Have you seen the romantic and heartwarming film, Under the Tuscan Sun? I’ve had the chance to watch the movie, and recently, experience painting and drawing under the summer sun over there for a week and half this past July. We, a group of 9 ladies, rented two small manual cars from the Rome airport, packed in more than 12 luggages, squeezed in all 9 of us, and drove all the way up to Torrita di Siena to our rented villa named Casabella (after getting lost in those hills multiple times on our way up). The villa was on the top of hill, and there, we stayed for 10 days
The scenery was as beautiful as shown in many movies. The vineyards and olive trees line up in an orderly fashion on rolling hills, forming views unique to Tuscany. Our villa was comfortable, where the construction reflected the local style, but also had modernized bathrooms. It had an outdoor patio facing endless fields, and one small swimming pool where you can enjoy the fresh water and gaze into the hilly Tuscany landscape surrounding the villa.
In the past, I have traveled to Tuscany, but I was always on fast-paced schedules. But in this particular 10-day stay in villa, I finally had the chance to get a taste of the real lifestyle of Tuscany, their culture, food, and sunshine. One day, it was so hot, hotter than I could imagine. I pulled out my watercolour palette and brush. Every single time I coated a layer of water on my 15×30 cm watercolour paper, the surface dried out within a few seconds. Since I haven’t painted watercolour for ages, and I have never done plein-air painting, I chose the flower pots as my warm-up practice piece.
When water disappeared from the surface of my paper, sweat dripped from my forehead. If my sunglasses weren’t on, I couldn’t see anything. While I did my best to focus on mixing colours and observing my objects, I heard humming from bugs that came around me from right and left. So, I painted more and more quickly to finish my first outdoor watercolour painting.
How was the feeling of sitting outdoor and painting for half an hour? It felt like having heat that comes at you when you open a stove at 450F degrees! My skin started to feel the pinning pain from the sun after one short painting session. For the next few days, I put lots of suntan lotion on before I went under Tuscany’s sun. Even though it was so physically draining, I had to thank such unbearable sunlight for speeding up my painting. My brushstrokes became large and determined without too much detail, and my colour mixing turned out simple and strong.
The next day, I painted the hill view standing in front of our front door, on the second floor. It was a huge hay field that was entirely yellow and spotted green. I had one small watercolour paper at 15×30 cm, and two pages opened to paint a 30×30 cm landscape. I still remembered that there were hundreds of flying bugs that looked just like watermelon seeds. They flew into my palette, my small water container, my wetting paper, and my face.
Around the same time that I intended to finish painting, I had to pick up those suicidal bugs from the container, the palette, the paper and my hair….I tried to save these little lives within no time. I knew that if anytime I needed protein, the only thing I had to do was open my mouth. That night, we had watermelon, and I couldn’t help but see those seeds as those poor flying bugs that kept me company when I painted that morning. OMG! I had wished that we had seedless watermelons! Plein-air painting was a brand new experience for me! After two paintings being outdoors with strong heat and sunlight, with annoying bugs, with my sweaty body and hands, with limited equipment, and with knowing how much less endurance a human body can take from the great nature’s test of heat and humidity, I realized my limit. And I respect those who can do large paintings outdoors under severe weather conditions. Can you imagine how the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson did their splendid paintings in the winter under minus 30 degrees? That not only requires a healthy body but an extremely strong mind, plus great painting skills.
As for my paintings, I was quite happy with my small “sketchy” watercolour paintings. Being in an outdoor environment with fresh air, bright sun, flying bugs, and an authentic view of the natural environment — these are key things to enliven me!