Join me....

I believe that art enriches and informs our lives everyday in many positive ways. Sharing those experiences, whether as an artist or as an appreciator, is part of the pleasure. I welcome your comments and hope you find something of value: a laugh, an insight, a new idea or just a happy moment. Enjoy art!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Art of Wine

This is Libby, our British chef, hard at work in the kitchen (no sign of a microwave, I snooped). She created the most amazing vegetable dishes for luncheon and provided, everyday at 4 pm, a delicious, warm from the oven, cake for tea time. I will sorely miss the 7pm dinner bell which summoned us to a  4 course dinner nightly. Big sigh. 

Lunch and dinner were accompanied by carafes of white and red wine and bottles of water, still and mineral. I preferred the white for lunch, it had a slight aroma of sherry but was fresh, thicker tasting than Chardonnay, not sweet and not oaked.  

But it was the red I really, really enjoyed. Being a fan of blends I knew immediately this would have to be such. As I was ready to pitch all my belongings and fill my case with bottles, I inquired of our host David where I could purchase it. 

I was informed I could not. To make a long story short ( do I ever?) the delish elixir is the product of a local co op where the local grapes are blended, fermented and sold by the litre to those showing up with their own assortment of jerry cans.  Poor me could never be so lucky as to take some home. David was very coy about the price, a good buy, was the most he would disclose with a sly grin. So of course I indulged every evening knowing I would never again taste such vino. And believe me, our gracious host never let the carafe become empty. 

When we visited the castle we learned a great deal about how the handsome Marquese, Lorenzo, ran their operation. My photos of his casks and stored bottles are on a camera and can't be retrieved (yet). But I did recall a few interesting notes: they pick all of their grapes by hand when ready as they can be very selective as to the ripeness ( getting the female clusters only) and do not have the trouble later of sorting out leaves and sticks. Much better flavor he insists. The oak barrels come from France and the wood they are made with greatly affects the flavor. A small barrel costs about 700 E to purchase and will hold 300 bottles. The barrel size(they use 3 different sizes) is also an influence on how the aging proceeds. Each barrel is used for 5 years and rotated. The European community forbids the addition of any sugars, wine is strictly and purely, fermented grape juice. 

During our tasting of 5 different bottles he also explained that a wine which drinks well young rarely ages well.  Many that age well he explained are quite undrinkable for the first several years. And he made a joke about people rarely disliking a very expensive bottle because, as he laughed, when one has paid a great deal for a drink one is rather determined to enjoy it. 

He explained a lot more about the grapes and the weather and so on but I was more interested in examining the round ceilings and stone walls dating back to the 14th century. It was naturally quite cool inside them. 

So that is what I learned about wines in Italy. The reds are generally less expensive than the whites (no white at the castle). And despite the wonderful elegance of the Marquese, who sent us back to the Villa laden with opened bottles, I was looking forward to my co-op carafe of locally made red for dinner. I have simple tastes!


Monday, May 25, 2015

It's the Journey Not The Result

Ok, so the point of this trip was to learn some new skills in painting, not just to enjoy the fabulous food and the excellent company coupled with wonderful sights.  So what am I learning?  Oh my, I am learning that perhaps I do not have the temperament to proceed in watercolor.  I am a "fiddler," a tinker, and a tweaker.  I like to piddle around with the paint and play until I can,  as one tutor used to say, "let the magic happen."  Direct painting?  So not me.

Kelly was asked to demo a plein air oil today (which is also "direct painting") so we gathered around, eager students, to observe and take notes. 

She set up smack dab in the rocky driveway and, flanked by the olive groves and the chickens, painted a landscape in just a couple hours.  On top of that she talked and answered questions while painting.  We had gorgeous blue skies which got all of us excited about being outdoors.

I took a few notes as she painted to remind myself of some important stuff: 

     Think of clouds as boxes, in front of you or above you, you will see their planes that way...

     Greens: ask yourself comparative questions, two greens beside each other: is this one more blue? More yellow?    Cooler? Warmer?    Darker? Lighter....They are all relative to each other..
      Get down the biggest shapes first, and their relationship to each other, color and tone, go back to fill in the few details you may need later (finishing the detailed window only to find you must move it over is a waste of time) also, this way you can decide which details are important to the overall image.

Kelly paints with as many as six brushes in her hand, see here?  They are close to the same size but the reason is a very practical one: if white paint (or a mixture containing white) gets mixed into the darkest darks then, in her words, "it's all over, kapoot, finished."  She keeps one brush strictly for her darks, one for the lights and then at least two for the middle tones.  When painting quickly this cuts down on wasting time doing a thorough cleaning of the brush with Terps between colors.  Very practical advice.

We then adjourned to paint in the lovely weather and I had numerous failures...failures in the sense of painting a "keeper."  Not failures on the route to discovering what works.  So while I have not reached the destination, nor am even certain of the destination I want to reach, the route is proving most interesting.  I worked a while on landscapes and kept choosing compositions way too complicated and detailed;  getting tangled up left me in happy with the results.  So as the rains began to fall I opted for an "interior" scene where I could at least paint a recognizable couch.

And tomorrow, our last day of painting, I vow to choose a simple landscape scene to render.  Maybe I can find a bush or two next to a road and depoct some large shapes with conviction.  At least I will have fun trying...and I might even learn a thing or two en route.

Hope your journey today is filled with delightful surprises,

Villages, Castles and a handsome Marchese

After arriving without my luggage and thus my oil paints, I switched over to watercolor.  I've actually enjoyed the challenge so much, learning something new, that I've stayed with the watercolors throughout the week.

The great difficulty for me is to learn to mix the perfect color on the palate, load up the brush and lay it down. Then leave it be. Let it lie. The freshness of w/c comes in not going back on top of it. 

Contrary to that method, in oils I love to build layer upon layer letting just a bit of one peek out beneath. Two differing methods!  Brain drain. 

Yesterday afternoon we took a little jaunt (when an Aussie volunteers to drive a quirky car on the "other" side of a dirt road just over one lanes width, winding up and through hills while following our host who knows the qualifies as a real jaunt). We went to a teeny little village called Castel di Fiora (where the only public restroom was attached to a one room coffee machine museum and closed!). Such a picturesque place one could plant a chair and paint all day merely turning slightly for a new view. 

Later we were delivered to the local Castle, parts of which dated back to the 1100's. The current owner, the Marchese of Montegiove, gave us a tour. I could hardly listen for taking photos. He was quite a gentleman who lived there with his wife and two daughters. He admitted that as a boy coming to the grounds for holiday, he dreamed of running the place. Not so much now!

An Italian problem heard over and over are the high taxes on the castle properties coupled with the restrictions on maintenance. The government is supposed to kick in for improvement expenses but never does. Thus many of these lovely pieces are abandoned, crumbling, or up for sale. 

Our guide discussed the many working enterprises of his 3000 acres; including oak harvesting, olive trees for pressing oil, cattle and vineyards with a wine making operation. He admitted that while he could run a tractor, he usually caused more damage than good so he mostly ran the administrative end of things and oversaw a small crew of about 5. 

After a tasting of the wines made on site, we happily strolled out the main entrance fantasizing about the many real battles the castle had served through. Three large military guns from WWII were left on the property and all but one recycled into more useful equipment. 

I looked down on the surrounding properties as the sun set and could see where the protective moat had been, where the watchmen could spot unfriendly invaders approaching and where my fantasy knight in shining armor was galloping up to whisk me away. Harsh realities for some, sweet dreams for others. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Villa Poggiolame of Arte Umbria

It's nap time (Italians don't call it a siesta) so I have a few minutes to show you the villa where I am happily ensconced this week. 

This is the back side, above. You can see the studio entrance thru the glass doors. The terrace is above and the upper window on the right is my bedroom. 

Here is a little view of my space. So lovely. Every room of course is different. I have taken wrong turns many times going from my room to the dining room or salon. Lots of long halls and many turns, all distinguished by large wooden doors which are kept closed and, to me, directionally challenged as I am, all look alike. 

I took a little walk about this morning before breakfast and caught some distance views before the rain moved in. 

I didn't need to speak italian to figure out what these signs read!

This is where our eggs come from. 

Here are the trees that are responsible for all the olive oil we are consuming as well as another view of the villa. 

I found this tree house on the property and was ready to skip class in favor of dragging up a book and pretending to be a child again. The dark clouds and approaching storms, plus a body ready for coffee, squashed that idea however. 

Rain has changed some of our plans. Obviously long range views of landscapes are not too practical. Kelly is punting well however. This morning I experimented with several others on interior landscapes. We used watercolor so as not to leave our marks and that was a huge challenge for me.

Here are my first three attempts at the same scene. There is something decent about each but no one that is error free. No worries, I have it sketched for one more pass after naps... Hopefully I can take all the right parts and get them into one piece!

More later, gotta get a rest-up, dinner out tonight and these Italians dine late!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Arte Umbria: appetizer for art making

Rubbing my eyes as the sun came gently into my room, I thought for a minute I had woken up in a or bit part? Didn't matter, I snuggled deeper into the covers and looked around: old stone walls, a ceramic chandelier, tile floors, sloping beamed ceilings and, oh my, a canopy bed.  Birds were calling, I heard a rooster, and as I got up to open the shutters on my windows I looked out onto miles and miles of the gently rolling, ancient hills of Umbria.  Below I could see a stone terrace and everywhere  flowers: huge, hand-sized roses of all colors, pots and pots of geraniums, daisy pockets, waist high herbs, yellow broom with fragrance and so many others that have no name to me yet.  If this is a movie, I feel like the star!  If this is a novel then surely I must speak Italian.  If this is really a dream, well, don't wake me up.

Dinner was the best of an out-of-body experience: drinks on the terrace, conversation in small pockets inside when the winds got chilly and then a move to the dining room where, at a table for 12, a four course dinner was leisurely served as the wine and conversation flowed.  Where am I?  I had to strain to understand the language....and it was all English!  (No it was not the wine.) Those Brits sure know how to fancy up a sentence. And add to the fact that we had three from down under (which speaks in its own version of "English,"), plus 2 brave gals from Swedan with a totally different slant on the language, Kelly now speaks American-ese with an Italian accent and then me, the lone American, the only one whose language was fully comprehensible and at times that was even questionable.  We have a Catholic priest, a doctor, and international tech man, a retired college professor, a school teacher, a farmer, a was a lively and fascinating conversation ... if one could keep up with it!

And, and......(be still my heart) we get to paint today.  Please don't wake me up.  


P.s. Did I mention the on-site chef? 3 meals a day?  

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Just another day in paradiso!

It's like a buffet: the sights, the sounds, and the senses are over-fed and yet constantly hungering just the same.  I'm not used to trying to get it all down on paper while still digesting and sorting it all out.  Processing will come later, at a more leisurely pace, time to sit and ponder all I am tasting for the first time.  Then, and only then will I be able to make artistic music with the notes I am trying desperately to capture quickly here.  Meanwhile, odds and ends from the road:

Cappuccino and water colors, perched on a wall over the beach...just me and the sea gulls...

The beach where scenes from "El Postino" was filmed.

My oil paints did not arrive (in my checked and thus lost luggage) so I was using my tiny travel water colors....

Can't wait to paint that sky....

Simplifying....trying to anyway, back side of the church....

Colorful waterfront at the fisherman's marina.....

Enough for one day...time for a vino!

Ciao, ciao,