Travels With My Art

A compilation of Chris's humorous and entertaining travelogues, revealing some of the pitfalls and frustrations, as well as the joy of being a professional artist. Hoping that his efforts abroad will continue to bring in a daily crust to continue supporting his family at home!

14 Dec 2010

Northleach Market Place – but as you have never seen it before

Eh? I hear you say, wait a minute, the left hand side of the painting is recognisable, but what is that building on the right?

In fact the picture above is a painting by Chris Fothergill, but a very close copy of an ink and watercolour painting of the Market Place by an artist, Frederick Stockdale. The original is in a museum in Devizes, Wiltshire, and came to light last year, untitled, but has since been traced to Northleach, and the artist verified.

The marvellous thing about it is it reveals for the first time what the old Market Hall (the building on column supports to the right) actually looked like, with the High Market Cross in the immediate foreground. It has long been known that the Market Hall existed and it has shown on old plans of the town, but until now there has been no image of it, as it was demolished in the 1820’s, which pre-dates even the earliest photography. As the rest of the Market Place and the Church is so accurately and well observed, even the pub sign showing a white horse (the name of the pub then, which is now the Sherborne Arms), then it is almost certainly a faithful rendition. The poor condition of the hall with its windows filled, and crumbling edges is quite apparent.

I was very excited to have such a new side of Northleach revealed, and couldn’t wait to copy the painting for myself. The artist’s use of pen and watercolour style is so similar to my own that it came easily to produce a copy, and I believe at a glance one would be hard put to tell the difference. Originally I was going to keep it for myself, but someone in the town persuaded me to sell it to them, and then another person persuaded me to paint another copy for them! After which I decided I would produce a small edition of fine art copies of 100 numbered and signed Giclee prints on watercolour paper.
The image size is approx 13” x 8” and framed approx 19” x 14”.
I’m offering them at £79.00 fully framed with a single washlined double mount in a quiet gold frame. (Unframed mounted and packaged £49.00)
  • Actually I did paint it once more for myself so I would have an original on my wall, but with a seasonal difference! See below:

Happy Christmas!

7 Dec 2010

Let it Snow!

Arlington Row, Bibury in the snow.
I love painting snow, it’s so rewarding and pretty! But only from the comfort and warmth of my studio. Actually I did stand and do an drawing of the Bibury picture on the spot, but half an hour is enough. I have tried painting in the extreme cold – you put one wash of watercolour on the paper, and half an hour later it’s still wet! That’s my excuse anyway.  

Snow at The Mill, Fairford.
A well know view to local people, and a chance to indulge in painting an old Mill in the snow reflected in water. An interesting challenge in tone and colour, but the view is balanced out by the church in the distance, and it’s a very Cotswold view. This was painted a few days ago just before doing the Fairford Advent Market on Friday evening. It was -2 degrees all evening! But the painting drew a lot of interest among the residents, and I may sell it yet!

Original watercolour paintings - Including Snow Scenes of the Cotswolds.

25 Nov 2010

‘A Street in Northleach’ by L. S. Lowry 1947

 (This painting is a copy by me, in acrylic paints on canvas)

Which is in fact ‘The Green, Northleach’ featuring Tudor House, home to Fothergills Gallery for 15 years from 1994 to 2010, to the left hand side of the painting!

This painting by Lowry came to light recently in Christie’s auction house, and sold for around £265,000. So what you may ask? Well I was tickled to think that our old shop was painted by Lowry at all.

I knew he had been to Northleach and done a charcoal sketch of The Green, as I had seen a copy of it, but I didn’t know he had gone on to do a painting.

It is set in the bitter winter of 1947, with children playing in the snow. I was so taken with the scene that I decided to paint a copy of Lowry’s original. Stretching a canvas to the original size of 18” x 21.5” I painted a thick layer of titanium white over the canvas in a rough texture as one might artex a ceiling. Then painting in the outlines with ivory black I began blocking in colours and putting in figures, then painting around them, and adding thin colour over thick, then more white. I studied the paintwork on the original (online!) and Lowry obviously worked back and forth in all sorts of ways. I found out that he only ever used five colours in oils; flake white, ivory black, vermillion, Prussian blue and yellow ochre. Getting into the mind of another artist is never easy, and I only used acrylics instead of oils so that I could accomplish the painting quickly and the thick paint would dry fast.

It was a fascinating exercise, and I was pleased with the result, which on the face of it is quite similar to the original. I put a thinnest watery grey wash over the top afterwards to age the thick paint, and some button polish near the edges to give a mucky patina.

Great fun, but I don’t think I’ll get £265,00 for it! The Ox House Wine Company in the Market Place, Northleach might just hang it in their Wine Bar though, it should make a good talking point!

11 Nov 2010

Christmas Bonanza at the Westwoods Centre Northleach


Saturday 13th November 
10.00am - 4.00pm

Experience a magical Christmas shopping extravaganza.... Plenty of gift ideas and festive delights for family & friends.


We'll have a selection of our best-selling Spring Chicken cards and gifts from our Spring Chicken online store........Cards, Mugs, Teatowels and Aprons, Paper Napkins, Bottle Bags, Coasters and more!

Plus Cotswold Calendars, Cards, Paintings and Prints by Chris.

5 Nov 2010

Christmas Fayre

Aldsworth Village Hall, Glos.

Sunday 9th November 10.00am - 2.00pm
Christmas gift ideas, cards, falconry, art, raffle, local food items, beauty, jewellery, toys, Cotswold wine, & much more. All made or sourced  locally or local enterprises. I shall be there selling my wares!
In Aid of Aldsworth village fund.

15 Sep 2010

An Artist’s Eye

Yikes! My solo annual exhibition of paintings in the Westwoods Centre Northleach is only three weeks away! How did that happen? Will I pull it all together in time? I always get pre-exhibition nerves at this point, as it feels as though my soul will be on display to the public very shortly.

It is just four months ago that I sat in Todi, in Umbria on a sunny morning and painted the watercolour pictured here in this blog entry. It depicts the main doorway to the ‘Duomo’ or Cathedral in Todi, and is a reasonably accurate portrayal of the subject with its slightly rose tinted stone. Or have I painted it through rose-tinted spectacles? In fact there were workmen around the steps restoring the stonework with noisy machinery and red plastic tape connecting bollards around the place. So I painted selectively – my general rule is to leave out anything I like, but not to insert anything that isn’t there. 

This is of course known as ‘artist’s licence’ and some artists are very economical with the truth. Turner was a shocker, and actually moved buildings in Venice around all over the place in his paintings to suit his mood. I like to paint what I see, but only some of it! Traffic lights, cars? It depends; my mood is essentially romantic.

Painting for me is a celebration of light, architecture and landscape, and I can only hope that people will enjoy seeing some of the world through ‘my eyes’ in my show next month. 

EXHIBITION OF PAINTINGSNew paintings and drawings from Chris’ recent travels at home and abroad. Including the Cotswolds, Venice and ‘Impressions of the Cities of Umbria’ from a visit to Italy in the Spring of this year.

Westwoods Centre, Northleach. GL54 3QJ
Saturday 9th - Sunday 10th October
10.00am - 4.00pm

19 Aug 2010

Painting of Assisi

I’ve been meaning to produce a painting from a sketch of Assisi I did in May. But where to start? The photo I took at the time was very flat and colourless as it was raining most of the day! However the view was lovely and in my minds eye I could see it in early evening light with a misty landscape in the distance. So I’ve worked up a small watercolour sketch to sort things out.

It’s a good example of simplifying a complicated subject as much as possible; bold cypress trees in bring the foreground closer; misty distance creates recession.

Simple colour scheme, contrasting churches with landscape.

I think I’ve got it – all I have to do now is paint it! It will a lovely subject for my exhibition, if I can get it right.

Wish me luck! I’ll need it.

7 Aug 2010

New collection of greeting card designs.

Whilst I am generally known for my watercolours, I also have a humorous side to my work and over the years my cartoons have been used for illustrations, birthday cards, commissions, brochures, publications, marketing material and more.

Now thanks to the joy of the internet (and a bit of technical help from my wife!) -  you can purchase items online from Fothergills Emporium!

Greeting cards, mouse mats, mugs and can even customise your message inside the cards!

We're adding products daily so if you have a request for an item in a particular design or caption - send it through and we'll see if we can help!

UK store:
US store:

On Travel (written on a plane home on 29 May 2010)

There are many reasons that compel people to travel. For some it is pleasure, or a holiday; for others it is business. Young persons will spread their wings on gap years; older parents will visit their offspring who have started families abroad.

I love to travel to escape from the pressures of my everyday existence; to leave behind the familiar with a sense of adventure where I can become someone I would like to be, for a short while.

But I am a bad tourist. I will travel with high expectations to a beautiful historic sunny destination; arrive with a sense of exhilaration and drink a coffee at a table sitting outside with a view: but then the child in me will be bored. I wish I could leave him behind, but he is always with me, so even reading guidebooks and dutifully taking photos, or riding on tourist road trains, he will be restless and pulling at my jacket complaining. So I have to supply him with a pencil and sketchbook, and a box of paints. Better still, I set him off on a ‘mission’ to go on a trail of old cities to report on the picturesque; or even set him on a challenge of journalising in words and drawings on a theme.

Thus it was that I brought my restless fidgety child to Umbria, Italy, to find the places in his picture book and seek them out; then find more of his own, and make a new picture book he can call his own.

The child is of course me, a person who is nervous and uncomfortable in his own skin; unable to relax or settle inwardly unless… unless what exactly?

Inspiration – that is what I seek, and I am inspired or not by what I see or hear around me, even in the most ordinary minutiae of life. Perhaps it is the sense of wonder that is my greatest talent; it is my most developed sense. The ability to wonder at an older couple walking past; she telling him off for not shaving that morning. Or a child chasing pigeons.

It is about standing back from life, and looking afresh around us. We are so busy hunting, gathering, eating, sleeping, making love or arguing, that its easy to forget what a strange and wonderful place the world is. The desire to draw and paint, on paper or in words, is the call to others to say ‘Hey, look at this – doesn’t that make you feel good?’

Others like to express themselves through dancing or singing, or maybe cooking or mathematics, and that’s fine too. My lot seems to be to wonder, but I need to express that wonder, and somehow ‘report’ on it. That is the lot of the artist and writer.

Both the article and the drawing above were done in the blank pages at the back of books I was reading, while travelling on planes and at the airport. You know what it’s like, you want to write something down but you don’t have a notebook or any paper on you. That must be why fiction books usually have a couple of blank pages at the back!

19 Jul 2010

'Dawn after rain on the Piazzetta, Venice'.

Yes I know it's a mouthful as a title, but it explains why this painting looks blustery, wet and cool! I remember going for a run before breakfast on one trip to Venice, in March. It was damp and mouldy, but quite atmospheric. I painted this view in acrylics on board, unusual for me, but as a warm-up sketch for a watercolour. I like it as it is though, and will put it in my Autumn show.

More acrylics on the way I think.

6 Jul 2010

On the fun of sketching from life.

I was in London a week or two ago, seeking inspiration for painting. It must have been the only day for weeks that was NOT sunny! But still there is something about drawing directly from life in cities that I love to do.

These are three of the sketches I came up with, along the river by the City. Straight in with a pen, and add a minimum of colour wash if I have time. I’m hoping to do some paintings from these drawings, but the most fun is always the drawing itself on the spot, even if they do turn out a bit clumsy and squiffy in places.

The challenge is to keep the freshness of the sketches in the final painting. I tend to tidy things up too much when I try to paint ‘properly’. Perhaps I should try painting left handed.

23 Jun 2010

Northleach Charter Fair

Northleach Charter Fair on Saturday 27th June.
Find me in the market place, with my sketchbooks and paints! I'll be launching my new Northleach print, plus I'll have my 2011 cotswold calendar available for sale (signed on request!) and a selection of recent original paintings and sketches.

Come and talk to the artist!!
Charter Fair Starts 12.00 noon.

Post Script: Great day had by all - glorious sunshine and lots of visitors. Well done to the organisers! We enjoyed ourselves too!

Read all about it in the Wilts & Glos:

My new Northleach Print is available through my website: 

22 Jun 2010

Piaggio van and washing machine at Assisi

OK, the title is a bit long, but along the cobbled and ancient backstreets of these hilltowns, this is just the sort of thing you see on a corner, and I like the absurdity of these little vans as they cheerfully bob up and down the streets......... I want one!

House portrait of the week

I had to be there early in the day for this one; the back garden and yard are a sun trap in the morning, and the tree sprinkles dappled shade over the end of the house. Note the clock and bell over the patio doors. I left the foreground deliberately a little untidy and overgrown as it breaks up the squareness of the house and makes the scene more 'lived in' and friendly I think!

7 Jun 2010

Painting of the week 7 June 2010

From ‘Impressions of the Cities of Umbria’

In the city of Orvieto, Southern Umbria, Italy

I had to admit I was lost. The twelve sided tower of Sant’ Andrea was what I was looking for, and although I had been there earlier in the day, the light had been against me. Now the sun was shining, but I couldn’t retrace my steps. Then, round a corner, and a charming view was before me amongst the cobbled backstreets of Orvieto. I gave up on my search, sat in the shade and did a pen sketch on my cartridge paper block.  Serendipity is the art of travel.

3 Jun 2010

Sunday 23 May Return to Todi

Writing this back at Perugia Farmhouse in early evening, sitting on a chair in bright sunshine overlooking a magnificent hilltop view across Perugia and the hills. Awoke this morning to a clear blue sky, and a warmth that was to last the day. I decided to return to Todi for the morning, as it was en route back, and at nine I was at the Porta Romana. Walking up the steep cobbled via Roma, I felt like I was the only person in the city, save a few older souls making their way to Mass.

However as I emerged into the Palazzo del Popolo there was a flower festival setting up, so I sat to one side, and painted a small detailed study of the main door to the Duomo. After a coffee the place was busying up, and I couldn’t resist doing a sketch of the delightful scene before me, in the book, which will make a lovely painting, with its colour, and festivities. Being happy in my surroundings, I carried on and drew again from a different angle. The light was so good I took lots of photographs before exhausting myself and returning to the car. I decided to return to Perugia Farmhouse by the slowest and prettiest route, but stopped almost immediately outside Todi, on impulse to record another quick watercolour of the city from a distance which came off OK. And all this on a day I was going to take it easier!

It’s been an enjoyable finish to an inspiring week; and the drive back, dawdling up hill and down dale via Masciarno, Spina and Pila was a treat. It seems like an indulgence at this point of great uncertainty in my circumstances, to spend a week in Italy with an old book, retracing the footsteps of another artist A.Pisa and the writer Edward Hutton. But then it is important, at a crossroads in life, when all is not clear, to believe in one’s own ‘story’. You create it with your family life and your work, and if you stop have faith in it, then it can lead to disappointment and regrets in old age. Better to keep writing the story as you would wish it to be; and weather the overcast day until the sun shines once more.

Saturday 22 May Spoleto

With only one week’s sojurn in the Umbrian landscape I have been necessarily selective in the places to which I have been. EH went on to Cita della Pieve (for the sake of Perugio, his birthplace), Foligno, Montefalco, Fabriano, and even Urbino, which now I now longer in Umbria, but way to the east, deep in Le Marche. But it was the frescos of Luca Signorelli, and paintings by Piero della Francesca and other Umbrian artists that he sought. My agenda is different.

Thus, as EH said; “Spoleto is a beautiful city of rose colour set on a high hill”, I set off back across country to the east, through high, twisting roads to reach Spoleto by nine this morning. Remarkably, I found a free parking area immediately to the north, and lower edge of the city walls, and climbed up through the narrow streets seeking coffee and inspiration. Pausing halfway up to consult the town plan I had wickedly torn from my DK book, I found I had left my spectacles in the car. No choice but to turn back. My arms are no longer long enough to read or draw. The trouble with all these hilltop towns, is that you either have to walk up, or down. Twenty minutes later I was ready for my first cappuccino of the day.

Without preconceptions of Spoleto, I was not disappointed, The sun shone for the morning, with reservations, and I settled to the view in the sketch book looking down over the Duomo and city from the via della Rocca. This held great appeal for me, despite the fact that the tower was shrouded in scaffolding and plastic sheeting. Thankfully local postcards provide the missing detail.

Down and round the corner and the façade of the Duomo was striking in its setting. I sat and drew it on my cartridge block, but somehow I haven’t quite ‘got it’. The drawing is in some way weak. It is a difficult perspective, and the solidity of the scene is missing. As I stopped for lunch the sunshine, erratic now momentarily blessed the Piazza della Liberta, and I thought what a lovely painting it would make with it’s cafes and air of joi-de-vivre. My sketch in the sketch book was fun to do, and I continued to sit there and write postcards to neglected friends, to prolong the moment.

After this the afternoon was getting on, and the weariness from my week was catching up. It’s hard on the limbs treading the steep slopes of Umbria, and crouching for hours on a canvas stool! I continued to photograph what I could, then found my way back to the car and set off to the west. The drive from Spoleto to Acquasparta is rather magical in the evening sunlight. The roads however require much concentration, as they are mountainous and unexpected. I managed to stop once, where the road widened out, by a crumbling farmhouse which detained me for a small sketch in my book, of which I may make something in due course. And just before returning to the hotel another farm on a small hillside looked so ‘typico’ in the evening sun, that again I had to try and catch an impression in the book.

There is a ‘last day’ feel about today, even though I have another full day tomorrow before flying home on Monday. I shall be content if I take home no more that I already have.

2 Jun 2010

Friday 21 May Orvieto

Promising morning, and wind my way across country to Orvieto, but on reaching the outskirts a moment’s inattention causes me to be swept on the toll paying Autostrada from Rome to Florence! After 23 kilometres of drumming my fingers on the steering wheel I come off at a small town called Fabro. To calm myself I stop at a bar for a coffee.

As in all small towns in Italy, you can go through a single darkened doorway in a shabby façade, but inside is a spotless counter showcasing mouthwatering pastries, and all is inviting and smells like heaven. The young woman serving was on her mobile, but looked quizzically at me. I removed my Panama (now sadly deteriorating) and said “Un cappuccino and uno di questi” pointing to a custard filled confection with my name on it.

She multi-tasked admirably, and I was much cheered by the delicious fare which I gratefully consumed sitting between the enormous TV screen showing football, and another elaborate screen with Lotto information on it. Two older men cheerfully shouted across the room at each other at intervals, and I felt glad to be in Italy. On paying, she was still on her mobile talking, but with eyebrow movements, and pointing at the till, she conveyed to me that she needed 1.80 euros. Now that was good value! Before getting  back into the car, I paused to smoke a cigar in the street for a few minutes, and watched the town of Fabro go about its business at nine in the morning.

Now Fabro is about as remote a town as you will find in the heart of Italy. On the borders of Umbria and Tuscany it’s near to, well, it isn’t near to anywhere, or at least nowhere worth mentioning. And yet it looked both prosperous and thriving. It had many well kept shops, and seemed tidy and up to date. The residents as far as I could tell were friendly and content. I wanted to live there. Climbing back into the car, I waited for a tractor to pass, then pulled out behind it, hoping it wasn’t going all the way to Orvieto. A hundred yards later he turned into a layby and gave a cheery smile and wave as I passed. I decided to drive the 23 kms back to Orvieto on the ‘ordinary ‘ road as I couldn’t face the Autostrada again, and didn’t want to end up in Rome. The route was about as straight as an unravelled small intestine, but much prettier!

Orvieto was a delight from the moment I arrived. Way up on a platform of volcanic rock, with sheer edges; where Todi is soft and inviting from its approach, Orvieto is forbidding and defensive. But once you have climbed its natural ramparts, and parked up, it’s a different story. The gardens (Guardini Pubblico) have to be wandered into before tackling the climb into the rest of the city. Leafy and sun-dappled with views over the outcrop that are breathtaking, across the soft inner heart of the region, one is fortified for the climb to the Duomo and the day ahead.

I spent the first hour or more exploring, and taking as many photographs as possible while the sun was revealing Orvieto in all her magnificence and intimate detail. A good move as the afternoon became overcast. Finally I came to the Duomo, which is of course entirely unchanged since EH. It’s all about colour, the façade, but I couldn’t spend the time to paint, so the sketch in my book had to suffice. I enjoyed sitting in the same spot as ‘A.Pisa’ from 1903 or whenever, when he too had to size up the daunting perspectives involved.

Like me, I’m sure he sketch first and painted later on this occasion. On the city walls find a pleasing angle with the tower of S. Giovanni in. Draw it and colour wash on new cartridge block purchased today.

Press on to draw church of Sant’ Andrea with its unusual 12 sided bell tower. Not the prettiest, but an interesting church and history and a charming piazza. Get distracted on the way by a back street view, which I stop to draw on impulse (also in cartridge block). Feel very satisfied as I hurry back to the card to save feeding any more euros into the car park meter.
The return journey via Todi was blessed by early evening sunshine, perhaps the best of the day for revealing the landscape at this time of the year. 

As far as the colour plates in the original book ‘The Cities of Umbria’ are concerned, I have now visited all of the ones I had intended to; excepting one in Assisi and one in Perugia, both of which I was unable to find, but neither of which are of importance, but rather are compositions which the artist came across by chance originally, much as I have done in the others I have included so far. Two more days to go; what next?

Thursday 20 May Todi

Rise to bright sunshine! A wonderful surprise and I’m parked in Todi by 8.30am. Do the sketch on this page immediately as it was irresistible (if not in EH) the hill top church of S.Fortunato to the right, and below Santa Maria della Consolazione. I am immediately taken with Todi, and after a delicious pastry and coffee, take as many photos as possible again while the sun is bright. I need not have worried today. Settle down to work, and first tackle the Duomo ( in the sketchbook).

To my amazement the tower appears to have been completely rebuilt since 1905, although this is not mentioned in my DK (Dorling Kindersley ‘Umbria’) guidebook. In EH there was an additional six sided upper storey with some sort of castellations and a short spire. Now the tower is squared off at its natural top, and instead of twin arches, there are single arched openings, one above the other into the belltower. Otherwise the façade is unchanged. Lovely.

Turning around 180 from the same spot, one sees the Palazzo del Popolo (Palazzo Pubblico in EH). This is entirely unchanged, but most enjoyable to draw, so that was the next one in the sketchbook. I was in good spirits already, when from the middle of the square a young voice calls out “Hi Chris!”. I look around, and an Italian schoolboy is delighted to see me again. It was one of the schoolparty that annoyed me in Spello.

As I waved back, another, a girl calls out “Hey Chris!” and smiles. It was charming and I eat my words from yesterday in Spello. How unexpected to be cheerfully hailed by an acquaintance in the middle of an Umbrian Piazza.

The day was fine, and I was keen to keep my last appointment, with Santa Maria della Consolazione. Not illustrated in EH, but very much recommended by the author as one of the finest Renaissance churches around. I entered the church, which was empty save for a cleaner, and sat for some time. It was indeed a cleansing experience. A perfect domed cross inside, it is uncluttered and pure, and retains the intention of simplicity and wonder. I could not find an obvious view to draw the exterior, so postponed this, and returning to the car, drove off into the hills. I photographed some views of Todi, and other subjects but didn’t settle (apart from one small sketch across some farms and hills). Then I had a brainwave and bought some food and wine/beer from a supermercato, and returned to my ‘ghost’ hotel (still no-one else visible) and spent the late afternoon and evening finishing off drawings etc on my terrace overlooking the hills.

Today as I wandered around the ancient walls of Todi and wound my way up on foot through the wooded and steep ‘via Serpentine’ path from S.Maria della Consolazione, I heard a cuckoo, and pausing to gaze across the sweet, quiet hills, I thought I could feel the real Umbria getting through. It is as though on arrival Umbria threw its rain at me, its wind and clouds and darkness, but I persevered. I kept drawing, ruined two watercolours and soldiered on, drenched, through Assisi. Then, quite simply this morning, she threw open her arms and said;” Look, this is how I can be, a paradise to rival any Arcadia of the ancients; come to me with an open heart and I will feed your soul!”. Now I’m beginning to sound like EH!

1 Jun 2010

Wednesday 19 May Assisi / Spello

Rise early, and out at 7.30 (check out of farmhouse) and head for Assisi. Easy drive, and park in probably the most expensive farmhouse in Assisi. Then an expensive coffee and pastry sets the tone for the day. Still, the farmhouse cost less than expected as it was early season. Not sunny, but at least dry; mist on the hills. All lanes and piazzax are very beautiful, and well cared for. Immediately find the first view, of the Basilica of St. Francesco, and draw in sketchbook. Unchanged but for the foreground; no donkey like in EH, but still unspoilt. Lovely subject, enjoy the drawing and look inside the church. Onwards and upwards; end up at the top of the hill at the ‘Rocca Maggiore’. It wasn’t on my agenda, but as I’d made the effort to get to the top, and couldn’t find the other view I was after, it looked a promising subject.

After all the ‘industry of St.Francis I had experienced below, it was something primal, and of the earth, this crumbling fortress, rising against the great hills all round; the mist and clouds rolling past, heightening the senses. I drew the impression (in the sketch book) and then, quite literally stumbled on the rough ground across the vies that until that point had been denied to me, looking down and across the church of Santa Chiara and the Duomo San Rufino. This was simply entitled ‘Assisi’ in Eh and beautifully painted by the artist ‘A.Pisa’. I didn’t recognise it immediately, as the foreground has sprung up with very large cypress trees in the last century!

Another drawing in the sketchbook from the same angle and I was very pleased with it as it has potential and am grateful to have located the view. Having finished the drawing, rain was threatening, so it was time for coffee and to regroup. On descending the hill, the heaven opened, so I made for the car, but was unable to retrace my steps to find the Mojana car park. Soaking wet, I walked in a big circle before asking the way, and squelching my way back to the car park, which relieved me of 9 euros for my day. Ah well, what’s an hour?

The rain was now incessant, so I gave up on Assisi, and headed for the next hotel, outside Todi, but as the afternoon was still in hand I thought I would call at Spello, for a late luch and seek out the ‘Porta Veneris’ which looked intriguing in EH.

I arrived surprisingly easily in Spello, parked free, and straight away came across the Porta Veneris. Never mind lunch, the rain was easing off, so I took some photos and tried to settle to a view. Now after all the churches and excitement of Assisi, an old Roman gate may not seem so much, but it has changed very substantially since 1905. It seems to me that two or three dwellings; little more than hovels, had been built around the structure by the look of plates in the old book, but these have now been long since demolished. Why did ‘A Pisa’ choose to paint this gate twice, once from above, and once below? It doesn’t seem an important subject, but he must have liked it. And so, what best for me to draw now? I puzzled and photographed, and had another coffee whilst deciding and looked around the rest of Spello (Northleach sized – didn’t take long!). When I returned to draw, it was still raining a bit, and I tried for a while to draw, but these pages refuse to take graphite when wet, the pencil slides about to no avail. The rain wouldn’t stop, and then a group of unusually forward and quite cheeky Italian schoolchildren chased me away. I usually like schoolchildren, but these were a bit out of control, and got up my nose. So I left Spello in the rain, but with some satisfaction to have explored another view from the book in a short time.

A lot of fun and games finding the road from Spello to Acquasparta cross country (but scenery to die for en route from Spoleto despite the lack of sunlight). Challenging driving, but the little diesel Lancia Ypsilon laps it up! Unfortunately my Google print out fails me – the hotel is nowhere to be found, so I phone up, and they’re actually several miles away in Colevalencia instead. The Holiday Hill Hotel is comfortable with a large swimming pool, bar, restaurant etc. But am I the only guest? The pool is drained, the bar and restaurant closed and all is quiet, only two other cars there. So I shower and shave and come down for a glass of wine (the bar is opened for me) and I sit alone on the sofas in the lobby writing in this book! The opposite of Perugia Farmhouse. I realise as I sit here that apart from a pastry for breakfast I haven’t eaten all day. Feel OK – the second glass of wine is getting through. Slap up breakfast in Todi tomorrow then?

Tuesday evening, back at Farmhouse

…After the last entry, still spitting with rain, manage to draw very quick perspective of the Via delle Occhi (in sketchbook) and finish off in the car. Houses and all very similar to plate in EH, but neater and tidier, and a tree to the left, which helps the composition!

Sociable evening in farmhouse; usual mobile chat with Gill, then have conversations with Australian woman (Felicity), Carla (also Aussie) and a young Canadian couple. F is living in Umbria and has a passion for art history, religious studies and international culture, so learn much of Umbrian attitudes to life, and also ‘Barbarana’ a sort of Almanack based semi-pagan earth culture, which even figures on Spar calendars, it’s so mainstream. Obviously very big here F reckons it’s more important than religion to many.

Tuesday 18 May - Gubbio

Last night I was fed up, so I went to bed early, finished the ‘difficult’ sudoku from last Sunday’s Independent, then slept for ten hours to 8 o’clock this morning (but for the usual call of nature in the dark; the sleeping hills all around look wonderful at night, twinkling lights on dark masses). So much for an early start, but straight out in the car, and into fog. Manage to struggle past Perugia on to the Gubbio road, and the day clears to arrive at fabulous medieval Gubbio in bright sunshine. Spirits soar; coffee with a view from the Piazza Quaranta Martiri the get stuck in. Photograph as much as possible whilst the sun shines. First draw the Porta Romana in sketchbook. Not in EH, but why not?

On to the Palazzo Publicco and do detailed pen and ink drawing on smooth watercolour pad. Now called the Palazzo dei Consoli. An unforgiving subject, but I’ve got it I think. Draw from a slightly different angle than EH as it suits me better, compositionally. It is much the same as in EH, but since restored with glass in the upper windows. Lunch, then on the S. Giovanni Battista, which has been completely restored since !905, with a new rose window. (The one in the book was half bricked up, with a wooden door in the middle). I find the whole city charming, quite captivating, and would return. Halfway through attempting watercolour of S.G.Battista, the sun has gone, and the rain comes. Run for cover; not a bad stab at a watercolour impression, but not good light and fighting the day, so ultimately spoiled. Pouring as writing this in café, having tea, and time to go home. (Now 5.30 where did the day go?). A good one though, considering.

Monday evening 6.30 at tourist café, Perugia Fontiveggio station

..and just finished a cheap bowl of lasagne at a cheap tourist café. I just can’t get the hang of Italy. The rain stopped, but had robbed me of half the afternoon. I returned to the view across to Assisi and did a pen and wash impression based on the pencil drawing from the previous page. That cheered me up, as that’s 3 items that are usable which is fine for the first day. The last two hours were the usual confusion for me trying to return to the station – Perugia is a maze! Go round in circles, cross ring roads, up and down the public escalators; eventually a local ‘granny’ starts talking to me, and pushes me on to a bus to the station. I had wanted to walk to find a meal on route, but I’ve ended up in this café, which is an oasis of peace, even if it is grotty, and the vegetables were stone cold. But it does have a toilet! (Lots don’t). Impressions of Perugia? Old city; scenic, chic; surrounding urban sprawl ugly, noisy, smelly and worse than Gloucester. I think I’m just tired. Go home.

31 May 2010

Monday 17 May 7.30am at the bus stop Perugia

Well, last night was good value. After two more beers at the ‘Bar Olympia’ I was best friends with ‘Salvatore’, an enthusiastic local who engaged me in conversation; his English not much better than my Italian but we were helped by the girl behind the bar who had worked in England. I bought him a drink, and whilst he smoked one of my cigars he pulled me aside and told me “not to trust the Perugini”. He said his family comes from Naples, but the Perugini are very close. They don’t like outsiders, although once they accept you they will look after you like family. Me, Stefano (the bar owner) and Lucky ( his dog) were all great pals by the time I left. There’s a wonderful view from the Farmhouse, a  panorama of blue green hills which were all twinkling in the half-light as I returned along the track to be greeted by the farm dog, the geese and the cockerel.

Later on Monday, rained off in café in Perugia.

Bus into Perugia – the road surfaces are awful! I nearly took my teeth out and put them in my pocket, it was so boneshaking. The outskirts of Perugia are typical urban Italy; noisy, fumy, industrial, confusing and wearisome to the pedestrian. Then suddenly through an old gateway, and we go back in time. The Palazzo Pubblico has not changed at all, although it is now known as the Palazzo dei Priori. I did a drawing in this sketchbook with no cheating at all and it was much the same as the Plate 2 from EH.

Eventually I found the Porta Augusta, but it is known here as the Arco Etrusca which threw me off the trail. I arrived to find it a gridlocked traffic nightmare, with no goatherd driving goats in front of it. There was a café though, and after a coffee, I drew the second sketch form exactly the same angle as in Plate 1 of EH and it too is quite unchanged. A hundred years on it still looks as though it is about to fall down! After that I got lost as usual. Oh, plate 3, the Piazza del Mercato, was the there but without a market there, there wasn’t much to draw, so I moved on finding a view off the edge of the city across the hills. I was about to embark upon a drawing, but was seriously rained off, so I’m huddled here until the rain passes.

30 May 2010

Sunday evening in ‘Bar Olympia’, near Perugia

..and the usual fun and games to the start of the trip. What did I expect? Why to arrive in sunny Italy, find a bus from Perugia airport to the main city centre, thence to get a bus to the ‘Perugia Farmhouse Backpackers Hostel’ as directed to on the website. Then tomorrow morning to return to the airport, pick up the hire car, and we’re off!

The reality? I arrive in the early afternoon to the airport of Sant’ Egidio, which is a village hall in the middle of nowhere. Not a bus in sight, just hovering taxi drivers looking to strip me on as many euros as possible. It’s also overcast, and it’s been raining. So, I have a coffee and pastry (cheap and wonderful!) at the airport ‘Tabacchi’ and then go to the Hertz booth to see if I can pick up the car a day early. They’re OK about it, but they don’t have a ‘clean’ one for me, only one (a Lancia) with a few bumps and dents on it. Much better!

I’m not so worried about driving it! So, I risk my life on the roads, but despite having printed off Google maps, spend a good hour driving all around the outskirts of Perugia, ending up on goat tracks, main roads, unknown villages, all on dreadful roads full of potholes. And we moan about out frosted roads this year! Eventually by sheer persistence and some cavalier u-turns I reach the Perugia Farmhouse.

It’s wonderful. Rustic in a sort of 1970’s bad plumbing sense. Reminds me of my first experiences in Italy. Shower, shave and emerge into a cool evening landscape and start to form impressions away from travel stress. We are surrounding by dark blue green hills, cypress trees, vines and olives. But it is not dry and arid, but verdant and sweet, and quite unlike any other part of Italy I have yet experienced. I am already intrigued


Sunday 16 May At the airport (Stansted)

Security checked, breakfasted, and texted to next of kin. On finishing my breakfast (in Frankie and Bennie’s) the Italian waiter commented “It’s good you are flying this morning; the airport is due to close again at 5o’clock today (due to more volcanic ash from Iceland). My luck seems to have been like that for some time; I feel blessed in the decisions I have made, and how they have somehow worked out for me. “There but for the grace of God” as the saying goes. And feeling ‘blessed’ is perhaps appropriate as I head fro the hills of ‘Umbria Mystica” as it is sometimes known.

 But why Umbria? Edward Hutton brought with him a wealth of knowledge concerning Renaissance Art and history. He visited when the Grand Tour was still alive in Europe and was most interested in the ‘Lucas’ and Peruginos’ in all the churches and cathedrals he visited. I have no such education nor academic interest in old paintings, frescoes or altarpieces. The baggage with which I travel is more personal. Not being a good tourist, I have to bring my sketchbook and watercolour pads along in order to feel ‘connected’ to my surroundings. It is of course the architecture of the old cities, the landscape as a setting, and atmosphere of the whole region that I shall be seeking out, and of which hopefully, (Deo Volente) I shall be recording my ‘impressions’.

Impressions of the Cities of Umbria

Sunday 16th – Monday 24th May 2010

This was inspired by the purchase of an old book by the same name, written by Edward Hutton, and published by Methuen, in 1905, with 20 colour plates taken from original watercolours by ‘A.Pisa’.

The book was found by chance in an Oxfam shop in Highgate one Sunday morning; I was immediately taken by the spirit of the book, and in particular by the attractive watercolours. I wondered what these old cities and hilltowns are like now? And how would I paint and draw them..?

7 May 2010

Sketch of the Week

Old folk sitting on a bench in Cirencester today! I took a surreptitious photo but was spotted by the old chap with glasses. The two ladies on the right were having a good old chat while waiting for the bus. And why not?
I painted this first just with a brush, and then drew the outlines afterwards. Makes the thing slightly chaotic, but I like the freshness it gives.

Architectural Sketch of the Week

These two ‘cottages’ are not actually within the Cotswolds, so it’s brick and brown tiled roofs, but they’re rather smart, and sit in nice sized plots. The development is still only just past the planning stage, so the building hasn’t yet started, but I’m pretty confident this is what it will look like.

19 Apr 2010

St. Andrew’s Church Chedworth

At last a sunny day that is warm enough to lure me out into the open air with my paints! I don’t mind a bit of outdoor sketching with a pencil when it’s freezing cold in the winter, but sitting on a painting stool for a couple of hours trying to abstract my mind is almost impossible when hypothermia starts to set in.

I wandered lonely as a cloud, floating on high o’er vales and hills, but then stopped the car at Chedworth as the Church in the morning sunlight caught my eye. The Cotswolds are rather brown and grey at the beginning of March, even when it’s sunny, but the churchyard with its grass, and yew trees looked warm and inviting, so I decided to look no further, and set up camp with my paintbox.

It’s quite a complicated architectural subject, but the advantage of painting on the spot is there is no time to fuss with unnecessary detail. In the studio I would have made far more of it, but I rather like it as it is! ...............Summer is on the way.

Summer's Morning in Northleach

Monday April 19th....

Summer's morning at Northleach - a watercolour painting by Chris Fothergill This is surely the finest view in Northleach, showing the southern aspect of the Church which its magnificent porch and windows. The setting from the top of the ‘Vicar’s Field’ with sheep grazing in the morning light add to the composition.

I have of course painted this view many times over the last 20 years, but this time we have the cool light of a Cotswold early summer’s morning.

The sky is making no promises for the day, so we enjoy the moment. I think I may make some limited edition prints of this painting. Watch this space for more news!

23 Mar 2010

The Joys of Outdoor Painting

Hills Near Gretton, Winchcombe, Glos.

It was a bright, brisk March morning first thing, and the sun streaming through the kitchen window lured me out to paint ‘en plein air’ as they say. I packed the thermos and paints, and headed for Hailes Abbey – somewhere local, but somewhere new to draw. On arrival I found it closed until the new season starts again next week.

 Never mind, the surrounding hills are lovely, if now under cloud cover. I seemed to remember that the nearby village of Gretton was very pretty and had ‘views’ so off I went again - to find a ‘road closed’ notice and diversions, which I followed for several miles, reaching my destination eventually, in the rain.

Undeterred, I opened the thermos, and had a cup of tea in the car. The rain stopped, as it does and, determined not to go home empty handed, I took out the sketchbook, and started on a modest impression of the landscape, the result of which is shown here.

The light was unremitting grey, and some passing cars were using their headlights, which I thought was unnecessary. Still I enjoyed the act of painting hills from life, and like a fisherman in the rain, gained something from the experience.

17 Mar 2010

Architectural Impression of the Week

It’s a row of three cottages in Oxfordshire, being tastefully converted, which presently is a building site.

My job is to paint it for the brochure, so in go the hollyhocks, and spring flowers! Rather cheerful painting this in a cold mid-March.

I hope they like it!

Early light, Santa Maria della Salute, Venice

Busy with artist’s impressions last week, but I managed to get going on this oil painting, which is as yet unfinished.

I love the freedom of oils, and the subtlety of tone and colour, but I’m not very experienced with them.

A mysterious subject such as this is perfect for experimentation, as the painting is all about atmosphere and suggestion. Maybe I’ll finish it next week.


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