30 October 2013

gratitude challenge

Click on this link to read an interesting article, and sign up for the gratitude challenge. Spread the word :-)

For three weeks I will be adding extra "gratitudes" to my blog.

Enjoy doing the same, you really will feel better for it!  The challenge starts in about a week, but why wait for a good thing?

Today I am grateful for:

My health
My work
My dreams.

home just is

This summer I really have lost count of all my visitors. There were so many, doubling up, squeezing in, and sharing a fair bit of good Italian food and vino. And almost every one of them wanted to know, "Do you miss New Zealand? Don't you miss home? What do you miss most?" 

I don't think the answer was supposed to be "No, I don't miss NZ" or, "But this is my home". I can answer the third one satisfactorily though... (apart from wanting to be nearer to family of course) I miss kumera / kumara (however you choose to spell it). In particular, I miss the purple skinned, yellow fleshed sweet and tasty ones. 

Occasionally - but not often enough - I find a pale version of the sweet potato here. Recently, one of these was beginning to sprout. To the amazement of the vendor, I bought the remains of her bin, despite her warning me that these were finished, no good. 

Little does she know... 

Yes, it's autumn, going into winter. And yes, spring is a long way away and I have these growing way out of season. But even if I don't manage to grow good healthy plants at the right time, just the thought of being able to do so is enough to make me smile! 

My doorstep is getting a little crowded these days. 

Today I am grateful for continued good weather. 


29 October 2013

having said no...

Having said, more than once, that I don't really want to paint flowers, I have found so much gentle pleasure in teaching my student using the blue hydrangea that I might just change my stance and paint some gentle pleasures of my own for a while. I know I have some serious painting for Legato to do, and a happy interlude creating pleasant pictures might be good preparation for a more sombre time ahead of me.

Flower (and other simple and quaint) paintings, you really do have a place in my life. I'll call it therapy, and simply relax and enjoy the moments they bring!

Today I am grateful for students. 

27 October 2013

la spiegazione

And now to explain how I arrived at the composition and colours. (This text will probably change over the next few days, this is first draft only and one could argue that it shouldn't even be published in this form).

Top arch, dominated by the church. I could not find any retrospective images relating to the arch in Roman times. There is mention of it on various websites, with its date being as far back as 41 BC in one account, but images - there are none that I could find. So I decided to abandon my idea of painting Romans in their chariots hurtling their way along Via Latina, and instead focused on post Roman times.

The church which dominates, especially today, is my favourite church here (unless I count my church in a cave behind my village). This church is made out of Roman ruins. Recycling at its very best... still standing despite war damage, and its varying dates go back as far as 800. I took this image from a plaque near the entrance to the Aquino museum, then played with the image a little. Aquino had a very watery history, and all roads lead to ... Aquino, not Rome!

I painted this section in misty sepia, setting the arch to the side, and using the church to give a sense of place. There are layers of images well hidden from the viewer, just as the true history is hidden from us.

Second arch, a more joyous section. This is a tribute to the brighter days of the history, before industry arrived. I have adapted the image from a watercolour painting which has wonderful light and detail. Preferring not to make a copy, I took from this the expansiveness of the arch in happier times, and played with the water which was flowing abundantly under and around the arch. The water is a tribute to the history of Aquinum, a very important town which controlled a large area (including my beloved Roccasecca), and which relied on the water for protection (with a moat) and for life. In real time a new excavation nearby is uncovering very impressive Roman plumbing, with baths far more important in size and construction than those at Pompeii. Romans and water... say no more!

Third arch, this is from an image from last century, when we have photographs recording industry moving in. A paper factory now dominates and controls the water, and, unfortunately, also the future of the arch. When I first visited the arch in 2004 I was appalled that such a treasure could be left to be buried under land and water. I wanted to know more about it, but at that point had no idea that I would return to live only a few kilometres from this ancient monument. I hope that I have painted this section with a little sympathy, because I do appreciate that Italy has so much to care for, with so many of the world's treasures located here. How does one even begin to protect and care for so much?

Fourth arch. The dark section represents the present. Industry has robbed the area of any beauty. Despite relatively modern restoration work, the arch is left to languish. By now it has survived also WWII, with some damage. Parts of it are missing, broken. But still there is a majesty about the monument, particularly when I let my imagination remove the layers and layers of dirt to uncover the full height of the monument. I have painted this with angry brushes, with dark colours, with jagged teeth from the biting industry behind the arch.

Fifth arch. And so to the last panel. Bright, clean, and the colours of spring in the as yet undetermined background. Will there always be a paper factory behind the arch? Will romance come again along this path? I have (in the painting) cleaned the stream, removed the grasses, but not taken the water away. That has been done once before, when work on the arch demanded it. Perhaps it is not realistic to ask that the water be diverted but it could be cleaned, cleared, and maybe we could see the Roman Road which probably runs under the arch. And with bridges on either side, we could all enjoy, and marvel at, this splendid piece of history.

The daubs of paint representing people give a happy future to this arch. Alongside the beautiful church, it could be the focal point of a beautiful park; a place for picnics, for the family passaggiata, or a new "lovers' lane". Much as I would love to see the arch excavated completely, I doubt that this is realistic in harsh economic times. And the water does add a lovely, restful element, when not full of brambles and weed.

Will "my" arch have a happy future? Yes, I believe it will. But only if we keep up our efforts to bring it to the fore of all related projects. And that is what this painting is about. Enough with history, and now to the future. Let's move forward, and then we can look back with satisfaction at what we have achieved.

 If you look closely at these photos you will see where I have taken certain aspects from:

But there is always hope! This (the approach to the arch behind the locked gate) is a sign of progress.

and now, enough. I have a nice, chilled merlot to finish a glorious autumnal day.

Today I am again grateful for these blue, blue skies. 

ready, finished or not

It could go out and be seen in public if necessary, even though I would still love to take it up a level. But for now, with olive picking ahead of me, I have to say, "enough!"

Click here for earlier posts, the history, and a bit about the inspiration for this painting.

Today I am grateful for lunch with friends.

25 October 2013

progress of sorts

The painting is coming together, but not at the level of expert finishing that I would like. I have had to admit that, at least for now, I simply don't have time to take this up to the next level, where I would like it to be. I'd love to turn it into something really special, but I think it must remain at impressionist level (in typical NZ style, not elevated to classical Italian standards - sad face). Time, for now, as my Nan would say, is the enemy.

So here is today's progress. I didn't work on it yesterday, the morning was taken up with a service which I may blog about later.

I have added more people in and tidied up the railings a little. Still not detailed or finished. This section of the painting predicts a less lonely and abandoned future for what was, let me remind you, the first triumphal arch ever built by the Romans, supposedly dedicated to Marc Antonio, (Mark Anthony) and built 30 - 40 BC. 

Whoever gave permission, over 100 years ago, for a paper making factory to be built there, and gave it licence to use the water, to dam and control the flow - while burying most of the arch - consigning this once magnificent survivor of history to the gated back yard of industry, has a lot to answer for! 

This may be the last photo for a while, I can't find my camera battery charger anywhere. Really hoping it didn't accidentally leave with one of the many guests this last little while! Battery charger, please appear from wherever you are hiding! 

Today I am grateful for brilliant blue skies. 

22 October 2013

now to talk to the structure

Quick post so I can compare the water in two versions. I have also thrown a bit of paint at the arch structure, much work to do there still. Ignore the fact that it may appear to have gone backwards. It's a transitional stage!

Above is today's daubing, below how it was yesterday. Undecided on the water. Maybe I prefer yesterday's right hand side, it's looking a bit cluttered today. I'm looking forward to working on the arch tomorrow. 

Today I am grateful for happy students.

21 October 2013

wet paint and eaten alive

The tiniest mozzies that I can't see are eating me alive upstairs. I had to beat a retreat and spray, because I can't work with the doors closed (we complain about the temperature dropping, but it is still about 28°C up there!) and I am using turps so the fumes are unhealthy (not drinking it today, and my throat is much better). In case you are a painter, remember that inhaling turpentine fumes can contribute to depression.

So here is some wet paint; you will see that I am playing with the placement of several figures to bring a brighter future for "my" ancient arch. After that, and once I am happy with the water, I will give the arch itself some more attention and detail.

Yesterday a walk with an archeologist (the event I had to miss) brought a group of around fifty to the arch, so good to see. We are making progress with the awareness campaign. Time for my painting to be finished and delivered, (who knows where to, the town hall, perhaps?) and then on with the next project. This one has gathered momentum and will not be allowed to fade into a distant memory or list of "it would have been nice if..." events.

Today I am grateful for beautiful weather. 

20 October 2013

changing hats again

Time to get back to this one. It's back into oils I go. Posting here to make myself accountable. It's too easy to be distracted!


Update, 5.30pm lost the light.
That's it for a while until I can paint with artificial light later.
Or not.

Somehow I managed to spill turps into my peppermint tea,. Bleeerrrk! 

Today I am grateful for soap and toothpaste. 

oops, i didn't wait...

(I have just noticed that when I posted the same photo on my artist page on FB the image is more accurate - or in tune with my eye - on FaceBook. How can that be? On the blog I get a much more raw image, as though the camera sees more depth than intended). 

I decided that student will be much better off with a series of photos that she can refer to... my excuse to carry on! The top one is a more accurate photograph of colour, at least on my computer monitor. The bottom one is how it is now. 

Teaching point between these and the last post is tonal value, and I printed these out in greyscale to illustrate the point. Using grey scale is a powerful way of seeing where you can make changes. 

Now to finish the arch painting. I opted out of a history walk around Aquino this morning, my head is too full to be able to sort out too much rapid Italian today. I think that makes it appropriate that I finish the arch painting - after more coffee! 

Serenity rules, it is Sunday after all. 

Today I am grateful for birdsong.

19 October 2013


I'm getting ahead of my student too much so have to stop now. I couldn't resist doing a bit more. But it wont change much more, just a few edges to soften, a few to strengthen, some depths to alter and details to touch up. 

And tonight when I went out to photograph the watercolour sketch in the fading light I was rewarded with a lovely sunset I would otherwise have missed. 

Today I am grateful for interesting people. 

demonstration in progress

Loving finding my way back into painting mode with this gentle demonstration for the loveliest student I could ever wish for. You will have to wait for the next lesson to see the finished picture.

Added later: 
getting there slowly, lots of teaching points in the next stage (below)

Colour variations are because I took these in various lights and stages of "wet". It is more delicate than it appears here. Watercolour always dries paler than it comes from the tube or when saturated. (Acrylic dries darker, and oil holds its colour pretty much the same, but can be made to "sing" by adding a glaze). This is 300gsm paper, hot press but not smooth, and using one brush, my favourite size 14 Robert Simmons.

Today I am grateful for paper and paint and my magic brush

18 October 2013

but today

I'm in love again. I can't keep denying it, beating about the bush, pretending it's not true.

I am a watercolourist.

I paint in acrylics, mixed media, oil. I draw with colour, with pencil, with contè. I paint murals, portraits, frescoes. I like that no painting is too big or too small, too simple or too complicated. I like the challenge each one brings. I also like matching the medium to the subject. I love each one at the time, I am fickle. But (in the studio) I am happiest when all is calm and serene about me and I am alone with my watercolours.

Today I might (but probably wont) give away my acrylics for once and for all. And when that painting of the arch is complete - remember that painting? Untouched as the summer flooded me with guests - will I ever need oils again? I can minimalise, at least!

In my head are many oil paintings, and mixed media book illustrations. It's a cluttered place, the right side of my brain. But here, to share my autumn sunshine, are my current favourite things:

Today I am grateful for choices. 

17 October 2013

turning corners

Today, while discussing a proposed mural, I had cause to pull up this page for a photo to illustrate a point. I feel good about these paintings. Recently I took someone to see them (they are currently in semi-storage in an office in Cassino) and I sat there feeling pretty good about the work. I hadn't seen it for over a year, and I think it is improving with age (insert trite happy face here). I accepted the offer of a coffee just so I could sit and admire my handiwork a little longer. I really did enjoy seeing it again.

My fingers are getting itchy, I need to be painting again.

But on the subject of (trite, happy) yellow smiley faces, here is something interesting to listen to. It's not too long (8.44). You might know someone who needs to hear it. It is Barbara Fredrickson, talking about The Positivity Ratio. (And while you are there on Youtube, there are a few other equally interesting videos of Barbara talking about her research results).

How do I manage to put these two diverse things in one post? Too often we are too self critical. We reject praise. We beat ourselves up. If opening my webpage and seeing a work I am happy with gives me a buzz then I am going to run with it and feel good, and not look for things that I could have done better.

We (that is, I ) need to learn that we are, as we are, good enough.

Yes, I am/we are good enough, And oh how hard it was not to add to that "when we do our best" or "although we must strive always to improve"... there, I've done it anyway!

Today I am grateful for "the goodness of the present moment".

15 October 2013

digital natives

Interesting concept. NZ, the land of out door living, number two in the world for digital natives!

This non digital nonna is making slow progress but knows how to Whatsapp, Skype video message, blog... now if only she could remember how to update her website!

For early blog responders, I have added a new link and paragraph to the previous post. You were too quick for me and read it before I had completed the posting. I have a habit of returning to edit a few minutes/days/weeks after publishing.

And now, to read about digital natives, click here.

Today I am also grateful for silence. 


Italy has a big heart. Despite all its problems, real spirit shines through and gives me hope. In our daily assault of tales of tragedy, this story was so good to read.

Other countries (who best remain nameless on my blog) are denying illegal immigrants medical care, or are refusing to allow them to settle and seek work.

Italy, with the tiny island of Lampedusa so close to troubled African countries, has no choice but to accept immigrants as they step foot on Lampedusa. Italy carries the problem of refugees for all of Europe. And when the boat people don't make it safely here, Italy mourns.

You can read more in this excellent blog post by author Catherine McNamara.

Today I am grateful for my host "home country".

14 October 2013

which path does one choose?

Near Rome, yesterday. This is just a small piece of the giant pathway pattern in the sky. It gives going for a Sunday drive a new meaning, if you are able to transpose drive and fly. I was driving, so couldn't photograph the best of it. But from the carpark these shots are enough to give you the idea. (No, I am not going to rearrange the last sentence - it's bed time, and if my sentence structure is confused then I am defiantly pleased. It means that despite all my many English speaking visitors this summer some of my Italian has stuck). 

Today I am grateful for skype video messages. 

12 October 2013

as summer fades

It is already time to look back and wonder where the year went! Autumn is finally here. There are still more guests sceduled for this month and next, despite the change in the weather and a little/lots of rain.

I try to visit new things with my guests, but this year I didn't really manage much that was different. For one guest though, there was a highlight we shared. That was the open day at the dig only a few kilometres (maybe five ks?) from my house. Apologies if I have already shared these, it's been so hectic that I have lost track of many things and need to take stock before I begin posting too many photos.

But this was the big day of the year for a visiting friend who was also an archaeologist, once upon a time.

The dig is of Roman ruins near Aquino, in the territory that is now Castrocielo, literally "just down the road a bit" from casa mia.

 I found the cleaning of the marble fragments fascinating. I wonder how these techniques were ever discovered?

These photos came to mind because two days ago when visiting Aquino with two more Kiwis I noticed that the gates to the dig were open. We went in, and were permitted an unofficial tour provided that we didn't go off the grassy areas. How lucky were we?

Today I am grateful for rule benders. 

9 October 2013


Dispatches is an interesting word. It came to mind as I sat at the computer, wondering which of the many things I had in mind I should write about.

I was thinking about "mentioned in dispatches", as a wounded soldier might have been after some valiant action. Living here, soldiers are always on my mind. But news items need not be about war, and not all battles are bloody ones.

The trooper I want to mention today is the determined, unstoppable, amazing daughter who ran a half marathon last weekend, cheering her 'first timer reluctant runner' friend on to the end, after being told that she should not run because of injuries she had sustained during another amazing feat of courage and strength eight months ago. In that instance she was the star of her hospital ward, a real superstar. And now, not yet fully recovered, to run a half marathon with no training runs is pretty amazing.

I'm a little afraid to ask how her injuries are, but the smile on her face in this morning's photo is reassuring. I take my hat off to her. Time and time again.

A very dear friend, before she left us, insisted that I write to all of my children to tell them all the things I love and value about them. If I started to do that I would be at this computer for weeks on end.

Do we need to use words to pass on how we feel? Or can some things be left unsaid, intuitively read, shared with love and telepathy?

Today I am grateful for a healthy family.