About 20 miles east of Florence, the landscape is a spectacular 360 degree vista of vineyards, olive orchards, and farms. I saw it first two years ago, and I wanted to see it again.
Finding the Castle
I didn’t see the castle two years ago. I had no idea it even existed. On this visit we took time to have lunch in the lovely restaurant overlooking the spectacular view. It was a conversation with our server that tipped us off.
“Go to the top of the hill and take the switch-back turn and you will be at the castle where they grow all the food we serve here.”
As if the Creator had spoken, we followed instructions and sure enough there she was at the top of the mountain. Standing outside the castle I painted the view, My Side of the Mountain (below.)
See the Tuscany Retreat Paintings>
Back in the studio (in Italy), I continued developing the colors. I felt very attracted to the right side of the painting, and at one point actually folded the painting in half to see how it would look as a vertical.
That did it. I decided I had to explore this half of the painting. And so the second painting in the series began as a vertical composition.
Switching from horizontal to a vertical perspective changed the way everything looked. Yet it was not until I returned to Virginia, that the warm reds and purples took the lead.
Stepping back into my Virginia studio felt like walking into another woman’s life. I suppose that’s when I actually entered the castle. There were cobwebs on everything ~ even the studio entrance!
Paintings on easels from two months prior startled me. Looking better than I recalled, I felt the urge to finish them with my deeper, enriched palette. I am struggling for words to express the differences. Perhaps the paintings speak far more clearly. See more of these paintings>
Waking up in Provence I felt as though I was dreaming. Jet lagged I’d slept ’til 6, stepped onto the balcony ~ “I must be in someone else’s life!”
The garden below beckoned with aquamarine water and quiet seclusion.
I slipped on a suit and into the pool.
Floating alone, I wondered at the magic that brought me here.
Hollyhocks bobbed their deep fuschia heads above me. Sun-drenched clouds washed the Cerulean sky with light.
The first paintings were as dreamy and washed as lavender itself.
A good nights sleep didn’t make my trek to the lavender fields any less dream-like. Expecting vibrant purple filled fields ~ instead I discovered internet photos over saturated. A little past peak, like myself, lavender felt delicate and light.
The fragrance too, wafted in and out of awareness. Like the dream, illusive and uncertain.
After 35 years of painting with opaque mediums, Provence inspired my first works in watercolor. I opted for a pack of postcards and thin washes of paint when the sun proved to be just too hot to paint at the easel with oil paint. Sitting instead at a cafe table waiting for lunch to be served, I stuck the brush in a vase of water and began what was to become my “new direction.”
Later in my residency, I began experimenting with washes of oil paint thinned with turpentine. I picked up some willow charcoal and drew back into the wet paint, fusing the two media. By the end of my six week stay, things were feeling a bit more solid.
As I added pastels to the mixture of media, the paintings took on a more robust appearance. Controlling the new palette became difficult and winter gave me a time to dial back a few notches and work with earth tones.
Painting over top of the winter version, I lit into the palette with fresh spring colors the following spring. It sat for awhile in a half-way state, waiting for me to catch up and wrap my head around all the changes.
I wouldn’t have known that this painting was part of this collection at all, had it not been for a friend who came by the studio and pulled it out of my stack.
Of course when a painting gets pulled out and put near my easel it gets re-evaluated by my overly critical eye. And that’s exactly how this one got finished one last time. One or two last colours ~ well, I like it much better now.
I’ve been praying for peace in my life ever since things went crazy. When Mom was ill, I prayed silently with my paint brush.
After she passed, I didn’t really think about it ~ I just kept doing it. This new relationship with the Creator and my easel set my dreams in motion.
My heart melted when I saw the view from my balcony in Tuscany. My easel stayed there day and night, sunrise sunset.
When the notion of painting in Tuscany first entered my mind ~ it seemed impossible. How could I possibly spend nine weeks away from home, my routine, my family?
I did what I have always done with unanswerable questions. I took them to the easel. This time I used watercolor ~ a more fluid, spontaneous medium. “Tuscan Dream” is my prayer, “is this possible? how?”
“Tuscan Sunrise” was the answer I received. I painted it on the balcony of my apartment in Poggio Alla Croce nine months after the watercolor.
The vision for “Florence Sunrise” appeared from the balcony six weeks later. Usually the mountain beyond Florence was not visible. It was usually covered in mist. On this morning, sunlight poured into the valley lighting Florence and everything with it.
I started the painting that morning. Illusive at first, the colors changed as I tried to paint them. I finally completed the painting in Virginia the following year.
That same year I began painting another view. There’s likely another post about this painting. It went through many versions before finally settling into this one.
What’s really important about it is the house and field on the near mountain at the left. You can see it in the painting above, and in the shadows of the sunset view as well.
The reason it’s important is that that same house and field appear in THIS painting, and ALL the others that follow. They were painted BEFORE I went to Tuscany!
“Embrace of the Mountain” was painted about three months before I left for Tuscany. In this painting, the house and field are inverted ~ and so is the mountain.
If this painting were a dream, I would say the house represents my consciousness, and the field my garden ~ and the mountain, my immovable issues! Yes, your’re right ~ my house is tiny! And so is my garden. And the mountain dominates the picture.
The fact that it’s inverted in really important. It’s important because that is EXACTLY what I had done with my mountain of issues. I embraced them. I started thinking of them a golden opportunities for wisdom, blessings, and divine guidance.
In other words ~ I started listening!
Every time I stubbed my toe on that great big mountain, I reminded myself that it was the Creator’s way of getting my attention. I retrained myself to stop running away, and just stop and listen for answers.
I started noticing things I’d never noticed before. For example, “Waking Dream III” was painted nearly two years after returning. I know I said BEFORE, I did. That’s because this painting was inspired by the pastel below ~ one that I found in my sketchbox from 2012!
A friend came by the studio and pulled it out. After she’d gone, I noticed it looked like the ones on my easel from Tuscany. That’s what got me inspired to do the mixed media one above it.
I noticed other things too.
This one is another good example. “The Phoenix,” I started in France 2013. I repainted it several times in France, and again when I returned home. Then I set it aside thinking I’d never get it right.
Painting the two above, I repainted this one as well. This time I noticed something I’d not seen before. You can see the abstract phoenix shape of the mountain wings, tail feathers poking into the foreground ~ by the shift in colors.
This time the house in centered and the mountains have BECOME wings!
Also painted the spring BEFORE I left for Tuscany, this one shows the vision ~ of what was to come. The mist, the mountain top vantage point, and the fertile fields.
The two cypress trees at the far left are the “Two Sisters,” a nudge from the Creator about my relationship with my soul sister. But that’s another story.