Manuel's Art Studio/ Lucca

It is a while since the last blog, but we have done a lot in the last two weeks.

Guy's Travels
Every day, I am discovering new places and things to see.
I am not convinced about my Italian getting better, but I am thoroughly enjoying Florentine life.

My latest discovery is the market held in the Cascine Gardens every Tuesday. This is more a local market and there were surprisingly few tourists there.
The stalls are set up along the walkway that runs along the side of the Arno River and runs for approximately a kilometre!
You can buy almost anything here from veggies, fish and meat to leather boots, clothes and kitchen stuff. In addition there is all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff to eat and snack on.

I also found a really interesting exhibition incorporating paintings done in the mid 1800s, by an artist called Fabio Borbottoni. He did hundreds of oil paintings showing different perspectives of streets, piazzas, the old walls, the River Arno along with it's bridges, as well as Florentine landmarks, street-life and the local countryside.
This exhibition has about 150 of these paintings that were formed into a private collection and then purchased by the city of Florence.
Photographs have been taken recently from the same perspectives as the paintings done by Borbottoni showing how the city looks now, and then interestingly, the paintings have been overlaid with the photographs to show how the city has changed.
It is amazing how the perspectives of the paintings match the photographs.

Check out the video on this website to see some of the paintings and how closely they match  modern photographs;
If you are prompted for a password to watch the video, it is;

I am also getting used to the coffee served here in Italy (small cups and not hot) and have decided that the way to go is "un macchiato doppio" (a double macchiato). The coffee is very strong, but the foam of milk takes the edge off, it stays hotter and it is more than one mouthful!
And as a bonus, I have discovered a few places that don't charge if you decide to sit and read the paper or just watch the world go by - all good reasons to go back there.

Last week was the beginning of spring and it has been very windy. There were 2 days of high winds and motor scooters were falling over everywhere. I was walking Lyn to school and we saw a strange sight - a builder pushing a portable toilet up the road towards the worksite on the corner, into the wind!
I helped him out, but we had a hard time and nearly had it fall over on us - an ugly thought!

Further down the road this big cypress tree had fallen over behind the Lutheran church and onto someone's terrace.  It was lucky that it did not hit the house!

Manuel's Art Studio
Manuel Ortega is one of Lyn's art teachers at Il Bisonte and he invited us all to visit his studio two weeks ago. It is a converted workshop ("bottega") in the city close to Piazza Santa Maria Novella and they have called it "L'Armadillo". The address is Via dei Porcellana 51R.
Manuel and his friend (Giancarlo) bought the place as a total wreck and then spent 3 years fixing it all up and turning it into a really nice working area complete with presses and art preparation areas.
It is massive by Florentine standards - a front gallery area that contains some of the presses, a rear working area, two other side annexes for more workshop area, an outside area with chemical handling sinks and baths, bathroom and toilet, two private office areas (one each) and to complete it all, an underground storage area. This is one serious art studio!
The Rear Part Of The Studio With Giancarlo's Office Area On The Mezzanine Floor - Not Bad!

I counted 6 printing presses in all, going from a really old woodcut press through to pretty modern gear-reduction presses (all hand-operated except for one that had been modified to electric operation).

We saw one idea that would be a good modification for Lyn's press at home - the felts are joined in a continuous loop and run over overhead rollers, so that they do not have to be manually laid over the plates and then removed after printing. They drop onto the plate as the platen moves through the press and then lift off as the plate comes out the other side.

Manuel spent most of the day showing us his art and explaining how it was done (breaking for coffee and lunch of course!) and it was most enjoyable listening to a person who is passionate about his work - and good for our Italian comprehension! A lot of it went in one ear, rattled around and then fell out the other side, but we also understood a fair bit which shows that we are (slowly) improving in the language department.
Manuel took us to a local trattoria for lunch where we tried some genuine Tuscan food - it was really good local fare, very tasty and very reasonable (EU10/person for 2 courses, bread & wine).
The "Ragazzi" From The Il Bisonte With Manuel At The Head Of The Table
Last Sunday, we decided to go to Lucca (an old walled city east of Florence and north of Pisa about an hour by train from Florence).
We bought an excellent local tourist map and took one of their suggested walks around the walls and then through the old city.
We both agreed that Lucca is our favourite city so far - it is small and probably far enough off the tourist trail (for this time of the year at least) that there were not so many people around.
To get into the old city, most of the main gates have been converted for traffic, but there are also pedestrian paths that go through the original portals in the walls, exactly as they were centuries ago.
Porta San Pietro
 One Of The Pedestrian Paths Inside The Walls
One Of The Original Access Portals
Outside The Walls
The tops of the old walls have been converted into a pedestrian trail where people walk, jog, cycle or just wander and socialise.

Sunday was a really nice day, so we saw the city at it's best.
All along the wall, you can see various parts of the old city.
There is one place where you can see into the private garden of the Palazzo Pfanner which is a beautifully kept garden.

At another point, you can see the famous Torre Guinigi which has trees growing on the top, providing a nice shady area that is also a tourist highlight.
We went to the top of this tower and the view of Lucca is pretty spectacular.

We had lunch in the Piazza Anfiteatro (the old Roman amphitheatre) and it was nice to sit in the sun for a while and soak up the warmth after the cold of winter.

Within the old part of Lucca, the streets are very narrow and there is history everywhere.

The city is full of camellia and magnolia trees and they are just starting to bloom - spring is here!

We both decided that we would like to go back in the summer to see the gardens at their best.
It will also be cooler than Florence as it is closer to the sea and the mountains - a really good reason to get away from the Florentine heat in August/September!

Lyn's Progress - Bulino (engraving on copper)
For the last week and a half we have been learning Bulino. This is the oldest form of engraving and it involves using a very sharp tool (called a bulino surprisingly enough!) 
The design is engraved using brute force (actually, you have to get the right angle of the tool to the plate and then it's not so hard, but at first it's brute force and heavy breathing as you are sure the bulino will skid off into your hand and you will bleed to death). The bulino makes a channel in the plate and then the little tail of copper is cut off. Acid is not used and it is usually done on copper plates. 
It's a little like aquaforte in that shading is done without aquatint but by using cross hatching.
Nowadays it seems to be mainly used for engraving on guns and knives and is done with a powered tool like a Dremel. Jewellers use bulino to engrave on rings and jewellery. Hundreds of years ago it's use was very popular for making copies of famous paintings and for book illustrations. It's not very popular now, and I can see why - it's really hard to do and  the sharp bulino is dangerous!  
Last week we all bought a small copper plate (about 10cm square) and prepared the plate as usual; filing the edges, scraping the edges, burnishing the edges, sanding the plate with 3 grades of paper, polishing the plate with metal polish..........
The second thing we had to do was make our tool. You can buy bulino tools, but they cost around 25 to 30 euros or, you can buy the materials required for about 5.5 euros and make one yourself (I don't know if you can buy the bits in Australia, but you can here!)
The order for the 10 metal shafts and the 10 handles was delivered and Vincenzo cut the shaft to fit our hands (the handle fits in the palm of the hand and there should be about 2 cm of razor sharp tool protruding beyond your middle and index finger). He then sharpened the end on a whetstone, put it in a small vice and hammered the handle onto the shaft. He then bent it to about a 30 degree angle and there it was! He then ground off a small bit of the handle so it fits better my hand (and it's also where I put my name).
The next thing was making a bulino cushion. Manuel brought in some leather (he said he killed the family cow, and now the family has no milk.... there are lots of leather factories and shops in Florence). We then had a working-bee and cut the leather into circles, filled up little plastic bags with sand (from the Caribbean, Manuel said - he's become quite a joker, or maybe he always was and I am understanding Italian a little better!) 
Poor Giulio had the job of melting the plastic on the edges of the bags filled with sand using a lighter. I tried one and burnt my fingers, but he soldiered on in the name of art. 

Manuel explaining the process (Frederico is cutting out circles)

The boys are working hard

We then had to get four circles of leather, put holes around the edge, push the sand bag in and sew up the edges with string. You may notice from the photos that it was me and the boys doing all this - the girls were all at a long lunch!
Filling the bags with sand

Antonio has had enough!
After the sewing up, we made a long plaited tail (here is where I amazed and delighted the boys with my plaiting skills), then we melted beeswax in a spoon and poured wax all over the edges and the front and back of the leather. 
Michele sewing up (he's a new student; jewellers apprentice)
The next step was to polish the whole thing very hard for about 10 minutes and here is my finished product! Looks one hundred years old, doesn't it!
Let's hope I can get it through customs when I go home- or maybe I can run a "making a bulino cushion" class at the CAE?
My 100 year old bulino cushion
My bulino tool and first plate
Of course after all this, I then had to actually make an engraving.
I followed my usual practice of doing something simple, the other students followed their usual practice of doing something really complicated and impressive (that's why mine is finished and they are still working on theirs!).
I did a picture of a bee - unfortunately both Manuel and Vincenzo think it's a fly - how could they????

The final bee

It was an interesting learning experience, but I am not sure bulino is my thing!
I have nearly finished my print of the Piazza Pitti; still more aquatint tomorrow;
Piazza Pitti almost finished


  1. Password - borbottoni2015. Thanks. That was really interesting. Just shows how much even old buildings and towns change over time. Everyone is maintaining and upgrading.

    1. Great photos Guy and Lyn your work is two are certainly living the dream!!!