29 July 2014

digging a little

When I work out how to access my photos presumably uploaded onto Google+ I will post some images from the "dig" at Aquino. Saturday was the (second) annual open day. It really is amazing, seeing history uncovered. And so close to home!

On Saturday afternoon I was visiting a family in a different region, and after I had shown them my photos (on the mini-tablet I am somewhat inept with) they gave me two pieces of Roman treasure "to paint on". Their home and garden is over more Roman ruins, but that is not actually a blessing but more of a concern. Who wants their quiet and their livelihood disturbed to dig up yet another Roman villa? (No, I can't remember how to get there, nor can I remember the name of the village. It is a long way from here and I was following another car, I don't have the address).

In the meantime, if I could only remember where I put my camera battery charger, I could take a few more photos to paint from, while the sunflowers are in bloom, the cornflowers are glowing in the morning light, and the huge rolls of hay lie gleaming in the sun.

Today I am grateful for nice weather.

19 July 2014

my ivy - and other weed - problem

This post is for my FB Vege Garden group friends, I didn't think I should hi-jack the page with a non-vege posting of this scale.

I have two major problems in my garden, ivy and a weed I didn't know in NZ, but here it is referred to as wild fig. It is not a fruiting plant, but looking at my real fig tree I can see where the name might have come from.

Stone walls here are made with the dry stone method, now a dying art. Looking at one of these walls in good condition (ie, not attacked by the two plants mentioned above) you simply can't tell if the wall has been there for three hundred years or one thousand years. They are quite amazing. (This town was established in 904AD, so I don't jest about 1000 years).

My terraces have such walls. This is where the bigger problem becomes my problem. I have sections of wall (some shared responsibility with neighbours) where the two plants have taken hold. Local lore is that the roots of these plants are needed to hold the rocks together, but the same person who told you that could well tell you, the following day, that the plants are destroying the wall.

This conflicting advice seems to me to have come from nature. We have massive rocky hills (mountains in fact) around us. The trees and shrubs to grow into these. Then fire comes through, too often and too close for comfort, and the vegetation is destroyed. The next wet and soggy winter the roots of the plants rot away, and the rocks loosen. Boulders come tumbling down when the weather is stormy, occasionally bouncing onto houses, cars, and on one occasion killing a young man. Luckily all these danger areas now have huge wire nets and fencing to protect us. (I remember, prior to this, writing to my family that should I be squashed by one of these boulders while out walking to just think "she was happy to go this way"). I've always had a "thing" about stones and rocks, love them!

Anyway, my observation is that, properly maintained as in free from intrusive plants, these dry-construction walls do literally look unchanged for centuries. The evil intrusive weeds must go!

This post is mostly in response to Helen who asked me for a photo of my stone wall on the vege gardening page where I asked for advice about getting rid of ivy.

Helen, here are the photos.

The wall in un-abused state; I have no idea how old it is, but as a rough guide for guesses, the house was last renovated in 1911. But it could be 500 years old too, like the stonework in the cantina of my ground floor apartment.

The former ivy hedge, taken out in 2007 and now regularly assaulted by me with mixes of vinegar and salt, boiling water, and hot oil. It was about five feet high and ran along the green wire fence. Dad spent days taking it out, and I have been attacking re-growth ever since. I think (scared to more than whisper) I am winning on this one. But as you can see, this photo taken from my place looking into the neighbouring property, I have an on-going battle here.
The wild fig-tree type plants that are the bane of my gardening life: these are at the top of the wall I am concerned about now. Note the result of the previous owner's philosophy that the wall will crumble if you kill the plant: that's a huge trunk up there, not a rock.
The ivy, starting in my neighbour's garden, and heading down to become my problem:
Work in progress this morning: (that's my open studio window up the top).
Another part of the boundary between us, this time I can reach quite safely without being afraid of toppling over. The "garden" above is his, the ladder down in mine...
His garden after I employed someone to clear our "mutual" pathway - seems that the only one who cares about maintenance is you-know-who... it was literally impassable yesterday and the last one to clean it was me, a few months ago (before the winter, probably). Things do grow incredibly fast, and we are having "tropical" storms every day, after temperatures in the early 30s. What looks like lovely soil is actually all the richly composted tree leaves on a concrete path. The tree was badly damaged in storms some time ago.
My olive trees, just to give you some context. The brown on the trunks is a mixture fighting some virus our hillside contracted a couple of years ago. This year I have taken drastic measures and wont pick this October/November, it's a year off after heavy pruning.
My folly, between my house and garden. Love my steps. They are solid, took two men days to construct, cost me an arm and a leg, then AFTER they were finished my neighbour told me that they would end up down the valley because I hadn't anchored them with iron into the rocks... sigh!
Looking down at the task in hand from my studio:
More ancient stones out my kitchen window - this is where the village women did the washing, and for hundreds of years was the village water supply.
And the village I love so much, view from my studio again.

And to give a wider context for those wonderful rocky walls, here is a late evening photo from a few days ago (after the evening storm had drenched everything - are we in the tropics now?) Not the best photo of the village, but the easiest for me to locate. I am on the lower edge of the village. 

Today I am grateful for a willing helper. 

valuable lesson

Sitting at my desk with a long black coffee (shhh, don't tell the Italians) I am contemplating my last three efforts. I choose that word carefully. To pick up something long after the inspiration has past, or to try to "fix" a bad composition, does take effort.

I try to learn from everything I do. So, coffee at computer, I am going to try to put into words what the last three works have taught me.

My heart is really in watercolour, but I also enjoy using stronger mediums at times. When painting in watercolour I am in a quieter, more contemplative space.

I can be more creative and adventurous in acrylic and oil because I can always paint over the canvas again. Paper is expensive and has a maximum of two lives.

My portrait skills need honing, they were better "once upon a long time ago".

I have enjoyed NOT painting with the sorrow of war in mind, but with frivolous subjects to entertain me. Legato this year (70th commemorations of the battles for Cassino) left me drained, exhausted, sad, and even "burnt out" perhaps.

My painting really has gone back at least forty years, but I think I understand what I am doing with colour so much more now. So, techniques revived from long ago, but more comprehension and hopefully better results.

I would like to paint more fantasy, something joyful to counter the shocking news we read and hear every day.

Notwithstanding the above comment, I want to paint small, precious works that take the viewer into an intimate place of memory. These would be in watercolour, perhaps then under resin like my works from 2005.

I instinctively paint using layers, so there is no way I will ever be content with a one-stroke application. This means that the free sketch that I aim for occasionally will never content me. (Take a good look at this example - I wanted to keep this light, bright, SIMPLE and spontaneous! )

I can only paint for five hours a day when using oils or acrylics. Yes, I paint much longer hours, and then I am too tired to be useful for anything else. Watercolour painting doesn't exhaust me the same. 

So what was the most valuable lesson from the last week of painting? 

Painting takes me to another space, it does begin to "fill me up" again, along with some gentle music, when the world has taken its toll on me. Much as I long to write more, I need to schedule in more painting time. It really is good for me. Perhaps being a painter is, something that I had begun to doubt, a real part of me. 

Today I am grateful for coffee. 

18 July 2014

cats on this scale are not obliging!

But time is up, my eyes are tired. This is as good as done. I may come back in with a tiny brush one day, just to make a bit more of the cats. Or not... they are not immediately obvious but are waiting to be "found" in the painting, and apart from the challenging stare of the one under the bougainvillea I think they are OK. There are a couple of changes made to make the composition work, but one of these has to be altered again. Can you spot it Kris?

Today I am grateful for hurdles overcome.

spot the cat?

Not finished, but becoming something I could put on the wall somewhere - yes I have some dark corners.

Now to decide where my hither-to-non-existent focal point might possibly be... I can see some areas to darken, some to lighten... this could be done by lunchtime if I eat late enough :)

And at lunch time: 
(Just how more "chocolate-boxy" can it get? Cats, it needs more caaats...)

At smoko time: 
Why not? Here they come. Now I know what I am doing for the afternoon, painting five cats - or should I leave it at three? 

Today I am grateful for perseverance. 

a minimalist studio?

Watch this space!

I am trying to reduce clutter in my life. Those of you who know me well will be snorting with suppressed laughter at this point. But wait - there's progress.

This week I have taken five bags of goods to be recycled, given away a bag of clothes, hair accessories and make-up to a most appreciative recipient, thrown out chipped or cracked glassware, and tossed out some "might be useful one day" bits and pieces of unknown origin or purpose.

The ideal in the studio is to accept, once and for all, that I am a watercolourist, and reduce those tubes to the minimum too. But every so often you just need... (mixed media, oil, acrylic, pencils, crayons... you get "the picture". Sigh...).

As I finish tubes or pots of paints I no longer rush out to replace them. In the past I have found it impossible to buy "just one" tube or pot. I am easily seduced by colour and paper. Currently I am painting using odd colours, mixing many hues from very little. Increasingly paint companies whose products I knew, understood, and trusted are altering the composition of paints and I can no longer instinctively know how one will react with another. The chemistry of colour has been blurred, smudged, spoiled. Eventually my cupboards will have very few of each, and my life will be less cluttered, as will my head and my studio.

Hence the "purge" of partly painted canvases at the moment. And now, once I have given away a painting promised to someone who helped with professional advice for no charge, and made more coffee for the worker cutting the grass, back to finish the painting from yesterday with bold, dramatic and interesting decisions. (Did I hear "yeah, right!" in the back of my head? Be gone, doubter).

Today I am grateful for good news from NZ.

17 July 2014

messing up in paint

Sometimes you just get it horribly wrong.

This is another sketch from the all-nighter in Fondi. It started like this, about three summers ago. A group of us painted on all four sides of the ArtCube. It is pretty much "first in best spot", so I take the top panels and leave bending to the ground to the younger ones.

This particular night I had to drive a lot further because a truck had jack-knifed, blocking the road. I didn't want to be finding my way home over unknown hills at 3 or 4am so I left at 1am, leaving the sketches on the cube. They were finally delivered to me many months later, long after any inspiration had flown. And so they stayed. Until now. 

Today I attacked this one: 
Mistake number one had been not adapting what I had in mind to paint, the interior of a walled court-yard seen through the entrance arch, something I had spotted and liked in another hilltop village. It is hard enough to keep up with conversation, paint with an audience, and deal with the less than comfortable conditions without having to focus on what to paint as well. So without thinking it through I painted what I could remember from the other town. 

Obviously, I needed a portrait canvas, not a landscape one. Think, plan, adapt, DON'T rush in just because you feel you need to start! 

Today it has ended up looking like this (or would if I were to crop it, which I could do if I like it after tomorrow's effort on it). 

I'm beginning to think I could do something with it. Maybe. 

These photos show you how I got to what you see above, including all the mistakes I made along the way. Why didn't I simply paint out the image and start all over again with the canvas, now released from the cube, turned to the way I wanted it? Sigh... 

Who knows what tomorrow will bring? I might be inspired to really do something with it. Or... not!
(Wonders if the neighbour's bougainvillea might just hold the key...)
And later this evening: 

OK, It's never going to make the grade. But at least, as all creative mentors urge, I have painted today, and no doubt I will keep daubing away at it until I do run out of paint completely (now down to five acrylic colours and white).  It's so overly chocolate-boxy I'm tempted to add a cat... or three ;)

Waiting for inspiration doesn't cut it when painting is your day job and even with lesser paintings you keep learning - what NOT to do!  And once I have "dealt with" all these canvases that have been languishing, I can go back to my beloved watercolours. YES! That's where I really want to be :) 

Today I am grateful for four-legged company in the studio. 

not quite

Out of the context of an ancient and rustic home with heavy furniture she probably looks a little odd, but I am happy to leave her for now and move on. A little distance from her will help me see the things I need to fix to shape her face more; there are a few things to do but not too many. Right now I wish I had painted this from scratch, with the festival in mind. I would have had a much more sparkling and happy face than this little one.

It is an odd size, a canvas made up for the ArtCube group where we all paint on a huge cube - an activity that is fun but challenging, to say the least. This painting is 33cm high, and about 37 wide.

The strong under-painting of yellow is glowing as I look at the painting on the studio wall, and I am quite pleased about that.

In the context of a medieval festival in an ancient town she will sit well and children will stop and chat to me. I like that :) it helps pass the time, is stress-free, and gives me many smiles.

(Note to self: Kay you know better than to paint an imaginery person front on with no real light source).  

Next please, there are a few more to finish and repaint. It's time to move on. This is work, and it is now 9am. The next one was from the same night in Fondi, where I could hardly see what I was doing. It is an archway, very loosely painted. Can I complete it yet still keep it loose? Mmmm... that's a challenge!

Today I am grateful for milder temperatures and clear air. 

16 July 2014

a long afternoon

Paint something medieval for Fossanova, he said. Yeah right! I don't remember much about those times, except perhaps being locked in the stocks with my feet through the boards. But one does like to oblige... (images from the festival in other years are here).

This little one wash sketch was from a notte bianca (all night festival) in Fondi, some time ago, where it was mostly painting in the half-dark. A sweet little girl was watching me paint, so of course I began to paint her. Her father wanted to buy the painting, but I couldn't detach it from the group board. I started another, (the sketch below) and then she disappeared.

So, in the theme of taking these unfinished "excursion paintings" and turning them into something I could perhaps use, I tried turning this little sketch into something that might possibly come across as medieval in the right setting.

No, of course it isn't finished... you know me better than that :)

Today I am grateful for Ella Fitzgerald and Chet Baker.

time's up for this one

I could go on improving it "until the cows come home" but there are more urgent things to do. I ran out of white paint so am not happy with the sky; it is my normal process to scumble in a sky to set the mood, complete the work, and then repaint the sky at the end. Maybe I will to that yet, but that will be all. It actually doesn't look too bad as it is, but if it stays on my own walls I think the sky might get a make-over. I can varnish that separately though, and at least get the colours on the main part popping out beautifully. (Varnish is not good for photos though, hence photographing before this).

Today I am grateful for good vibrations and gentle jazz music. 

13 July 2014


Just checking, via blog, to see if this is close to finished. Somehow (I know I have said it before) looking at the photographs in a different context gives me a more objective view than staring at the painting. In the flesh viewing allows my brain to convince myself my hand did achieve what I wanted - and then months later I am not satisfied. Checking via photos gives me a much more honest appraisal of what is needing correction.

Yesterday I found the photographs from the location, so perhaps I can make the painting a little more convincing too. Here is the location photo, and the painting after some more touching up. I see some changes to make already, although I am not looking for accuracy, but more of a romantic image. Or am I simply adding to the confusion? Perhaps it is done.

Today I am grateful for paracetamol. 

10 July 2014

found it!

This is the painting location, and the painting as I left it back then. Click here for 2011 post. 

Mmmm - I would write more, but it is already 2.15am.


9 July 2014

remember this? no?

I can't remember when I began this, so I don't expect you to remember my post (s?) about it. It was one of those "outdoor painting in a group" days, and while I remember the location I have no idea of the year so can't link you to the post about it.

Anyway, with no students around it is time to finish off some bits and pieces, and this one came to the top. Unfortunately I have very few acrylic paints, and the colours I require I suspect I gave to my student. The fact that I can't locate my on-site photos isn't helping greatly either!

So this is what you can do with yellow, pale green, bright blue and terracotta. But I am going to have to locate some real red, and some white, if I am to finish this.

The story so far, after about an hour today getting "back into the painting" with some loose brushwork:

And then at the lunch break: 
Smoko time:
And a couple of hours later:
And at knock-off time: 
And finished, photo added 16/7/14

Today I am grateful for imagination and paint. 

5 July 2014

or not so random?

The horses (previous post) are described here: click on BBC link

Background information about the Kelpies and dramatic video from The Telegraph: link is here

and from The Guardian you can read another point of view here. Is it art? Or should the money have been spent elsewhere?

Aaaah art (or not), you've gotta love it! As a visitor I couldn't get my camera out of my bag fast enough as we sped by. As a driver, however, I am sure the startlingly large nags would have distracted me from the road and traffic.

Today I am grateful for energetic debate. 

4 July 2014

totally random sculptures...

Photos from the car window, and no, I wasn't driving :) 

Detail and closer views

Today I am also grateful for random artworks.