Monday, October 31, 2016

Chiusi, Italy: The Evolution of a Lost Masterpiece - October 2016

Following a mid-afternoon lunch of freshly-baked focaccia bread, sliced pork, buffalo mozzarella ... and a half liter of crisp house wine, it's nearly impossible to paint a straight line. And so I learned the hard way on day four of my week-long painting retreat in the hills of Tuscany.
Days earlier I had arrived by train from Rome into the quaint town of Chiusi, Italy, where my instructor, Julian, greeted me at the station with a warm smile. I was driven to the gated, hilltop retreat of Siliano Alto nested above a picturesque valley and surrounded by lush landscape.
The five-day painting class offered by Easel & Lens catered to professional artists and novices alike and aside from lessons included room and board.

Before candlelit, home-cooked dinners, I, along with my three classmates, spent the days in the studio overlooking the Tuscan valley watching lizards dart between the brick cracks and smelling lavender and rosemary whirl in the breeze. In the evenings, I retreated to my downstairs apartment across the hall from Louis, who I learned is an accomplished Australian artist currently immersing herself in an iceberg-painting period since visiting Antarctica earlier this year.

The first couple days of the class we practiced basic drawing techniques like hatching and perspective, and were able to experiment with various tools and mediums.

Our beginning assignment was to get comfortable with watercolor. While the other ladies perched on the back grassy hill and painted landscape, I chose to focus my attention on a green bench and rusty barrel situated in the front of the house. Watercolor proved to be extremely fluid and forgiving, and I enjoyed the exercise more than I thought I would.

As a welcome escape from our focused time in the studio, we spent one morning in the village of Chiusi where we strolled down rolling, cobblestone streets and through the narrow alleys. We sat in the town square with our drawing boards on our laps and learned tricks for drawing angles and dimension before stopping by the local farmer's market to pick up fresh mushrooms and leeks for dinner. 

Another afternoon we ventured to the nearby town of Cortona. Popularized by Diane Lane's film "Under the Tuscan Sun," the town buzzed with people and excitement.

On day three of the class we were tasked with finding our medium: watercolor, acrylic or oil. I opted for acrylic and set out to recreate a photograph of the colorful fishing village of Burano near Venice.

For three days straight under the instruction of Julian I created my masterpiece: first sketching in the buildings with pencil, then blocking in the background color and throughout using a fine brush to paint the details. Painting from a photograph, it was difficult to tell when the painting was complete as there was always more detail and color play to be done.

In the final hours of the last day of class, I completed my Burano painting. While some of the dimensions were a bit off and not all of the lines were straight, I was pleased and felt it effectively embodied the learnings from the week. I treasured the opportunity to do something out of the ordinary for me and took great comfort in the peace that came with "creating."

The day following class the experience and my masterpiece truly became priceless as somehow the rolled-up painting was left on a train headed to Genoa never to be seen again. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Imatra, Finland: Fifteen Efficient Facts about the Finnish - October 2016

Why didn't we think of that?

Reflecting upon our two years living in Finland, we've discovered several items the locals have enlisted to make life easier. While known for their environmental and social-consciousness, the Finns may not have invented these life hacks but they were new to us and notable to share with the rest of the world.
  1. Parking Cards. The Finns need not pay attention to pesky meters to secure a public parking spot. Instead the honor system is employed. Spots that are signed with a time limit require a blue card be placed in the windshield dash indicating the correct time of arrival.
  2. Shopping Cart Coin System. In order to borrow and "unlock" a shopping cart or buggy at the local grocery store, you need to deposit a coin into the handle bar. Your coin or coin-like token will be returned upon proper return of the cart.
  3. Drying Machine Bottle. Ever conscious of the environment, Finnish clothes dryers have a built-in system to capture the moisture loss in the process. Once at maximum capacity, the machine alerts you that the bottle is full and you can reuse the water to nourish your garden.
  4. Closet Organizers. The Finns as a rule make effective use of all spaces - no matter how big or how small. One example is that in smaller living quarters, closet organizers with removable baskets are used in place of dressers and armoires.
  5. Radiant Water Heating. Forget the thermostat. Wall-mounted radiant water heating units are secured in every room of the house to cut the winter chill in Suomi.
  6. Heated Floors and Garages. When the temperatures dip to 40 below, there's nothing more comforting than stepping out of the shower onto heated floor tiles or resting comfortably knowing the heated garage will ensure your car starts in the morning. It's the little things ...
  7. Dish Drying Racks. Who has time to use a towel to dry a plate after it's been washed? Not the Finns. Kitchen cupboard shelves double as drying racks with false bottoms allowing for the excess water to drip back into the sink.
  8. Public Firewood. You know a society is highly-evolved when it brags public areas outfitted with cabins equipped with pre-cut firewood and axes free for public consumption.
  9. Potted Herbs. In the middle of a long, cold winter, fruits and vegetables have to travel quite a distance to get to our friends in Finland. To ensure herbs are fresh and to extend their lives, they are purchased in grocery stores planted in soil cups.
  10. Transparent Window Blinds. When the days are only a few hours long, every ounce of sunshine, or even daylight for that matter, counts. To ensure their privacy but also take advantage of the daytime hours, transparent, one-way window blinds are the perfect solution.
  11. Curtain Clips. A bit conflicted, Finns are half of the time savoring the daylight and the remainder feverishly trying to block it out. Because darkening shades are required in the summertime, metal curtain clips are an easy way to continually modify your window treatments.
  12. Studded Shoes. Who says cleats are only for the ball field? To combat the bone-shattering sheets of ice present several months of the year, shoes studded with metal or plastic-bottomed cleats are in high demand. Some styles even have retractable studs to prevent sounding like a tap dancer while indoors.
  13. Shopping Bags for Purchase. Paper or plastic? Now that's a barbaric question. The answer is neither in Finland. In grocery stores you are required to bring your own reusable bags to carry home your goods or you can purchase a bag at the store.
  14. Silverware Buckets. Unless you are frequenting a fine dining establishment, you can find your eating utensils and napkins in a bucket. Finns save time setting the table or dishing out silverware to customers, by employing a fend-for-yourself policy. Just make sure your kids with grubby hands don't contaminate the batch!
  15. Checkless Pay. Can I write a check as payment? The question will send your Finnish friends laughing all the way to the bank. According to the local who schooled me, the country did away with paper check slips decades ago. Who needs something as formal as a check when you can rely on plastic or two Euro coins?