My Tuscan Painting Adventure

This June, I was fortunate to be able to go on a fantastic painting workshop in Tuscany, run by a company called, “Walk The Arts”. ( The website is at: ) Unlike most other workshops, our amazing instructor, Yves M. Larocque (Ph.D.) — Art Instructor, Art Theoretician, Art Historian, and Artist did no traditional demonstrations. His focus was on creativity and the search for new visions and challenges. It was, indeed, a transformative experience for me. This was my first experience painting “plein aire”. Unlike my studio work, which is rather detailed, layered work, done from my own photography, I decided that this work would be about how to capture the essence of what I saw, and say more with less. Let’s say that it was truly a challenge for me!


In the beginning, I included everything I saw… with less than successful results. We painted a scene of the fields near the farm where we were staying. When my first attempt was less than stellar, I did it over. Then, in the afternoon, we were to paint from our paintings we had done in the morning, using the color techniques of the Impressionists. One must begin somewhere!

First ever “plein-aire” painting. Note the nasty blob in the foreground!

First ever “plein-aire” painting. Note the nasty blob in the foreground!

The repeat without the big boo-boo…

The repeat without the big boo-boo…

And in the afternoon, a bit more fun…

And in the afternoon, a bit more fun…

The next day, we were once more painting by the farm, at a view of the Tuscan hillsides. Again, when I first started painting, I tried to include everything… It was too much! So, I did what we did the last day, and I painted off my painting, and tried to edit. It became my “ah ha!” moment!

A bit too much…

A bit too much…

The essence of the scene!!!

The essence of the scene!!!

And so, I found my method, and my goal for the workshop. Every time that we went somewhere to paint, my first attempt was overworked, so… if at first I didn’t succeed, I did another painting. Or three!

A view of the Val D’Orcia, from the roadside. Here I was trying to capture the bowl in the scene. So, I painted again! And again, and again.

A view of the Val D’Orcia, from the roadside. Here I was trying to capture the bowl in the scene. So, I painted again! And again, and again.

Val D'Orcia Bowl.jpg
Val D'Orcia.jpg

And the next day, another view, but here’s the second painting!

Day Two ValD'Dorcia Views.jpg

Val D’Orcia

Painted from a painting

Essence of Begonias.jpg

And then we went abstract…

From flowers in the yard, we were to paint the “essence of “ the flowers, with no petals, stamen, etc. There was a 20 Euro fine!!!

The Eight Percent Door.jpg

The Eight Percent Door

Essence of flowers led to essence of doors. Here’s one of mine!

Cortona Version 1.jpg

Painting in Cortona

We painted in one of the amazing Tuscan hill towns for one morning, and the images I di of Cortona really illustrate how my process worked for me. One painting, with too much…..

Cortona Version 2.jpg


Version 2, painted from the painting.

Cortona Version 3.jpg

Cortona Version 3

This was painted off the second painting, a couple of weeks later. It’s my personal favourite of the three…

Walls of La Fratta.jpg

On the last day in the workshop, I decided to paint the essence of the beautiful stone and brick walls of La Fratta…

Yves suggested that I sign my work that is plein aire and simplified, with a different name. I signed the ones that I like, as “CM” for Cynthia Markus. Another artist suggested that I should own the changes and evolution of my work, and announce it. So… here it is! Thoughts?

Another Opus Demo!

Just a note, that I have another upcoming demonstration at Opus Framing, Granville Island, on November 2nd There are two sessions, from 11 till 12:30, and another from 2 till 3:30. Sign up is through the store. This one is on painting portraits in watercolour. Expect to see how I enlarge an image from a photo, how to paint hair, etc.

Painting Commissioned Portraits

I do quite a few portraits on commission, so, obviously, I have to have an accurate likeness, first of all. But the other part, is that, because it’s for a client who doesn’t see it until I have already painted it, I have to make sure that they LIKE it! This one was kind of interesting, because the lady that commissioned it, wanted a portrait of herself, to give to her kids! I haven’t had to do one like that before, because the portraits that I have done on commission have either been pictures of dead loved ones (go figure!) or of kids. Female vanity, on the other hand, kind of made me nervous. So, I had the client come up to my place for a photo shoot, first. We took a ton of pictures, and then went through them together, until we chose her favourite image. Now here’s the kicker… I am personally, as vain as the next woman. If you think the profile portraits that I post are unretouched, then you obviously don’t live in the computer age and I must be the most secure woman in existence!

My dilemma… portrait photographers say that there is a thing called a “vanity scale”, where wedding and boudoir photos reside on one end, and truth lands on the other. Now, I have a personal addiction for painting “characters”, as truthfully as possible. So, for a commissioned painting of a woman… to soften, or not to soften? My final decision? Retain character, but gently…. was this the right decision? I guess I will find out when I deliver the piece!


Upcoming Workshops and Opus Demo

I have new workshops coming in the fall! For people who are interested in learning basic watercolour techniques, I plan to offer a one day workshop with the Mission Arts Council in the fall. I will cover washes, preserving whites, creating texture and some colour instruction about the fundmental theory that all watercolourists should know. Then, I will offer a second workshop to guide people through the processes of creating an original watercolour from a photo reference. That one will most likely be held over a few successive sessions, to allow participants some painting time!

Also, I will be doing an artist’s demo at Opus Granville Island on October 19th, on painting a watercolour portrait. Sign up is through the store, and this one is free!

Painting a Landscape

Sometimes I get asked to paint landscapes, from a favourite image. This is the second one for the same client. My process is , first, I play around with the colours in the digital image, if it needs a bit of “punching up”. Then. I complete an enlarged drawing, to the size that the client requests and transfer the image to a pieceof watercolour paper. Then, using masking fluid and a ruling pen, I begin masking off to preserve whites that are small and textural. Then the layers of paint begin…. usually, from lighter to darker. I always dry between layers. i also mask off other details between layers, and paint into negative shapes.

Kevin 2 watermarked.jpg

Smalls Show

If you happen to be going by the Mission Arts Council Gallery, on First Avenue over the next couple of months, I have a few pieces there for sale in the display cases as you come in the front doors… They are all small pieces, because that is how big the cases are… The gallery is open Tuesday through Sunday, Noon till 4pm!

Poured Flowers.jpg

Opus Coquitlam Demo

Yesterday, I was at Opus Framing and Art Supplies in Coquitlam, demonstrating how to do a poured watercolour! I just wanted to thank all the lovely people who came out to watch me paint! I was working on an image I took on the Westcoast Express at the station, which was kind of perfect, because one of the people who came out yesterday, was a wonderful writer that I met that day, on the train! Michelle Oucharek-Deo was kind enough to autograph her novel for me! Her book, called, “The Girl in the Peach Tree”, was a lovely,heart-warming read! I bought it on Amazon, btw… oh, and I promised to videotape myself finishing the painting, so keep posted for the rest of the demo!

michelle and me.jpg

New Website and Blog!

At long last, I have taken the bull by the horns, so to speak, and redone my website! I am also hoping to regularly post to this blog space…. So, what will I blog about? I think this is where I will post about my work in progress, artist demonstrations, workshops, and basically, anything that I think is interesting, to do with my art! I welcome dialogue, so please comment! I will also start posting videos on here too.