22 July 2014

The Many Faces of Vesuvius: Painting Views in Naples

 I recently had the opportunity to collaborate with Napoli Unplugged to paint a series of paintings for their upcoming comprehensive guide to the city on the bay.

The idea was first and foremost to get a sweeping view of the bay, Vesuvius, the color of the houses and luckily I was able to include Castel dell'Ovo and some boats in this spectacular view.

View to The Bay of Naples and Vesuvius from Posillipo

oil on linen panel

In the quest for the perfect view, I had the chance to explore the many hills of Naples and paint from all around.

What an incredible city and a total thrill to be out there with my easel painting.

Painting The Bay of Naples from Posillipo
Photo courtesy of Napoli Unplugged

Though this city is jam packed with life, culture and history, I didn't see a soul out there painting it, though I know Naples has a wonderfully active Urban Sketchers group.

Painting drew lots of local attention, which was an added bonus to the trip and it is always a pleasure to have the chance to interact with locals who love and are proud of their city.

Rainy Day, View of Via Chiaia

oil on paper


This was a lucky day. We had a rainy afternoon so I headed back to my hotel to dry off and regroup. Luckily I had this perfect balcony overlooking the major shopping street of Naples below called Via Chiaia.

I managed to squeeze myself and easel both out onto the balcony and capture this painting not wasting an afternoon just because of the rain.

Painting this brought back to mind all the French Impressionist paintings painted from balconys looking down into the street. And then I understood why- it's a great vantage point and one a plein air painter does not get everyday.

Vomero, View from San Martino
oil on linen


This view, unbelievable when I first laid eyes on it, was painted from the balcony of the San Martino musuem and looks down to the Vomero neighborhood in Naples.

When I arrived at the museum with the editor of the book and another writer, we were refused entrance with a plein air easel in tow.

Luckily Neopolitans are kind and understanding. It took about 5 min of talking with the director to get permission to go in and paint anywhere I wanted in the gardens behind the museum.

Vesuvius from Il Lungomare on a Cloudy Day
oil on linen mounted


This was a thrilling project and one I had never attempted before. Painting for a book and capturing the best views of the city was exhilirating and a true sense of collaboration that I so enjoyed.

The next time you are in Italy, I highly recommend making Naples and the surrounding area a key part of your travels. You will NOT regret it.

Learn more about Naples history and current happenings here at Napoli Unplugged

Click here to see other recent Italian paintings

Check out upcoming sketching and plein air painting Italian workshops in 2014 and 2015

Thank you for your interest and continued support

16 July 2014

Learning Something New: The Importance of Growth, Play and Experimentation as an Artist

As an artist there is nothing more essential to our creativity and growth then to continually be learning, experimenting and exploring. But what is the best way to do this when by the nature of what we do is solitary?

My answer to this question is to once a year take a class, workshop or study with an artist whose work I respect and admire and who has a completely different point of view yet finely honed skills.

This past week I spent 5 days in the marvelous hilltop village of Civita di Bagnoregio in Umbria studying with architect Stephanie Bower to focus on sketching, perspective, drawing and improving my watercolor ability.

Porta Santa Maria
Entrance Door to the town of Civita

These 5 days provided multiple lessons, experiments and breakthroughs for my work.

We worked diligently in 1, 2 and 3-point perspective and then added watercolor to the mix, what an intensive week!

Old arches in Tony's garden at the NIAUSI office

I love drawing and sketching, but this took sketching to a whole new and very exciting level for me, as I was able to really study architecture, perspective and the best approach to watercolor for me.

To top it off, we stayed in a village perched high above a valley teetering on the edge of a cliff. Our group of 6 literally doubled the local resident population (yes, the village resident population is 6 people!).

Tony's Ape in an alley at Civita

The history of this town is a long and important one. Civita di Bagnoregio was an Etruscan city strategically located between Orvieto and Viterbo. The Etruscans lived in caves, which currently run up to three levels below all of the current buildings in the village and are fascinating to explore.

Since the village is way up on a hill, there was no running water or electricity until recently, all the water being brought up the hill by donkeys.

This charming and magical place was slowly revitalized by a couple who started by buying a room from a poor farmer who offered to sell it to them when they happened upon the place in 1965 and got caught there in a rainstorm.

From there these architects slowly bought more rooms and ruins and restored a beautiful complex of houses which is now owned by the American not for profit NIAUSI.

The town is revived and alive and well, most all of the houses in the village have been restored.
It has 1 piazza with a dirt floor and is used for the annual donkey race each year.

The main piazza and church San Donato with Etrucan columns

This is a must visit for anyone coming to Umbria or passing through this region. The views alone make the visit worth it, but the charming ancient buildings are something I had never seen.

an end of a street in Civita looking out
to the vast valley below

I was so inspired by this new approach to sketching and with complete freedom to play and experiment I found a real voice, which I had been waiting for, with watercolor.

The 5 days spent with wonderful architect, artist and instructor Stephanie Bower were more than I had hoped for and expected to help me cross over into the next level of my skills and ways of approaching my work.

Learn more about architect Stephanie Bower here
and follow her excellent blog Drawing Perspectves and Civita project here

Learn more about Civita di Bagnoregio here

24 June 2014

Everyone Loves Tuscany!

Who doesn't love Tuscany? And what's not to love?

Living in Rome since 2010, I almost forget sometimes that I lived in Tuscany for 6 years.

But when I go back, I remember instantly! The light, those pinks and blues, only in Tuscany.

oil on linen
Kelly Medford


This steep little road leads from the main square in Fiesole up to the Franciscan Monastery. I have walked it many times.

On the way up you are rewarded with a spectacular panoramic view looking into the valley of The Arno river and can see the entire city of Florence.

Though a tiny city, Fiesole is very well maintained and has quite a few things to see besides the view, this little street and the Franciscan Monastery.

Fiesole was a major Etruscan city from the 9th-8th century BC and was conquered by the Roman in 283 BC, when it is first found in written documentation.

There is also an excellent gelateria here called Il Tucano just up the hill from the main piazza on your right. (Everyone needs to know where to find a good gelato no matter where you go!)

This view was a treat to paint as it is both looking down a steep hill and then straight out to the hills in the background. Having the chance to paint the rooftops from above plus the classic cypress tree (not native to Italy by the way!) is decidedly a Tuscan view.


17 June 2014

Orvieto: Stellar Umbrian Views

Orvieto is one of many gorgeous Umbrian hilltop towns.
But I swear, Orvieto is different, special and lively. You can just feel it in the air.

The people who live here take impeccable care of their city and it's not a big place, so everyone knows and is keeping track of each other.

While visiting friends who live here, they took me to this spot and I could immediately picture this painting. Getting back to paint it took awhile, but I filed it away in the "places to paint" mental encyclopedia that I keep ongoingly.

And when I did get back here to paint, the day was perfect with these enormous clouds floating overhead and the sun reflecting the light off the rooftops.

oil on linen panel
©Kelly Meford

I'll tell you a secret, or rather tell one on myself: I really never liked painting views. 

I can explain why.

Views are tricky because unless there is something to set up a foreground, middle ground and background, the space doesn't really make any sense and there are just some mountains and trees and things floating off away there in the distance. Views are always a good idea to paint in theory, but in practice turning them into a decent painting is another matter.

Sometimes I break my rule, like here for example, because of the light and daring myself to think I can make it work with what I've got going on in the scene.

This light hitting the rooftops with the blue in the distance and the old wall with the valley in the background, well, it seemed enough. And I was in love with the color combinations of reds, pinks, blues and greens so I went for it.

Orvieto is a special place I tell you, the old haunting grounds of Etruscans.

oil on paper (mounted)
©Kelly Medford

Here is another view looking back towards Orvieto from the other side. This is another exceptional place and where coincidentally J.M.W. Turner also once painted.

This was painted in the spring. You can read the story about this painting here.

Join me for a Sketching Rome Tour or plein air oil painting workshop in Italy.

12 June 2014

Can You Name the 7 Hills of Rome?

Always on the lookout for hidden and shady places, I love haunting the various parks and private villas turned public in Rome.

One of those places and one of my favorite, is Villa Celimontana located on The Caelian Hill .

oil on linen panel
Kelly Medford

A less frequented park, though it is very centrally located just behind the Colosseum, it seems to whisper age old secrets between the trees.

People mostly come here to relax and have lunch, meet friends and enjoy the park as a temporary respite from the bustle of the city.

I particularly enjoyed painting this soft morning light as a change from the bright colors and contrast found around the city. 

It was a challenge for this reason, getting the half light just right: not full sun or full deep shade, but capturing that morning light when the sun is coming up over the hills.

Do you know the names of the other 6 hills around the city?

Truly there are many more than just these 7 and they all have gorgeous views. This is a gem hidden in the city and is a fine place to paint any morning of the week.

09 June 2014

Painting in Rome: Feature Article Plein Air Magazine

Even though I live in Italy, I always feel American. 

People ask me that question all the time: do I feel more Italian than American?

I hope that my answer will not disappoint you, but I never feel Italian!

Not for any reason other than having my culture contrasted on a daily basis reminds me of where I come from and how I was raised. Though I've adapted perfectly well to Italian life and love just about everything here, I will always have my silly American quirks, traits and habits.

I bring this up because I was fortunate to have a recent article about my paintings in my neighborhood in Rome be featured in a short article by the American Plein Air Magazine and this is one of the things the interviewer wanted to know about me.

It's also such a joy to be an American living and working in Italy and to share a peek into what that is like.

I of course jumped at the opportunity to promote plein air painting in Rome, what a special treat!

It's hard to believe that such a strong and important tradition in Italy's most important historical city has fallen by the wayside.

On my one woman mission to revive plein air painting in Rome, I am thrilled to share this article with you. Hopefully this is the beginning of many more to come.

Thank you for your interest in my work and plein air painting in Rome and Italy.

More paintings coming soon.

Next week the 2015 workshop schedule will go up on my website.

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.