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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Morning Light

 Outside the Walls of Lucca 

I have to admit a preference, partly biorhythmic and partly aesthetic, for late afternoon light. Having to gear up mentally for the focus that painting requires, I’m not a spontaneous morning painter; but if I plan for it, there is something appealing about starting your day off en plein air. I did it in Rome several years ago, catching (within an hour for each) the changing light on the Villa Doria Pamphilj on the Janiculum Hill (paintings which inspired a later capriccio, the process documented in American Artist magazine’s January 2009 issue).

from the archives, June 2006

from the archives, June 2006

In the late afternoon (like this earlier post) the light gets progressively more interesting, and changes more quickly, toward dusk; in the morning, instead, the light changes rapidly at first, then settles into the slow climb toward midday. While the light mirroring solar noon—say, 9am and 3pm—would theoretically be the same, by the afternoon everything looks bleached out, while in the morning colors are still saturated, the reflections off the dew give the ground some sparkle, and haze pushes distant objects even farther away.

The mural circuit of Lucca offers appealing prospects across the arc of the day. While the walls themselves are fairly consistent, what tops them, and what surrounds them, changes from one side of the city to the other. Outside the walls to the north is the greenest swath of land, blocking out the urban sprawl which is kept thankfully farther away from the historic center than elsewhere. I’ve painted here in the afternoon looking east, but these images show a painting looking west from outside the northern city gate.

With a wide scene like this getting the perspective and proportions right is half the battle. After a loose drawing I started blocking in the grassy field and the central bastion, which anchors the image. The rest of the walls and their trees are mostly frame to these two primary elements. The light (and shadows) stayed fairly constant across the two hours of painting.


  1. Hi! Will be travelling to paint in northern Italy including Lucca in the late spring/early summer. Do you know of any plein air groups that get out in the area? Will you be back painting?

  2. I'll probably get there in mid-May, so maybe we can connect. There really aren't plein air clubs or groups in Italy like there are in the States, at least none that I'm aware of; there are lots of places (anglophone) where you can take classes....