The clock tower of Lucca


Dear Artist,

On Via Fillungo there’s a tower with a hand-wound Swiss clock that has clanged four times an hour since 1754. You can climb high up into the tower and watch the mechanism flip into action every quarter hour. Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), who lived nearby, timed Tosca in his head without looking at his pocket watch. We are also so regulated around the corner on Via Santa Croce. It’s the march of time. It’s amazing what you can get done in fifteen minutes. It’s amazing how time slips through your fingers.


The transportation of choice in and around Lucca is the bike. Here, Sara Genn is lapworking on the Renaissance wall that surrounds the town. Most outdoor work is reserved for late afternoon and evening as the middle of the days are too hot.

The true nature of time may forever remain a mystery. Apart from the clang of it, it’s by getting things done that we measure it. The job of art is to turn time into things.


“The walls of Lucca”
acrylic on linen on board 16 x 16 inches
by Sara Genn
This is on one of the many surfaces we have experimented with while here.






The acrylic of choice here in Italy is the relatively slow drying Brera, made by Maimeri. We are also trying some incredibly absorbent pre-primed gesso panels made by Pieraccini Belle Arti. Under the Tuscan sun, normal strokes on these panels have the life sucked out of them, whereas wet-into-wet and thinned-with-medium effects flow out like Vespas. Sara and I are just getting the hang of these panels.


RG here. After a simple line drawing with a pencil, the darks are laid in using a limited palette and a watery acrylic technique on the highly absorbent gessoed panel.
I’ve been inclined to walk away from some of these at this point.

New places and new materials are both a challenge and a joy. Because we’re trying to get the pesto right, home-based studio time flies out the window. We’re reminding ourselves there are three main ways to bring areas of colour up to one another. You can fall short, paint up to, or cut into.

Order is another plate of lasagna:


After drying, the whole panel is glazed with a bluish grey. Then a stronger pattern is established by cutting in with opaque greyish white. This also presents an opportunity to abandon until the home base. The idea, however one does it, is to get to the ‘big picture.’

Order includes dark to light, light to dark, middle tones alternating to darkest darks and lightest lights, tone before colour, colour before tone, line first holding colour later, colour first holding line later.

Add a few private idiosyncrasies and there are more combinations than Italian gelato.

All of these actions — strokes, scrapes, bleeds, blends and bloobs, take place as a function of time. Wait too long and an effect is lost. Become impatient, fiddle around or kill time by overworking and the painting becomes yesterday’s pizza.


“Bridge Across the Turrite Cava”
acrylic painting on panel
12 x 16 inches by Robert Genn
This is about as far as I’ll take it on this sortie. My main sin, among others, is overworking. So I’ll give it a rest and let it tell me what it needs another day.

Best regards,


PS: “Days begin and end in the dead of night. They are not shaped long, in the manner of things which lead to ends — arrow, road, man’s life on earth. They are shaped round, in the manner of things eternal and stable — sun, world, God.” (Jean Giono)

Esoterica: “Hasten slowly,” warned Augustus Caesar. Here in Lucca the clock tower clangs its coded intervals as we attend to our trifles. “Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle,” Michelangelo reminds us. In this timeless town there seems to be more time. Perhaps because it’s better measured. “The days are long enough for those who use them.” (Leonardo da Vinci)


Five blocks away…
by Kirk Sauer

If you are in Florence for a while, you might on a Wednesday evening go to the non-denominational Rockefeller church (When I lived there the pastor was a sculptor and wife a pastel artist. The church caters to students from the city’s arts programs) where a meal is served and after the meal every one gets together to study each other’s language and discuss the arts. The location is about five blocks from the train station in the direction of the Arno. Every one knows it and one can always meet English speaking people there.


Staying free in Barga
by Ed Zelinsky, Falmouth, Maine


“Torre Guinigi, Lucca”
watercolour painting
by Anne Lively

My wife and I are artists and we very recently returned from two weeks in Lucca. It was our second visit and the second time that we took an art class with our former art school (The Ivy School, Pittsburgh, 1963) teacher John Del Monte. John lives in Pittsburgh, PA but teaches a select group every summer in Lucca. Lucca is an extraordinary city located in an amazing country. Italy is so special and its citizens so full of energy and life! This year John gathered a group of 15 American plein air painters to travel with him to Barga, a sister city of Lucca, located in the mountains. It was at the request of the mayor of Barga and the group was given free lodging for their 2 week stay. It will culminate in a great show of work which is probably going on right now.



Crucial time
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther, FL, USA


“Back Yard”
oil painting, 24 x 18 inches
by Brad Greek

As I sit in one location and read about your adventures around the globe, and hear the stories of world travels from fellow painters, I can only use my imagination to place me there. I wonder how much of that time getting there is wasted sleeping, watching an in-flight movie or talking weather with the person next to them. I’ve always kept time in the fore front of what I’m doing. Knowing we only have so many minutes, not to waste too many of them. I realized in my early 20’s that I didn’t like eating, sleeping or using the bathroom. All, to me, are a waste of time.


Memories revisited
by Alicia Chimento, New Jersey, USA


“Dunkerhook Quiet”
oil painting, 20 x 16 inches
by Alicia Chimento

Time is precious but I don’t want my paintings to be. Working relatively quickly, from an outdoor location or, at least beginning from there and finishing up in the studio, brings a freshness and spontaneity to my work that I have never been able to achieve through overworking. Every painting has a bit of me, but more of the spirit of the time and place. That is what I want, a simple glimpse which brings back the feeling of the moment.





Weather reports
by Dee Banta


Lucca Orto Botanico

I had been keeping weather records on Lucca since 2007 and stopped my weather records in March, 2008. Yes, I was dreaming of going there and painting. So I am thoroughly enjoying all your reports from Lucca and the paintings and info. Really need your motivational info as it is hot and humid here in Southwest Missouri with loads of rain. Now I will again have to take a peek at the Lucca weather. Seems like at night is when I get creative and I keep thinking I should go to bed early and get up early like normal people. Really messes with my head. Any solutions?

(RG note) Thanks, Dee. I can’t attest for the whole year as I’m only here for three weeks. It’s supposed to be notably hotter in August. Even Puccini complained about it and moved down to the coast (near Viareggio) for the onshore breezes. While there have been a few scorchers here, you make adjustments and work different hours. Last few days have been almost balmy. This afternoon I was in the Lucca Botanical Garden (Orto Botanico) in the shade of a Ginkgo Biloba and felt quite peculiarly energized.


Early riser
by Angela Sheard, France


“The Horseman on the Roof” – a wonderful French film (Le Hussard Sur Le Toit) based on a book by Jean Giono

I lived in Lucca, Italy for 9 years until recently, lapping up that stunning and precious Italian light. Jean Giono knew a thing or two. One of his best-known works begins with a man harnessing his horse in the middle of a strongly moonlit night and setting out to work enjoying the beauty of the earth in the small hours. Where I live in France, there is a market on Sundays which includes a flower stall. There, buckets and heaps of real home-garden flowers are gathered into country bunches like your grandmother would have made — a bit of this a bit of that. Gaudy glamorous flowers, lavender stems, humble but still valid-in-their place filler flowers and greenery. Last Sunday, the man was calling out “all bunches the same price but these in the front bucket were fresh-picked this morning.” I asked him what time he had to get up to pick them; he answered “3:30 but the moon was so bright, it was like daytime. I felt great.”


Silence of the bells
by Katherine Spencer Harris


“Via Pozzo Bianco, Bracciano”
oil painting, 20 x 28 inches
by Katherine Spencer Harris

We, here in Bracciano (Rome), have a town clock like the one described in Lucca. It banged the quarter hours and bonged the hours, all day and all through the night. We also had an ear-splitting siren which went off at eight in the morning and again at noon. I suppose it was to get children to school and adults to their work. Both have ceased to function, or were perhaps turned off on purpose? I miss them!




by Dyan Law, Pipersville, PA, USA


“Watching You, Watching Me – Kenya”
oil painting, 9 x 12 inches
by Dyan Law

Tonight at dinner my husband asked why I often labor over a painting instead of moving quickly ahead? Lately I’ve given myself permission to regurgitate information, including trial-and-error, brushstrokes, color applications, and compositions until I’m truly satisfied. For many years I’ve gotten on my own case for not producing enough paintings, over-working, doing endless sketches and studies which could lead to a completed painting. Well, I’ve finally given myself permission to do all of the above. I’m accepting that this is what a perfectionist (not necessarily a desirable term) may need to do in order to proceed well. I am realizing significant improvements in my artwork. In addition, when traveling abroad to paint, often I will avoid referring to a map for directions, even though it could take me longer to find the correct route. Sometimes there’s adventure in the search. As a result, I’ve discovered many new and interesting destinations!


Unexpected colours
by Marie Louise Tesch, Rapid City, SD, USA


“Audacious Apples”
acrylic painting
by Marie Louise Tesch

The description of new paints and new panels was inspiring. When I went to the clickbacks, I was immediately struck with the RED for the underside of the bridge. That made me open each of those digital images for a closer look. Everything made sense, but how did you think of RED for the shaded underside? That must be the genius part!

(RG note) Thanks, Maria. It’s not so much to do with genius, as it is searching around for something a little different for the shadows and darker areas. I like to get these established first in some cases, and a loud colour like red doesn’t bother me because I know I can tone it down later with a few glazes. Often a monochromatic early lay in — even a warm one, gives unity to the painting later on. As usual though, the early energy of a piece can be sent packing by later fumbles.


I love everything Italian, too!
by Carole Mayne, Leucadia, CA, USA


“Carnevale Bow”
oil painting
18 x 14 inches
by Carole Mayne

Dear Sara,

I’ve been enjoying your Dad’s letters for years, gleaning so much support, encouragement and artistic food for thought. And now that you’re in Lucca, I can dream along with you, as I was there in May, and have traveled to Italy many times in the last 12 years. I’m so glad I didn’t fall in love with Italy in my 20’s, I would have been obsessed, and my family would have suffered!! Now is the perfect time for me. So how did you just change my life? The quote you shared “Squeeze out your paint like a millionaire, and you’ll be one,” was again, perfect timing for me to get the push to give my ALL, right NOW, not even one stroke later!

Keep on enjoying the crusty textures on the buildings, the crusty bread with olive oil, and even the crusty people on the outside who have hearts of gold. I will join your joyous chorus by continuing to scream silently or at the top of your voice: “I love you little fioretti! I love you poppies, hills and cappuccino! I love you Brother Sun and Sister Moon!” I wish for you that you let your heart expand to circle the universe. (And do get yourself to Assisi — it’s a must!)

Happy painting, happy being = happy life! Con un abbraccio forte.

(RG note) Thanks, Carole. And thanks to everyone who wrote to Sara. While she does not have a response capability on her website or blog, she certainly got off on all the letters. Yours was one of the best. For those of you who have been inquiring about Sara’s CD, Songs for Longing, you can purchase it on CD Baby. Her blog also gives info about her next singing engagements in England and Scotland.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The clock tower of Lucca



From: Keith Ikeda-Barry — Jul 24, 2008
From: Dorian Iten — Jul 25, 2008

I’m in Florence! You wrote that you are in Tuscany at the moment, where exactly are you and are you planning to come to Florence?

From: Ned Strong — Jul 25, 2008

Something you will notice about the Italians. They are in the process of going from ear-splitting two strokes to fully mufflered, almost silent ghosts. Many jurisdictions have bylaws preventing loud canned music, while other places will tolerate only small-group live music. The shouting in the streets seems much less also. This is partly legislated, but it also has to do with the maturity, gentility, good manners and good taste that has always laid latent in Italy.

From: Edie Maney — Jul 25, 2008

I am looking at getting a Canon G9 to take pics of paintings and wondering if any subscribers can make a recommendation. Does anyone have this particular camera? I am not interested in SLR, too big… Please advise? thanks and hugs.

From: Barbara Loyd — Jul 25, 2008

Be sure to try the gelato at the Penguin/Penguini store on the plaza, it was the best we found in Lucca.

From: Joyce Manson — Jul 26, 2008

The nice thing about traveling and working, even though it is less efficient than in the home studio, is that one tends to be more relaxed and casual about the work itself. When the feeling of “vacation” sets in, it seems that more time is available to ponder and reconsider various moves. This attitude, however, also requires the sense of being settled rather than rushing off to see the most popular sights. Non-distractive areas, with a limited amount of other traffic are best for me, rather than metropolitan areas, and a lakeside cottage fills the bill.

From: Vanessa Cheyne — Jul 28, 2008

Driving down the Amalfi coast of Italy in the early 60s, I said to my husband “This is Gods country!”. We lived off the coast in Sardinia for a couple of years, and later I visited and stayed in Florence and the surrounding area on an artists workshop.You brought back some wonderful memories Robert.!Thankyou!

From: Susan Connelly — Jul 29, 2008

Thank you, Robert, for the absolutely breath taking photos. I am in awe of the beauty that has lived thru the centuries. Unable to travel to Italy I am thankful that I can see it thru your eyes.

Thank you for sharing.

From: David Gellatly — Jul 29, 2008
From: Tommy Thompson — Jul 31, 2008
From: Claudia — Jul 31, 2008
From: Mary Miller-McNutt — Jul 31, 2008

I enjoyed reading the comments about Italy. I was there in 2005 and fell in love with the beautiful country and people. I took about 500+ photos and plan on painting many of them.

From: R. Greenspan — Jul 31, 2008

Dyan Law’s “Watching you, watching me” seems to speak volumes about a young boy’s dedication to family in a land in which disease, poverty, and human slaughter draw increasing global concern. Sensitive and engaging, indeed.

From: Ni — Oct 09, 2008

I am afraid traveling is out of my realm. Reading about other parts of the world has great meaning to me, however art expresses what is said in so much greater detail.

From: Avon Edward Foote — Oct 09, 2008

Alabama doesn’t have a common border with Russia, but I do live on the same street as Tommy Thompson, your featured premium artist in this issue. So being gifted in abstract reasoning as I am, it must be that I am also a great art critic, too. Tommy is not only a premium artist who raises the appreciation of art at all the houses on our street, but most importantly he and his wife Marie are great neighbors.






Horses of the Tetons

oil painting 24 x 36 inches
Tommy Thompson, Florence, AL, USA


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Barbara Loyd who wrote, “Be sure to try the gelato at the Penguin/Penguini store on the plaza, it was the best we found in Lucca.”

And also Pepper Hume of Spring, TX, USA who wrote, “The job of art is to turn time into things. I like that one. Job, not purpose, deals with a whole different aspect of the making of art… or anything, for that matter.”

And also Dianne Mize of Clarkesville, GA, USA who wrote, “Yesterday’s pizza makes a fairly tasty breakfast on a summer morning in southern USA.”




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