Monday, January 16, 2017

Scenes from Certaldo Alto

I've been working hard to finish up some of the unpainted sketches I brought home from my Italy trip last fall. Here's a composite page I did the day we visited the medieval hilltop village of Certaldo alto...

Since I taught two week-long workshops at Fattoria Bacio this past year, I had two visits to Certaldo alto, so I got lots of sketching done. On this page I included the delicious lunch I had at Taverna L'Antica Fonte. It's a cute little restaurant perched on the edge of a hill and has panoramic views of the Tuscan countryside.

View from L'Antica Fonte in Certaldo alto

This little terra cotta cherub sculpture I saw on the wall of a shop was so cute I couldn't resist adding it to my page.

Can you find it in this photo of Certaldo alto's main street?

A cup of cappuccino is good any time of the day. Normally caffeine in the afternoon would keep me awake all night, but in Italy it seems I always sleep like a baby. Maybe it's because we do so much walking during the day. Or could it just be that there's magic in the air?

I captured a slice of that panoramic view we saw at lunch in this sketch....

This page is a great example of why it is a good idea to narrow your focus when sketching onsite. I couldn't paint everything I wanted to, so I chose a few favorite scenes and put them all together to give an impression of my day in Certaldo.

In contrast, this next page features just one scene, but it has EVERYTHING in it: a fountain, a castle, a tile roof, blue chairs, people sketching, an umbrella, bushes, and, yes, even a herd of turtles!

I really think I overdid it here. In trying to include everything, I lost my focus. Oh, well, live and learn.

Those are my buddies Linda, Cathy, and Cindy working in their sketchbooks.

To paint the water in the fountain, I masked it with Pebeo masking fluid before painting the background foliage. After the masking fluid was removed I added a few touches of grey-blue to the stark white.

Travel journal pages that are primarily text can end up looking dull and boring, so I like to make them more interesting by incorporating banners, borders and mini sketches. This page of journaling about Certaldo is a good example.

(The text is continued on the next page, which isn't quite finished, so you'll have to wait to read more about the turtles.)

I used a fresco design from the museum in Certaldo to brighten up one corner of the page and placed the page title on a banner in the opposite corner, balancing the page nicely.

The landscape in the upper right corner is only about 1 1/2" x 4" wide, but it sets the scene and serves to illustrate the words on the page.

For this next sketch, I climbed the tower at Giovanni Boccaccio's home (now a museum). Boccaccio was a poet and the author of The Decameron, a masterpiece of early Italian writing. The view from his tower is pretty amazing.

A colorful underwash brightened up this scene filled with greens and browns.

You can see the rooftops of the old town, where everything looks much as it did in the 14th century....

as well as the modern city with its cars, trains, supermarkets and schools.

Certaldo alto is one of those non-touristy places that are challenging to find on your own. I'm so glad I had my friends Teja and Claudia from Artravelitaly to show us the way and organize everything so flawlessly for us.

Claudia, me, and Teja

I'll be teaching another Tuscany workshop next fall, September 23-30, 2017, and I'm looking forward to seeing my Italian friends again and enjoying another perfect week at Fattoria Bacio. There are still some spaces left - why not come along? It's a dream vacation, one you'll never forget. Click here for more details.


  1. This trip to Tuscany is the best! I'll never forget my Gnocci Gorgonzola at Antiqua Fonte, or all of the great meals at Fattoria Baccio, or any of the fabulous sights of Italy. Thank you, Claudia, and Teja for an absolutely perfect week.

    1. I appreciated your enthusiasm during our wonderful week together, Amy. I hope you'll be able to come along on another adventure sometime.

  2. I love your sketches. You always have such creative ways of setting up your pages! By the way I love the Courtyard page and don't feel it is too busy but lets the viewer experience the "flavor" of the culture.

    1. Thanks, Annie. I loved that scene when I sat down to sketch, but felt that I labored over it too much. Thanks for your comments, though; it makes me realize that I'm probably being overly critical. I don't have to love every page.

  3. Very fabulous! And your people are great...I remember you said you were working on gaining more expertise-nice!

    1. Thanks, Christine. I still don't really feel confident drawing people, but they usually turn out okay if I pencil them in first.

  4. Bravo, Leslie! Your finished pages are beautiful and inspiring. How blessed you are to be able to visit such lovely places! But, I know, in reality, no matter where we are, at any given moment, there is always something of beauty and grace to sketch and paint. Thank you for sharing your trip with us! Happy Trails as you trek into 2017!

  5. You are a master of composition, Leslie. Though you make it look effortless, I know you put a lot of work and heart into each page. Always a pleasure to look at!

    1. Thanks, Susan. I don't really think too hard about composition - it's pretty intuitive for me. When I read all those articles in art books about composition, I sometimes wonder if maybe the authors aren't just trying to put a name on something we do naturally.

  6. I always learn something from your posts. This time I realize how important it is to avoid losing focus on my pages. I seem to include too much.
    We'll share our pages next week! Can't wait!


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