31 July 2008

by the way...

now it is Zacchi's turn to become legal. He needs to be registered and have a microchip implanted.

Scary stuff, we think!

change of angle

I have changed the angle of her cheek slightly, I didn't like the angle of the selected photograph. I did get a bit carried away with the bubbles, I don't think I was supposed to cover so much of her. Never mind, having to use the imagination might make her more interesting.

I have painted her fringe in a "Cleopatra" style, it is blunt cut and a little irregular in the photograph. I keep thinking about her bathing in milk... that was Cleopatra, wasn't it? I had originally thought about painting her with strawberries and pouring on the cream, but opted for bubbles instead. It has to be impressionist because of another tight deadline.

I am working on what my grandmother would have called a "come hither" look. It is more evident in the photographs than I have managed to capture here.

30 July 2008

when grrrrrr really means


No, I will NOT look at you. I TOLD you mum, I HATE having a bath. And it's too small for me now anyway!

next... a little different...

Day two - or is it three? I took a break - of the next one... painting in such a hurry that I forgot to photograph her earlier! She has to be finished by Saturday. I am layering on lots of paint to give texture to her hair. I will add colour to the bubbles later. I want her to be a mixture of fantasy and femininity. Her eyes really are very big, and I have much to do on her eyelashes.

ecco qui

The most beautiful words in the Italian language are not "ti amo" or "ti voglio bene" but quite simply "ecco qui".

Ti amo = I love you
Ti voglio bene = I'm very fond of you, I care about you

Ecco qui = here it is, here you are, it's here... any translation will do today :-)

My quest for legal status ended with a train ride (cost 2.50 euros) a long queue (I was number 32 and number 12 was on the board when I took my ticket) and 3 hours out of my morning. Half an hour each way, getting to the Questura at the provincial capital, over an hour in the queue, back to the station then home again by 12.40. A big lunch with my Caprile family, a bottle of bubbly, and my passport goes away and the permesso di soggiorno goes into my wallet.

I am finally a legal resident of Italy with permission to stay. You could tell if you were here, because like all good Italians I had just enough wine to make the toast, one "finger" in a small glass, and the cork went back into the bottle. Seven of us made the toast (brindisi), and more than half the bottle of spumante remained. Kiwis could learn a lot from the Italians when it comes to civilised drinking... can I say that without being too judgmental?

What does it all mean? Apart from sleeping more easily, I can now put my car in my own name and I can apply for an Italian driver's licence. I cannot own a second-hand car without this magic piece of plastic with all my details embedded into it.

Oddly enough I have been a resident since I arrived on an elective residency visa over a year ago, but that in itself did not give me permission to stay. A policewoman friend said that technically I have been "legal" since I first made application for my permesso di soggiorno, as I was "in the system" within 8 workingdays of arriving here. That would have been no immediate help if I were stopped by the police to have my papers checked, something that happens periodically.

I go through the process again next year to renew my status for another year, and then I can apply for the indefinite carta di soggiorno which (I think) gives me an identity card as well.

Whew! I will sleep really well tonight :-)


29 July 2008

orange is her favourite colour

It is her birthday today. I hope she liked the portrait.

She usually wears glasses, but after seeing the painting in its early stages her husband decided that he liked it like this.

I worked from several photographs, and the instruction for the background was to place her in nature. With such a strong colour in her shirt it needed a strong background too.

Like the rest of Italy they are on holiday, so I probably wont hear from them for a long time. I really hope it was a happy surprise.

28 July 2008

while I slept...

While Zacchi and I slept last night, dreaming of chasing cats and butterflies, my Dad continued to prove that you don't have to get old even if you live a long time.

Travelling with a group of athletes but essentially travelling on his own, he is in Townsville, Australia, for the Oceania Masters Athletics Championships. It is strange not being there with him this year, I was so often the "support crew", so I guess that is why I have been searching the net for the programme and results.

His first race was the 5000 metres. At 88 he was the only one in his age group so of course collected gold. In doing so, though, he beat home 9 runners aged from 64 to 85. His sprint to the finish was chasing a friend - just a young chap in the 75-80 age group. I hear that if the crowd hadn't roared he might just have snuck in ahead of the other runner who was unaware of the sprint from behind...

I'm jolly sure I couldn't run 5000 metres in 27.04.22 minutes!


27 July 2008

not just Zacchi...

It crossed my mind as I looked at yesterday's post that maybe it is not just Zacchi who has a foot fetish. Condemned to a lifetime of sensible footwear thanks to a shonky spine, it is always the footwear I remember, not the clothes above them.

I like my feet. Remember the song? Suzanne Prentice, I think it was. I like my feet too. Ugly, mis-shapen, often over-worked but never under-valued, I like my feet. See, I even took them to the beach one day and sprayed them with lots of sun-screen...

A friend in NZ keeps asking when I am going to be swept off my feet by a gorgeous wealthy Italian man. Another looked at me in despair and said "you have to wear heels". My Italian friends have given up on me too. They no longer offer me winkle-picker monstrosities to teeter on. They have accepted that there is no hope for me.

I may have my head in the clouds but my feet are (almost) always firmly on the ground!

PS (an hour or so later) Have just received an email from a friend who hasn't written for some time, and she said "I hope you are happy and putting one foot in front of another". Strange timing? Or not!


26 July 2008

Today a wedding...

I note I have unwittingly given the post a capital letter. I guess that's appropriate, somehow.

This wedding was in one of my favourite churches. It is in Aquino, very ancient, made of recycled Roman ruins, and stands beside a neglected Triumphal Arch built for Mark Anthony.

I like the simplicity of the church, and the fact that in the winter you can smell the dirt that is part of its structure. Today it towered above the married couple.

The bride I would happily have welcomed into my family. She would have transplanted well. The wedding guests, however, in those impossible shoes, would not be at home in the Kiwi culture. Young men chatting outside in the shade ran back up the steps to escort the ladies down; with the altered centre of gravity it is impossible to come down the steps safely in heels as high and fine as are worn here.
I will admit to envying these... but my inch-and-a-half on a solid base toe-peeper sandals (Italian never-the-less) did me just fine!

25 July 2008

unfinished, unseen

Recently I visited the office where this unfinished work is stored. It is the companion piece to the large work I painted for Cassino War Memorial, Museo della Battaglia di Cassino. It was nice to see the work again; a bit like visiting old friends. I am too busy to miss the museum at the moment, but it was such a large part of my life last year. Let's hope we find new premises soon!
Revisiting old friends... new friends meet my old friend the big painting. To see the full painting click on the link above or here.

it is friday

Today's guiding was relaxed, not too high pressured and no difficult technical questions. I enjoy days like that. I was still really tired so I am afraid it was a rather scruffy guide today, in loose linen clothing dressed for comfort in the heat. It was only 29 degrees and in the afternoon a lovely breeze came up, so not uncomfortable for my Kiwi companions.

I came home to an email which had a link to Gianfranco Molle, an Esperanto singer friend performing on YouTube, (one song from his CD La Fiskaptisto ISBN 887036). It was interesting to watch the video and find a kiwi connection in the images. There is a photo taken in the New Zealand section of the Commonwealth Cemetery, where I was this afternoon. It is a very small world that we live in.

The Wikipedia entry shows a younger Gianfranco; the bearded singer on the YouTube video is the friend I know.

Gianfranco doesn't just sing, he is also a fantastic cook. He and his family are responsible for feeding me more than they should, and encouraging me to speak Italian. The battle of the waistlines is fairly even as I take Kiwi baking to them. His daughter and son have each spent a year in America, and refuse to speak English with me as they understand so well the need for full immersion.

I am forever grateful to the families who include me in their lives, and are so patient with me and my impoverished vocabulary.


Look at what they are doing to my castle. Soon my skyline will change. I am so sad about it, but can't do a thing to stop it. Others have tried. "Progress" is not always welcome. Conserve, conserve, don't rebuild!

Enough is enough, I say!

24 July 2008

tired, tired, tired...

I suspect that for me portraits require much more intense concentration than other paintings. It is the drive to get a good likeness and add the character to give it more depth than a photograph that drains me so much.

The next one is due by the end of next week. 9 days, time for a day off in there somewhere. Maybe the day after tomorrow. It will clear my head a little.

Tomorrow I guide.. back to Cassino, the abbey, the battlefields. And afterwards, maybe a swim.

23 July 2008

Made it!

It is now 5.30pm my time. I have a happy customer... tomorrow just the fine tuning of a few rough edges, varnish... wedding is Friday.

We made it!


sunshine on her face

It's quicker for me to put these in the blog to compare than to set them up in another programme. Apologies for excess but the process works for me.

It was only at this late stage that I noticed that her shoulder was too low; in the original photograph the man's hand was firmly on her shoulder. I didn't have time to paint two faces and a hand, so his hand had to go if I were to have a chance of meeting the deadline.

22 July 2008

not obsessive, really

I want to say that I am not actually obsessive about posting progress reports. I am working to an incredibly tight deadline and find that in this situation taking photographs to look at the work on the computer helps me to be objective. I am far too close to the work to see what is really there, I see what I think is there instead.

Using the photos I do comparisons and occasionally drop one into grey-scale to check on my tonal values. When working under pressure it is easy to let something slip through. I am posting the photos because I know there is an artist in Australia keeping an eye on the ups and downs, and if I can help anyone learn a little more (even if it is showing what NOT to do) then that is reason enough to post.

I have only ten more painting hours before this has to leave my hands. There has been absolutely no reflective time, I am working from what I was told are rather unflattering photographs, and I have never met the subjects. All things considered, I think it is going well.

day four

Two days to go... we can make it, Zacchi and I... she said with absolute certainly - trying to convince herself that all things are possible if you work hard enough at themA little more on the clothing and background, then to finish the faces and her hair.

21 July 2008

moral of the story

Remember the piece of paper with

Always plan ahea

written on it?

Well the reality is that since I have accidentally ended up a portrait artist I really want to do it well. I love the portraits other people do, with the mauves and greens and all those yummy colours. I study other artists. I think "this time, I will manage. My colours will be exciting too". Sadly, however, for whatever reason, I just can't put them in my work and leave them there.

I know the theory: opposites on the colour wheel (yellow with purple, green with red etc) and warm object with cool shadow, cool object with warm shadow. The trouble is, I am too impatient to even plan ahead. Working to a deadline I am impatient to get even the measurements and structures done. Being thorough about my colour planning ... well... I have always adhered to the maxim that "Life's too short to stuff a mushroom".

When I TEACH, however, I tell a different story. Plan ahead. Know what you are going to do. Get the basics right. Composition, tonal value, hue. Use a limited palette, decide how you are going to use colour.

I teach my students that of the 100% that is their painting time, they must use it like this:
40% looking at the subject
40% mixing colour
10% applying the paint and pushing it around the canvas.
10% walking between the canvas and your best viewing-thinking place.

Occasionally, when I paint, I just have to break my own rules. Or more than occasionally. Today was one of those days. Impetuousity won. Later, I am sure, the portrait will be stronger for it. For now, however, I am still regretting the loss of the clear colours in her face.

Kris, stop chuckling. Come to my lessons, follow what I teach, not what I do!

day two so far

Things were going along quite nicely... until...
I'm not sure I will show you that step!

...you really want to see it?
Oh, OK then, just for you, Kris!

I made some rash and dramatic brush strokes, in a strong colour, and I am now regretting it.Salvage effort underway...

Time for a break, straighten up and stretch, food might be a good idea too!



Capri is named for wild pigs, from the Greek language, not goats as it would be in Italian.

This tiny overcrowded island was best seen from a boat. Queues and slow walking in crowded spaces is not my idea of fun.



Posted by Picasa

(More photos and a "real" post when I have time. For now these are from Picasa2)

19 July 2008


Today I finished the portrait that is the birthday gift. I have tamed the greenery and set it a little further back. It is still strongly impressionist but with a finer finish. A happy compromise? I hope so. The gentleman is happy with it; now it just needs its varnish. I will post a photo after the birthday.

This morning I continued my tiny steps towards becoming a legal resident. Yesterday I received the document from my local comune that says I really do live here, and today I went to the police department in Cassino for the next stage. Apparently now my final papers are waiting for me, all printed and ready, I just need to go to the city where the main office is and present them with these new papers and my receipt from way back in May 2007. I think I'll go by train, on a cool day.

I am almost scared to hope...

Tomorrow is a day off, a prior commitment to go on a bus trip to Capri. I have mixed feelings about going, but I am sure a day out will be good for me.

18 July 2008

time flies but she's emerging...

somewhere in there...

They're in there, somewhere...
I will find them... I have to, fast! The deadline is awful, why did I say yes?

birthday dinner

A friend turned 50 today. Her husband is a fantastic cook.

18 of us sat down to dinner...
you don't really expect me to remember all the courses do you?


17 July 2008

I should think first...

before I open my mouth. I wrote "back to work" yesterday... and today the new commission arrived... a double portrait with a very tight deadline. No more trips to the beach now! I might try to squeeze in a swim in a pool.

The birthday portrait passed the "yes that's her" test when a friend called in today, and tomorrow her husband will come to discuss the finer points of the likeness and the background. I hope he likes it the way it is, I have a strong impressionist background to balance the strength of the colours. The friend who saw it today said "I prefer a different garden behind". I like my impressionist wilderness. We will see what will be best in their house.

And as for the couple I must paint in a week... they are getting married on the 25th. I would love to peek but I am guiding that day.

And now, after a flurry of baking and ironing, I must disappear again. Back to work it really is...


16 July 2008

back to work

now for the scary bit, he comes to view the painting tomorrow...

15 July 2008

another beach today

my kite flying high at ScauriI can still remember making kites out of twigs, string, newspaper and flour and water paste...

14 July 2008

new owners

Yesterday I gave my trial "name" pieces to their new owners (it was their Dad who picked up my friends and organised the rescue of my car from the autostrada near Rome). The whole family was excited; they had no idea I had painted them but were very appreciative of the hours of work in them. I suspect they might generate more work too.

Orders taken...

(Lorenzo and Vincenzo... no, don't look for them, leave the computer!)

13 July 2008

mangia mangia

Tonight as we sat down to dinner the man who cooked the risotto said "In Italy all we talk about is food". He isn't too far wrong. He cooked the perfect risotto while three women sat and watched, he educating us by discussing the finer points of how much pepperoncino to put in with the wild asparagus, and how finely the onions should be chopped.

The problem with having foodie friends is the amount I must eat...

Lunch with a family earlier today was pasta, barbequed minute steaks, bread, beans, salad, cheeses, and lots of fresh fruit. Tonight dinner was risotto, rabbit, three different types of stuffed, grilled or baked vegetables, bread, salad then gelato.

Every mouthful was delicious. Tomorrow the exercise regime begins again!

Zacchi and I decided that we have been speaking too much English so after all that eating we were back up in the piazza discussing life in general with the priest and a woman friend. Sometimes the language comes, while at other times I go completely blank. Zacchi, on the other hand, is completely bi-lingual, much to the amusement of our neighbours.

12 July 2008

oh dear...

I am learning to like beaches with rows and rows of orange umbrellas against a cobalt blue sky... lying on a deckchair with its own umbrella under a bigger umbrella... floating in water so salty it is incredibly easy to stay on the surface...

Drat! I really didn't want to come back home!

Yes, Zacchi, I know you were waiting for me, I wouldn't have left you any longer, really I wouldn't.

The mozarella is more like salami now, might be a tad sunburnt I think.

(Photo: Friend flying my kite at Terracina, 2007)

11 July 2008

Friday, good day

Today was a mix of social and painting, with a little unexpected shopping thrown in. The portrait is looking quite OK as a painting, although I really do need to see the subject so I can check on the likeness.

I took visiting Kiwis to the Abbey and listened to the Gregorian chants while they went through the museum. I still marvel at my strange life, regularly sitting in an abbey which I am beginning to know well, remembering my childhood "church" in the local timber and corregated iron hall.

This evening I picked up my "real" glasses, not the fun smaller red ones but serious full size lenses for working. They are great. I can see what I am doing at the computer now!

Tomorrow is a day off. We are going to the beach.

Don't tell Zacchi. He makes me feel guilty enough already.

10 July 2008

people watching

This morning I paid my bills at the post office in Cassino instead of locally. Despite the lengthy revamp it is still a place to wait... and wait... but the surroundings are much nicer than they were in 2004.

I arrived there just before 9am. There were already 60 people in the space, all clutching the ticket dispensed with a number according to the service required. A great place to people-watch.

A tiny snowy-haired lady came in leaning heavily on a walking stick. All the seats were taken, most of us were standing. She was particularly bright and cheery, and soon was chatting happily to two women who began to smile. Someone offered her a seat. She smiled at that woman. The woman who had given up her seat turned and spotted another two she knew. The smile still on her face from talking to the lady on the stick widened and soon the other two were smiling and chatting as well. Someone called out to one of them. Three men who were chatting quietly looked up and one smiled. The woman at the end of the room smiled more. I began to smile at the way the smile was bouncing around the room...

Within ten minutes of the smiling lady on a walking stick entering the room at least eight people who had been looking quite sombre before were smiling. The two ladies beside her on the seat were not so easy. When number CO26 came up on the screen and I moved to pay my bills eye contact had been made and features had lightened. Conversation and smiles were not quite formed...

I hope that when I am a little old lady with a walking stick I can make people smile too. Or will I be shaking my stick at number CO27 who tried to jump the queue but was made to wait by the operator who knows that 26 comes before 27? That little old man could have done with a smile from the little old lady. If he hadn't been impatient he could have got one. It might have made his day!

reluctant to leave the space

Today I pulled down my exhibition. That in itself is fine, I was missing the splashes of colour on the walls of my house and it is good to have my bits and pieces home again.

I was very reluctant to leave my beautiful space there though. So much so that I have left a few things... a ladder, the easels, a few more things to clear away. It gives me an excuse to hold onto the key, to go back a few more times, to soak up the history.

During my show many of the older folks came in as much to see the room opened as to see my paintings. They chatted to one another and talked to younger relatives about the old days of pressing the oil there. It was special for them and for me.

A bride asked permission to be photographed leaning against (arm draped over) the painting outside on the easel. I invited them in to use the space as a studio. The photographer couldn't believe his luck.

Italian brides don't mind at all that their gowns trail in dust.
The photos will be beautiful.
Magic moments continue to unfold amongst these ancient rocks.

8 July 2008

my angels have been busy...

I promised to drive to Ciampino airport yesterday. I reneged. I have a portrait that must be completed soon. A friend drove my car to the airport - in heavy traffic as the buses and trains were on strike.

On the way back the car overheated. No, I reported to the anxious caller, that has never happened before. They stopped, and tried again. No luck, the car was not going to go anywhere without overheating. It had popped its fan belt although there was no sign of wear and tear on it.

My guests claimed to have enjoyed the adventure. Apparently the tow trucks have a good system going with the traffic police. My friend has a son-in-law who is in the traffic police south of Rome, and the tom-toms were beating fast and loud. I now owe a policeman big-time. He was woken to sort my car problems after being on night shift. He called another friend who transported my car to a police station, with my guests still in the car. They say the view is great from up there, and the sat-nav still tells you where to go even if you are not driving. Apparently my rather ferocious driver friend fended off all other tow-truck would-be's, sending them packing in his most choice mountain dialect.

I have no idea how my car got from the police compound where it stayed overnight to my local garage where I collected it this afternoon.

It could have cost me as much as 400 euros to get my car home. (Normal price is 250 but things can almost double on a foreign accent - often I plead the low NZ dollar). If I had been driving that is almost certain to have been the case. My kiwi friends are wishing they had had their camera to record the flashing lights, numerous police cars, energetic conversations and the whole adventure. They waited in the air-conditioned police station drinking chilled water from the drink dispenser while the sleepy off-duty cop came from well south of here to bring them back to Caprile. They got home half an hour later than they would have if the trains had been running.

It cost me 60 euros to get my car fixed, and 30 hours later it is back home again.

How do you ever repay kindnesses like these? Last year (Dad's athletics competition) to use my time in the Riccione hotel well I painted fantasy works for two young friends. They haven't seen them yet. I think it is time to give them to their Dad, the sleepy policeman.

PS Wednesday. Heard today that my car was back-loaded for free because the friend of a friend had to pick up a tractor nearby... how big is my debt, how busy my guardian angels?

7 July 2008


...and these are not extreme

A very considerate but rather exasperated young man had to abandon his plans to join the traditional procession up to the cave church where the statue of St Michele had been for two nights.

The locals wore these...to climb up here.......to escort the smaller statue back down the tricky path to the main church.

My bet is that the owner of the nice shoes hadn't been here before.
I wonder if she will be back again?

6 July 2008

art critic

the art critic
and his patron

It was 30 degrees at 9am, much hotter in my space by 10pm with lights and plenty people throughout the day.

Caprile mostra