a waning crescent moon, and a beautiful rainbow-colored sunrise. 


My friend, Ann, picked us up at the airport in Venice and we headed to her house to meet our housemates for the week... Aspen and Bailey.

10" x 7", ink and watercolor, Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook

Aspen was a mellow, laid-back golden retriever/collie mix with a sweet disposition. Her only flaw...she snores!


Her buddy, Bailey, a little spaniel mix, was a bit shy, but with lots of petting and encouragement, he warmed up to us.


It was so nice to have a home to stay in while we were in the Vicenza area. Sleeping in the same bed every night and having a fully stocked kitchen at our disposal made for a relaxing stay and helped ease the inevitable stresses of travel.

Coming up next: Eating our way through northern Italy...YUM!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sketchbook Journeys: Italy - Page 1 Travel Map

When I returned recently from a wonderful two-week vacation in Italy, I mentioned here that I had brought home a travel journal filled with lots of unfinished sketches from my trip. Well, I'm happy to say that, little by little, the drawings are being brought to life with watercolor. I've been managing to snatch a few minutes here and there during the day to work on it, and it's coming together slowly but surely. I'll be posting the sketches as I finish them, so keep checking back to read the ongoing saga of my great Italian adventure.

10" x 7", ink and watercolor, Stillman & Birn Beta Series sketchbook 

On page one, I've drawn a map of the places we visited while staying in the Veneto region, just west of Venice. It may look like a hodge-podge, but it shows all the day trips we took from our home base in the little village of Poianella. The pup (see detail below) represents Aspen, the sweet little golden retriever mix that we dogsat for ten days, along with her pal, Bailey. To the right is the house where we stayed.


The building near Lupia is a fantastic restaurant where they serve the most delicious gluten free pizza. I couldn't get enough of it! The COOP supermarket in Bolzano Vicentino is where we did most of our grocery shopping.

In Marostica, we ate our first gelato and explored the 14th century castle on the hill. Nove, just 25 minutes from our home base, is world famous for their ceramics. We visited several of the small shops and were impressed with the beautiful hand-painting on the pottery.


The funny-looking trees (shown above) were a memorable part of the local scenery. The severe pruning they receive every year or two causes all the branches to grow from the thick, stubby trunk. The cut branches are used as fuel for the winter.

One of our favorite places was the wine country around Lake Garda. The hilltop view from San Giorgio is something I'll never forget. I'll tell you all about it on page 18 of my journal.


Our one day in Venice gave us a taste of that magical place and made me long to go back some day when I'll have more time to explore.


Vicenza was just a 20-minute drive from our house. It's a lovely city with many buildings designed in the 16th century by Andrea Palladio. Our trip to the weekly flea market was such a treat! Everything from clothing and household goods to octopus, cheese, and salami was offered for sale. But the flower stalls were the best! Oh, the colors!


There was beauty everywhere we looked ... red-tile roofs, warm golden walls, old wooden shutters, and window boxes filled with pansies and trailing ivy. I wanted to draw it all! One small travel journal filled with simple watercolor sketches can't begin to capture the experience of being there. But pausing to look, listen, study, absorb, and record on paper what I saw and felt has made Italy a lasting part of me.



Sunday, May 5, 2013

Redbud Sketch

The two redbud trees on the south side of our house have been blooming for weeks, and they give my heart a little lift every time I glance out the window and see them. The colors change depending on what time of day it is, and I can never decide if I like the rich, deep colors of early morning better or the light, cotton-candy color they take on at noon. I feel a compulsion to check out the redbuds anytime I'm near a window on that side of the house, just to see how they look now.

Watercolor with ink & pencil, 9" x 12" American Journey watercolor sketchbook

Even though I've been busy with a hundred different things this week, I couldn't resist taking time out to attempt a sketch of the redbud blossoms before they're all gone. I did a quick ink drawing of a flowering branch, then decided to lightly indicate the entire tree in pencil on the left side of the page.


The initial wet-in-wet washes of watercolor helped to suggest the masses of tiny blossoms along the branches. After they dried, I went back in and added touches of more saturated color to pick out individual petals.


Using only light pencil lines to draw the tree gave it a softer look and helped to differentiate it from the branch, making the page less confusing.


For the lettering, I painted a dusky purple color at the top and red-violet at the bottom of each letter, letting them meet and blend in the middle.


The blossoms on the redbud trees in my yard are beginning to fade and soon leaves will take their place for the summer. I'm so glad I stopped and spent some time with them one sunny afternoon while they were fresh and beautiful. Isn't the fleeting nature of spring beauty one of the reasons we love it so much?

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