Month: October 2014

Neapolitan Sunday

Continued from Volcanoes and Volcadas

The next day, Sunday, we had a morning tango lesson but I got up early and walked into the center of Sorrento to search for a quick drawing in my small sketch book. I noticed the morning sunlight on the lemon yellow church and felt this represented the town and wanted to produced a quick drawing where I could add the washes later. Reproducing the hues and tones of the lemon yellow was going to be tricky. I found a corner of the square, out of the way, perched on my stool in a good place to see all.  Until… as soon as I saw it in the distance I knew it was destined for me. A horse drawn carriage was gently clopping towards me. For a second I thought it was going to stop short and I would be saved, but no, the driver reversed the carriage right in front of me obliterating every part of the view. To his defense he did come over to me, take look at my sketch, approved it and then asked me if I would like him to move the carriage. I said no, the damage was already done.

Line and wash

Church in Sorrento town centre

The morning lesson, involved various calesitas (caraselles). I find these moves very emotive and need to be used at really special parts of the music. So this was a valuable lesson. We were travelling to a Milonga in Naples in the evening so I had an afternoon to spend drawing. Lunch was first at a local restaurant with a lovely group of people. We sat outside in a typical Sorrento alleyway (a future painting) making the most of the tourist menu. I didn’t drink wine as I wanted a clear head for drawing later but the lemonadesoda was perfect.

With some difficulty I left the group to walk to the port.I settled down on some wide steps using my new travelling stool and started drawing.
The scene was ambitious, taking the whole cliff line from Sorrento going east, including the Marina. Naturally things didn’t go to plan. When the ferry arrived hoards disembarked and they used the steps as a meeting point, obliterating my view several times. I’m sort of getting used to this by now and with such a huge subject in front of me there was always something else to draw. This part of the port is given over to feral cats, causing the ferry passengers to ooh and arrh over the kittens. To me it quickly became apparent that I had selected to sit next to a cats toilet. I soldiered on for my art. Vans, boats and ferries parked in front of my view in regular fashion but eventually the smell and distractions made me move. I stood, perched, sat on bollards and prowled the area looking for a comfortable place to continue for the rest of the afternoon.
In the end I returned to the site on the last day of the holiday and finished the drawing. The smell was even worse when I returned. I can still smell it now. Suffering for my art… here is the drawing


Sorrento cliffs and marina

I plan to colour in the drawing but need some time to make sure I don’t mess it up with poor washes and too intense colours.

The evening Milonga in Naples was magnificent. The Naples traffic delayed us but we received a big welcome from the host and settled into a steamy (humid) night of tango. Santiago & Sandra were brilliant when they danced for the gathering and received a wonderful applause. For me it was a very special night and I thank all the Neapolitan ladies for their beautiful dances.


Volcanoes and Volcadas

I’ve just returned from a wonderful dancing holiday to Sorrento, Italy. Organised by tango teachers, Santiago and Sandra of Lets Tango, it was the perfect autumn break. Naturally I took my sketchbooks along with my dancing shoes and was inspired by the beautiful scenery to attempt some drawing.

The trip covered 5 full days and we packed in a full itinerary, visiting Capri, Sorrento, Pompeii and Naples. I managed a handful of sketches and improved my tango – the perfect combination! The dancing group was around twenty dancers, making for a good variety of dance partners. We all got on really well and I’ve made some lovely new friends.

I’ve split this post into several parts, covering the first of my sketches and our trip to Capri. The whole region has been shaped by the huge eruption of Vesuvius in AD79, which has formed the dramatic coastline and fertile but hilly countryside.

The first opportunity to sketch came on the day of arrival, where we had a short lunch break before the initial tango lesson. I walked to a point I had seen from the map & Google streetview, which has several seats and a panoramic view across the Bay of Naples to Vesuvius. There were plenty of spaces and I sat on the edge of one bench and started to sketch. It was working out well but as time was limited I wanted to keep drawing to a minimal and paint the washes in early. There was heavy cloud covering the summit of the volcano and an impressive Gin Palace was anchored in the harbour. Having started the washes I was interrupted by a member of the public peering over my shoulder. Normally this is okay as they usual mutter something and wander off. However, when she put foot on the bench beside me I felt this was a little different. There were already three of us on the bench and as I had my paints out there was little room for anyone else. But I was wrong. She placed her foot on the bench beside me, peered even closer and plonked herself down beside me while I laid the broad blue washes of the sea.  Then the elbows in my back started. It felt she was wrestling a crocodile behind me and tapping out a tango on my spine. Inspiration was gone, comfort evaporated and rage took hold. I slammed my book shut, splattering wet washes, Rorschach style across my pages. I glared at her and told her it was going to be a real pleasure to find another bench, as clearly her need for this one was greater than mine. My mood ruined I walked back to the hotel, with her antics etched into my sketch forever.

I worked on the sketch a couple of days later to rescue something but more still needs to be done. Note the Umbrella Pine beside the building, which is special to this coastline.


Bay of Naples

I was restored by the excellent tango class given by Santiago and Sandra in the afternoon and we had a lively night out at the Foreigners Club, dancing to a range of ballroom songs played by a duo with a wide repertoire. Trying to remember my Cha,Cha Cha and Rumba moves was testing. Apologies to Sheila & Sandra for any crushed toes.

I was really lucky with my room as I faced out to the sea and had wonderful morning views of Mount Vesuvius. Before going to breakfast I took time to soak in the colours and tones of the morning sky around the volcano. I knew the camera I used could not capture the subtleties of the light so I made an attempt with paint. I needed more time and better paper (and skill) to do this but the sketch will remind me of the glorious mornings.

Bay of Naples

Mount Vesuvius from Hotel Flora, Sorrento

That morning we had an even better lesson, spoiled only by the floor surface, which was solved by copious use of volcanic dust (talc).

We traveled to Capri in the afternoon, expertly organised by Sandra. The expensive crossing was justified by a dramatic and beautiful island, with an extremely wealthy undertone. We took the funicular to the Capri piazzetta and walked to the gardens of Augusto. Stunning views of the spectacular cliffs greeted us and I settled down to draw one of the vistas.

Capri Island

Capri from Augusto Gardens

Painting views like this is especially difficult. Finding the right spot, out of the sun, with a seat and out of the way of other visitors is really tricky. I couldn’t get out of the sun and I crouched for a while, balancing paints and brushed over a precipice. So this is not my best but it does provide me with a memory.

Later, in the evening we danced in the bar of the hotel to wonderful music provided by Santiago and a small but appreciative audience of hotel guests. We were also joined by a German/Austrian couple who we met at the Foreigners Club the night before.

The next post will take us to Naples, Sorrento  and Pompeii. Below are a couple of photos from the trip.



Capri Marina

Capri Marina

From Capri Piazzetta with Gabbi our guide

From Capri Piazzetta with Gabbi our guide

Capri Cliffs

Capri Cliffs

Lantern shop

Using the photos from my trip to Essauoria I’ve found a picture of a lantern shop in the medina. Busy, colourful and full of contrasts. Not a straight forward project. From a composition point of view it has an arch, shops and passageway, so the picture is central to the page rather than off centre.

The colours and contrasts will make or break the picture and so I was concerned the busyness would be tricky and just become a fuzzy mess. I’ve been looking at the most wonderful pictures by Carl Larson. He uses outlines to define the edges. Not all with a black line, but with coloured lines. He is a master of efficient line work.

So I’ve rather clunkily used this technique within my own painting style. I think I have a little more to do but need time to think what to do.



Lantern shop


Return to the Rose City

Our return to Marrakech by taxi was interrupted by a visit to a Berber horse fair.  Our driver felt it would be interesting to see charging horsemen with rifles and sabers flashing past in a haze of dust and heat. However, the horses were in their stables and the riders praying in their tents. So we became the locals’ entertainment, which was a little unsettling.  One of our numbers was in a poor shape and this detour was not best timed so we pleaded to the driver to take us to our new Riad.

The Riad was north west of the Medina in a much busier part of the city than our previous stay. We followed the baggage cart down ever narrowing and darker passageways, thinking ‘how are we going to remember to find this later’. The Riad was, again, in a traditional Marrakech building with rooms around a central courtyard and a pool below. Its terrace had potential but for some reason we rarely used it.

The food in Marrakech was great and we went to some of the best in town. How did we know where to go? Earlier we had met an Englishman who had been living in the City for 10 years and represented or owned 4 Riads. To mark them on the map he had created an app called Marrakech Riad Travel Guide. It was superb, with a geo locater that told you exactly where you were without the need for wifi. It offered guides for food, shopping, drink plus other helpful tips. Recommended.

Once again the art was tricky as we needed places to settle down and draw but in the busy streets and passageways this was not easy to do. The small museums in Marrakech are really good and they are often located in Riads, offering refreshments and roof terraces. But still not much art was being produced. So we went to the Majorelle Gardens, located close to our hotel we braved walking there. This was certainly an adventure. with cars added to the normal mix of people, donkey karts, bicycles, skooters and motorbikes. We walked past busy markets, fast roads, large confusing junctions, building sites and every type of shop under the hot Moroccan sky. Thanks to the app we found it efficiently but we needed a hot mint tea before touring the gardens. The cafe there is delightful and we had difficulty moving on. The gardens are beautiful,  especially after the streets of Marrakech and we found places to paint from. I started well and sketched and painted until lunch. Lunch in the cafe was delicious and we returned to our painting. I must have lost the thread again because my painting went awry in this session. Painting just foliage is tricky so I’m OK with this painting but the palm foliage in the mid distance could have been thought through better and the foreground shadows deeper.


Majorelle gardens, Marrakech

By now, with quite a lot of art under my belt, mostly in my small sketchbook I was happy to relax more and only draw when the opportuntiy arose. The guide told us of a good cafe on the edges of the Souk and by chance we were close. It was a little gem. There was a set menu and the staff just took over and made sure we were fed and watered with simple but tasty fare. Situated on a small but very busy junction, beside a mosque we had a great chance to sit and draw, talk to the locals and watch life go by. A Tuareg shop owner was interested in us and we got chatting, looked at our art and help chase the cats away. My sketch of the lunch time view is below. Later we bought leather belts and souvenirs from the shops around the cafe.


Marrakech Souk

As in a previous sketch there are items in the picture that are typical of the Souk. Such as the lantern, the dark, busy alley, the scooter, shops and palm. This may turn into a painting later but I need to think about composition. It was Annies birthday and we had a great time, eating relaxing, shopping and sightseeing through the day.

Janet had taken a photo of a typical Moroccan doorway earlier in the trip and I had been working on it through the time we were there. I finished it at home.


Moroccan doorway

The trip was great,  there was a lot to see and do and we were never bored. Thanks to Janet for organizing and to Janet and Peter for the artistic direction.

Finally I’ve begun working on some of the photos taken during my stay from my desk at home. I’m still not getting composition right but I’ve taken some details from the painting and made mini snapshots.


Arch and Lantern