Tuscan Dream Journal
Watch over Dorothy’s shoulder as she paints the villages and vistas of Tuscany.
Last week I wrote about my new palette. When twelve large tubes of Charvin oil paint arrived at the studio, I made up a swatch palette of the new colors. Even though some colors are the same, many times they will be different from a different manufacturer.
The Raw Sienna jumped out immediately as very different from my tube or Rembrandt Raw Sienna. Yellower and brighter, the Charvin pigment is less green than Rembrandt tube. I was also anxious to compare the French Yellow Deep with my Gamblin Cadmium Yellow Deep and Medium. Much more transparent than Cadmium colors, yet rich and deep in hue. I like it. It mixes nicely with the greens.
I don’t want to get into too much detail about individual colors here. Rather I want to show you how they impacted the painting on my easel.
I made swatches of each new color, full strength, medium, and tint. I find it helpful to see how a color looks mixed with white to show its mid-range, how it looks as an almost white, and straight from the tube.
Then I headed for the easel. As you can see I’ve already squeezed some of them down pretty well in less than a week! I used that Gray Green (upper left tube) to base coat two large canvases for a tulip garden diptych. More on that later.
Every person has an aura of colors that they are innately drawn to. While these may evolve over time, we ALL know what we like!
Since the late 70s when I began working in pastel, my palette has grown and evolved. Even though I haven’t spent much time with pastels in the last ten years, touching them again is like visiting with my best friend. Instantly, our colors jive and we resonate harmoniously.
My Bridge between Pastels & Oils
So here’s what happened on the easel when we connected! The oil painting I’d been struggling with all month melted like butter on my palette knife. The feeling of Tuscan atmosphere in October transferred from my two pastels into paint.
Side by side, it’s easy to see the close relationship between the two pastels and the oil. Drawing elements are more exposed in one, while painterly blends create light in the other. The oil painting melds these light and grounding elements together.
The funny thing to me is that when doing the two pastels, I thought I was doing two DIFFERENT versions. Yet now they appear very much the same to me.
At first I judged the first pastel to be ‘too disjointed, disconnected.’ When I attempted another try, it felt too linear, the colors too earthy. Howeve, together I felt them sufficient to go back to the oil. In several more painting sessions I brought them together.
Funny to see this detail beside my pastel palette of grays. Unison pastels, painterly mixtures developed by John Hersey, are very different from manufactured pastels. Instead of using white and black to lighten and darken pure pigments ~ Hersey mixes colors like a painter.
Hersey creates his grays by blending complimentary and analogous colors. These grays have color identity and resonance. Even his darks are alive with colorful pigments. The sticks are broad and durable, easily stroked sideways to create wide swaths of stunning color that is full of light.
Light is the word. For a painter the challenge is learning to see the light. When you compare the two details of this painting, you can see light in the dark shadows of the mountain.
In the lights, you see spectral light. Clouds are not white. The are Cobalt Violet, Cadmium Red Deep, Vermillion, and Ultramarine. When mixed to tint strength (as in the palette of pastels above), it takes some practice to see and feel these subtlties.
As in life itself, we are accustomed to seeing bold contrasts of light against dark. Taking time to readjust the senses. Take a breath of fresh air. Letting all the colors in you out ~ after a little bit subtle ones seep in. Looking for light in dark places changes the color of everything ~ even life itself!
Have you read my book yet?
When I decided to live in Tuscany for nine weeks, to absorb the Tuscan Lifestyle into my life and art ~ I’d hoped living the Tuscan lifestyle would cure the workaholic in me.
A new friend from Naples got it completely. “It’s unknowable,” she uttered, looking at my paintings scattered about the room. She was in my incubator and she knew it.
Immersed in the joyful way my new friends and neighbors went about daily life, I’d already realized how truly and dearly “I LOVE to paint! There is nothing I’d rather do. This isn’t work at all!”
My Tuscan friends had knocked on my door, bringing me ripe figs, plums, tomatoes, chestnuts, wine and more. They seemed to squeeze every drop of goodness from each and every grape. I looked for something to offer them in return. “Would you like to see the paintings?”
“Oh yes, we’d love to!” Week by week, they knocked at my door and each time I answered I experienced “the art bridge” in a new way.
In those very last moments of October, they knocked on my door once again. This time Danilo invited me to come to the family’s olive grove to see how olives are harvested. Down the steep slope of the mountain, zig-zagging dirt path to a vista overlooking the Arno Valley, Danilo roared the four-wheel drive like any Italian driver ~ fast.
Late afternoon sun shone through silver olive leaves. Tiny Tuscan olives once light green, were now black and full of oil. Danilo demonstrated climbing a ladder on each tree. Pruning, shaking until ripe fruit fell from the branch into a fine mesh on the ground.Tree by tree, each olive in the 12 acres is picked by hand and hauled in buckets to the olive press in the next village.
Danilo reached for a bottle of the family’s own wine from a shelf in the tool shed and poured three glasses. Sipping sweetness, I felt the glow. Did I know I was ripe for harvest too? No. Sweetness of sharing friendship, beauty and bounty I thought was all about Tuscany.
I flew home the following week and immersed myself in a show deadline, a bid proposal, an application for a gallery and a national show. The last thing I needed was a new idea. When it first surfaced last week, it seemed so far off base from my Tuscan series, I put it out of mind.
A dream this past week urged me to take another look at the idea. Did I know that it was the “unknowable” I was searching for in Tuscany? No.
“OK” I thought, “I won’t have to stop what I am doing to make a few thumbnail sketches in my journal. ”
In less than an hour, I’d filled three pages with value studies a series of landscape designs I didn’t have time to paint.
Intrigued, I decided I would “test” the designs quickly with pastels. I cut several sheets of pastel paper into 9″ x 12″ rectangles.
I hadn’t used my pastels in over ten years. I laid my trays out on the table and sorted values. (Yes, I AM aware of how my own values changed in Tuscany. No mistake that I would have to come home and sort them out in my palette. Life is always a metaphor for Creator’s gifts.)
By lunch I had all the pastels arranged by values. Instead of searching hue by hue, having to check each value against my paintings one by one, I would be free to paint quickly, easily seeing subtle shifts in hue and chroma.
You can see how all the lightest (# 9 & 10 values) are in the far left of both trays. Cooler in the foreground tray, warm ones in the next tray up. Darks (#1 & 2) are all along the far right of each tray in the same manner.
In the center four rows of each tray, the cool and warm tones are sorted by values; #3 & 4, then #5 & 6, then #7 & 8 ~ warms in one tray, cools in the other.
The realization that my abstract thumbnails were my “pond in the woods” series came to me in the shower. Ideas seem to flow in the shower as they do in dreams. Why did I think my Tuscan residency was about painting Tuscany? Well it is and so much more. It’s about assimilating the Tuscan lifestyle here in Virginia ~ on my pond in the woods.
Standing over the table with my view of the pond, I drew from 15 years of memory. By four o’clock I had a series of pastel studies. I chose one and took it to the easel. A 24″ x 30″ canvas I’d primed with gold under-painting for another project awaited me.
Mixing my colors to match the pastel, I painted until it was too dark to see. The oil painting on my easel looked like pastels I’d painted as a young artist. I laughed out loud as I recognized the vibrant strokes.
Another dream puzzled me the next morning. Writing it down created more questions than answers. My tried and true methods of deciphering dreams yieded a new direction.
Picking up the phone, I called a friend, a soul sister who leads a parallel life to mine. “How are you?” I listened intently as she explained how coughing was helping her clear out old scar tissue, making way for new tissue to grow, healing her lungs.
“Ummmmm,” I wrote some of her words in my journal. “Scar tissue” stuck out like a sore thumb. I knew immediately what mine was. Unfinished paintings I’d stacked up in guest room to get out of my way in the studio. I wanted only to work on new ideas from Tuscany.
I shared my sketches with her so she could derive inspiration of her own. After I hung up, I unrolled two unfinished paintings and sat down to look them over. I sketched a thumbnail of one. Then made a second thumbnail, abandoning the first completely.
Wanting to see my sketch in color, I used pastel to test it out. I liked the study, though troubled by the dark positioning of the cypress trees, went to the easel to block it in over top of the unfinished painting.
The same day I also blocked in several other oil paintings. One based on a pastel, two others based on thumbnails in my journal. Working back and forth from one to the other, I used ideas from each to help me see my way through the group as a whole. My “scar tissue” helping me paint the whole group.
Looking at the group of deadline paintings, now they look like scar tissue. The deadlines evaporated as checks arrived from the sales rep I’d hired in the spring.