An artist friend of mine recently asked if i would be interested in staying at his Italian bolthole in the beautiful Ligurian Hills of Italy, to provide inspiration for a new body of work.
A New Adventure
I was feeling lost, after an exhibition of my 'Northern Lights' work at Contemporary Six Gallery in Manchester, which had been a huge success but left me with a feeling of 'what next?'...
I'm sure this feeling is completely normal and part of what being a creative person entails, but i was definately ready for a new challenge and some fresh inspiration.
A decade of painting the orange glow of the northern towns had come to a timely end, now it was time to move on....back to the drawing board!
So of course i said yes, and began to plan my Italian adventure.
I decided early on that i would be painting 'en plein air' , something i had dreamed of doing for a long time. As other artists based in the pennines will know, the climate here is not always condusive to outdoor painting!
The logistics of the trip were challenging to say the least. How could i fit my materials and kit in one backpack? . When i started searching for an artist's portable easel online it became apparent that the weight and price of most available online was a problem.
I decided to create my own DIY lightweight easel using basic materials, to save money and ensure it was best suited to my needs for the trip.
This is where a background in the building trade comes in handy!
After much thought about how i could put something together, i decided to use a lightweight camera tripod as the main structure of the easel. A cheap lightweight tripod can be purchased on the internet https://www.wexphotovideo.com/manfrotto-befree-one-travel-tripod-red-1584847/
Everything would need to be as light and compact as possible, for walking around the steep and narrow streets of Italy. It would also need to be able to pack down to fit inside a suitcase.
Found objects and preparation
I started making a shelf, for mixing paints. This would need to be foldable, with space to hold paints, and the ability to keep paints from spilling out at the end of a painting session.
Pieces of wood collected from a local pallet yard were the ideal materials for making the actual shelf, a basic hinged design with space for a palette in the middle. The display stand part of the easel was created by placing a screw on the back of the stand, which could fit easily onto the camera mount of the tripod.
I decided to use heavy duty offcuts of mountboard to paint on. These would be perfect for small oil paintings. A textured primer paste with a rough surface was used, to prime the boards. This would create the ideal surface for painting crumbling old italian walls! www.jacksonsart.com/daler-rowney-acrylic-medium-texture-paste-250ml
How to find white spirit in Italy - when you dont speak italian
The day we arrived in Ventimiglia, the nearest big town, i needed to buy white spirit so i could start painting as soon as possible.
After finding an Italian 'Bricocenter' we had a quick look around but didn't see anything which resembled turps. We had looked up a translation for white spirit and thought 'Spirito Bianco' would do the job....
After repeating 'Spirito Bianco' a number of times, we realised this was not working... After alot of google translating and miming, the salesman who was doing alot of shrugging and frowning , had a very intense conversation with his colleagues . He grabbed a piece of paper, scribbled the word 'aquaragia' and sent us off to find the nearest art shop. On arrival at the art shop we got off to a bad start when we tried to explain we needed spirito bianco.... apparently you have to go to the pharmacy for that, as it means alcohol!
I suddenly remembered the paper with 'Aquaragia' written on it, and behold we were presented with the holy grail! at last i could start painting. Life lesson, always do your research before arriving at your destination !
The perils of outdoor painting
A number of things affect how you paint outdoors, and need to be taken into account, including
- Insects (mosquitos)
I planned to make loose fast oil sketches, without too much detail . This was mainly due to the time factor, as i discovered when venturing down to the river at dusk, insects enjoyed feasting on my legs during a painting session, so the faster the better ! . The intense heat was also something i hadn't fully prepared for. This meant that the ideal time for going out was as early as possible.
I was anxious about the heat, and how it would affect the paint being applied to the surface of my boards. This didn't seem to be a problem, i was really pleased with Windsor and Newton's fast drying oil paints, Griffin Fast Drying Oil Colour - Winsor & Newton for ease of application, and transporting the paintings home, safe and dry at the end of the day. Tips for en plein air painting in hot weather.... remember a hat, shades, ice cold water, and a parasol if you can carry one!
figure studies at the river
After spending some time painting the streets of the wonderful and atmospheric villages, i decided to take my easel down to the local river during the day, when people would be taking a dip to cool off. Figurative painting is something i have always avoided as i never felt completely comfortable with it, and thought the more detail the better. However, i realised that the opposite is true, with figures, less is more.
- Aqua Yoga
These studies have come to be some my favourites from the trip, as they are simple and loose. The shadows and colours in the water combined with the bathers poses, lend themselves to amazing abstract compositions. It was a surprise to me how inspired i felt by the scenes at the river, and although figure studies are not what i originally intended to do, when confronted by the atmospheric scenes, it was completely natural to paint what i saw. The colour and light was just so striking!
This memorable trip has been a learning curve, as far as outdoor painting goes. But i feel as though i have made alot of progress as a painter in a short space of time. Trying something new and outside your comfort zone is always the way forward.
I can't wait for the next installment of the Italian painting series, in November this year, when i will delve deeper into this beautiful part of the world during a completely different season.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my first blog post, and picked up some handy tips for your painting travels!
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