Tag Archives: Florence

Ponte Vecchio, Firenze

You never quite know who you are going to see whilst painting on location. I was crossing Ponte Vecchio when working in Florence recently and noticed BBC’s Fiona Bruce being filmed by a camera crew. I’m not sure for what programme, perhaps another series of Fake or Fortune? 

I’ve painted several watercolours on location of Ponte Vecchio, usually from Piazza Michelangelo, however on this occasion, I decided to do one standing next to the window of a rather expensive ice cream shop at the end of the bridge on the other side of the road. After being charged €6 for the smallest tub of ice cream available, I embarked on a small sketchbook study of the bridge bathed in the late afternoon sunlight.

The Duomo in the distance was both my starting point and focal point of interest with the strong angles from the foreground buildings taking the viewers eyes towards the main part of the subject, the bridge itself with its shoppers and colourful flags. Using this simple study and some of the reference photographs I took, I hope to work this up into a larger original watercolour in my Studio.

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Via di Santo Spirito

Via di Santo Spirito

Via di Santo Spirito

I’ve been working in Italy recently on a number of painting projects, many of which involved painting on location. This is always a challenging exercise, particularly when painting a street scene such as this one of Via di Santo Spirito. I wanted to capture the tall narrow buildings that were shutting out much of the early evening light that were towering above me and at the same time, indicating something of the sunlight that was catching the distant buildings.

I was virtually standing under the ornate lamp that provided an interesting focal point to the scene which meant there was nowhere for me to rest my sketchbook or place my small box of watercolours. I had to stand the whole time and balance my paints on top of my camera case strapped to my belt. Every so often, someone would stand in front of me, blocking my view and there was a steady flow of traffic adding to the confusion. However, after about thirty minutes painting, I felt I had recorded something of worth that captures a typical Florence street scene that I plan to work up into a larger watercolour sometime soon.

One of my small watercolours of Florence can be seen at the Newcastle/Gateshead Art Fair starting Friday 30th September- 2nd October.

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Florenze from Piazza Michelangelo

Florence from Piazza Michelangelo

Florence from Piazza Michelangelo

Probably the best view of Florence is from Piazza Michelangelo. I’ve now painted several watercolour studies from the piazza which boasts stunning views of the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio and the River Arno. Last Sunday afternoon was hot and sunny in Florence which meant that the watercolour paint dried very quickly, in marked contrast to the last time I painted this view. It was a cold, wet February afternoon, the light was fading and Susan had to stand over me with an umbrella to keep the rain off the paper!

It was worth the effort though. From these studies, I was able to paint a large studio watercolour titled “Florence from Piazza Michelangelo” which has been one of my best selling limited edition prints of Italy.

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Paintings of Italy

Over the last few years I’ve received a number of commissions from clients who have a home in Italy and who have wanted a painting of their property. Each building has been quite different in terms of size and location but they have all had their own distinct charm and appeal.

In 2007 I was commissioned by an English couple to do a painting of their home near a small, compact Umbrian village called Panicale, which overlooks Lake Trasimeno. We stayed in an old Villa called Villa Le Mura which was being restored by its owners. In the evening we met up with our clients that evening for a lovely meal at Masolino Albergo Ristorante which served us authentic Umbrian cuisine.

The following morning I woke up before 7am and drove straight to the property to catch the early morning light. I was just in time. I found a suitable vantage point in between some olive trees which gave a delightful aspect of the house nestling in its own little valley. Initially it was shrouded by a shadow being cast by the hill behind me but as soon as the sun rose above the horizon it was bathed in a warm golden hue.

I quickly embarked on a small sketchbook study in a tiny leather bound book purchased direct from the Fabriano Factory in Le Marches from a previous trip and whilst the paint was drying I took a number of photographs of the rapidly changing early morning light. The owners served me a very welcome and much appreciated coffee before I crashed on with another watercolour study, this time of the olive grove which surrounded their home.

I returned to capture the evening light but we decided that the mornings work was going to be sufficient to enable me to do the finished painting, a 21″ x 14″ watercolour which the client was delighted with.

Susan and I will be returning to Italy in September for a painting project in Florence and will be happy to meet up with anyone wishing to discuss any possible commissions of properties, holiday homes or favourite views, places to paint in Italy.

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Summer Exhibition

River Tyne Sunset

River Tyne Sunset

My Summer Exhibition is now open at my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland. The subjects range from local scenes from the North East including the one above of a River Tyne Sunset which was inspired from reference I took back in 1985. The view has now changed but it does capture a bygone era of the industry that was once common place on the banks of the River Tyne. I recall seeing on BBC’s Look North recently that Sting is currently writing a musical about the ship building industry that once graced the Tyne.

Other watercolours include paintings of Italy. Venice has always been a favourite of mine but there is also one of Ponte Vecchio in Florence where we will be returning in September for a painting project. There are also paintings of countries around the Middle East which I have been working in over the last few years like Oman, Dubai and Kuwait. One can see some of the sketchbook studies painted on location which I have used to produce these original watercolours.

The Studio and Gallery is usually open Tuesday to Saturday, 9:30am to 5:00pm but it’s best to telephone 01661 871 800 just to confirm we are open.

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Florence from Piazza Michelangelo

Florence from Piazza Michelangelo

Florence from Piazza Michelangelo

Going to Florence in February has its advantages and disadvantages. You don’t get the crowds or searing heat that you can experience in the summer months, however the weather is usually cold and sometimes wet.  I recall painting a 14″ x 10″ watercolour on location with Susan standing over me with an umbrella to keep the rain off the painting. Both of us were getting colder and colder as the light was fading. A few splashes of rain did find their way onto the paper but somehow they seemed to add to the overall effect.

The large studio painting above was reproduced as a limited edition print and has been one of my best selling prints of Italy. The location study below was an important work for being an aid to the print and a number of subsequent paintings of Florence including the studio painting below of Ponte Vecchio from Piazza Michelangelo. You can see this painting at the charity exhibition “INDEPENDENCE” at the CastleGate starting 4th July at 6pm. The exhibition, which is to raise money for the North East charity OWN IT, continues every day until Saturday 9th July.

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Tuscany

Tuscany

Tuscany

My first taste of Tuscany came in the autumn of 1998 when Susan and I travelled to Pistoia to spend a week with members of an evangelical church. Pistoia lent its name to the pistol which it started manufacturing in the 16th century. A day spent wandering around the hills surrounding Pistoia and another day spent visiting Florence, whetted our appetites for a return visit to Florence in February 1999.

Before arriving in Florence, we had seen San Gimignano featured on a holiday television programme, so after spending a few days exploring Florence, we decided to jump on a local bus to this small Tuscan hilltop town famous for its 13 towers. I’ll always remember my first glimpse of those towers from the window of the bus which have been likened to a mini Manhattan skyline.

I recall doing a small watercolour in the piazza which you can see in the book “Landscapes in Watercolour” by Theodora Philcox. After sampling some local red wine and wild boar salami we looked out from the town walls to enjoy la bella vista. The painting of Italy above is just a tiny section of the view which we enjoyed that memorable day, yet somehow it typifies the essence of the Tuscan landscape, rolling hills disappearing into the distance punctuated by cypress trees and white washed farm buildings.

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John Singer Sargent

Cafe on the Riva degli Schiavoni by John Singer Sargent

Cafe on the Riva degli Schiavoni by John Singer Sargent

In May 2007 I spent several days painting in Venice and was fortunate enough to take in a superb exhibition of paintings of Venice by one of my favourite artists John Singer Sargent held at the Museo Correr in St Mark’s Square.

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) is said to be the most important of American Impressionists. He was born in Florence (another one of my favourite cities) and spent most of his life in Europe, studying in Paris under Carolus-Duran and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He began his career as a portrait painter producing outstanding portraits of the rich and famous of his day including two American Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

He was a friend of Monet and  began to experiment painting plein air undertaking a number of study trips which included over 10 trips to Venice from 1870 to 1913. The exhibition at The Museo Correr consisted of 54 of these works loaned not only from European and American museums but also private collections. Subjects included famous land marks such as the scene above titled Cafe on the Riva degli Schiavoni, canals viewed from gondola rides, palaces, churches and daily life in Venice.

As I was doing this particular post, I couldn’t resist thumbing through my own “plein air” sketchbook watercolours of Venice and selecting a few in homage to Sargent. May he continue being an inspiration to many.

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