The road to here

Yesterday my first workshop group left to go back home or on to other travels. Today I am waiting for another group to come down this road. I had hoped to do a longer post and review on the blog today but the wifi is not cooperating. Fingers crossed that this one gets out.

Sketching in Tuscany: a workshop review

A few weeks ago when I was teaching in Italy, during a day off, I tried to post some workshop photos. I spent hours trying to upload images, but had no success. Frustrated by the experience, I gave up. But teaching in Tuscany was such a rich experience for me that I wanted to share some of the photos I took, as well as some of the amazing work produced by my students. If you’re at all curious about what it’s like to be in a week-long workshop like the ones I teach with French Escapade, here’s a little summary of both weeks. And a warning, this is a longish post since I added more images than usual. 

First of all, with the luxury of a full week, we can really practice our sketching skills because we draw in many different places. We start with smaller subjects, like the vignettes below, and then move on to more complicated scenes. My goal is to make people feel comfortable sketching in public, and be confident on their next travel sketching trip. And of course, since French Escapade takes care of the logistics, I can happily focus all of my time on teaching. 

I do lots of demos, both in quiet spaces and also in crowds. In Tuscany, we alternated between days at the agriturismo where we were staying, as well as in Certaldo, San Gimignano and Siena. During our time together, we sketched intimate scenes, panoramas and urban chaos. We spent time both in the studio and out in the field. 

I even took requests! Someone asked for a demo on reflections, and in the absence of a lake or river, I sketched at the pool.

There was lots of time for individual feedback, as well as a review at the end of each day (or sometimes at the beginning of the next if we were really tired!). 

During the week there were also opportunities for participants to sketch on their own in some of the towns we visited. I think that’s really important and I think people appreciated having a bit of free time to practice concepts that they’d learned. Or to shop!

I really appreciated having a studio space so that students could finish up work. There were times when we only got to complete a drawing on site, so the studio was useful for adding colour or lettering to the work, or creating mixing charts.  

On our last evening together, we used the studio to exhibit all of the work. It always amazes me to see how much gets produced when you have a full week to focus on sketching. 

Here’s a very small selection of the work produced by these two very skilled groups of sketchers. You can see why I returned home feeling elated.

Thanks to everyone who sketched with me in Tuscany, and especially to our generous and attentive guide Natalia who made sure we got where we needed to go, and that we tasted our fair share of Italian cheeses, wine, pasta and desserts.  

Instead of leather

I’ve just finished a week of teaching with French Escapade in Tuscany, and before my next group arrives tomorrow, I have a bit of a break so what do I do? More sketching.

When I was with my group in Siena the other day, we found an art supply store with lots of interesting materials, some of which I had never seen in North America. Of course, for most of us this was a lot more interesting than the shoes and bags in the leather shops.

I walked out with some new Tintoretto brushes and a block of Magnani 1404 paper. I tried out both this morning, setting up my easel right at the agriturismo where we are staying in Chianti. The Magnani paper reminds me very much of Fluid CP paper. It has a soft texture that yields to pencil, and it maintains colour saturation just like Fluid does.

I’ll do some posts about the workshop soon, but for now I am just enjoying the views and catching up on laundry.

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.