Siena & More Printmaking

Our "event" this week was a day trip to Siena on Sunday on a local bus which wound through the smaller provincial roads rather than going there via the autostrada.
We had to get a SITA bus which is a regional service, but the internet told us a big "bugia" (lie) and gave us the completely wrong address, telling us to go to the other end of the SMN train station from where the trains come in. We somehow had an idea that this was not correct as it did not make sense to have the buses so far away from the trains.
We are getting used to this (incorrect information off the internet) here in Firenze - it seems that no-one keeps their online details up-to-date.
In the end, Lyn asked a florist in a little shop where the SITA bus-stain was and they pointed around the corner of a street - sure enough, there it was, tucked into an area that looked like a service entry for a supermarket.
It took about an hour and a half to get to Siena, stopping for a short time in a reasonably large town called Poggibonsi to let off people so that they can go to San Gimignano (another tourist destination).
San Gimignano is another place that we want to go before the warm weather kicks in as it is full of tourists during the summer season, the reason being that it is a small, but very well preserved "citta antica" (old city).
Once again, the weather was kind to us and, although it was dull and cool, it didn't not rain.
Siena is a city draped over a series of small his, therefore it has a totally different feel to Florence, even though the street architecture is similar.
The bus winds into town around the old "fortezza" walls and drops you quite close to the historic centre of town.
From here, it took about 10 minutes to walk into the main piazza (Piazza del Campo) via the cobbled streets.

We decided to stop for a bite to eat and a coffee, and found a really small "fornai" (sort of like a bakery) that sold pizza and focaccia right in the old merchant's entry point to the piazza.
We had the best piece of pizza we have tasted in Italy yet (and maybe for a long time in Oz)! It was a simple pizza base with very tasty tomato paste, buffalo mozzarella and basil - fresh and hot.The let-down was that they did not do coffees. My question of "posso avere due cafe per favore?" was answered with "No"! Apparently, they did not do coffee - oh, well.

The Piazza del Campo is a pretty spectacular town square (well more of a fan-shaped area really).
It is much more pretty than the Firenze Piazza del Duomo as it is sloping and is marked out in nine sectors to recognise the "Council of Nine" that ruled Siena in it's heyday.
Siena Piazza del Campo
In the middle, there is a fountain that supplied fresh water into the city and at the apex of the sectors is the main buildings and "Torre di Mangia", the tallest tower in the city. You can go to the top of this tower (nearly 500 steps), but Guy was not keen, so we let that go for the time being.

We then did a tour of the "Palazzo Pubblico"which is a museum full of frescoes and the most amazing, over-the-top wall decoration we have seen yet.
The Courtyard Of The Palazzo
Check out the detail on this grating for a drain at the front of the palazzo at the apex of the sectors - amazing or what!

From the balcony at the back of the palazzo, there are great views over the surrounding countryside and the residential areas of the city.

From here, we wandered the streets and worked our way to the Piazza del Duomo where the cathedral and the "Santa Maria della Scala" museum (once the main hospital) are situated.
The museum was very interesting, but the highlight was definitely the cathedral, which is a bit smaller than the Florentine one, but just as, if not more, ornate. The marble floors are stunning and the use of striped stone in the columns makes the whole interior look amazing.
Towards The Altar

The Pulpit!
From The Alter Towards The Doors
The Dome
Attached to the cathedral is a small library that has many very old choir music-books on view, all made of vellum and clearly showing their age.

The frescoes on the walls and ceilings in this room were mind-blowing!

The Ceiling Of The Cathedral Library

And the most amazing discovery - we found the origin of the Melbourne Cup!
This inlay on the marble terrace outside the cathedral must have been laid around 300 years before Australia was even colonised! Wow!

Lyn's Week
We didn't do a post last week as we had done two the week before.
Last weekend, we had dinner at Ignacio's apartment in San Frediano, about 10 minutes walk from our place - he put on a great dinner and he has a lovely apartment with a courtyard in front of it, so it is very quiet. He has rented it through Milligan and Milligan of Florence and recommends them as agents.
The weather is slowly warming up, I think this time of year is a good time to visit Florence as there are not so many tourists, it is good walking weather as it is still quite cool.
At school we continued with aquaforte (I have found out that this means "strong water" and refers to nitric acid).
I have pretty much given up on my Venice Gondola print as Manuel explained to me how to repeat the aquatint and how long to do each bit, but I didn't understand enough Italian and completely mucked it up. It was very disheartening, so I am leaving it for a while - it was a character building exercise.......
So, I started a new print now that I have a handle on the aquatint and where I went wrong. This is a view from the Palazzo Pitti across the piazza. I will put in a few photos of the original photo, the plate and the proofs. The last photo of the plate is when I used litho crayon over the top of the aquatint rosin to make the piazza look more like stone. The blue is the varnish that is used as stop out instead of the bitumen that I use at home- it dries very quickly so it's much better.

First proof

Second proof after the crayon

In between doing all this, we had to get our copper plates ready for mezzotint which we have been doing this week. We had a long talk from Manuel about the technique (in Italian of course) and I picked up maybe 20% ??? I asked Giulia to explain what he said and then conducted my own research on the net - there are some great YouTube videos that have helped a lot!
I bought a 10cm by 10cm copper plate from the office (cost me 1.5 euro!) and Vincenzo asked me if I wanted to rock the plate by hand (I don't think so) or use the rocker machine they use. Here is a photo of the machine.

Anyway, one has to pass the mezzotint rocker over the plate from 8 directions, at least 3 times (3 passes for each edge and each diagonal x three passes per edge because of the tool width and then repeating the whole lot on the in the reverse direction - a lot!). It took me about 6 hours and I could hardly move my right arm the next day. I expect mezzotint printmakers have arms like Popeye!
Most of the students had plates twice the size of mine (as I said before, they are all Rembrandts!)
Here is a photo of my completed rocked plate.

We also all bought Japanese machine rocked plates for 5 euros each and hand rocked over the top of them - apparently they are more delicate if they are just machine-rocked so most people hand rock over the top of them. I don't know if you can get them in Australia.
We then just had to decide what to use as a subject for our prints - the first thing I picked I showed to Giulia and she said "Are you crazy?????", so I suppose it was a bit hard!
When you start you use the scraper to scratch off the top layer of copper, and then the burnisher to flatten the copper- Manuel told me this afternoon to scratch off more copper and when I told him "ho paura!" (I am afraid) he laughed and said he would show me "domani" (tomorrow). I will see if I can make him do it!
In the end I decided to reproduce an old photograph by Alfred Stieglitz of a woman's leg with a high heel shoe, so here is my interpretation. It still needs work - Manuel said "più chiaro" (lighter) which is a change from "più scuro" (darker)

1st proof
2nd proof
Before we left Melbourne Williamstown Sailing Club gave me the club burgee and told me that I have to fly it when we go sailing, well, we haven't been sailing and I don't know if we will, so we flew it from our lounge room  window. 

So hello to all my sailing friends at Willy!!

Guy's Week
My first two week's of not having to go to language school has gone very quickly.
I can converse with the local traders (in very slow and not great Italian that I am not proud of!) and it is nice to be able to make myself understood in their language. It is difficult knowing that I have the vocabulary to speak and the ability to construct sentences, but not being able to put it together in my head. I guess that the only way to improve this is to use it!
I now have a pretty good "working" knowledge of the bus systems and am slowly learning where everything is is in this city. There are large "department store" type shopping areas a bit out of town, accessible by bus, but the Italians seem to have a different concept of shopping here and they are not into the huge shopping centres that we are used to at home.
My discovery this week is that I have found another good (and possibly the best - so far) coffee shop in town, near the Duomo. And - it is not expensive!
I had a coffee with Bob (the American from language school who I meet up with regularly) on Monday and so we sat outside a small coffee shop in the Piazza di San Firenze (near the Bargello) and soaked up the small amount of sun on offer that day - four coffees cost me EU14! That is what you pay if you want to sit and enjoy the view in the big towns of Italy!
At this point, we decided to change our coffee shop.
A better coffee will cost EU1.2 in my new favourite coffee shop.
It was cold on Thursday morning after I walked Lyn to school, so I asked the barista for "un cappuccino, ma grande, forte e caldo" (a cappuccino, but large, strong and hot) - and it was - it was a huge cup of hot strong coffee - awesome!

Florence is an amazing city to walk around and there is so much to see and take in. It will take me year to see everything!


  1. I love the pics and artwork - feel like I've been to all of the places you are visiting! Enjoy!

  2. Starting to get really jealous of you guys now. What amazing things you are seeing. Love the photos.
    I like the first proof of Palazzo Pitti better than the second. Great work.