plein air

italy was more beautiful and restful than i had imagined. in all the beauty, there was too much to paint.

i began using the field kit soon after we arrived: painting my wife asleep in our room against a backdrop of suncreased shutters and filmy drapes. the next day i got up early and walked to the ponte vecchio to paint the old arches and arno at dawn.

this was my first time painting outside, and i was surprisingly uncomfortable. distractions were everywhere. the light changed, the air cleared and details broke out on everything. i had perched the watercolor block on a stone wall, and had to balance brushes and water carefully to keep them from falling off. troops of tourists marched to a halt, stared and breathed as one, clicked photos, and marched on.

it was terrific fun. i was out painting where the old masters painted on their grand tours, and was capturing the moment. i had no idea exactly what to do with that moment (it kept slithering through my feeble washes and poking brushwork), but i loved it.

i couldn't finish the painting before my wife got impatient to go, but by then i was getting tired too,and the morning light had changed into day. in the afternoon i used the digital camera to take pictures that i might paint back home (but never did).

a few days later, we drove south to the tuscan countryside and arrived late in the afternoon at a villa north of san gimignano. after we had taken our room i sat under the cypresses on white metal lawn furniture, in the one spot that afforded a view south, and painted the distant towers of san gimignano with a bank of gathering clouds behind them.

just as i began the painting a chambermaid came rushing outside, stood breathless as i laid in a prussian blue sky, and scurried off giggling as i dug into the clouds.

spectators are a bizarre kind of outdoor insect and coping with them is a nuisance. trevor chamberlain recommends casually flicking water on them with your brush. the only sure protection is to find a perch where they can't intrude.

later on the trip i did more paintings at bellagio and orta san giulio, from the hotel or short walks, just accustoming myself to working outdoors and learning to anticipate the complications of glare, spectators, and changing light.

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