30 April 2012

and the more abstract one

These are all the same size (really!) and will be framed in a plain black shadow box type of frame.  One more day on them probably, but now (that is, tomorrow I hope) it is time to go back to the bigger one which has been left lagging behind.  

Today I am also grateful for a skype call :-)

:-) for Kris to see them together

difficult composition

This one is a difficult composition with the actual source photo being a very linear composition.  Knowing how particular my military friends are about detail this makes any deviation rather risky for me.  After a lot of thought I have simply combined source photos taken a few kilometres apart and taken the risk of minor inaccuracies (as I have with the buildings) simply because this is a painting with a message, not a record of history. 

I have just lost my painting (and photography) light.  The poppies on the right of the painting are just as bright as those on the left.  I need to be careful now with the added burnt olive trees that I haven't overbalanced the composition, but I think that in real life and good light the balance is held by the colours and tonal values.  I mustn't forget to do the centres of the poppies!

and a little more on this one:
(same comment about light on poppies applies.  It's that difficult time of day).

loose strokes or fine finish?

This work doesn't have the power in the photo that I think it has "in the real".  I have a few areas where I need to adjust the tonal values, mostly in the foreground rocks, but if I can manage to leave it with the loose brushstrokes which I think are more appropriate to a scene of ruins then this work is not too far from finished.  

The danger is that in reworking areas I might be tempted to "tidy up the rough bits", but I painted them that way intentionally.  

Today I am grateful for time in the studio.  

29 April 2012

sweetness and light or femme fatale?

Last night I saw the first firefly of the season. Two nights ago, talking over a lovely dinner with special friends, the subject came up. To me, fireflies are one of the magic things about where I live.

I received a text last night from the same friends saying that the first fireflies were in their garden down in the valley. We waited patiently here, a Kiwi/Rome friend and I, until, finally, she was able to see her first firefly. There was only the one, but one is enough to know the magic!

If I cut my grass soon they will come in droves. Femme fatale? Yes, not me, but the firefly! Read this to see why :-)

Today, once again, I am grateful for fireflies.

28 April 2012

poppies below my village (on ANZAC day)

Each day I promise myself I will take my camera for a walk... how many times can you photograph poppies and yet still feel the need to take more photos, always looking for the perfect composition, the perfect light...

Today I am grateful for wonderful weather. 

26 April 2012

i think it's done

Let's see what I think tomorrow.  But for now I think I have finished this little work.  It is about the size of an A4 page plus about an inch surround all around.  It felt appropriate to paint a less challenging, more gentle work after the weekend in the mountains where soldiers still remain, and then a day at the Commonwealth Cemetery and New Zealand monument in Cassino.

I hope that even though the subject is solemn, the beauty of the surroundings where these young men lost their lives will bring a sense of peace to those who remember them.

The location is towards Terelle, above Villa Santa Lucia.  The abbey on Monte Cassino was just to the left of the picture, so you can imagine it on the hill just before the valley.  I didn't need the abbey in this composition so took the photograph with the tree as my anchor.  The Liri Valley is in the background, and then you look across to the far ranges.

The figure is based on a real figure but painted largely from my imagination.  The little wooden cross and the flowers are like those often left on Point 593 (also known as Calvary Hill) and at the cemeteries.

PS: Friday, small adjustments and signed.  And sold, thank you, dear blog reader!

PPS: Home from the supermarket and looking across at the painting without my glasses on, I am thrilled at how the clouds are floating and in a space well clear of the "paper" background.  

Today I am grateful for peace in the valley.  

progress or backwards?

As you can see I am procrastinating with the figure.  There is more to do on the foreground bush, happy with the tree, and on balance I think it is progress although I seem to be over-working a few areas.  Grrrr!

In the image below I have pencilled in some features to test how much definition I want.  I'll erase them shortly.  There are still some things to sort, (eg how defined and dark should her hair be? Should I wash back the folds of her skirt? ) but large areas of it are finished.

Below: almost there.  Time for a break, better go buy some food!

Today I am grateful for the sounds of summer. 

25 April 2012

at the station

 Thanks so very much to the visiting Australians who were eager to work in the gardens at the station.
Now the monument can be seen from the end of the station building.  It had become well and truly hidden.  (This photo is taken with a zoom, the monument is not close to the building).  

Today I am grateful for helping hands. 


Thankyou, Helen, for the poppies.  They were shared well today, with grateful Australians (independent travellers and group travellers) very happy to have poppies to put on graves as they paid their respects too.  

in the morning light

In the morning light I can see where I got to last night.  The lighting makes a huge difference in the photos.  

I am heading for Cassino now, for my own little ANZAC Day routines, and then will spend the rest of the day on my paintings for the exhibition in three weeks time.  I think that with a bit more effort this one might make it into the exhibition too.  

I wont sign off this post, as I hope there will be updates later in the day.  

Well, much much later, it has been a wonderful day.  No painting, but a much better day than I had planned.

I went first to the cemetery with my bag of poppies, thinking I would place a few and offer poppies to any visitors there.  The first I met were an Australian couple whom I had met briefly in their hotel where I had gone for a meeting on Monday.  Then a tour group arrived, and I talked to the guide.  There were seven Australians in the group, a mixture of other nationalities, and the lovely Belgian guide who lives very close to the cemetery.  She has been in Italy for five years too.  I think we will meet again.

The Australian couple offered to help with the tidy-up at the New Zealand monument, so we cut back the plant that had dwarfed the marble and the monument breathes again.

I then hi-jacked them and brought them home to experience a little of my wonderful part of paradise, and they have just left after a lovely dinner in my village.  It has been a wonderful day, beginning with solemn observations in the cemetery and ending with exchanging email addresses with new friends.

Today I am grateful for caring people. 

looking back, and looking forward

It's after midnight.  My fifth anniversary (of living in Italy) has been and gone.  Five years ago I was very tired, emotional, jetlagged, and probably still awake and out of bed then too.

Tonight while looking at postings about Anzac Day I came across my blog entry one year after I arrived here.  Something has changed since then.  The music here does enthrall me now.  I really do have two places that are my turangawaewae.

I had to smile when I read the quote about my car; I feel as though I have survived, but like it's owner the car has had to go in for repairs (after the snow avalanche from the roof).  I guess we all hit speed bumps occasionally :-)  But mostly, in this life, I do "drive my own car", following the wonderful advice given to me by a good friend, and the repairs to heart and body happen sometimes without any conscious input from me.

So what else has changed in the last five years?

I still love fireflies, and marvel at them every year.  They bring with them a magic that delights and makes me feel child-like in wonderment again.  In fact, they really are one of the wonders of life for me.

I still love living here.  I think I am well established here, despite finding stumbling blocks regularly.  The word "love" reminds me of the poem I discovered (also in 2008) and share again here:

Love after love

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome
And say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
All your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

I think that I am no longer a stranger to myself.  I have surprised myself at times.  I am stronger than I thought I was.  I can be tougher than I knew I could be.  I can also be the gentle person I think I am.  I "beat myself up" less, and relax more. While I still have too much to do in a day I am equally happy leaving things undone when I need to rest.

What would I change if I could? What will the future bring? I am happy just to live one day at a time, and let the future take care of itself.

Life is pretty wonderful really.  If I could only work out how to have more time with family I think I could say that I have more than anyone could ever ask for in life.  Mmmmm... maybe a sprung, carpeted wooden floor wouldn't go amiss though, for knees that know that they have been climbing hills recently.   Yes, perhaps there is still room for improvement in places!

Today I am grateful for my Italian Identity Card.

24 April 2012

day one of new painting

Today was a teaching day, back in watercolours.  After working in fairly limited palette acrylics on a large scale I needed to think myself back into watercolours.

I am using this as a test of a composition for a bigger work in oils, inspired by our trip up behind Monte Cassino.  I think that it could be finished in another couple of days, probably another three or four sessions, but as the acrylics are most urgent this might have to go on hold for a while.

Cockled paper from watery sky, no time to stretch the paper today. It flattens out when dry. 

The dark in the centre is still wet in this photo, it dries much lighter. 

Establishing the darks, and now it is time to take a break from this and let it dry completely. 

Today I am grateful for good light.

PS: After dinner... I decided to go back to my second figure choice.  I began with a young girl contemplating where her grandfather might have died in the hills around Cassino.  Then I decided to go back a generation, and make it her mother.  I changed the jeans to a skirt.  Then I loosened her hair and made her young again. Now, after looking at it after a break, it is hair up again and back to the older woman, but in the oil painting it will be the modern girl.

If you use colours that lift reasonably well you can remove enough paint to rework a section.  I was lucky that the background behind the figure is vague enough for the exact colour not to matter.

The colour in this photograph is not accurate, it was photographed under a lamp.

Close up:

Painter's note: when lifting colour off wait until the paper has dried completely, wet, rub gently (or harshly, depends on your paper and your nerve) and blot off the paint.  Then wait until dry to work on that part again.

It's time to stop for the night.  I need it to dry thoroughly so I can work on details tomorrow or over the next few days.

for Celeste

The photos in the previous two posts were taken in the general area just a little north of Monte Cassino, and below Monte Caira.  We tramped up to Pizzo Corno from a meeting point above Villa Santa Lucia, in the direction of Terelle.  The altitude we reached was 946 m above sea level, but we drove a fair way up so I can't claim to be a great mountaineer!

The first day we were studying Monte Castellone, and the second day was all on/from Monte Cassino, photos not posted yet.

The map I have "borrowed" from a Facebook friend who was on the same excursion. (And as I read what I have just written I realize that my English grammar is all to pot after immersion back here...)

Today I am grateful for glimpses of sunshine. 

22 April 2012

back out of the clouds

(More abstract art from yesterday -  nature does it so well!)

Today the weather held out for us, and what promised to be a wet and miserable day weatherwise was really quite pleasant, with the sun popping through the clouds occasionally to warm us as we tramped up and down slopes.

I have to admit to taking a ride in a jeep at one point rather than risk my limbs, it seemed the sensible option.  We weren't able to follow the path as planned because of fallen trees after the snow some time ago. It seems that it will be a long time before all the fallen trees are cleared in the region.

I forgot my camera, so will post photographs when the owner of the camera I borrowed occasionally passes them on to me. There were a few that I took for future paintings.

Today I am grateful for an injury free weekend for everyone in the group.

more photies

Yesterday was the big climb, up to 946 metres although we did have a head start, driving well up (I am guessing to about 500 or 600 metres). On our first stop to check that we hadn't lost anyone we had come one kilometre in distance and up 200 metres. Today should be an easier day, and my knee is saying thank goodness for that.
Today I am grateful for mountain climbs in good company.

21 April 2012


Today in the mountains... more photos later :-)
Today I am grateful for good health.

20 April 2012

a little progress today

Still a long way to go, but these are beginning to take shape.
Today I am grateful for fun company.

19 April 2012


My grandmother used to refer to time as "the enemy". I'm probably about the age now that she was when she said that (probably for the umpteenth time) and it stuck in my mind. She lived to a wonderful 86 years, and was photographed out digging in her garden only six weeks before she died.

This morning I have been thinking about time. Next Tuesday (or is it Wednesday?) I will have been living in Italy as an elective resident for five years. I look back on what I have achieved, and suddenly what trials might be ahead of me diminish. These last six years (in May) since I bought my apartment and set about becoming an Italian resident has been an adventure, a huge learning curve, emotional ups and downs, a wonderful experience.

Why am I thinking about time? Yesterday I managed to sweep my watch up with the sheets and washed it in the longest cycle of the washing machine, and at a reasonably high temperature. I was sure it was going to be a sad goodbye to the watch that has served me so well for so many years. It's not a particularly special watch, I think I paid $NZ80 for it in a sale many moons ago. Not a lot, as watches go. But I like it. It is comfortable, forgiving, and apparently resilient.

Yes, miraculously it still goes. Time flies, time washes and dries, time is my friend, not my enemy! I too am resilient, and will tick along happily no matter what life throws at me :-)

Today I am grateful for things that work well.

17 April 2012

no stamina

It's 8pm and I'm absolutely done in. There was a time that I could paint all day and half the night, or occasionally all the night. Now I am struggling to paint a full working day. There are still two paintings with poppies only blocked in, and the other two have had a bit of shaping done but no finishing details on the flowers.

I wish I could find the energy to bounce back up to the studio and start all over again. A shower and hair wash would do the trick, telling me that my day was just starting, but tomorrow is also looming and I know that I need to sleep fairly early to cope with a longish day that includes teaching until 8pm, then dinner with my house guests.

Aaargh! Once I thought that I was superwoman, but now I know that I am a mere mortal... I have just watched a short video by Robert Hagan who makes painting look so easy. Then I look at Merv Appleton's elegant brush strokes and wish I were painting in oils rather than acrylics. I have been using a lot of scumbling today, and that is a long way from elegant. It does suit my subject though, so on it will go.
...you could say I succeeded at keeping the brush strokes loose.

Tomorrow I have little time for the studio, if any. I wanted to be further ahead with these before I took a break.

Maybe I can call on some super powers after all, and head upstairs... ???

PS, it's now 10pm and this time I have finished for the night. Brushes are washed, eyelids are heavy.

progress with poppies this morning

One of the things I am trying to do is keep my brush strokes loose and the general feeling of the works as dusty and uncomfortable as walking in the ruins might have been. This is going against my usual style and I have to keep walking away from the paintings in case I "perfect" things too much.

But the purpose of these works is to highlight the peace poppies, to spread the message of their symbolism, and to show the youth here in Cassino that their town has overcome immense difficulties to be where it is today, even if that is not where ideally it could be.

It is not a question of wanting to saddle these young people with their terrible history, but to invoke in them a sense of compassion, of purpose, and hopefully to highlight to them why Cassino (along with places like Stalingrad, Berlin, Coventry to name a few) should be embracing the concept of being a centre for peace initiatives.

With the front line here for five months, only Stalingrad enduring a few days more, the legacy is a particularly brutal and tragic one which features in history and unites us all. To turn it into something positive is the dream of a small group of historians and community-minded people. With as many as 32 ethnicities in combat here during that time the world really does come to Cassino to reflect on the way forward.

The paintings are progressing slowly but steadily.

Today I am grateful for people with vision.

16 April 2012

lost the light

My artificial light is not good enough for finer detail so it's back to another painting for the rest of the evening. Hopefully this one will spring to life tomorrow.