Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Artists Residencies in Italy

Italy is a very mysterious and beautiful place which everyone dreams of exploring, to experience the great food, the history and the art of this Latin culture.

Many artists and art students see it as a place of pilgrimage. Indeed it used to be a place of religious pilgrimage and it's still possible to walk through Italy, all the way from Canterbury to Jerusalem in the Holy Land.

While in Florence you are free to examine the great works of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Lippi and so many other great artists upon whose shoulders artists aspire to stand.

Artists residencies exist in Italy and it was surprising to discover that there are so many. They range from the very basic, almost monastic to the extremely luxurious. I'll describe a couple here, both of which recur annually.

The Relais Borgo Santo Pietro residency is the most luxurious I’ve experienced. Situated 35km from the town of Siena and very isolated from everything, it rests atop a hill and is surrounded by rolling farmland with just one small village nearby. Many guests arrive by helicopter and extremely luxurious vehicles, normally rare in Italy, litter the car park. It’s luxurious edge is softened by the numbers of creative people who visit and stay at the Borgo. Indeed although it’s design is opulent it
feels like a small village clustering around a large villa. This in turn is surrounded by miles of organic farmland. All owned and maintained by the same family. The hotel itself is small but in time I imagine the small cottages which guests stay in, will spread out into the vineyards and among the fields of wheat.

Not far from the main hotel, in an area unpopulated by anything other than a lilly pond and a solidly built foot bridge (reminiscent of Monets Giverny) there is a small gazebo framed by a mature weeping willow. This is the artists studio. Inspiring and in a quiet isolated place with only the sound of ducks and birds to interfere with the creative process, it’s a place of refuge for guests and artists alike who come here seeking inspiration and instruction in art.

Each month there is a new resident artist who remains in the Borgo, painting, sculpting, performing or writing. Artists have only a couple of obligations to fulfill, to exhibit their art in the hotel and to give an introduction to their art, to any guest who requests it.


The next is a magnificent residency near Rome. It’s a bit of a marathon in many ways because during the 4 days, there are hundreds of other artists who also paint but are not resident. Resident artists are given accommodation, fed, partied and shown around the town. They are generally toasted as heroes while they are there. It’s a very warm welcome in a very historical town which oozes history and more than a pinch of mystery. The town is Subiaco, in the region on Lazio. Also known as the city of emperors and saints is located 75km from Rome. It was here that Nero built his summer palace and here that Saint Benedict founded his order. The spectacular monastery is unlike any you will have seen before. Neros palace did not fare as well over the centuries but the remains of the palace can be found near the monastery.

Although part of Rome, the route is a long one through winding hills. Artists usually travel by rented car or public transport. The 2 hour journey passes through beautiful countryside and is dotted with interesting villages atop plateaus. If you decide to explore en route it might take you considerably longer to get there but it would be worth it.

This really is a working residency. You paint every day and it lasts for four days. Usually they give you a location to work in and request that you focus on a subject or topic and there will be other artists there too. International artists are encouraged to take part and work in media ranging from watercolors to ink, oil and drawing. At the end of the event there is a party and award ceremony in the Abbey of Saint Scholastica where the order and sponsors, judge the art works submitted. Prizes are substantial and I’m the happy recipient of two awards.

If you decide to remain after the event you will find yourself in Mount Simbruini Natural Park, the largest protected area in Lazio and one of the largest Italian Natural Parks. I’ll post more information as we move through the winter on different art events which painters can take part in while visiting Italy.

I hope this gives you a taste of what you have to look forward to.

To sharpen your artistic skills you can reserve a place with the Florence Studio to study plein air watercolor or oil painting this Spring.

Tom J. Byrne will guide you through traditional methods of painting and new methods of composing and drawing. 


The list of workshops are here.

To contact The Florence Studio.
Phone: +39 3891570276

Address: Borgo SS. Apostioli, 18

Workshops in Florence Italy this Spring.

Here are a selection of workshops for you to enjoy this Spring in Florence Italy. There's something for everyone, from oils to watercolor and urban sketching. The Florence Studio is centrally located, near the Duomo and is run by graduates of the Classical Art Academies here in Florence.
The emphasis is on a good learning experience rather than a purely academic one. We want you to want to paint and so it's not just about technique.

To contact The Florence Studio
Phone: +39 3891570276

Address: Borgo SS. Apostioli, 18

Simply click, to enlarge the images below

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

A simple way to improve your oil brushes

This simple method conditions you oil painting brushes and really makes a great difference to the way the paint flows. They also become more responsive, subtle, springy and are easier to clean.

Just follow the directions in the video below and the next time you use them, you'll see the difference.

Thanks to Maria Levigne.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Workshop in Tuscany June 3 - 10th

Improve your paintings while enjoying your vacation in Italy.

Discover how to paint a plein air in just 20 minutes.

Italy has always been the first choice location for artists who flock here from all over the world to experience the light, friendly people, good food and verdant Italian countryside. 

Tom J. Byrne will be demonstrating painting techniques to both beginners and more established plein air painters, using oils and watercolor this June 3rd - 10th in the beautifully converted Watermill at Posara along the river Rosaro. It offers very comfortable accommodation with a great chef, comfortable quarters and good company.

Painters will visit local beauty spots to explore painting opportunities with their easels and demonstrations will take place both in the villa and on site. From very quick study methods to more elaborate painting techniques. We will focus on composition. 20 minute painting studies in both oil and watercolor. Best practice in laying in a plein air painting. Under painting for plein air and alla prima in oil. How to use watercolor in wet on wet and color layers.

For more information visit the Watermill

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Sketching while the winds howl and rains fall

While some hardy souls are out painting in the high winds, cold rain and flying sleet others are nesting down with their books, pencils, sketchpads and inks.

Winter is a great time to doodle and doodling shouldn't ever be taken for granted. It's a wonderful way to limber up and refresh those creative juices.

Here are a couple of studies from this week, which has been windy and wet here in Tuscany.

A series of imaginary portrait sketches in pencil and another is a study of an orchid which I've been house sitting while her owner is away.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Painting in the crowded streets of Florence

Painting requires a lot of concentration and a certain amount of zen to do well.

So pleinairing among crowds in a busy square goes against the grain for most artists but it's a great exercise and can sometimes be necessary.

I recently joined a couple of other artists doing just that in Florence. We started easy, in the relative quiet of the Boboli gardens at the Isolotto fountain, which features in Dan Browns book, Inferno. It's presence in the novel attracted people who might otherwise not have known of it. The weather was tempestuous with thunder and some light rain but it mostly held off. We discussed the light and established the best view for the subject and began painting.

'The Ocean' fountain by Tom J. Byrne
Visitors to the garden were polite and those few who spoke to us were genuinely interested.
Niklas Elgmo with his completed art.

It was an enjoyable day. We were successful in our goals and worked with relatively little distraction.

The next location was Piazza della Signoria, which is a very different environment where you are challenged not just by the fast moving light but by the enormous crowds. The light appears to move faster because you are basically inside a sundial whose shadows are constantly racing. Statues which are brilliantly lit one moment can be obscured within a few minutes and brightly lit spaces can quickly fill with shadow from a pivoting tower or giant statue.

Foolishly, without planning and calculating the movement of the sun, I began a painting of statues in the Loggia. Although beautifully lit when I began, the shadows slowly crept over the forms and all the light was gone before I had completed the drawing. I also allowed myself to become intoxicated by the drawing rather than think strategically about what it was I needed to do, so the drawing took longer and was more detailed than necessary. By the time I was ready to paint, the shady area in which I had placed myself was flooded with so much light that the canvas was blinding. So my subject was suddenly obscured by shadow and my canvas obscured by light. I had to abandon that painting.

Timothy Atkins capturing a street scene.

Three of us returned the following day and set up our easels. I set up at the mouth of what seemed to be a quiet and unnoticed laneway to the left of the Loggia. Here I prepared to paint the statue of Neptune and the surrounding Piazza. This time I was careful with my light planning and composition.

Working quickly I laid in the shadows, keeping the details to a minimum. There were hoards of people everywhere but my little space was relatively quiet or so I thought.

Niklas Elgmo tackling the shadows.

Every half hour or so a tour guide wishing to evade the other crowds would bring their group through the alleyway and it was necessary to either move the easel or hope that no one would trip over one of the legs.

There is definitely a difference between a painting done in relative peace and harmony and one done in the more crowded public space

Mastering the art of finding an island of quiet within the milling crowds  is the goal. There is always one somewhere.

Piazza Della Signora. Neptune in oils by Tom J. Byrne.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Strategies in Watercolor Painting: A building in the Tuscsan landscape

When you prepare to make a watercolor painting it really helps if you use certain strategies.
Particularly if you have a landscape with a building in it.

Most people would focus on the building first and then paint vegetation around it. That's the direct opposite to what you should do.

In this video you can see how to prepare for a painting in watercolor using an easel and how using vegetation to frame your architectural elements helps enormously when it comes to choosing the values for the buildings.

Strategies in watercolor