Thursday, October 29, 2015

Step-by-Step Watercolor: Fattoria Bacio

In one of my recent posts, I promised I would show you the step-by-step process I used to paint a sketch of Fattoria Bacio, our workshop location in Tuscany.

The villa is perched on top of a hill, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves.  One pretty fall morning, I walked out along the ridge, about 1/4 mile from the villa, and found a spot that gave me a great view of our temporary home.

I started with a very rough pencil sketch, just to block in the major shapes of the fields and buildings, then I inked it with my Platinum Carbon fountain pen filled with Platinum Carbon ink.

10" x 7" Stillman and Birn Beta series sketchbook

I applied the first washes of color, starting with the sky and painting it wet-in-wet, then I let it dry before starting on the landscape. For the base wash on the landscape, I primarily used olive green and raw sienna. Wetting the page along the lower edge of my drawing allowed the paint to run, giving it a soft, diffused look.

Next, I painted a base color on the olive groves, then began adding medium value tones to everything. I indicated the rows of grapevines by letting my round brush dance across the page, creating irregular lines.

 Next, I filled in the palest shades of color on the buildings.

Spots of darker color were added to window openings, roof overhangs, bushes, and the large tree.

A few more brush strokes were added to the vineyards, and I judged it finished.

Or was it?

After I got back home, I took a look at the page. I liked the sketch but kept debating about whether or not I should add some hand lettering. I liked the vignette effect I had achieved, but I kept thinking the page needed a little something more.

So I added a title...

and then played around with some options for a small decorative element to set off the lettering, finally deciding on this one...

Here's the final result...

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

What do you think? Were my additions a good idea? Or should I have stopped when the vignette was complete?

I hope you enjoyed this peek into the way I work. :)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Day Trip to San Gimignano and Saying Goodbye to Tuscany

It had been a fantastic week at Fattoria Bacio and our final days gave us more of the same. The sunrise Thursday morning was spectacular...

and the skies cleared by breakfast time, forecasting a perfect day for our trip to San Gimignano.

But as we ate our breakfast, a stealthy fog began to fill the valleys, gradually covering all but the tops of the hills. A trio of hot air balloons moved silently overhead, their view of the countryside obscured by a blanket of white...

Lucky for us, though, when we gathered an hour or so later for our trip to San G, the views were back, beautiful as ever...

We stopped on the way to take a photo of our group, with vineyards, hills, and a view of the towers of San Gimignano in the distance.

(Left to right) Debbie, Rebecca, Candy, Suzanne, Linda, Eric, Saundra, Leslie, Joann, Geraldine, Nancy, Larry, & Maurice

600-year-old walls still surround the medieval hill town,

and most of the city is pedestrian-only, making it a pleasure to stroll the narrow lanes.

We visited on market day...

and after meandering through the market for an hour or so, we rewarded ourselves with a gelato from the award-winning Gelateria Dondoli. As expected, it was amazing!

There were plenty of opportunities for sketching things both big...



and small...

Shopping was a lot of fun, with leather goods, ceramics and clothing being the specialties.

We made it back to Fattoria Bacio in plenty of time for another one of Patrizia's extraordinary dinners. This one was accompanied by the estate's special dessert wine known as Vin Santo.

To make Vin Santo, white grapes are harvested and then laid out to dry in a well-ventilated attic area where the flavors and sugars in the grapes are concentrated before pressing. Fattoria Bacio's Vin Santo is then aged for fifteen years, so the wine we enjoyed at dinner had been made in the year 2000. It was served with almond biscotti which we dunked in the wine. Heavenly!

Our final day in Tuscany started with one last lesson in the studio.

I gave everyone some pointers on designing a title page for their travel journals, and we all worked on finishing up some pages that had been started earlier in the week.

Larry used a color box to push the subject forward on this page about San Gimignano

Joann's colorful composite page about a trip to Certaldo

Use 1/4" painter's tape to mask off boxes for a gridded page like this one from one of my students

We had an optional trip to the medieval hamlet of Barberino in the late morning, but some of us opted to hang around the villa for some quiet time.

I decided to stay behind and spend some time painting...

After all the busyness of the week, I really enjoyed grabbing an hour or two for myself.

I'll add some journaling to this page later

Geraldine attracted a crowd as she sat nearby. Who knew cats would be so interested in someone eating an orange? It's not like she had an open can of tuna fish, after all. Silly kitties!

We had a gelato party outdoors under the chestnut tree in the afternoon. A day in Italy just isn't complete without enjoying gelato at least once!

After a little more time painting, and a final dinner, we said our farewells and promised to keep in touch. The students gave me a gorgeous handmade scarf from San Gimignano as a thank you gift.

They must have read my mind, because I almost bought myself the exact same scarf on Thursday when we were in town! Imagine my surprise when I opened the package and saw the scarf I had been yearning for.

They were a great group of people, and I count myself blessed to have had a chance to get to know each one of them. I hope they enjoyed the trip as much as I did. I was inspired by their artwork and their upbeat attitudes every day. Thanks, guys! I couldn't have asked for a better group of friends to accompany me on my first teaching trip to Europe.

And now I'm looking toward the future! I'll be announcing details for my 2016 workshop in Tuscany next week. The dates will be September 24 - October 1, 2016. I am also working on arrangements for a watercolor workshop in Provence in 2017, so watch for information coming soon!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Vineyard Tour and a Visit to La Meridiana

I'm back from Europe safe and sound, and I can't wait to tell you all about Cornwall, but first, let me continue with the story of my week teaching at Fattoria Bacio in Tuscany....

After a morning spent painting at the villa on Wednesday, we enjoyed an afternoon tour of the Fattoria Bacio vineyards. Alberto and Patrizia, the owners of the villa, showed us around personally, with Patrizia translating Alberto's extensive commentary. Alberto would talk and gesture and explain, all in Italian, and we would just nod and smile, not understanding a word he was saying. Then his wife would take his five-minute dialogue and condense it down to a sentence or two. Thank goodness for Patrizia!

Alberto and Patrizia, our hosts at Fattoria Bacio

It was a perfect day for a walk through the vineyards. Isn't this almost too pretty to be real?

The harvest had been completed the week before we arrived, but my mom managed to find a bunch of grapes for us to taste. They were so sweet and delicious!

Alberto and Patrizia grow several types of grapes on their 300-acre estate and make Chianti, Chardonnay and a sweet aged wine called Vin Santo.

Alberto told us a little bit about the olive groves, too.

They have over 1700 trees - that translates into a heck of a lot of olive oil!

Back at the villa, Alberto took us to see the bottling room...

and the cellar where the wine is aged in wooden casks.

Then it was time to head off on an excursion to La Meridiana, an international ceramics school, to see potters at work and enjoy a few hours of relaxation in a beautiful setting. The 17th century farmhouse that houses the school is surrounded by gardens and its hilltop location affords beautiful views of the Tuscan countryside in every direction.

There were sketch-worthy scenes everywhere I looked...


Rebecca snapped this photo of me drawing the roses that grow next to the house...

Photo by Rebecca Sax

Walking around the property was a delight. I kept discovering ceramic sculptures hidden in unexpected places. In the barn...

at the pond...

and even hiding in the hedges...

My friend Rebecca dubbed this combination of sculptures "Peeping Tom"

Here's the composite sketch I did of my visit to La Meridiana. Adding some watercolor will really bring it to life.

It was interesting to see ceramic artists at work while we were there. That's Pietro Maddalena, the owner of La Meridiana, helping a student with a project.

Samples of the students' work are everywhere...

The sun was sinking low in the sky as we sat around on the veranda together.

Pietro gave us some insight into the history of the area, and my student, Linda Daniels, sketched him as he talked. She drew directly in pen and did a great job of capturing his likeness.

Then it was time for aperitifs!

And Aperol Spritzes!

Mmmmm, they're so yummy!

Can you think of a nicer way to spend a few hours than being with friends, sketching, and enjoying beautiful scenery, delicious food and a tasty drink? We even had a spectacular sunset to look at as we headed out to a local restaurant for dinner.

Our relaxing day off turned out to be one of the most enjoyable we had. Simple is often best.

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