Monday, 27 April 2015

In the gardens of the Villa Corsini

Photos from last weekends painting event in the Villa Corsini, Florence, Italy.

The garden maze

Llewellyn Matthews and Rory Haran

Watercolour and subject, in process.

Shadow shapes isolated

The completed painting

Other artists capturing the scene

Wistful wisteria

Thursday, 23 April 2015

“Artists who inspire" Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, in Italy

Photographic portrait of Corot painting. 

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875) was a French painter best known for his landscapes and portraits.  He made several trips to Italy, including Florence, for inspiration.  He is credited with launching “the modern school of landscape painting,” namely painting outdoors from nature – plein air.

Neoclassical painting by Corot

Corot’s early training was steeped in the neoclassical approach typified by idealized views of real and imaged landscapes with ancient or mythological settings.  Famous French Neoclassicists included Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin whose major aim was the representation of ideal beauty in nature.  This genre of art contrasted with realism, which was more devoted to representing actual topography, architecture, flora and peasants.  The works of Englishmen John Constable and J.M.W. Turner are highly influential examples of realism.  

Throughout his life Corot embraced both, but increasingly favored painting from nature.

Corot’s first trip to Italy, 1825-1828, was spent primarily around Rome and the surrounding countryside.  Painting at different times of the day, Corot gained and understanding of the challenges of mid-range and panoramic perspective and placing man-made structures in a natural setting. He was concerned with giving landscape elements volume and solidity through his understanding of form and the effects of light.

Bridge at Narni

During his first trip, Corot produced over 150 paintings and 200 sketches.  Among these, the Bridge at Narni, both a realist sketch and a larger studio piece which converted the theme to the neoclassical style.  

For the next six years Corot concentrated on producing large studio pieces for the competition in the Paris Salon but mostly received cool reception for his neoclassical approach.

Corot later returned to Italy in 1834 and painted in places such as Florence, Volterra, Venice, Pisa and Genoa.  During this time he collected enough material for the rest of his career He would continue to travel throughout his life, visiting Avignon and the south of France as well as Switzerland and other European locations.
View from the Boboli gardens
The same view today, from the Boboli Gardens

For much of Corot’s early career, both the establishment and the public rejected his neoclassical works, but slowly recognition came for his plein air sketches and paintings.  
Ultimately, in the later half of his life, Corot received great recognition from both artists and the public for his work in realism.  With recognition came the success and finances to generously fund the needs of other aspiring artists and charities. 

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Five events are scheduled for 2016.

The dates for Tuscany Plein Air Art Workshop Vacations, 2016 have been agreed.
If you would like to receive more detailed information or be given first preference on events, please send an email with your preference, to:

We hope to see you there.

  • April 30th - May 7th
  • May 14th - 21st
  • May 31th - June 7th
  • September 10th - 17th
  • September 24th - October 1st
Follow this link to learn about our fee structure and to make a reservation.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Choosing a composition

Choosing a good composition is the first important step in creating a painting. This scene is a good example. There are multiple possible paintings in it.

There are two obvious elements. On the hill there's an attractive cottage with an eye catching splash of blossom. To the left, a compelling pine tree. Which of these elements will make an effective painting?

Most peoples response is to think 'both' and try to incorporate the two elements. In that instance, they would compete with each other and cancel out their potential impact So lets examine the options and try to understand why this is.

All of these compositional choices are based upon the size and proportion of canvas I was working with. 10 x 15cm.

Composition 'A'  

There are two main masses in this composition, sky and trees.

Other than the splash of colour beside the house there is nothing to draw the eye around the composition. Without any other visual movement in the forms the eye will arrive there and stay there. That makes a very restful, contemplative scene, which you may want. It can be made more dynamic by a play of light and colour but that's another story.

Composition 'B'

This combination tries to bring both elements together. However they end up competing for the eyes attention and the 'v' shaped wedge of green between the olive trees, in the foreground, literally divides the composition. Sending your eye into a no-mans land.

Composition 'C'

From this viewing spot, this is the composition I find most interesting. The line of the olive trees creates a nice perspective directing your vision towards a darker shape in the distance which then allows the eye to move to the right, to the next dark shape, which rests directly over the starting point in the foreground. This creates a triangle of movement the eye can float through and go into a loop allowing it to navigate the painting, resting on different elements as it travels, making it easier for the viewer to become involved with the scene.

Another way to 'see' this composition is through the 'V' shape of the olive trees contrasted against the higher chroma of the green grass in the foreground. It is a slightly aggressive, adventurous formation and will attract a dynamic viewer. The eye moves over the crest of the smooth expanse of olive trees to the interesting object in the distance, like coasting over a wave towards a distant island.

Painting the composition

The first thing to do is relax.
Step back and take in the scene. Make sure all your tools are in place. Once you've made your decision, step back from everything and allow the scene to flood through you. You want to capture nature, not objectify it, so smell the trees, listen to the birds and look.

I've separated this canvas into thirds and then drawn a line through the center. Then using my view finder I've compared that to the scene. The perspective starts at the point of the foreground olive tree. I've drawn a line that moves up the hill towards the darker bush. The  large pine tree and the elements on the crest of the hill are all represented as dark silhouettes.

This establishes the shadow gesture as well as the movement of the painting. 

The shadow gesture is important because, just as in figure drawing, the scene will move because of the movement of the sun. This is like the skeleton of the landscape painting.  

So this simplification does several things. It clarifies the composition and the dark masses give me a great foundation to start painting.

Now you are ready to start applying colour to the scene and I'll post about that in the next couple of days.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Plein Air in Spring

Plein Air is blooming in Florence and with the arrival of Spring, budding artists are invited to paint.

 At the Villa Corsini

On April 25th water based and drawing artists are invited to paint Plein Air in the Villa Corsini.
Sponsored by Fabriano.

Address: via della Scala 115. Firenze

Remember to bring your hat!

Attendance is free but you are requested to register in advance:


At The Stibbert museum

This May the magnificent Stibbert museum, which anyone coming to Florence should visit, hosts, Art in the Park, Plein Air day. This is the second time the museum has hosted a Plein Air event. More information in the details below:

Art in the Park. May 16th 2015:
Time: 10am - 5pm.
Venue: Please contact for the venue and to reserve a spot.
Museum website:

Artists are invited to paint Plein Air in the Stibbert venue from 10am and will be invited to exhibit finished works at 5pm. An apertivo with wine will be provided in a dedicated exhibition space for artists taking part. The work will be viewable by the general public on the day.

Professional artists are very welcome. In case of rain the event will be postponed until May 23rd.

To participate, register beforehand by email:

To receive a picnic basket while participating, the museum provide one for €8. You can to reserve one.
Add in more culture and enjoy a musical performance of Beethoven E il Suo Tempo, in the Salon Delle Feste from 6pm. Reservations required. Call 055-486-049

Friday, 3 April 2015

The high Renaissance Gardens of Florence

From the BBC.
Monty Don's Italian Gardens, Italy's most beautiful villas, palazzos and gardens!
Discover the quincunx pattern.

Insights on the Renaissance garden in Florence.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

First under the Tuscan sun.

The Tuscan weather has finally turned and allowed the gentle spring light so cherished by plein air painters to shine through. This is my first oil painting of the season. Painted in in the Pandolfini gardens.

Here, I'm giving a rough break down of the process.

 Initially you can search out the major shadow shapes. They are everywhere but if you squint your eyes you'll find them more easily.

Very quickly and roughly, draw in the major shapeswith your brush, being sure to get the general perspective correct.  Then around the main shapes paint in the large shadow shapes in one tonal value. You'll quickly realise that there isn't a need for a lot of detail in the main objects. In fact more details are an impediment to accuracy.
 Then you can start blocking in large colour areas. Any major colour
shapes should be put in without much detail. Try to work around
whatever is going to be the main eye catching element in the painting. Don't respect edges too much.
 The colours on your pallet should be more or less in the same light as the painting otherwise it makes it very difficult to judge the values. This alone makes an amazing difference to your ability to quickly judge colours and put things in context.
 The statues are going to get the most attention here but the other details are equally important. Do not put too much details into the statues. Try to not represent arms or heads or other things that you can name. Just capture the light around objects and respect the value and chroma of their colours. You'll find that the shapes automatically become as they should be when you take this approach.

The completed painting. Using this method of Plein Air painting, this took about 4 hours, in oils. I had to move around a lot because of the dappled light coming through the trees above but the final work is satisfying.

It feels like I've cast aside the winter and am stepping out to explore more of the painting possibilities which Florence offers. 

Best regards
Tom J. Byrne