Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sketchbook Journeys - Italy: Day 13 (Tuscan Wildflowers)

Springtime in Tuscany...what could be prettier?

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

As we drove through the countryside on our way from San Gimignano to Lucca, the scenes we passed were enough to keep a constant smile on my face. 

Olive groves, vineyards, villas, and bright green hillsides combined with warm sunshine and clear blue skies to make a day that was pretty nearly perfect.

We stopped often to take photos along the way, and when I could tear my eyes away from the gorgeous views, I started to notice what was right at my feet. 

Tucked in among the grasses were delicate wildflowers that begged to be included in my travel journal. Since I didn't have time to linger and sketch, I snapped photos to work from later.

I recognized a few of the varieties from similar flowers back home in Pennsylvania, like buttercups, grape hyacinth, coltsfoot, and wild iris.

Altogether, they made one of the prettiest pages in my travel journal.

The soft, flowery painted text is the perfect complement to this page of floral beauties.

Wouldn't this sketch make a lovely print?
It could be yours if you enter my Italy Sketch Giveaway
only two more days until the drawing! (See rules here.)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sunday Sketches

I was feeling particularly happy this past Sunday as I bustled around the house, cleaning and cooking in preparation for a party that evening.

9" x 12", drawn with a Noodler's Creaper Flex pen and Lexington Gray ink, with watercolor, in an Aquabee Super Deluxe sketchbook

When I paused to eat breakfast and saw how pretty my plate looked, with bright red strawberries nestled in next to fluffy scrambled eggs topped with cheddar, I grabbed my sketchbook and dashed off a quick sketch.

That got me in the mood to do another one to celebrate my upcoming party. So, after the cooking was finished and the guest rooms were ready, I turned the page in my sketchbook and drew my...

Downton Abbey Finale Pajama Party!

9" x 12", drawn with a black Pitt Artist's pen, painted with watercolor in an Aquabee Super Deluxe sketchbook

Yes, the fun-loving women in my family have started a new tradition of getting together to watch the premiere episode and the finale of our favorite Victorian drama, Downton Abbey.

This time, my sister, niece, and mother came over, bringing lots of yummy snacks to settle in for an evening of indulgent fun.

Thai spring rolls with peanut dipping sauce, chili-cheese dip, "party poppers" (bacon wrapped around dates, Brie, and slivered almonds), and sugary spiced pecans

We played games and ate delicious finger foods. I couldn't fit all the goodies on my sketchbook page!

Chutney cheese ball served with crackers and sliced apples

Dessert was Strawberry Pavlova - vanilla meringue topped with a fluffy whipped cream / cream cheese concoction, sliced strawberries and fresh pineapple chunks. Yummm!

Before the show started, we had to don the proper attire for our pajama party...

and snuggle into a comfy chair under a warm throw.

Then we sat back, relaxed, and, for ninety wonderful minutes, immersed ourselves in gorgeous dresses, flamboyant hats, Georgian mansions, and characters whose lives often seem so much more interesting than our own. :)

A toast to Downton!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sketchbook Journeys - Italy: Day 13 (San Gimignano)

On Day 13, we said goodbye to Siena and headed north toward Lucca, meandering through the countryside on narrow, two-lane roads, enjoying a perfect spring day in Tuscany.

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

Our first stop was the medieval walled city of San Gimignano, famous for its fourteen towers which form an unforgettable picture against the bright blue sky.

Drawn with a Derwent chocolate 66 watercolour pencil, with watercolor washes added on top

I wish we had had more time to explore. The place just oozes history, and the architecture is incredible.

Drawn with a Sakura Pigma Micron 01 black pen, with watercolor wash

There were really nice shops, too, filled with Italian leather purses, embroidered linens, and hand-painted pottery.

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

I felt like a typical tourist, stopping to snap photos every few feet. "Oooh! Look at that door! Oh, look at those adorable little old ladies standing under that archway! What a great composition! Oh!! Look at the laundry hanging against that 500 year-old stone wall! And the view! Augh! I can't stand it - it's so BEAUTIFUL!!!"

Yes, that's exactly how I spent my hours in San Gimignano. And my days in Tuscany.

It's really that wonderful.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Sketchbook Journeys - Italy: Day 12 (Siena & Casale Virgili)

Casale Virgili was the perfect place to use as a home base to explore Tuscany. The B & B owner, Roberto, was a sweetheart. He spoke English, gave us great advice on restaurants and sites to see, and even fixed my hair dryer for me!

The seventeenth-century farmhouse and outbuildings were beautifully maintained and made great subjects for sketching. It's close to Siena, but felt like it was a world away. 

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

It was quiet and peaceful, and the early spring sunshine warmed me as I sat and sketched the stairs that led to my room in the old farmhouse. It's hard to explain the contentment and happiness I felt, like there was nothing else I'd rather be doing at that moment than painting the shadows falling on those old terra cotta floor tiles.

I might have forgotten almost everything about that place and that morning if I hadn't stopped awhile, just to be still and really see it.

The cherry tree in the yard was blooming, and I made a rough pencil sketch of it. When I painted it later at home, I spattered masking fluid on first to preserve the white of the blossoms.

10" x 7" ink, watercolor, and watercolor pencil

The tree received a light spattering of opaque white at the end for good measure. It gave the blossoms a bit of dimension and made them pop against the blue sky.

I added a blue-grey watercolor shadow to the inked title, which helped to tie it in with the rest of the page. It had looked too plain and lonely without it.


The ancient outdoor oven building was rustic and worn, yet so lovingly cared for. That's one thing that really impressed me during my time in Italy, the way they appreciate, use, maintain, and treasure their old buildings.

Sketched with brown watercolor pencil, then painted with watercolor

No computerized swipe cards at this hotel - we had good old-fashioned keys! It almost seemed like we were visiting friends.


On our last morning, Roberto gave us a tour of the wine cellar that his family had built under the house and told us a little about their history. I bought a bottle of chianti (made from grapes grown in their family vineyard) to take home to my husband. It made it to Pennsylvania safe and sound in my checked luggage, and Fred was very happy about that!

The two-page spread in my sketchbook

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Sketchbook Journeys - Italy: Day 11 (Yummy Tuscan Food)

Every time I paint a page that I really like, I get all excited and think, "Oooooh! This one is my favorite!" But then a few days later, I finish up another one that turns out better than I ever expected it to, and I think, "No, really, I think this one is my favorite!"

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

I can't pick just one! This page is definitely in the running though. Ah, the memories of all that delicious food! Eating gluten-free in Italy is no hardship - not when you can have yumminess like this:

rich, dark chocolate desserts...

tortas and cakes...

 seafood pasta sprinkled with aged Parmesan...

soft, creamy, locally-made mozzarella drizzled with fruity olive oil...

salty Parma ham, artisanal cheeses and fresh veggies drizzled with syrupy balsamic vinegar...

gluten-free rolls and pasta...

Prosecco and limoncello...

I never had a disappointing meal in two weeks of travel. Even the food we bought in the grocery stores was good.

Lettering how-to: Draw letter forms with permanent ink. Paint one color at the top of a letter and a different color at the bottom, allowing them to blend and merge where they meet. Keep the paint fairly concentrated, but wet enough to move and flow a bit.

Fitting everything in on this page was so much fun. Many of the little sketches were drawn in restaurants, before I ate my lunch or dinner. When I just couldn't wait to dive in, I snapped a photo to paint from later. I just love how the jaunty lettering and bright colors give this page such a happy feel.

You might wonder why I painted a weird spider-webby thing on this next page. If you read my journaling, you'll understand. Those circles are roundabouts - we went around or through about five hundred of them in ten days of driving!

The colors on this page didn't scan well; they're actually much less muddy looking in the original. I used a white gel pen for the center lines on the roads.

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a little, but in Siena it felt like there was one every fifty feet! So, to liven up this text page, I painted a background that will always remind me of the times we went round and round those crazy circles, trying to read signs in Italian, listening to a silly GPS that couldn't pronounce Italian street names, and trying to figure out which turn would send us where we wanted to go. Travel is always an adventure, isn't it?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sketchbook Journeys - Italy: Day 11 (Tuscany...finally!)

Warm sunshine, rolling hills, olive groves, and cypress trees - where else could we be but Tuscany?  Everywhere I looked, it was prettier than a calendar picture! I started sketching as soon as we checked into our B&B near Siena. Our villa overlooked the idyllic scene that I sketched on the upper half of this journal page.

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

The scene on the lower half is one that I painted the next day when we took a drive through the countryside near Asciano, south of Siena.

There were lovely old villas and castles on hilltops...

Each home was surrounded by orchards, gardens, and olive groves...

The vibrant yellow-green of the new spring grass was made even prettier by masses of bright yellow wildflowers...

The rugged Apennine Mountains were a hazy blue-grey on the distant horizon.

I wanted to see every corner of Tuscany, but I only had a few short days! It was tempting to feel shortchanged, to regret that I couldn't see it ALL, but, instead, I focused on soaking up as much as I possibly could while repeating this mantra in my head... "I'll be back! Somehow...some way...I'll come back!"

To give myself a visual reminder of the towns we visited in Tuscany, I added a map page to my journal.

All the roads we traveled are in black, with the larger highways indicated by heavier lines. The squiggly narrow lines are the windy little back roads where we enjoyed the best views of the gorgeous Tuscan countryside.

Lettering was drawn with a blue gel pen, then filled in with gold metallic gel pen

Coming up soon...more sketches of beautiful Tuscany!

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