For reasons unknown, my mind was racing wildly in the wee small hours of the night. I found myself at one point back in Umbria (of all places) painting a tractor (of all things). My husband snored softly as the moonlight sought to pierce through the curtains and fill the bedroom with light and dancing shadows. It was no use fighting it, my mind was taking me on a late-night memory tour and sleep would have to wait. I let myself be transported back to one morning in Italy following another night such as this one.
I had stumbled, sleep-deprived, from my bed into the cantina where I was met with a cheerful “buongiorno” and a hot, creamy cappuccino. Things were definitely improving. I pulled up a chair next to my friend, Tannis. “How did you sleep?” I asked her glumly. “I woke at 3:00 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep.” She replied smiling (the kind of smile you make when you’ve moved beyond weariness and exhaustion to touch on madness). “Sounds about right.” I replied. More than one double cappuccino later, the sunlight began to stream over the agriturismo we called home for the week and an air of anticipation and excitement filled the space. After a request by our instructor not to wander too far, artists wielding backpacks and easels poured from the little cantina on a quest for subject matter and inspiration in the Italian countryside.
Some found the distant spires of the Orvieto Duomo, others found a farm cat curled up in a flower pot and there was even one artist who encamped within the pasture gates where the horses roamed, their tails swishing. I had not ventured far down the farm road between the various buildings before I heard a sound over my right shoulder. “Psst.” And it was then I saw the blue tractor peaking from the darkness of a small shed. I thought of the others artists who were no doubt painting the Umbrian hills or the terra cotta-topped stone farmhouses. In spite of all the lovely scenery, I knew I had to paint that tractor. As I placed my pigments on the palette, I glanced up at my waiting subject. “Well, it is kind of pretty, for a tractor.” I reasoned. Some time later, our teacher strode purposefully in my direction to offer some instruction and lament about the game of hide-and-seek he was reluctantly playing with his students. From beneath his wide-brimmed hat, he looked at the beginning I had made and then at the tractor. He got it. After a few tips, he scanned the horizons and headed off in search of his missing students. I thought the blue tractor was just a passing fancy. However, the following day I found yet another one sitting in a shadowy corner of some outbuildings. I’m pretty sure he was dreaming of motoring over the hillside, pulling little wagonloads of olives to be pressed. I sat on my campstool in the middle of the dusty road and sketched, trying to capture just a little of his poise and personality. “Another tractor?!” The other artists questioned later. I didn’t understand it myself so how could I explain it? On my last day in Umbria, I set off to wander the property before aperitivo. As I ambled around the building where I had been sleeping each night (or at least trying to sleep), I came across a tiny garage built into the foundation. There in the purple shadows rested a little yellow beast. What could I do? Resigned, I headed inside to retrieve my sketchbook and gouache palette.
Finally feeling myself drifting to sleep, I came to realize that entwined with my memories of Italy; the laughter shared with free-spirited artists, the steaming pasta with rich, wild boar sauce, the shuttered stone cottages, the hillside vineyards, the olive groves, the spongy tiramisu and the late-night limoncello toasts, there exists also – a trio of tractors.
“Painting is just another way of making a diary.” – Picasso
“Pictures must not be too picturesque.” – Emerson