Siena in UmberPosted: October 4, 2019
I’m just back from Italy with lots of sketches to scan. I had hoped to post more during my three weeks away, but during my free moments when I wasn’t teaching, the wifi was either down or very slow. In the coming days, I’ll certainly post some photos from all the workshops, but I thought I’d start with a few sketches that I did in my free time, and the stories that go with them.
I’m still enjoying working in direct watercolour using Burnt Umber pigment from Sennelier. These sketches were all done in a small handmade Fabriano sketchbook using a Rosemary travel rigger. An economy of materials that works well for quick sketches.
When I’m on my own, I try to capture small slices of local life. The first one was done in Volterra where I spent a few days visiting the walled Etruscan city and teaching for a day with watercolour artist Majid Modir. While waiting for some of his students to arrive, I sketched on the piazza. The big white umbrellas provided a great light shape against the stone buildings and narrow, dark streets.
I repeated the same motif another day in San Gimignano. That day I sat on the stairs in front of the Duomo, looking down at the patrons seated in the sun at the café. I love using this method of value sketching to build up the layers of darks.
A few hours earlier, I had also sketched the white van and the couple preparing thick sandwiches of Porchetta Toscana. I can never resist sketching a good food truck, and at this one there was a long line of hungry patrons. Shortly after I started my sketch, the patrons disappeared and the couple began packing up to go. Luckily this method of direct watercolour is really quick because ten minutes later everything was back in the van and they were gone.
There’s a perfect description of sandwich shop Dal Bertelli in the Lonely Planet Tuscany guide. “The Bertelli family has lived in San Gimignano since 1779, and its current patriarch is fiercely proud of both his heritage and his sandwiches. Salami, cheese, bread and wine are sourced from local artisan-producers and sold in generous portions in a determinedly un-gentrified space with marble work surfaces and curious agricultural implements dangling from stone walls.” Yes, I ate the generous sandwich and I sketched the patriarch and the curious agricultural implements.
I also sketched a café behind the Duomo in Siena. I had eaten there the week before but had an unpleasant experience when I was overcharged for my lunch and I confronted the cashier. He argued with me until I showed him I was right, at which point he added up the bill again and threw my money back at me across the counter. I think it’s the end of the tourist season and locals must be fed up of dealing with the crowds. Still, there’s no excuse for that kind of poor behaviour. This time I ate elsewhere and drew the people from a distance away.
My last story from Siena comes, sadly, with no drawing. It happened when I was sketching a beautiful fruit store on the main street in Siena. Even though I was standing on the street, the owner of the store was clearly upset that I was drawing the window display. He gestured and then yelled at me to move on but since I was on public property, I smiled, showed him my drawing and continued to draw. This was done with good intentions and not meant to taunt him but he must have perceived it as such. He stormed up to me and punched my sketchbook. It’s hard to describe the aggression on his face and the force of the punch, but it shook me up enough to stop drawing. It’s the first time I’ve experienced a violent response to sketching. And the reason there is no finished drawing to go with the story. The memory was so unpleasant that I couldn’t complete the sketch.
Next up, sketches and stories from my two workshops in Tuscany. Only good memories from now on, I promise.