The Etruscan Coast

When I’m travelling, and of course have no access to a scanner, I love to take photos of my sketches right on location so that I can include a bit of what I was looking at.

I haven’t had much time to post from Italy because I was teaching in Volterra, but before that I spent a few vacation days exploring the Etruscan Coast. I wasn’t expecting to be on the beach so it was a delightful surprise to sketch some seaside scenes.

The beach at Marina de Bibonna at the end of the day. The wind picked up while I was sketching so I ended up with a very sandy palette, but it was worth it.
At Baratti Beach the sand is silver black from the remnants of Etruscan iron processing, so they say. I found a chair at a restaurant with a great view of the beach. The family returned from their lunch as I was sketching.
In between the beach and the road are miles of umbrella pines, and at the end of the day, the colours on the trunks are luminous. I took lots of reference photos of these trees which I hope to turn into a bigger painting when I get back to my studio.
We stayed with Simona and her amazing little dog Gilda. This sketch was a gift for allowing us to share her beautiful garden with a view of the Tuscan hills.

Colle di Val d’Elsa

After a long night and day of airline travel and then several hours of driving on windy roads, we finally made it to Montegemoli just as the sun was setting. I’m here for a few days of holiday before heading to Volterra to be a guest instructor in Majid Modir’s watercolour workshop, and then on to meet my own group of students for a week of sketching in Tuscany.

It’s great to be able to absorb the light and colours of the landscape before I start teaching. I spent a few hours in Colle di Val d’Elsa, a city also known as the City of Crystal because of its glass production. Instead of visiting the Crystal Museum, though, I spent some time doing a warm-up sketch at a café where I found the perfect espresso and a view of the Chiesa e Monastero di S. Francesco.


Airport drawings

I’m an anxious traveller so I always arrive at the airport way too early. When I was flying to Amsterdam this summer I got to draw an airplane, in detail, because I had about three hours to kill.

Airplanes are surprisingly hard to draw, which is probably why I don’t draw them often. I think I’ve tried and given up in the past, but I persevered with this one. And did lots of pencil drawing and erasing before I added any ink. It’s the nose of the plane that’s the hardest. And getting the wingspan right. And figuring out the foreshortening of the body of the aircraft. Well, all of it I guess.

I also like to draw people in the airport because as it turns out, they are easier than airplanes. I often use my iPad for this. On my way home from Amsterdam I caught a guy enjoying his last Heineken before getting on the plane.

I also had some time in Seattle to draw a guy who was enjoying a very good nap on the airport carpet. He was in a deep sleep when the alarm on his phone went off and he groggily shook himself awake, straightened out his rumpled shirt and trudged off to catch his flight.


Black and blue

I received a gift some time ago. It’s a beautiful object — a handmade sketchbook filled with Fabriano paper, hardbound, covered with black-patterned cloth and held closed with a striped elastic. I’ve been saving it because it’s almost too beautiful to sketch in, and I feel like if I mess up a spread then the gift will be ruined.

I started the book in Amsterdam with a rough pencil drawing of a boat, but when a rain shower interrupted my sketching, I never finished the spread. The paper is too nice to waste, so today I erased the boat, drew in some black figs and blue plums, and made the first step towards filling the book.


Inside outside

Every visit I make to Anacortes, WA, must include a visit to Lovric’s Sea Craft. I’ve held workshop sessions there as well as painted many views of the boats and water. My camera also comes along so I can archive lots of reference images for larger paintings.

This time I was intrigued by the views that look through the working areas out towards the docked boats. I haven’t painted many inside/outside views, so this was an experiment in values. This is a large painting (22″ x 15″), painted wet-in-wet, using a limited palette of blues and rusts.

When I work wet-in-wet I dampen the paper very well on both sides (after my pencil drawing) with a big brush, and then roll a dry (and clean) towel over the surface. A thoroughly damp sheet will stay wet for a long time, which allows you to keep adding paint without getting too many hard edges. Here’s a little detail so you can see what I mean. Calligraphic strokes are added with thicker paint and a smaller brush when the paper starts to dry.


The view from Silver Creek

The colours from my recent trip to Idaho’s Silver Creek Preserve are still in my mind, which is why I decided to paint a half-sheet studio watercolour sooner rather than later. I’m happy I did some quick sketches on site, which served as a colour guide when I painted this larger work.

When I work on larger paintings in my studio using my own reference photos, I often spend a long time selecting an image that fits with the season I am in. In winter I have a hard time painting summer scenes with lots of green in them, and the same is true in summer. It just seems odd to paint snow. That’s why I figured the best time to paint this one would be right now, when I can still envision the deep blue shade of the water and the slash of bright green field that cut across the arid yellow plain.


Still water

I’m catching up on scanning some stuff from my trip out west last week. This one is a demo from the last morning of a three-day workshop at the Sawtooth Botanical Gardens in Gimlet, Idaho. The high-desert garden is quite unique and beautiful, with a stream that runs around the perimeter of the site. There are small waterfalls and tranquil pools, like this one, each one shaded and perfect for sketching.

Although reflections are challenging, this demo was about simplifying the shapes in the water. I always imagine that if you can express both vertical and horizontal directions in the water, then you may be able to convey the illusion of reflections. For me, most things reflected in still water are vertical shapes, like grasses, trees, etc., and to that you add horizontal shapes on the surface of the water (lily pads, algae or ripples). If you can express those two directions with an economy of brushstrokes, perhaps they will successfully create that illusion. Not sure how other painters deal with this, but that’s my way of looking at it.