Saturday, 29 April 2017


 The Dolomite Mountains in northern Italy have been on my travel wishlist for several years now and last summer I finally went there on a week long hiking trip with my friend Dawn.  We had booked a trip through Sherpa Expeditions where we walked from one village to the next our bags were moved on for us.  It was a great way to travel as every day we were waking up somewhere new but we didn't have the added burden of carting our entire lives around in gigantic backpacks.  All the  routes were meticulously planned out with detailed instructions and maps so all we had to do was turn up and enjoy the holiday.  We couldn't really ask for better than that.

Needless to say, I took hundreds of photographs and came home wondering where to begin.  I had taken a bit of a break from painting so to get myself started again, I picked a church in Colfosco, one of the little villages we stayed in.  These little white churches are dotted around all over the place so really do represent the area.  I often start with drawings when I haven't done anything for a while - it helps me get back into it again.  I had recently bought some acrylic inks with some birthday vouchers (thanks Sonya!) so I was playing around with these in my first picture.  Many of the hotels we stayed in had old sepia photographs on the walls so this is the look I was going for here.  I think I need a bit more practice with the inks - they dry very quickly so I sometimes found I got a few too many brush marks where I hadn't expected them but overall, this was not a bad warm up exercise.

We weren't really there for the churches though, we were there for the mountains so this was the focus of my second picture.  As you make your way through the mountains, every now and then you pass a little wooden hut with a chimney.  They're there for hikers to sleep for the night.  There are a number of longer distance routes that take you through the whole mountain range, stopping in these camping huts each night.  I was glad we had chosen the more luxurious option for our trip although there is a part of me that could be tempted by the camping option one day.

I stuck with drawing for this.  I like the way the rocks behind the church came out in the first picture and wanted to take that further.  The rocks are, after all, what makes this place so distinctive.  When the light hits them, particularly in the early morning or late afternoon, the shadows create some really interesting shapes.  This picture took ages but I'm pretty happy with the result.

Finally, I went back to my pastels.  Having spent so long on the details in the previous drawing, I was ready to step back and just go for it with this one.  I didn't really know how it was going to turn out but I thoroughly enjoyed the process of finding out.  This picture was from the most memorable day of the trip for me.  We took the gondola up to the top of a mountain.  It was baking hot when we set off and absolutely freezing at the top with a biting wind.  There are many remnants of the First World War up here and we spent an hour or so at the top walking past huge craters blown out of the side of the mountain with dynamite, through old trenches still with their rolls of barbed wire in plan and past tunnel systems dug into the rocks where soldiers lived.  On a sunny day in August it was cold.  In the middle of winter with limited resources and and opposing army trying to blow you up at every opportunity, it must have been brutal.  It was a sobering remainder of just how lucky we are.  I haven't found a way yet of painting the remains of war and doing them justice so the view in this picture is from standing with my back to them.

Sometimes, when you visit a place you've been wanting to see for a long time, the reality doesn't quite live up to expectation.  With the Dolomites I'd say the opposite was true.  This is a truly beautiful and awe inspiring place and as we left, my parting thought was "why has it taken me so long to come here?"