Last week Plein-air Painting in Florence, Italy.

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Me painting outdoors in Fiesole with curious little onlookers!

As my study abroad program winds down, I can’t believe its been exactly 7 weeks that I’ve been here in Italy. I’m truly grateful for this experience of being able to experience living and studying abroad for something that I love to do. It’s been “eye opening” and a whole lot of connecting back to my heart center. Painting, especially with oil paints has always intimidated me. And when I was in my early 20s I often found myself going back and forth, my patience was always rocked with oil painting. I didn’t have enough patience with myself back then, but now I have a deeper love and appreciation for painting.

After doing at least two paintings a day, four days a week for the last seven weeks has incredibly improved my technique and understanding of plein-air painting. Plein-air painting requires a person to think on their feet and improvise, composing a scene into a small 9×12 or 5×7 quick study allows the artist to narrow in and focus on the beauty of the environment, in regards to color temperature, weather climate, and composition. The most important thing with Plein-air painting is to do quick studies so you can relate what you see and the mood has to come across quickly, we aren’t painting masterpieces or finished work. From the outside studies you can go back to your studio environment and expand upon it to either make a larger and more finished painting from it.

Plein-air painting allows the “seer” to adjust to the environment and scenery, a moment that you feel present in the here and now. 

The impressionists started plein-air painting when tubes of paint were invented and it was easier to transport the paints for use outside. Monet was said to have gotten up at 5 am every morning to paint outside and as the light changed in the morning, he would do 2 or 3 all before noon.  The light tends to change every 2 hours and after noon or mid-day you have to stop because that’s when the light is the brightest and its unbearable to paint outdoors! It’s recommended to paint in the early morning to noon or 1 pm. Or pick up again when the light changes at sunset when there is dramatic lighting. The goal of plein-air painting is to pick a scene that looks like a painting, something simple is beautiful. We’re not painting for exactness. We also have to ask ourselves, what are we inspired by to paint? And the colors that we mix should convey the mood– we’re not always going to come out with the same color of the sky or the building that we are painting in, but to express it in a way that the viewer understands what we are trying to convey.

I am truly happy that I got to experience taking this class in the heart of Florence, it was a magical moment in my life. I have changed from what I’ve learned out here both academically and also learning about the rich history of the Italian people. I really did step outside of myself from being a quiet introvert in the comfort of my own home in NYC to really immersing myself in the culture and language of a different country. I really enjoyed myself out here and had the time of my life! You only live once, make it count. La Dolce Vita.

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Before I got a dark tan!

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Cortona, Italy

Cortona, Italy was one of the very first hill towns we visited during my second week studying abroad here. I’ve been meaning to blog and write about each of the towns, but I have been busy being outdoors plein air painting! I get home after a long day of hiking and I am so tired that I’ve been taking naps in the afternoon and then going to the studio at 7-10 to work on my paintings at night! What a hard life! Haha. I wish this was my real life =( But reality awaits me in the next few weeks when I get back to New York and assume my position as a Designer/Marketing Manager.

Anyway, Cortona is a small but fascinating city in the province of Arezzo and its cyclopean walls reveal its Etruscan origins. The architecture is medieval with steep narrow streets as you can see from the photos I took below. What’s interesting is that there a few famous people that were born and lived in Cortona, among them was Brother Elias Coppi, the companion of St. Francis of Assisi. Also. Vicar-General of the Franciscan order- Cardinals Egidio Boni and Silvio Passerini. The painter Luca Signorelli and the architect and painter Pietro Berretini as well.  I was bummed out that my plein air painting group didn’t have much time to explore the city since we had brought our painting equipment and easels, so we spent most of the day painting landscapes just outside of the city walls.

But here is a list of the main sights that we got from our school:

1) Via Jannelli – Medieval houses on a short street are some of the oldest that survive Italy.

2) Museo Diocesano – This museum contains a few masterpieces and among them are Fra Angelico’s Annunciation and a roman sarcophagus featuring lapiths and centaurs which was much admired by Donatello and Brunelleschi.

3) Duomo – The cathedral was designed by Giuliano da Sangallo in the 16th century.

4) Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca – Contains a number of major Etruscan artifacts, including a unique bronze chandelier dating from the 4th century B.C. and a number of Egyptian objects.

5) Palazzo Comunale – Built in the 13th century and enlarged in the 16th century to to incorporate the distinctive tower.

6) San Francesco Church – Built in 1245 Brother Elias native of Cortona who succeeded St. Francis as leader of the Franciscan Order.

7) Piazza Garibaldi – Located at the edge of town, it offers superb views of the landscape and of the beautiful Renaissance church of Santa Maria delle Grazie al Calcinato.

8) Via Crucis and Santa Margherita – The Via Crucis is a long uphill lane with gardens on either side, leading to the 19th century church of Santa Margherita, was laid out as a war memorial in 1947.

9) Fortezza Medici del Girifalco – The fort was built by Gabrio Serbelloni, an excellent example of 16th century military architecture.

Plein-air Painting in Florence, Italy.

Plein-air painting is such a sport!

“Plein-air” is a French term that means quite simply “open air” or used to describe the act of painting outdoors.

Where do I even begin to talk about this? I’m taking a summer abroad program where we set up and paint our easels with the class in different locations around Florence. Florence has such beautiful sceneries to paint and there are always amazing things to paint. But, we are lugging around our heavy outdoor easels that weigh anywhere from 10-15 pounds along with our art supplies and hiking up and down Florence! I’ve literally been feeling hunger, feeling like I’m not satisfied by what I’m eating because I’m always walking and moving around!

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Hey its me! No joke! I have to make sure I put on bug spray (I have Deet 100 from REI) and sunblock before I leave in the mornings. A hat is so necessary, we don’t know if we’re going to get a shady spot to paint, or sometimes the lighting changes significantly as the day goes. The easel is called Craftech Plein Air Easel which I bought online for  $101.99 through Madison Art Shop.  I also have oil paints and brushes, a thin board with a handle to carry the wet painting home– as well as all the necessary paint gear like turpenoid, linseed oil, and some 9×12 canvas paper, paper towels,  and I have a disposable palette that I just toss at the end of the day. We do about two paintings a day. Or we can sketch the second one. Its really a great experience being outdoors and drawing what you see.

Sometimes we’re at the Ponte Vecchio bridge, the Boboli Gardens, Piazzale Michaelangelo, or at different Piazzas around the city. Every thursday we go on a field trip to different cities and its optional to bring our easel or we can walk around to take photos and sketch. We’ve been to Fiesole, Cortona, San Gimignano, and will still go to Lucca and Siena in the next few weeks. Having the experience walking around the city everyday has given me a sense of space and dimension and I am starting to see things in a different perspective. You have to walk outside to really experience the details in the architecture and buildings, and also being able to tell the difference in lighting at different times of the day. For example in the mornings, the light is lower to the ground. But then after noon it peaks and is much higher and a bit brighter. I usually notice the difference when my shoulders start getting burned! And then at the point its time for lunch or a new afternoon location around the area!

My first week’s paintings weren’t too impressive, but now I’ve noticed I’m starting to compose my background paintings a bit better. There also simple rules and guidelines that we follow when composing a painting. I won’t go into depth but the basics are too have a foreground, middle ground, and background. Then having a focal point or area of interest where the light is and having a contrast between the values. The rule of thirds is also important because of the way you divide up the canvas, the horizon line can’t be too dead center– or it can become boring and uninteresting. Its either better to have a higher or lower horizon.

Here are a few that I was able to remember to photograph! I will need to scan the rest of them soon! But, none o f these pieces are too finished since we are working on a 9×12 sized canvas paper and the goal of plein air painting is to have loose sketch paintings to convey the mood and weather of the location.

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Firenze!

This week has been surreal living and being in Florence. I’m studying abroad for the next seven weeks and taking a plein-air painting class through the Academy of Art University of San Francisco but we are using a Florence campus called the Santa Reparata International School of Art.

It has been quite a stressful week starting last Monday getting to Florence. First I took a plane from Dublin to Rome. Then took the train from Rome to Florence, which was a good 2 hours away. Then I finally arrived around 4:00 pm to check into my school apartment. I seriously got lucky and was able to get my own apartment here through the school for the summer.

Then Tuesday was a whole day of orientation for the school, safety living in Florence, and everything else about learning the Italian culture. Here are a few things I learned about living in Italy for a week:

1)    Coffee after 11:00 am is frowned upon, they’ll look at you funny.

2)    Most of the restaurants are closed between 12-4

3)    Aperitivo is Italian for Happy Hour and they do happy hour between 7-9pm every evening. You buy a drink and get a free buffet of food. Then dinner is 9pm on.

4)    All the stores here close early.

5)    Italian people live much more slowly. (In contrast to the fast paced living in New York.)

6)    Italians don’t get too drunk, they are somewhat classy. They allow themselves to have a drink or two at dinner every night. (They view Americans as drunks, which I think is quite true. Ha.)

7)  If you make noise in your apartment past 10:30pm, your neighbors can call the police and fine you a 1,000 euro. ( I wish they had this law in New York City).

8)  Italian men can never come on to Italian women. Why? Because they are known to ignore and avoid pursuers on the street.

Pics of Florence and Fiesole below.

We’ve been plein-air painting starting last Wednesday and Thursday, first going to a park location nearby the school and then we went to Fiesole on Thursday to paint on top of the hill. It was a magnificent and breath-taking view. There are photos below to give you an idea of where we went. Fiesole is only twenty minutes away by bus from Florence. But it was also a hell of a time lugging all of our art gear and fold up easels up the hill! Plein-air painting really is a sport! You have to be prepared with all of your supplies, packing everything you need to make painting as smooth and comfortable as you can—and having enough sun block and insect repellant on your skin so that you don’t burn and get bug bites! Also having a hat and sunglasses on also helps to keep the sun out of your eyes. I’m going to be buff and dark by the time this summer is over!

I’m still getting used to painting with oils and painting landscapes on the spot. I sort of get a little bit intimidated with oils since I’m not a fine art major and don’t have much practice with oils. But my goal is to get really comfortable and work independently with paints by the time my class is over at the end of this summer. It’s a good way to learn especially since I want to get really good at painting backgrounds in animation and adopt traditional principles that I can carry over to painting digitally in Photoshop.

I’ve learned that in the few trial runs we had as a class this week that I work best by drawing small thumbnails before I begin painting because it somehow forces me to really look at the contrast between the light and dark shadows of a landscape. And also what recedes into the distance and what colors in different areas are much more vibrant when the sun is hitting it. If you have expressed a sense of atmospheric perspective with a foreground, middle ground, and background—then you are expressing the landscape very well. A focal point is also a good element to have in your painting as you are helping the viewer to have something to focus on and having an “S” curve where you lead the eyes through the painting.

If you are curious about what I packed for plein-air painting or what methods we used, let me know! Or if you have similar experiences with plein air painting that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about them!

CIAO!