I’m spending the next three weeks at the Arte Studio Ginestrelle in Italy’s Parco del Monte Subasio, which is near the city of Assisi. Today is my first whole day, and although I haven’t totally recovered from jet lag, I did make one small oil sketch.
At one point while I was working on the sketch an unexpected gust of wind blew the lightweight plein aire easel forward, and the painting hit the side of my head, leading to a head full of blue and green pigment for me and a series of long, wild, hairlike marks on the canvas (which are painted over now, of course).
So there are downsides to working outdoors, but there are also benefits. The immediacy of working directly from nature is irreplaceable, and while I can and do experience that back in Michigan as well, this is a very special place.
When Marina Merli, the director and creator of the Ginestrelle program, was driving me from the train station in Assisi to the residency up in the mountains late yesterday afternoon, I asked her a little bit about the park. I already knew, of course, that it is the sacred mountain of Assisi, the mountain where St. Francis once prayed. I knew less about the plants and animals that are here now – wild boar, porcupine, truffles and dogs who can sniff them out, myriad species of birds and insects. I certainly did not expect the coolness of the air. Unlike the city below, which is often over ninety degrees in July, the mountains are relatively cool. Part of Marina’s purpose in creating the residency program, in fact, was to create a place where artists could be inspired by the idyllic natural environment, and this place certainly is that.