Rooftops over Ragusa: the finished painting

Rooftops over Ragusa Finished

This has been an enjoyable journey to use that expression, which does seem appropriate, as I did feel I went back there. I took photographs with a view to paint, but never found the time. One thing about lockdown is that I don’t feel guilty about making more time to paint. There is always something to do in the house but generally house and garden are tidy and the allotment is up-to-date, which is unheard of

Also I am managing to paint in natural light which is a plus. So often painting time comes in the evening and artificial light is a handicap

Colours were enjoyable with the mix of phthalo blue and cobalt for sky and cathedral. Just a tad of grey in the blue for accuracy and to stand against the sky. For all the old houses, different shades of Burnt Sienna and orange, with some blue in the steps to balance the colour scheme

There is a competition coming up for 70+ year olds in lockdown so might put this one in. There will be thousands of entries from across the country, so no hope of winning, but as we say, it’s the taking part that counts

Rooftops over Ragusa: the painting in early stages

Partway through the painting

I have made a start on the actual painting. Quite a lot of drawing work to be done as one might imagine, and working from three photographs, the perspective drawing was interesting to say the least

I do a small amount most days and look at what I have done when the paint has properly dried. The cathedral is virtually finished although I may still go back in with a sharp brush and reinforce some of the finer details.

For some reason the colours in the photograph are more red than in the original painting.

Still a long way to go yet

Rooftops over Ragusa

View of the rooftops of Ragusa in Sicily

We spent a lovely holiday in Sicily a few years back. One of the many towns we visited was Ragusa, built on two hills as I remember, certainly high up.

We were given a walking tour by a local guide, a young man who was fit and agile. Members of our party were mostly not, some had sticks and needed time. He took us to the vantage point in the picture, behind the cathedral. We were faced with what looked like hundreds of steps and very steep at that. Our guide skipped up them like a young goat. We climbed slowly pausing for breath. We caught him up at the very top. He looked impatient. He gave us a matter of minutes to take photographs, and gather our strength , then trotted down at a speed which we could not match

I remember thinking ” One day, young man, you’ll be like us”

At the top I took pictures from the hip. It was quite a view and needed more time. I remember thinking ” I’ll paint this one day”. That was a few years back, and now thanks to isolation I have finally found time and I have made a start. So far so good but nothing worth showing yet

I will just finish with a view of the steps which might give an idea of the ascent

Those steps

I still remember that feeling of vertigo when I looked back down

It should make for an interesting composition if I get it right

A Vignette in Watercolour entitled Salt Mills near Marsala, Sicily

Just occasionally, and by way of a change, I quite like to paint a vignette of something, something small which lends itself to that style of finished painting. It is more immediate, rather like making a sketch, and it can look like that, but if successful, can work as a framed painting too.

They are quick which is what I like about them. I draw direct onto the watercolour paper which saves me so much work in the planning stage. Invariably the subject matter doesn’t need too much drawing, like these windmills, although having said that the sails were tricky

The painting itself didn’t involve wetting the paper, as there was very little sky or any other underpainting involved. Mostly the work was small brush detail, and put sky and water in afterwards. I am not going to pretend this result is brilliant but the image is charming and usable either as a reference for a larger work, or framed in itself as a finished piece.

They can too, be framed without mounting because of the white surround. Not sure whether I would do that but I have seen that done

I am still drawing paintings together for updating my website davidharmerwatercolour.co.uk which should be done soon. There are some vignettes on that, some sold and some still available.

Also pulling paintings together for my next solo show in April which is being held at the Guildford Institute.

Salt Mills of Trapani: the finished painting

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The painting finished, and that now completes my quota for the exhibition coming up at the Guildford Institute on the 13th. Something of a relief that I am in time, and only have some framing left to do.

For the conical roofs on the mills, I used a different red. Quinacridone Red which I haven’t used before, makes a nice deep pinky red and was virtually an exact colour match to the photograph. Indian Red is not dissimilar but I remembered buying the quinacridone some while ago for some purpose or other, so thought I would trial it. I quite like it by way of a change

I then went on to run a dilute shade of the same colour down the sides of the mills themselves which again brought the masonry colour closer to the original in the photograph.

The stones along the walkway between the salt pans, were quite bright in the sunlight, so I used quinacridone gold instead of raw sienna

There was little else to do. I deepened the blue in the foreground. Sadly little or nothing to put there, so I have made the reflections more pronounced in order to break up the expanse of blue water  I could use red for my signature. I will think about that

But life does not stop here. I have another exhibition coming up in July at the Royal Surrey Hospital, which is another favourite venue. This time I shall be sharing the space with my colleague, Elaine. She does more abstract and adventurous stuff than me, so our paintings seem to compliment one another

Taking a pessimistic view, with no sales at the Institute, I shall just move these paintings to the next exhibition. However there would be one or two changes that I would like to make anyway, and I would like to include some more paintings of Venice which are always popular. I have come across a very good source of photographs that I can work from and leave the next one with you

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San Giorgio Maggiore, an old favourite which I have painted before but the light and colours on this shot are delightful

We will see what I make of it. Suggestions by the way, are always welcome

Salt Mills at Trapani: the part finished painting

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Well, I am moving along slowly, which is the best I can say

There have been quite a few problems over the last couple of weeks, which have demanded my attention. Sadly things that I enjoy, like painting, have had to take second place. Still, every now and then, I creep back to my easel and manage an hour or so. I treat painting as r&r at the moment, and there is no doubt that it soothes the troubled spirit.

I have called this the part finished stage. perhaps more accurate would be to call it the part unfinished stage.

I have put in a Mediterranean sky and water. Phthalo Blue and Cobalt blended seem to work quite well for this. Again I have worked up the distant background in the same colour only deeper, which I think gives it a more faraway look

I have been putting detail into the three mills and adjacent buildings. I have been trying to gradate the tone from one to the other to create the feeling of distance. The nearest will require more work, as this one will have to look really sharp. Detailing the sails will be testing, knowing how much to put in and how much to leave out. I want them to look accurate without looking like a photograph. Oh well, if it were easy it wouldn’t be fun, I suppose

Ironically, the furthest mill presented the least difficulties when it came to painting the sails. Just a flick of a wet brush and that was it. I still have to think about the middle one which will be difficult to get just right. The three bears had the same problem!

I have had to rearrange those low walls to help the composition and to get some reflections in, otherwise there will be nothing in the foreground. No boats here.

Some interesting problems to tackle!

Salt Mills at Trapani, Sicily

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When I last posted about the painting that I finished of Marzamemi in the south eastern corner of Sicily, I referred to the salt pans and the salt mills of Trapani near Marsala in the north western end of the Sicilian island

The mills aren’t used any more I am told, but stand as monuments to an industrial past. They are striking, as windmills always are. Something about them standing against the skyline, which makes you want to paint them, and these are no exception.

The design is somewhat different to the ones you see in Northern Europe. Six sails instead of the four we are used to. The sails themselves seem less sturdy too. Maybe that is why there are so many ropes strung from one sail to the next. I don’t know, and I could not find anyone to tell me either. The conical roof can be rotated manually with a lever behind, to turn the sails into the prevailing wind. English mills have something similar although not the same.

But whatever, they are impressive and very paintable although what surrounds them is not inspiring, so will have to be sorted somehow

The actual salt extraction continues as of old. The sea water floods the pans and is allowed to evaporate in the hot sun. The salt as it is exposed is turned by hand until it dries, and then piled on the dockside awaiting removal by truck and further processing later

I have got as far as making  a perspective drawing and transferring it onto watercolour paper, and I will include a shot of the drawing at the end. I have masked the edges of the mills and other buildings, to allow me to sweep across with my usual Mediterranean sky mix of phthalo and cobalt blue. You will see from the drawing that I have added one more mill to deepen the perspective. I have actually just added the blue and will let it harden for 24 hours before removing the mask

I would love to think that this will make a pair with the last Sicilian painting of Marzamemi. Probably too much to hope for, but we will remain optimistic

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As clear as I can get it for the moment, so hope that makes sense

Marzamemi, Sicily: the story so far

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The painting of Marzamemi, the fishing village in Sicily, which I have started and which is in its early stages.

Not much sky in this paicture which is useful, as I wanted the roof tops of the buildings to remain sharp if possible against the skyline. I used my old friend, the Mediterranean mix of Phthalo Blue and Cobalt for the sky, not wetting the paper beforehand, so that the colour didn’t run all over the place

I have tidied up the buildings to a certain extent and let the colour of the buildings bleed down into the sea. The sea colour is the same as the sky. I let that dry hard before going any further.

After a day or so, I picked up the painting again, and put some more colour into the sea. I avoided going over the reflections of the buildings, but just went over the rest with sweeps of sea colour, to give the effect of breeze ripples, I hope

I went right across the boats, risky I know but I think all the colours to be used on the boats will cover what I have done

Since taking this photograph I have introduced indigo into the foreground boats, for the detailing and deep shadow. I really want these two boats to come out at the viewer and command most of the attention.

Toying now which colours to use to be faithful to the original whilst at the same time, I want the combination to work as a painting. Winsor Blue perhaps which I haven’t used for some time, red along the waterline and white gouache. There will be some trial and error I think, so we shall see.

Every now and then I repeat that I am not an art teacher and have no qualification other than experience. I am very happy for people to watch, and if  what I do is helpful, then great. By the same token, I like to learn so alternative suggestions are always welcome

Marzamemi, Sicily : Composed Drawing

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Using the boat photograph and various other photographs which I took at the time, I have put together quite a simple composition, which I hope nonetheless will be effective

As a drawing, it is none too exciting, but when painted up, I am hoping that these bright, Mediterranean colours will provide the stimulus

With the exception of buildings on the far shore, nearly everything is blue or white. Different shades of blue, too, which will be challenging ( please excuse that overworked word) to do successfully as a watercolour

Textures will be interesting too. The boats in the foreground look as though their hulls have been reinforced with fibre glass, not too professionally, so that consequently the surface of them is quite rough. How to achieve that with a watercolour painting, I am not sure, probably with gouache applied thickly to give an impasto finish. Anyway we can play around with that.

We only had a short stop off here. Just enough time for a coffee, in one of the lovely little cafes in the main square, which was charming, and a walk round the harbour, which is a mix of boat repair workshops, restaurants and boutiques. That may sound an unlikely mix but seemed to work well.

Marzamemi is fairly close to Syracuse, the history of which is fascinating, and a chapter in itself. Around that eastern part of the island, we had spent quite a lot of time visiting spots used on location filming for the TV cop series Montalbano. If you are not familiar with the series it was broadcast from 1999 until now, something like 11 separate series, so very popular. Marzamemi was not one of those places, so something of a relief in a way. Don’t get me wrong, I have watched the series at home, and it is very good, and we knew what we were going to look at before we joined the tour, but there was a lot of it

As I say, I enjoyed watching Montalbano at home, except I would have preferred subtitles to a dubbed voice. Dubbing never works for me, always slightly out of sync, and you don’t have to be a lipreader to see the face doesn’t match the dialogue. I much prefer the Scandinavian crime dramas like “The Bridge” which we get which are subtitled.

But I am going off the point. Enough to say that Marzamemi was delightful and I look forward to doing this painting.

Paintings of Sicily

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I really need two more paintings for my exhibition in March. I love painting Italy, and am going to pick two locations from our trip to Sicily last year. One lovely little spot was the fishing village of Marzamemi, which is on the southern side of the island, not far from Syracuse. Actually it is more for the tourists than anything else now, but there are some nice little boats tied up in the harbour, obviously old but cared for. They are not pristine, but I don’t want that anyway. What I prefer are something like the boats in my photograph, painted by hand in these bright Mediterranean colours. How to get that bright blue will be challenging in itself and whether I can capture that thick hand-painted effect will be another matter

I took several pictures, and I will have to cull bits and pieces for the far distance, which is the far side of the harbour. I can generate something from these for the composition. There are buildings like cafes on the shore as well as other craft both on and out of the water

It could be an interesting task putting these together, but as I say, making something out of all that bright blue will be fun

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On the north west side of the island near the town of Marsala, is a quiet area where salt is evaporated from the sea-water in large pans. We watched the salt being piled high, and then being taken away for processing , with a constant shuttle of trucks. The mills are picturesque. I don’t think any of them work now, but they are still part of the scene

I thought I could make a painting from the pictures I took. I hope so, I will have juggle them about and see

I also bought two nice frames at a fair recently in a distressed finish, which look very Italian, so I hope that works out. I just have to get down to it

I received the brochure from the Tate the other day, and a new David Hockney exhibition starts next month, with special viewing times for members, which is me, which is a very welcome innovation. To be looked forward to