08 April 2014

Painting on a Saturday Morning Before the Crowds

As the weather turns to full on spring here in Rome, jumping out of bed in the morning is the most appropriate response for a plein air painter, especially in my neighborhood.

35x30cm (approx 16x14")
oil on linen
©Kelly Medford

This is a street that I walk and bike regularly and have painted before. It is one of my favorite streets leading into my neighborhood here in Rome, Pigneto.

It can become very busy early with people walking their dogs, heading to work or the market for the day's shopping. Although it seems like a sleepy back street, it is anything but.

That is why I had to get here early, otherwise I would be blocking a major sidewalk thoroughfare with my easel.

As I was finishing up late morning I could hardly get any more painting done for stopping to talk with so many of the locals.

Some wanted to tell me about the history of this place and how this was only a dirt road until the 1970s. Others made suggestions about where I should really be painting (why this street? some wanted to know).

I chose this street because it is the visual landmark in my mind of the beginning of my neighborhood and also, as you can imagine, for the morning light coming in against these buildings.

Pigneto used to only be smaller buildings like these with just 2 or 3 stories. The neighborhood is also dotted with small gardens, popping out between houses, fences and around every corner.

01 April 2014

In Giro: Painting My Favorite Neighborhood Places

There is a place that I love and always want to paint in my neighborhood, but it is almost always locked during the day. Then when the weather turns warm again, it's open more often, and almost always on Sundays.

oil on linen panel

This painting is of our neighborhood DIY cooperative bike shop. In Italian these places are called cicliofficina. And they are the best thing going if your a cyclist. 


Because the entire bike shop is run by volunteers and on donation. You can build your own bike from parts or fix up the one you already have and you don't even have to know a thing. The people that volunteer there are bike wizards and will teach you everything you ever need to know about how to build, fix and maintain your bike. 

Naturally I have spent many an hour here and am forever grateful to the generosity of the people who volunteer here after having spent a long day at work or for giving up their weekend to help technically clueless cyclists like myself.

La Regina out on a painting excursion

This bike, called La Regina (or The Queen) took me my entire first winter after having moved to Rome to build.

A real beauty she was, but with my recent move I had to donate her because I no longer have room for 2 bikes and have upgraded to a larger bike with gears.

So as you can see, the cicliofficina holds a special place in my heart and I was thrilled to make this painting of the place.

27 March 2014

The Colors of the Rainbow: Choosing a Color Palette

Due to the amount of times that people write and ask about my color palette, I decided to write a blog post on the subject.

I will try to keep this as simple as possible, but when talking about color choices there are so many factors to consider and variables, well, that I fear that this post may be a bit long. I will do my best to keep it simple.

I do not consider myself to be a color expert, scientist or alchemist, but have experimented over the past 9 years here in Italy and found these to be the colors that work best for me in my particular situation.

I like to keep it simple and therefore use a palette of primary colors. On the surface this seems like a potentially limiting choice, but I can assure you that the possibilities of mixtures with this palette are endless and I have yet to explore all the possible ranges.

my palette after having finished a day's painting

To be more specific I use a double primary palette, including a warm and a cool of each primary color. I do this simply because it expands on the range of mixtures in both the warm and cool, which are essential to creating depth and distance in landscape painting.

Photo courtesy of Ryli Jo Designs

To be clear and to make things simple (remember, keep it simple!) warm colors refer to anything moving towards yellow or red. You can think of fire here.

Cool colors refer to any color moving towards blue. Picturing ice helps here.

Every color, say even yellow, can have a warm and cool variation.

Warm colors tend to come forward in our vision when we look at them while cool colors tend to recede back into space. White or any incremental addition of white into a mixture adds to the cooling of even the warmest color.

Take the example below of these bright red and pink buildings. All warm colors and coming forward towards you in space and giving you the strong sense of the hot Roman sun.

 The Red Arch, Garbatella oil on paper ©Kelly Medford

While this painting below was painted on a rainy day and showing a fair amount of distance, meaning I had to mix cooled and grayed colors. Same palette, same colors, just different mixtures.

Spring Rain, Parco degli Acquedotti ©Kelly Medford

I will list the exact colors that I use on my palette, although sometimes they may vary, these are the staples:

Titianium/Zinc White mixture
Cadmium Yellow Lemon
Cadmium Yellow Light
Cadmium Red Light
Cadmium Red Medium
Alizarin or Madder Lake Deep
French Ultramarine Blue
Prussian Blue
Transparent Brown or Red Oxide

The one non primary color, transparent oxide red or brown I use primarily just to deepen shadows and never use any black. (black is useful in what has now become known as the "Zorn palette" and is a great combination with yellow ochre in mixing greens as it is very blue in nature)

Here is a picture of the colors on my palette in their tubes:

I've done a lot (and still do, it's never ending..) of switching up brands depending on the color. As you can see I rely heavily upon the cadmium colors, as they give the most bang for your buck if you will and are essential to me in creating lively and vibrant paintings in capturing the strong light effect here in Italy.

It is essential to never skimp on the quality of paint, even if it can be more expensive than you think it should be. It's expensive for a reason and worth every penny. You will find that certain manufactures make a color that you prefer and that no 2 are ever the same. We have our work cut out for us!

With all of that said, every painter must and will experiment with adding and subtracting colors and never getting too comfortable with just any set color combination. Sometimes there are subjects that you need different colors for, especially in still life painting.

In the end though, in the style of painting that I have chosen which focuses primarily on the quality of light and shadow, the main concern is always getting the values relationships relating to each other correctly. In other words having the dark shadows recede and the lights come forward in order to create a sense of light, space and air. This can be done with any infinite color combination, including just black and white. Keeping this in mind leaves the painter free to experiment with their colors.

I hope that you will have more questions and comments of your own about what you find works best for you painters and what any part of this means collectors and art admirers. 

Thanks to everyone who has been engaging me in one of the most important conversations in painting, that of color.

21 March 2014

Home Away From Home

Did you ever visit a place and your first experience was so familiar, like you had been there before? Or even better, that you had always been there.

Sounds like a strange thing to say, I know. But this is how I truly feel about Rome and in particular about where I live in a neighborhood called Pigneto.

oil on linen
©Kelly Medford

One of Rome's most popular working class neighborhoods is also home to a wide variety of local characters.

Painting out on the street is always a real treat, as I get to meet these characters one by one.

My most recent encounter was with the local legend nicknamed Tarzanino or "little Tarzan". Now, I know you'll be greatly disappointed by the fact that I did not get around to asking him just how he got that nickname, but he had other stories to tell this day.

His story was mostly about how he worked closely in directing films here in the neighborhood with Italy's most beloved Pasolini. He was also quite shocked that I had not heard of him seeing as in his mind he is famous.

He also told me how much the neighborhood has changed. Once upon a time this was a borgata or working class suburb, but now all the trendy rich folks have moved in, they think it's the place to be. He also said that back in the day if you weren't from this neighborhood the locals wouldn't let you in. It wasn't the kind of place that you went exploring in or out for a drink with friends.

This painting, done in the heart of Pigneto, was intended to recall the light, feel and distinct colors of this place. The pine trees dotted in between the streets and just at the edge of a little triangular park are the landmarks of this place.

Thank you for your interest in my work and adventures in painting Italy en plein air

Upcoming 2014 Italy Workshops

19 March 2014

Capturing Moments Present and Past

If you read last week's post about painting in this spot I won't repeat myself (though I would love to just for the sheer excitement of the thing).

Suffice to say that this painting was painted in the exact location where J.M.W. Turner once sketched for one of his Italian landscapes looking towards the town of Orvieto.

oil on paper (mounted)
©Kelly Medford

There is nothing quite as exciting for the plein air painter as having the opportunity to paint distance. Those far distant hills with their rich and exciting blues and purples they create are enough to get you jumping out of bed in the morning.

While figuring out your palette and how to mix these colors and then arrange them in such a way as to communicate distance on your canvas is a whole other story, it is thrilling when it comes together.

After toughing it out through rain and high winds for the few days I was painting here, this serene morning in a small village made the whole trip worth it.

If you're planning a trip to Rome, I highly recommend visiting Orvieto. It's a magical place full of Etruscan mystery that was unfortunately mostly (but not completely!) destroyed by the Roman takeover of the city.

Just the view of the city perched up on its rock will take your breath away, not to mention the great food and active community that you will find inside its walls.

I hope to get back another time this year to paint this town, the possibilities are endless.

17 March 2014

What's On for Plein Air Italy Workshops in 2014

My Italy workshop schedule has finally been all worked out for this year and I wanted to share what's coming up and opportunities for us to paint and sketch together for the upcoming year.

Here they are:

Watercolor Sketchbook & General Oil Painting Course at 

This 7 day workshop is a treat. In a spacious villa set in the hillside of Umbria this is the perfect relaxed setting to explore either watercolor or oil painting in the landscape.

We will be hand binding our own Japanese style watercolor book and learning the basic principals of painting. Not just for beginners, the daily exercises are geared to instruct for all levels.

We will also take excursions to small local villages where we will paint daily life there.

All meals, accommodation and materials are included in the price and is the ideal place to work while being pampered.

The villa is secluded and surrounded by olive groves and woods. There is also a pool where you can swim anytime morning or evening.

You can find out more about Arte Umbria by going to their website or more about the course and what we will cover here on my website.

I believe that this course is FULL. Please contact Arte Umbria at info@arteumbria.com to be placed on the waiting list

The 5 Principles of Painting Plein Air Oil Painting, Umbria

This 7 day workshop will focus on the 5 principles of painting: values, design (composition), edges, color and putting it all together by simplifying.

View of Montegabbione from Arte Umbria

This is a plein air oil painting course designed for all levels of painters.

In the relaxed environment of a private villa in the heart of the Umbrian countryside where all of your meals, accommodations and materials are provided for you, you can relax and concentrate on both painting and enjoying your time in Italy.

There are still a few places available in this workshop. Find out more about what we will cover here on my website or go to Arte Umbria to learn more about the location and what to expect.

Florence City & Country: A Week En Plein Air

I'm so excited to add this to the list of workshops this year: Florence!
I love Florence as I lived here for 6 years before moving to Rome in 2010 and know all the nooks and crannies of where to paint.

Spring Rain, Ponte delle Grazie. Florence

We also have the honor to stay in a special place called Villa Palmerino
This villa is just on the edge of the city and reachable by city bus. In 10 minutes we are in the heart of the city while having the luxury to stay and work in the countryside.

In this workshop we will focus on capturing a moment and place in a quick and efficient way, giving you a series of completed plein air painted sketches that you can take away and back to the studio.

We will work on the grounds of the villa as well as take 2-3 days to go into the city to paint. This will be a small group available to painters and their non-painting companions who wish to accompany them.

Jump on this one, it will be a special treat and spots are already filling up. 
To learn more about what we will do, see and about the villa itself or put down your deposit to join us, click here.

To learn more about Villa Palmerino click here.

Sketching Rome Tour

Offered all year round, this is my special sketchbook journaling tour and in my mind the only way to see Rome!

The whole family comes on a Rome Sketch Tour

This is a 3-hour sketchbook journaling "tour" of an off-the-beaten-track location in Rome.
Not just for artists, this is designed for anyone interested in seeing and recording their time in the Eternal City in a unique way.

If you're going to be in Rome I suggest joining me, you'll be pleasantly surprised and have your own sketches to remember your time by forever.

I provide you with all of the materials, your own sketch kit that is yours to keep in continuing your travels. 

I look forward to seeing you and working together in 2014!

Have a question? 
Send me an email at paintings@kellymedford.com

12 March 2014

In the Accidental Footsteps of Giants: A Day Painting with Turner

One habit that could be potentially very annoying to other people if you happened to be in the car, is that if we get into the car to go painting, we drive and drive and drive, then circle back, get out, get back in and drive again. 

All in search of the "right" spot to paint.

Painting on the road to Tamburino overlooking Orvieto

Well this day I hit the jackpot and completely unknowingly.

We veered off to drive up this small country road which looked across the valley to Orvieto. I was instantly taken with the view capturing Orvieto in the background against the dark purple-blue of the mountains contrasted with these lovely stone houses on the hill. This place gave me the feel of the air and of a silent winter morning in a farming village.

To tell the truth it was anything but silent. I happened to set my easel up next to a very active chicken coop just behind the fence and the hens were doing a fine job of laying their eggs this particular morning.

When the farmer came to tend to the chickens he stopped watching silently and then said, "You know that Turner painted in this very spot?" 

"Really?" I couldn't imagine what he meant. And did this farmer really know the likes of J.M.W. Turner who only visited Italy twice in his lifetime, stopping briefly in this area to make a few pencil sketches in his notebook?

"Yes, right here. He painted here with the road and Orvieto up on the hill. Not these houses, but this view."

View of Orvieto by J.M.W. Turner 1828, 1830

With a little research I was able to find this painting and was pleasantly surprised. This is not the exact view, but something like it and more or less a composite from sketches done while traveling in the area with the final painting being executed in Rome.

This is one of the many marvels of painting the Italian landscape: potentially walking and painting in the footsteps of those who came before us. Documenting a time and a place, the light so warm and rich with the cool blue mountains in the back, that is just the feel of Italy, especially in 19th century painting.

You can learn more about J.M.W.'s travels through Italy by leafing through high resolution scans of his sketchbooks which have been so generously donated to public domain by the Tate Britain.

What a joy and honor to paint in this location. And wouldn't you know that this morning I found the perfect spot?