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!

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.


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