Wednesday, March 31, 2010

From The Art of Travel

humpback whale, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

I've been thinking about the connection between my love of travel, photography, and painting.  Dick and I have always put an emphasis on traveling.  We've been all over the United States, in Mexico and the Caribbean, the UK, Greece and Italy.  One crucial difference between us is how important photography has been for me.  I always considered my pictures to be a sort of visual diary, while he claims I miss things while I'm peering through a viewfinder.  These days I just say my photos are reference for future paintings, and sometimes that actually happens.  But I think there's more going on here, and that my need to travel, photograph, and paint are all connected and mutually reinforcing.

Crater Lake, from our hotel room

A few years ago I read a slender book called The Art of Travel, by Alain De Botton, and I copied out a few quotes into my sketchbook.  I've been thinking about the book, and may need to reread, since it has been tickling my memory so much lately.

p. 183  And perhaps the most effective means of enriching our sense of what to look for in a scene is by studying visual art.  We could conceive of many works of art as being immensely subtle instruments for telling us what amounts... to "Look at the sky of Provence, redraw your notion of wheat, do justice to olive trees."

Punta Cana beach, the Dominican Republic

p. 188  Every realistic picture represents a choice as  to which features of reality should be given prominence; no painting ever captures the whole, as Nietzsche mockingly pointed out... in The Realistic Painter:  Completely true to nature!  What a lie.  How could nature ever be constrained into a picture?  The smallest bit of nature is infinite, and so he paints what he likes about it.  And what does he like?  He likes what he can paint!

Macchu Picchu, Peru

p.205  It struck me as awkwardly true that I had not much admired Provence before I began to study its depiction in Van Gogh's work.  But in its desire to mock art lovers, Pascal's maxim (How vain painting is, exciting admiration by its resemblance to things which we do not admire the originals) was in danger of skirting two important points.  Admiring a painting that depicts a place we know but do not like seems absurd and pretentious if we imagine that painters do nothing but reproduce exactly what lies before them... But as Nietzsche knew, painters do not merely reproduce, they select and highlight, and the are accorded genuine admiration insofar as their version of reality seems to bring out valuable features of it.

Detail of San Marco, Venice, Italy

So I suppose that travel does more than satisfy curiosity about the world and its scenery and people.  For me, travel satisfies an urge to collect experiences and scenes of beauty, and then to cement them into my memory and share them with other people.  The challenge in painting these scenes is to bring to the picture the feelings inspired by the original place.  Can I impart the sparkle and color of water?  the proportions and beauty of a building? the sweep of a green landscape? the mystery of a deep shadow?  Even if I fail, studying a photo I have taken and reliving the experience in my memory often brings some of the joy of the original experience back.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Quick and Silly for Illustration Friday

This week's Illustration Friday idea is "rescue."  My first idea was the old standard of the life saver tossed to the drowning person.  Then I played around with ideas of how to play with that a little.  I first considered a collage with a well manicured female hand being tossed an over-sized diamond ring, then rejected it.  My husband's suggestion pleased me better.  What would Homer want to save his life?

I'm thinking Dunkin' Donuts. Sprinkles, please.

Just a quick note about some art activities that took longer.  I participated in a local "Art Loop and Painters' Frolic"" on Sunday at a convention center here in town.  This was new for me.  I had all sorts of concerns, including the fact that I don't own any display boards.  But the organizer did have some to loan, and I found myself at a table next to one of my former high school students, a lovely girl who paints large oil and acrylic canvases with bright colors and abstracted human forms.  We were supposed to also be painting as well as selling, so I brought along my water mixable oils and did my best to paint a local scene.  A nice man at a local pizza parlor gave me a clean box that served as a carrying case for the wet painting.  It was a long day, with lots of packing, hauling, arranging, chatting, and some painting.  I managed to sell some some items that covered my entrance fee, and I have a couple strong possibilities for sales of larger pieces.  But most of all, I saw lots and lots of friends and neighbors, and I met some artists I didn't know before.  I came home tired, but happy.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cutting and Pasting Again

paper collage on mat board

So this is what I do when I have other more important things to do.  I have lots of envelopes of things clipped from old magazines, books, calendars and so on.  Eve here was from a 1968 Life Magazine article about the women's movement.  I think the title of the article was Eve Was Framed.  Anyway, I wanted to give her life in a new context.  The big old lizard just called out to me.

What I should be doing is getting ready for tomorrow's Art Loop and Painters' Frolic, to be held at the Pontiac Convention Center. I've never participated in anything like this before, and I am not sure how I am going to haul everything there and keep myself occupied for the entire day.  It occurred to me yesterday that if I do sell paintings, I need to make some decisions about which paintings might appeal to buyers, price them, find something in which to wrap them, and something on which to write receipts. That's looking on the hopeful side.  I still need to wire a couple paintings, and then decide on what to take to work on, since we are supposed to be demonstrating as well. What to do? Watercolor? Acrylic? Oils? Collage?

The event has been well-publicized, and some of the funds raised will go to a local food bank, so this may be a lovely way to spend the day.  I just always worry.  Maybe that's why I chose a scary turquoise lizard over Eve's shoulder!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Study of Salome

study of a detail from Benozzo Gozzoli's 1461 painting, The Dance of Salome

Another online challenge site I recently discovered is one called Following the Masters.  Every month the blog's owner chooses a theme.  Last month it was the Ashcan School painters, and this month it is the Italian Renaissance.  She suggests books to help her people learn about the topic, and then followers can draw or paint something related to the topic.   Last month I read Robert Henri's wonderful collection of lectures, letters and essays about art called The Art Spirit.  This  month I re-read Irving Stone's fictional biographical novel about Michelangelo's life, The Agony and the Ecstasy.  I also decided this month to study another Renaissance painter, this time one I didn't know.  I chose Florentine painter Benozzo Gozzoli, whose figures attracted me.

Here is part of original painting:

I Salome's graceful figure and flowing dress, and the way he uses orange/reds, along with grayed greens and some blue in the shadows.  His painting is much more attractive than my study, but I feel I learned something in doing the work.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Springtime Fall / Sketch

5x7 inches, pen and ink, watercolor wash, for Monthly Sketch Project

I'm still evaluating which online challenge sites appeal to me most.  I'm asking myself how appealing and easy to use the reference photos are (if that is the format of that particular challenge) how long I have to complete the project, how easy it is to post, and how much feedback I get from other people who choose to participate there.

Even though the trees in my yard are just budding out, this reference photo was of an autumn scene.  I considered making my response into a painting, but in the end decided if the site says "sketch project," then I would try a sketch.  I probably spent an hour and a half on it, and liked it better before I added color.  The original reference photo was pretty, and offered some possibilities for learning to simplify shapes and deal with shadows, both good things.  Unfortunately, the resolution of the photo was low, so there was more inventing going on in this sketch than I really wanted.  At least that's the excuse I'm going with for my slap-dash approach to the drawing.  Still, it's good practice to be forced into invention, and I don't always have to slave over everything I produce.  I still may go back and add darker values to the tree trunks.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Two More Online Challenges

5x7 inches, for Illustration Friday: Expired, pen and ink, watercolor

I thought I'd post a couple of small illustrations I created in my watercolor notebook this week for online art challenges.  I've been interested in Illustration Friday for ages, since it is so well organized and so many people post their work on the site.  While some challenges are very specific (draw your shoes), the ideas at Illustration Friday are all open-ended.  They can be interpreted lots of ways, and they are!  This week the topic  is "Expired."  I thought about lots of things that expire: dairy products, coupons and sales, parking meters, people.  In the end a broken doll I had been saving for some sort of mixed media assemblage (yet to be created) called out to me.  I drew her amongst the twigs, dead leaves, and green shoots in my garden, a sort of plastic armless Venus.  Her life as a play toy has expired, but she lives on here.  The most challenging part of participating on this site for me was creating a 50x50 pixel thumbnail.  It took longer for me to figure that out than it did to draw all the teeny circles on the illustration.

5x7 inches, pen and ink, watercolor acrylic ink, created for Inspiration All Around Us

Another online challenge to try is a fairly new one entitled Inspiration All Around Us.  An Oregon artist named Dana Marie has begun posting reference photos every other Tuesday for people to interpret in any way they want.  In order to participate in this site you need to send her an email and ask to join the group, then you can post your drawing or paintings.  I did this little piece fairly quickly in my Moleskine watercolor notebook, first a pen and ink sketch, then watercolor for the waterlily blossom and leaves.  I did a dark blue background at first, but decided that I needed a darker value to set off the white blossom, so added a wash of black acrylic ink, letting some blue layer peek through.

I'm having a good time participating in these challenges, though I doubt I will participate in every one, every time.  For one thing, in order to get comments from other people, it's just courtesy to leave comments for other posters. That takes time.  But giving and receiving feedback is half the fun of joining these groups in the first place.  The other half is having a practically unlimited stock of ideas for creating art.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Monthly Painting Challenge: Creek Reflections

Creek Reflections, 12x16 inches, oil on canvas board,

I have been thinking about writing an article for a regional arts magazine about using internet art challenges as a way to develop skills, stay motivated, and meet other artists. Before I write about any of the groups I want to try each of them out for ease of participation and quality of response. The list of art challenges I have tried is on the side bar of this blog. If know know of others that are good I'd love to  hear about them.

I have taken local face to face workshops and studio classes, and I enjoy the opportunity they provide to learn new techniques, practice existing skills, and generally connect with other people.  Participating in these groups has gotten me out of the house, and provided some very good times indeed.

But I also have enjoyed participating in online groups.  Besides the good things mentioned already, these virtual groups provide some special advantages.  They tend to be free, which is no small thing these days.  Not only are there no fees attached, but I save gasoline costs, and wear and tear on my automobile.   By joining an online challenge I don't have to go out in bad weather or pack up any of my materials.  I can participate, or not, as my schedule and interest dictates.  And I can compare my response to the source photo or topic with lots of other artists.  Participating in these challenges has led me to the work of other artists whom I admire, and has created friendships I value.

This month I tried out a relatively new group, the Monthly Painting Challenge.  This blog provides a resource photo and encourages artists to adapt it in any way they see fit, to paint it in whatever medium they choose.  My response is at the top of the page.  I did an acrylic under painting of napthol red, then painted directly in pretty much one session using water mixable oil paints.  I like the way the red peeks through and enlivens the other colors.  Painting water and reflections is a challenge for me, and I found myself torn between wanting to observe carefully and committing to put down the paint, and wanting to play around with it.  This time I did OK at not going back to "muddy the water" and overwork, I think.  I also rather like the shapes of the trees, especially the one on the left. 

I'd love to hear from people about the online challenges they like best, and what advantages they see in participating these groups.  Oh, and don't be shy about sharing your critique of my painting response.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wrapping Up - Murano and Burano

Master glassblower at a Murano glass factory and showroom

I could have spent a week exploring Venice, but there are many other islands that have much to see as well.  Our group took a water bus to two famous island communities, Murano and Burano.

I remember when my grandparents went to Italy, back when I was in college.  They brought back a pretty pair of cameo earrings that I still treasure, and some art glass that didn't appeal to me as much.  The glass came from Murano, an island in the Venetian lagoon, where all the glassblowers were sent to prevent fires, and to preserve their technology secrets.  Murano is home to several glass factories and museums, where they make everything from paperweights, to chandeliers, to large art glass sculptures.  We visited one factory and were treated to a demonstration of glassblowing.

It was a cold and blustery Sunday, but the friendly patter of these artisans and the roaring kilns, warmed both body and soul.  I think they imagined we would be shipping home large purchases of art glass or hand-blown glassware, but the group headed for the souvenir shop after a serious case of sticker shock.  I bought a millefiori paper weight, and was well satisfied.

After Murano we re-boarded the water bus and headed to the fishing village of Burano, on another island in the lagoon.  Burano is famous for two things, picturesque houses painted in bright colors, and an ancient tradition of lace making.  The group had an hour or so to wander around, perhaps do some shopping or get something hot to drink.  One shop in particular had a lace showroom with beautiful clothing and lace table linens.  We were told that the fine hand work here was very famous, and that two or three woman could work more than a year to produce one large table cloth.

Upstairs in the shop was a little museum with old photographs and examples of lace work, including the restored wedding dress seen here.

After visiting Burano, we headed back to Venice.  Dick and I spent the afternoon finding some lunch, and wandering the winding streets of the city.  In the evening we had a farewell dinner for the whole group at the hotel, and then we all returned to pack for home.  We had to leave the hotels at 5:00 am in order to get to the airport, fly to Rome, transfer to our Alitalia flight, and return to Chicago.  I don't remember much about that morning except the water taxi ride on the chilly and moonlit Grand Canal; it was like a dream.

It was a wonderful trip, exhausting, exhilarating, as travel is.  The people were congenial, the guides well informed and kind, the food and scenery outstanding, and I have enough photos from which to sketch and paint to keep me busy for ages.

The question here in Janesville is, now that we have had time to get over our jet lag and look at the photos better, where to next?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Venice, Part One

View from the water taxi stand outside the hotel.  A moment later a kayak sped into the shot.

The last city on our Italian tour was Venice.  I had visited Venice in 1972 with my friend Rosemary, but on a hot and crowded summer day, and only for four hours.  This time our group stayed in two sister hotels just steps from the Bascilica de San Marco, and we had a couple days.  While the Florence hotel room was spartan and noisy, this room, at the Dona Palace Hotel, was large, comfortable and quiet. Best of all it was easy to find in a city that is a maze of winding streets, bridges, and dead ends.

Side view of San Marco

I think it would be very hard to be bored in Venice, with all the churches, shops, restaurants, and museums in a small area.  It would not be hard to go broke, however.  Hotels, food, souvenirs, are all expensive in Venice, so it's probably good we didn't stay longer.  I had been warned that the popular tourist areas are filled with beggars and pickpockets, but nobody in our group had no difficulties with that; perhaps it was a little early in the tourist season.

Entry stairway to the Doge's Palace.  Photographs are not permitted inside.

After we settled into our hotels, the group had tours of Saint Mark's Cathedral and the Doge's Palace.  San Marco is free, though tourists are confined to a specific pathway, and hustled along quickly.  I had not seen the Doge's Palace before, since in 1972 my friend and I only did things that were free.  This time we had a good guide, and each of us had little ear-speakers that broadcast her explanations as we went along.  It made hearing easy, and kept the overall noise level inside the rooms, the Bridge of Sighs, and prison, down to a civilized level.

Fresh seafood in a restaurant window 

It was too cold for gelato, but I couldn't resist photographing the shop window.

We were free in the evening to find a restaurant on our own.  There are many, and close to San Marco and the Grand Canal there are plenty of set price "tourist menu" options.  We had a good, if not outstanding meal at one the first night.  The next day at lunch we ventured out farther from the main tourist areas for lunch, and had one of the best, and priciest, meals I can ever remember eating.  It was spaghetti studding with fresh calamari, mussels, clams, and giant prawns, and I feel happy and satisfied just thinking about it.   It was small, warm, and filled with big groups of people speaking Italian - we didn't hear any English at all.  There was a farewell dinner the same night that I cannot even recall, out-shown as it was by that delicious lunch.

Carnival masks in a shop window.

Masks and a marionette

I didn't do a lot of souvenir shopping, no shirts, or masks, though I window-shopped all the time.  I also went into a small art supply shop that had a nice supply of brushes, papers, and all the familiar watercolor paints, including Maimeri, an Italian brand.  I did buy a small package of beautiful hand- marbled papers.  We'll see if I have the heart to cut them up for collages.

Friday, March 19, 2010

More Tuscany - Wine, Siena

Cecchi family estate, Villa Cerna, surrounded by olive trees, grape vines, umbrella pines and cypress trees.

Besides visiting Pisa, our group visited a Tuscan vineyard.  The Cecchi family produces Chianti Classico, about eight million bottles a year.  This part of Italy reminds me a little of California, with its rolling hills and vineyards around every bend.  This early in the season things are quiet in the vineyard, and  our warm and well-informed guide told us the history of the place, and showed us how the wine is produced.

After we saw how the wine is made we were treated to a tasting session, which included some very fine wine, bread, and salami.  Later in the day some of our group bought wine to bring home, though we did not.  I wasn't sure the bottles would travel well in luggage, and would certainly add extra weight.  Villa Cerna Chianti Classico is available in the United States, at any rate.

Our final stop of the day was in the ancient walled city of Siena.  Like Florence and Pisa, Siena is a World Heritage Site.  As before, our bus parked quite far from the old walled part of the city, and we were shuttled in.  We had to take a series of escalators to the upper city level, which I appreciated, since was getting tired.  The weather got colder and damper, and the wind was fierce.  Our guide, recognizing our discomfort, sent us out to find some lunch (we had lovely bread soup), and then we regrouped in a sheltered area near the Piazza del Campo, where popular and historic horse races are held twice a year.

While I was interested enough in stories of the horse races, and explanations about the architecture of the cathedral, what interested me as much was the color of the soil, a pale yellow.  The earth pigments used to make artist colors raw sienna and burnt sienna were originally mined in this area, and now I will always associate them with this pretty city.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Heading Out - Pisa

We signed up for an optional bus trip that took us out into the Tuscan countryside, where despite the gloomy weather, the fields had already turned emerald green, and spring cool weather vegetables were sprouting in people's gardens.  The excursion made for a full day, a visit to a vineyard, and to two important Tuscan cities, Pisa and Siena.  I'll concentrate on Pisa.

The bus wasn't allowed near the old part of Pisa, where the cathedral, baptistry and famous leaning bell tower are, so we parted in a remote lot and took a shutter bus to the site.  Outside the old walls of the city there is a gauntlet of souvenir stands, African immigrants hawking umbrellas, and even a McDonalds, but inside the walls was fascinating.  Our guide gave us a good overview of the city's history, and also lots of information about the buildings you see behind her in this photo.  The leaning tower is interesting on its own, but we were also interested in the mosaics, sculptures and alabaster windows in the cathedral, and the wonderful acoustics in the baptistry.

Details of gargoyle on the cathedral exterior, and tiled mosaics inside.

Dick, before he decided to climb up into the leaning tower.  Its pricey to do this, 20 Euros, so I felt OK about shopping for a souvenir Pinocchio while he was occupied. The author of the famous children's book lived nearby.

We had some time to find lunch, and this is the little trattoria where we warmed up and ordered a pizza.  It was delicious, prepared in a wood-burning oven.  What was interesting to me was that the ingredients were not all mixed together, but the olives, ham, and mushrooms were arranged separately in a design on the top of the pie.

A final comment on traveling, eating and drinking in Italy.  Our experience was that public toilets are few and far between.  When they are available, they are staffed by a matron who expects a tip.  This means that the only reliable way to find facilities is to go into a trattoria, pay for food or drink, and then use theirs.  This may account for why people drink tiny cups of espresso.  There's lots of kick and not too much liquid.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

More of Florence, Sacred and Profane

Dick, ahead of me, walking toward the city center

Back in 1972, when I was still an undergraduate, my high school friend Rosemary and I backpacked through Europe, with a copy of Frommer's Europe on Five Dollars a Day in hand.  The trip lasted six weeks, and we economized every way possible, including sleeping overnight on trains, eating out of markets and grocery stores, and tagging along for free on tours of attractions.  We almost never bought tickets for anything.  As we visited placed we ripped out the chapters and threw them away to lighten the loads we carried on our backs.  One of the things I remember from that trip was cats in Italy, everywhere.  In Florence I remember looking out the window of our pension room and seeing cats walking on red tile rooftops.

Us, standing near a replica of David outside the Signoria. The original, damaged in Michelangelo's day, is elsewhere.

So, for years I wanted to return to Florence and sleep comfortably, eat in restaurants, and visit museums that charge admission.  I wanted to show Dick the cats.  While we had a hotel in which to stay, I can't say I slept much.  The window, with its view of the old wall and charming shutters, was also near a busy highway with lots of loud scooters and trucks rumbling by.  Not even a sleep aid in pill form helped much.  We had fun choosing restaurants and trattorias, and one night we did get an inexpensive bottle of wine and sandwiches from a market.  We visited the Uffizi and the Academy with Michelangelo's original nine foot tall David. But the cats were nowhere to be seen.  I asked our bubbly Florentine guide, Francesca, where they went, and with a sly grim she said that Chinese immigrants took care of the cats.  She was kidding.  It turns out that Italy has a no-kill policy for stray cats and dogs, and most of the felines were being fed in the Boboli Gardens, abd a large cemetery.

Florence is an interesting mix of profane and sacred.  It is a place to shop, if you want gold jewelry, fashion, or leather goods.  You can eat and drink very well indeed here, and if its warm enough to want something cool, gorgeous piles of fruit-studded gelato are for sale on almost every block.  Their hot chocolate is rich and expensive, and was popular with our group, especially since most of us were chilled by the unseasonable weather.

Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flowers)

I am old enough to remember the devastating flood in 1966, the one that damaged thousands of art treasures, including the famous Baptistry doors.  Much of what people go to Florence to see is sacred in nature.  The cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore with its famous dome and the nearby Baptistry are high on the must-see list.  When Rosemary and I saw the doors they were damaged by the flood.  Today they have been restored, and are in a museum.  Replicas of the Doors of Paradise are there now, though I think it would be hard for anyone to tell the difference.  We got a ticket to go inside, and I was amazed by all the mosaic work, from marble tiled floors in Moorish designs, to gold glass mosaics on the walls, depicting heaven and hell.

The Baptistry ceiling -  click on this photo to see the mosaic angels in more detail.

We also toured the Gothic cathedral, and Dick, who had read books about how the dome was built, climbed to the top while I cooled my heels inside.  If we had more time I would have liked to see some of the other churches as well, but I was happy to see these attractions.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Italy Trip Report - Part One

Old gate to Florence, right next to our hotel.

We've been home from our tour with the UW Whitewater Alumni Association for a week, and both my energy and my ankles are back to normal.  I thought I'd share some of the highlights with people who read this blog, along with some of my reactions to traveling with a group.

In general, Dick and I are not people who take tours.  We've traveled to the UK a dozen times, designed our own itineraries, rented cars, found our way around.  Of course language is no problem in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.  So now that we are branching out into countries whose language we do not speak (apart from please, thank you, excuse me, and check please), we've let others do the planning and hire the guides.  Pilgrim Tours is the operator Whitewater uses for their alumni trips, and they do a good job.  Once people take these trips, they often return.  We knew several people from last year's trip to Peru on this tour, and that was nice.   Our only concern was that this group was twice as large as the group who went to Peru, sixty people.

On March first we joined the group at the university and took a bus to Chicago to board our Alitalia flight to Rome.  It all went smoothly, no delays, no screaming babies, decent food.  Of course we were packed like anchovies in a can, but that is air travel in the economy class.  After nine hours of flying we landed in Rome, where the sun was shining and the weather was balmy.  We transferred for our flight to Florence, then hit the first snag.  The captain apologized in his Italian accent, but our plan had damage to the fuselage, and we were being taken back to the terminal until another plane could be brought for us.  In short, we arrived in Florence a couple hours later than we anticipated, which wouldn't have mattered, except by this time we had been awake almost 24 hours.  It was past bed time.

View from our hotel window

Somehow it was Tuesday, the day we were supposed to rest up, and have our welcome to Florence dinner. We booked into our hotel near the old Roman wall, a former convent named Convitto della Calza. Our tiny room was on the top floor,  overlooking the old stone fortification.  The hotel looks like the convent it once was, with pillared arcades, religious statues in the center courtyard, and a restaurant with a replica of The Last Supper, full-sized, on the wall. We didn't have long to think about crashing though, because before we left Janesville we made reservations to see the Uffizi Gallery.  This treasure was not part of our package, and we were not sure we would see it if we didn't go right away.

Cherry blossoms near the entrance to the Boboli Gardens

One excellent thing about our hotel was its proximity to many of the attractions of Florence.  We had less than a mile to walk to the Pitti Palace, Ponte Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria, and the Uffizi.  So, dizzy with fatigue, we headed out for our first views of the birthplace of the Renaissance.

Bronze boar in the Mercato Centrale.  Rub his nose and drop a coin for good luck and a return trip.

The weather in Florence was overcast and cool, not so spring-like as the Rome airport had been.  We had been checking the weather for weeks, and it was always about 20 degree warmer there, but it changed when we arrived.  We found ourselves piling on multiple tee shirts, and donning our weather-proof jackets.

We had no problems finding the Uffizi, getting our reserved tickets and entering the beautiful former Medici palace.  I was grateful that I had read about the paintings ahead of time, and delighted to see paintings and sculptures by Giotto, Botticelli, Durer, Michelangelo, Titian and Rembrandt.  The huge Birth of Venus and Primavera in the Botticelli room were especially memorable, and I was surprised to see the figures were at least life-sized.  My other reaction was that illustrations of these famous paintings I had studied in books were much brighter than the actual canvases.  We were delighted to discover an outdoor patio where coffee is served, with a view of the famous duomo dome by Fillipo Brunelleschi.  But lack of sleep was hurrying us along, and we returned to our cramped quarters to rest before our get-acquainted dinner.

View of the Ponte Veccho over the Arno River, from the Uffizi Gallery

Monday, March 15, 2010

Italian Feast, and a painting

11x14 inches, watercolor on Yupo

I started this watercolor on slick Yupo synthetic paper in January, then put it aside until now.  The reference photo was from Google Street View, and I was delighted as we were walking in Florence last week to realize that Street View had given me a general ideas of where all the things I wanted to see actually were, and that I recognized this view.  Based on that I was able to figure out how the shutters on the ochre colored houses work, and revise my use of color a little.  It's loose, but gives the idea of the narrow dark streets and how the sun hits the upper stories. The only thing missing is scooters, which were everywhere.

Last night Dick made us his Italian feast, with a bottle of chianti, an antipasto plate, and the bean/bread soup we enjoyed so much. This platter had provolone cheese, marinated mushrooms, kalamata  olives, cherry tomatoes, a roll of cheese and prosciutto, and capicola ham.  I had loved the appetizers we got with crispy bread and fresh cold meats, and this was pretty close.

I am not as big a fan of soup as many people I know, but this was good and filling.  We saw Rebollita soup on menus everywhere, and had a very satisfying and warming soup on a cold and rainy day in Siena.  I think a person can make his or her own recipe, since it's just a vegetable soup with white beans and stale bread.  In Tuscany I think they mostly use chopped kale, but Dick substituted some fresh spinach instead.  I asked for his recipe, and he fudged, saying what he wrote was sketchy, and it was.  Here's what he wrote:

Rebollita, Tuscan Bread Soup

onion and garlic (leeks)     carrots
white beans                      zucchini
chicken broth                    basil
kale or spinach                  a couple tablespoon tomato paste
celery                               salt and pepper
parsley                             olive oil

Saute the onion, garlic and leek in olive oil.  Cook everything else in the chicken broth.  Add some stale bread or croutons last. You can drizzle more olive oil on top, or add grated parmesan cheese if you want.

He never added leeks to this soup, and I know he used croutons for the bread.  I also know he made his own chicken broth, though I'm sure canned would do.  We never had cheese on the table in Italy, and rarely salt or pepper, though sometimes there was a bottle of olive oil. I think this is the sort of soup you make with what you have, and the more it simmers, the better.  I suspect today the reheated leftover soup will be even better.