Nine days of blazing sunshine and brilliant blue skies. This year Southern Morocco was on its very best behaviour for our merry band of painting students.

On Saturday night we were greeted in Ouarzazate by our friend, guide, and host Ali Mouni. Early the following morning we set off for the desert, stopping along the way in the town of Tinjedad for a lunch of the first delicious Berber omelette of the week. To arrive at the Nomad Palace is always a pleasure, and in the brilliant light of the afternoon, with rose tints and shadows defining the majesty of the Erg Chebbi dunes, its welcome is hard to beat.

Monday morning, the dunes beckoned, and our paints were clamouring to be released from our suitcases! We settled on a simple subject for our first watercolour adventure in the Moroccan desert, a view of the dunes with the occasional passing Berber included in our compositions, which allowed me to demonstrate the placing of figures in landscape painting. A successful first day for advanced painters and beginners alike was duly celebrated with a glass of chilled white wine or beer, before a a sumptuous dinner.

    

The nearby Merzouga Palmerie presented a more challenging subject to the artist, involving more of those pesky figures, working in their tiny fields in the shade of towering date palms, with a backdrop of pink toned village buildings in the distance. However, figures in landscape are easier to capture than you think in this neck of the woods because of their flowing, colourful robes. Lunch of 'Madfona'  (the traditional Berber pizza, bread stuffed with morsels of lamb, vegetables and egg) was delivered on location by two Alis. Ali Mouni, and our friend Ali from the Nomad Depot in the nearby village. When the day's painting finished, we were invited for a glass of tea at the Depot, where we were shown examples of different handmade rugs, carpets, jewellery and other artisanal goods. Temptation proved too much for some students, whose homes will be all the brighter for their purchases.

    

By day three we had found the Moroccan hot colour palette, and were ready to tackle a grander subject. A few miles from Merzouga, at a small Auberge on a hilltop looking across a vast open desert landscape, with Casbah style buildings nestling at the foot of magnificent high sand dunes, we planted our easels. To give necessary shade for the watercolour painters, Ali Mouni and his helpers constructed a typical open-sided Berber tent to keep us comfortable. For the beginners there were also near-sight subjects of doorways, earthenware pots, and distant camels. Our painting concluded for the day, we ventured deeper into the desert using three 4x4s, and visited a friendly Nomad family for Berber tea. Though their lifestyle differs from ours vastly, their hospitality acknowledges no international barriers, and we were able to take photos of the family, their children, and their excruciatingly cute kid goats.

After several days hard graft with pencil and watercolour brushes, day four gave those who wanted the opportunity to experience some Moroccan life in action. There is no better way to do that than visit the nearby town of Rissani, on market day. Everything is sold at Rissani Market, from safety pins to camels, via herbs, spices, shoes, and local crafts. We followed that welcome blast of noise and colour with a visit to the stunning fossil museum, just outside the county town of Erfoud. A small group of us elected to remain at the Nomad Palace to catch up with unfinished paintings, or attempt new subjects in peace and quiet. In the evening we had the privilege of being invited to dinner in Ali Mouni’s family home, where we enjoyed splendid chicken couscous, and even more than that, the antics of the many delightful and affectionate children who are part of his extended family.

    

Camel painting day dawned, always a highlight of the week. You can't have much more fun with watercolours than sitting in front of four splendid specimens of camel-hood, slowly chewing their cud and batting their beautiful (double) eyelashes at us. Though at first it can be hard to pin down the image of the moving creatures, you soon recognise their typical poses and shapes. My demonstration helped to show that there is a variety of colours required to achieve a convincing 'camel' colour. The fun didn't stop there, as all but a few of the group joined me for a sunset camel ride into the dunes, after which a quick bargaining session with the camel boys rewarded them for their efforts, and put souvenir fossils into our luggage.

Our final day in the desert had crept up on us, and we had to make the most of it. A small deserted village near the Nomad Palace was the chosen location, and it did not disappoint. Under azure skies, the painting group chose their views carefully, some finding the single still inhabited dwelling a fine subject for their watercolours, others preferred a Berber tent conveniently erected nearby. For my demonstration, I continued my theme of figures in a landscape, and decided that the background would be the half open door into one of the mysterious dwellings abandoned after the local well dried up. We had our second ‘Madfona’ for lunch, eaten in a uniquely original bivouac constructed by a local ‘outsider’ artist, whose striking arrangements of desert oddments provided an intriguing setting for the meal.

    

The only thing that ameliorated my sadness at leaving the Nomad Palace was the knowledge  that the next location was every bit as spectacular. Perched on a terrace overlooking the stunning Dades valley, and run by Moroccan brothers, two of whom are artists in their own right, the ‘Panorama’ lives up to its name many times over. After arriving at mid-day, we were able to paint on until afternoon had turned to evening, and then reluctantly packed away our brushes before the traditional show of the student’s favourite paintings of the week. There were many exciting works to discuss, and it was notable that the three beginners all had made remarkable progress.

Monday morning, and we made a fairly early start to ensure that we would have as much time to paint as possible when we reached our hotel in Ourzazate. Stopping only briefly at the remarkable rock formations of the ‘Tamnallt,’ we cruised back the way we had come, arriving to find that though we still had sunshine, a brisk wind had sprung up. Undeterred, we settled by the pool and were surprised by how sheltered it was, and by the number of subjects available for our last painting endeavours. Late afternoon, and Ali had arranged for the minibus to take some of us on shopping trip into Ourrzazate, where we could stock up on spices, and make those essential last minute purchases before admitting that the holiday real was almost over, and enjoying our final Tagine followed by crepes with honey.

    

Everyone agreed that the painting holiday had been an unforgettable experience, and we were very happy to take many wonderful memories away with us, as well as hard proof of time well spent in the form of our watercolours.

With best wishes for your painting,
Bettina

You are cordially invited to
WINTER ART AT THE GROVE – a pop-up exhibition

The journey from London to Devon is never a pleasure in August, but it is always well worth it when the destination is Coombe Farm Studios. When I met everybody on the painting course, the courtyard and garden were filled with sunshine, and our first painting subject was right in front of us. The garden was brimming with flowers in a multitude of colours, interspersed with rows of salads and beans for our delicious home-cooked meals.

When I returned in September the colours were still as fresh and vibrant as before, tempting our paintbrushes into action. Though we did not have sunshine all the time, the weather stayed summery and mild on both weeks, and we enjoyed sitting outside in the varied locations.

    

Starting off in the courtyard with stone arches, and huge clay pots under the leafy canopy of cherry trees, we progressed on the following day to ‘The Ham,’ the lush green space by the river on the outskirts of Dittisham. Sitting on the shore, just above the waterline we had great views across the wide expanse of the waters of the estuary to the verdant fields beyond. The old thatched cottage on the opposite bank made for a good focal point, while the many sailing boats bobbing on the river supplied extra colour and useful white highlights. This was a good opportunity for me to do a demonstration the subject of which was the somewhat tricky shapes of boats on water. On the September course we had the added bonus of an early mist rising from the seemingly steaming river and hills, a true watercolour subject.

We stayed with our watercolour theme a while longer, and as in previous years, we had a painting day at the wonderful gardens of Jilly Sutton, the well-known Devon sculptor (some of her work was also on show at the gallery adjoining the studio at Coombe Farm).  There, the river broadens into lake-like proportions, with lawns sweeping from the house down towards the water’s edge.  Needless to say, getting out our watercolours and setting ourselves up to paint was the work of mere minutes! 

We were not so lucky in September, because Jilly was preparing for a big show in Dartmouth, and did not have time to welcome us.  However, we were amply compensated by a visit to the little harbour at Dittisham proper. It is the most charming village, with a steep road leading down to the jetty.  The tide was just starting to run out when we arrived. The old Smugglers’ Cottage close to the beach could be sketched from the jetty, and later painted in watercolour from the beach. The jetty also has rows of colourful boats in all shapes and sizes moored to it, and some of us were able to abstract from those forms and make watercolours with a twist.

    

A couple of years ago Lara, together with her husband Martin, took over the running of the Coombe Farm courses from her parents Paul and Tina Riley. Lara was always on hand to drive us to and fro, and drop off tasty picnics and elevenses at our locations. Other lunches and the delicious evening meals were lovingly prepared by Nicky, our charming cook. Lunches at Coombe Farm consisted of such a mouth-watering variety of dishes; it was sometimes hard to get back to the watercolours afterwards! In my case, a strong coffee lifted me up again for the afternoon session.

Both of our last days in August and September were spent painting at Coombe Farm, in the studio. After the week’s painting there are usually quite a few watercolours waiting to be finished, and last minute ‘tricks of the trade’ to be passed on.

In August we had great fun with some life-drawing, after I demonstrated my quick and simple ‘Three Colour Portrait’ method. Extra excitement was added by the sudden arrival of a traffic cone, kindly donated by one of the painters. It was a witty ‘aside’ for my portrait demo, and the colours fitted perfectly. Please note that the traffic cone was NOT an essential part of my demonstration, and the portraits painted by everybody turned out rather well, even without the cone!

    

In September we started the last day again in the studio, spending the morning finishing our more abstract watercolours of boats, from the previous day. The outcome was a selection of impressive, strong colours with interesting textures and lots of atmosphere. After another delicious lunch there was just enough time to do a flower demonstration, completing the week with ideas about composition and colour choices. Inevitably the last days are always busy, with last minute advice, finishing work, and preparing for the informal show in the evening. So, when the final evening comes, everybody is excited to see all our paintings mounted on the studio walls. Over a glass of wine we get the chance to celebrate the achievements of the week.

It is always hard to part from friends, old and new, with whom one has enjoyed such fun, creative adventures, and so much laughter. It seems a long time until I am off to Morocco in early March 2017 for the first course of the new season, but my time at home and in my London studio will fly by. All that remains is for me to express my huge thanks to you all for your enthusiasm and dedication to watercolours, and all other forms of painting!

After a sunny arrival on Saturday, with glorious sunset colours over the mountains and Loch Kishorn, the weather changed to unsettled for our watercolour week on the Highlands.  However, we were able to spend most days painting outside, and worked a few mornings and afternoons in the studio, always a great complement to outdoor painting and for more in depth demos.

Day 1 – After a delicious full Highland breakfast and short introduction to the week’s plans, we had a good look around Bynaport to choose out subject for the first day. The stunning views from the house towards the dramatic Torridon Mountains across the waters made this an easy choice. To scale things down a bit, and to simplify the vast scenery we selected the green shed with its elegant weathervane, as a foreground motif. My demo for the day focussed on how to strengthen the foreground while keeping softer and cooler colours for the distant hills.

Day 2 – The second day dawned clear enough to make the five minute stroll down the hill into the village. There we found a jumble of colourful rust-red sheds on one side, and a row of whitewashed cottages at the other end of the bay, while in front us was the glassy surface of Loch Kishorn. We all turned out gaze towards the bay, and set to work enthusiastically. By lunchtime, the weather took against us, and we retreated to the studio, where I was able to finish my watercolour demo. In the afternoon, by special request, I started a second demonstration, to illustrate ways of depicting with the delicate tones of cloud and mist rolling over the nearby mountain-tops.

    

Day 3 - Our third day started with the determination to venture further, despite the lack of blue skies, and we made our way by car to Loch Damph. Gillian and Mark Pattinson, our very welcoming hosts who live a Brynaport, also own a spacious wooden Hunting Lodge high above the Loch, and they had kindly invited us to paint from there. Gillian is a very accomplished artist herself, and was able to find corners in the house and adjoining workshops from where we could paint despite the recurring showers. The views are almost overwhelming, but we were able to quickly outline the sections of the landscape we liked best. The foreground was enlivened by a proud and bright pink group of foxgloves sharply outlined against the softer tones of the green and purple mountains.  We spent the whole day at Loch Damph, which was a good opportunity to discuss the problems of knowing when to finish a painting. My advice was to turn away from your watercolour, have a cup of tea, and return with fresh eyes to make the final judgement.

Day 4 – Low clouds over the mountains looked unpromising, and we decided to walk across the road to the exciting rocky shoreline of the Loch. It was a good choice, and we sketched and painted the cliffs and bladderwrack festooned boulders at the water’s edge, while taking advantage of the opportunity to explore the technique of painting rocks in 3D! Two-to-three metre high fishing poles, standing upright in the shallow water, gracefully punctuated the scene. Later on, the rocks I had collected from outside were placed on a table in the studio with some extra lighting, and I gave a demonstration, showing the light and shade essential to achieve the best features of rocks and boulders. After lunch we were able to work on our paintings, until another delicious home-baked cake appeared at teatime, Alison, who cooked fabulous meals all through the week, is also a great baker, and never fails to spread happiness when she appears with cake-stand in hand!

    

Day 5 – Our last day had come, and with it a hive of activities. We decided to consolidate on what we had painted so far, and completed any so far uncompleted watercolours. For those who were eager to start a new painting, I made a final watercolour demonstration of a rather unusual still life. It suddenly struck me that the colourful desk lamps which had had previously used to illuminate the rocks, made a rather jolly composition. A great opportunity to explore on the technique of capturing the very dark colours behind and between objects – also called ‘negative painting.’ It is a form of silhouetting that can be very effective.  Thus, some very fine watercolours of lamplight were accomplishes just in time for clearing up the studio for the informal display of our week’s paintings.

The evening was a splendid event, with champagne, nibbles, and lively discussions about the diverse watercolours on show. Just as we were about to leave the paintings to indulge in the special dinner Alison had prepared – a Scottish fish and seafood feast – we were held back by the sound of bagpipes! We all grabbed a chair, and another sip of champagne, and enjoyed the compelling music of the Highlands.

It was an unforgettable week, with dedicated painting and lashings of fun, and some drama too. Not least because of the safe return of one of our non-painting partners, who was lost on the mountain for a night. He was rescued by the impressive teamwork of the voluntary Mountain Rescue team and the military’s helicopter. The week had indeed had more than its fair share of excitement! Needless to say, on the day of departure, the sun came out, and no one wanted to leave.

With best wishes and hopes for a glorious summer,
Bettina

The Norwegian Airline was an unusual choice for my flight to Portugal, but none the worse for that! The plane dropped me off at Faro airport just in time for tea at the Art School in Olhoa. I had arrived a day before the course to get settled in, and spend some time with Margarida, who was going to look after us during the holiday.

Sadly, David Clark, who founded the Art School, and fist invited me three years ago to paint in the Algarve, died last year. Therefore, it was with a heavy heart that I approached the house in Olhoa where David had lived, and where we had spent many happy hours discussing art, Portugal, the painting courses, and life in general. However, I was somewhat cheered by the thought that David would have wanted to continue having painters come and visit the wonderful Algarve coastline around Olhao, and enjoy painting there.

I’m glad to say his wishes have been granted, and his daughter Camilla, in the UK, with the help of Margarida and her husband Carlos, in Portugal, decided to carry on running the art school. Both Camilla and Margarida had already assisted with the organisation in past years. Consequently, with Margarida’s organising skills, and delicious home cooking to the fore, the painting course ran as smoothly as ever! For a couple of days we were even indulged with visits to local restaurants, to experience the delicious indigenous cuisine.

When we had all gathered on Wednesday, I was surprised and delighted to find so many familiar faces from the previous two years’ Portugal painting courses. We greeted each other as old friends, and there was instantly a welcoming and convivial atmosphere. Needless to say, we were all more than keen to whip out our watercolours and start painting!

The weather had turned unusually hot for June, so on our first morning, we headed for the centre of the old town where the historic churches (complete with storks’ nests), and attractive, traditional Portuguese buildings helped to provide some convenient shade.  There were also many cafes with sun umbrellas, perfect for sketching under, while enjoying a refreshing drink. Or ice cream.

    

The next day as the temperature rose, a gentle wind sprang up from the lagoons, cooling us a little during our painting session down by the harbour. The boats were bobbing on the glistening water under a brilliant blue sky. This provided a good opportunity for my daily painting demonstration to focus on techniques for painting the sea and coastline beyond.

We returned to the water’s edge the following day, MARKET DAY! We settled under some palm trees by the promenade, adjoining the big red brick Market Halls. From there we could observe the hustle and bustle of the outdoor fruit and veg vendors. A feast for the eyes, the sketchbooks, and the painters’ palettes! A few of us also explored the Market Hall’s interior, where the most astonishing and exotically shaped fish were displayed alongside the more familiar sole, mackerel, and sardines! We took some photos, and after returning to the studio, some very attractive fish paintings emerged.

Soon it was time for our excursion to the fantastic island of Armona. Nuno, a Marine Biologist with a water taxi took us for the brief crossing, accompanied by his handsome and friendly dog. We ate a wonderful lunch in one of the island’s restaurants, and had a whole day to explore the island village. Whitewashed houses, and an abundance of colourful flowers and shrubs adorned the main part of the island, apart from the buildings and the seascapes at every turn. It was also a good chance to observe and sketch Portuguese family life on the sandy beaches. (Sunday would not be a bank holiday!)

A somewhat different subject presented itself to our twitching paintbrushes on Monday morning, a delightful jumble of multi-coloured fishing boats, with yards of green netting, ropes, flags, and oddly shaped winches and other colourful fishing paraphernalia.  The small, old harbour of Fuseta is a sheer delight to paint, even if you normally aren’t too keen on boats, because they are of such unusual shapes. Should you make a small mistake in your drawing, it is of little consequence, and this freedom can make painting them much easier and more fun, too.

    

Unfortunately, the fun had to come to its inevitable end, as Tuesday, out final day, arrived. Were we determined to make the very most of it, and painted mainly in and around the Art School, to finish off paintings in the well-appointed studio. This had the added advantage that we were able to treat ourselves to a dip in the swimming pool on the roof terrace, which gave the word ‘watercolour’ a very different meaning!

The day ended with an informal exhibition of our week’s paintings. Little Beatrix, Margarida’s charming five year old daughter picked out her favourite watercolour, and the artist responsible was promptly rewarded with an ‘Art In The Algarve’ apron, to the applause of all present. After another proud glance at our paintings on the studio walls, we gathered to enjoy our last dinner in Portugal, and toasted each other’s happy faces, and the hope to meet again before too long.  The dates for 2017 are set already, and I know that I will return!

In memory of David Clark, and with big thanks to Margarida, Carlos, and Camilla,
Bettina

Brilliant sunshine soon replaced the dramatic thunderclouds we encountered on arrival in the Tuscan mountains. The sun came out to play and we had a wonderful weeks painting. The mountain scenery around Cotto was bathed in a lush green, only rivalled by the reflective green colours of the old wine caskets adorning the front door of our home, the 'La Vecchia Canonica'.

After settling in and strolling around the village, we found so many wonderful things to paint, that it was hard to make a choice. But we had two days to capture the diverse views before we ventured further to paint in nearby Fivizzano, the medieval town which has a typical Tuscan square, presenting in the middle a fountain with classical Dolphins, church towers, restaurants and an irresistible Gelateria.

    

Half way through our painting week we had an informal day and made a scenic excursion by train through the Apuana Alps National Park to the historic city of Lucca. Needless to say, the town has many inspirational scenes and also features the extraordinary, circular Piazza Anfiteatro, fantastic shops and cafes. You can even stroll or cycle atop the ancient city walls overlooking architectural treasures and graceful gardens.

A little later in the week - and only a few minutes away from Fivizzano - we made another painting excursion to the ancient castle of Verrucola, a fantastic painting subject. We had a tasty lunch in the Trattoria at the foot of the castle, finished off by delicious capuccinos to refresh us for the afternoon's painting.

    

Inevitably, the last day crept nearer and to celebrate a most enjoyable week, we had a fantastic dinner in the local Hotel 'Il Gardinetto' after an informal viewing of our weeks creative achievements. We all got on so well, that we decided then and there to meet again in Morocco next year and "carry on regardless",  having a good time painting and enjoying each others company.

    

With many thanks to Karsten, our host and my colleague of 25 years, who looked after us so well.

With my best wishes for the colourful month of June,
Bettina

"What a great painting holiday and location Cotto was. The scenery was dramatic and we were looked after very well by you, James and Karsten."

"A terrific holiday, thanks again."

"Thank you so much for our painting holiday. I had such a relaxing (and productive) time, and the hospitality and friendliness was brilliant!"

"Thanks too for your teaching and feedback. I picked up so much from your technique, and also the individual feedback you gave me, which will really help me to improve."

Summer sun in April! With temperatures  well in the 20s all week and a cooling breeze from the sea, we had the perfect painting weather. Chiara Agnello, who had invited us to spend the painting week at her beautiful home, gave us a very warm welcome, accompanied by a playful  puppy as well as the usual mixed bunch of of canine and feline friends. Chiara and her family have lived and farmed at the Fattoria Mosé – a former hunting lodge - for several generations.

After our first breakfast on the sun-dappled breakfast room terrace, with fresh oranges, home-made jams, and plenty of coffee to wake us all up, we were ready for a leisurely stroll. With painting in mind we explored the gardens, olive and orange groves, archways and hidden courtyards. Our eyes were soon caught by the old terracotta olive storage vessels lying under the flowering palm trees and beside the enormous prickly-pear cacti; great subjects for the first of my daily watercolour demonstrations. Later a delicious all fresco lunch restored us to tackle some of the landscape vistas seen through the gaps between ancient Eucalyptus trees and lines of almond trees in blossom.

Day two, and we were ready to make the short journey by taxi to the famous Valley of the Temples  below the town of Agrigento, with spectacular views to the sea. We settled at the foot of the first in the row of temples,  Juno, under some shady pines. For a time we just sat and admired the ancient columns, their golden ochre shapes standing out sharply against the cerulean blue sky. These ruins are surprisingly simple to  draw, consisting only of tumbled down blocks of the honey coloured stone and gigantic columns in various stages of decay. A few green trees and prickly pear cacti in the foreground, and the picture is complete.

The next day we awoke once more to brilliant sunshine highlighting the features of the  entrance gate, wide enough to accommodate a horse-drawn carriage. The archway made a perfect frame for the view towards the distant hills and town. Our compositions were helped by the lazily sleeping dogs posing on steps and in shady corners. They woke up at tea time, when we all gathered for a refreshing cuppa on the main terrace. It was a good moment to discuss our plans for the following day, the optional  excursion day.

Most of us decided to visit nearby Agrigento. Amongst the "jewels" of the old town are the Norman Cathedral, the Holy Spirit Monastery, the Regional Archaeological Museum, Palazzo Celauro and in walking distance the famous temple gardens Il Giardino della Kolymbetra. Overlooking the Valley Of The Temples is contemporary Agrigento with its historic centre, the "magnificent city,” which still presents the visitor with a Medieval street plan. Narrow alleyways and staircases lead to higher-level roads, from where you can admire wonderful views towards the Valley. After the climb, it was delightful to relax at one of the bars and sketch local life. Needless to say there is also a selection of nice shops to nip into, or cafes to taste the Sicilian delicacy, ice-cream in a brioche (sweet bun).

    

Having satisfied our appetites for the ‘big town’ above the sea, we ventured downhill to the coastline of St. Leone a long stretch of sandy beach with rocky outcrops. Not far from a group of restaurants and bars is a little park right by the water front, with palm trees and a most convenient vantage point to demonstrate now how to capture the ‘deep blue sea’. The brilliant white beach house right by the sea was set off by two magnificent palm trees. Together with the fading hills in the background, and big crusty holders at the water’s edge, we had a classic  Mediterranian landscape. With great pleasure we set to work, determined to take home some of the scene before us.

Much too soon our last day arrived, spurring us on to make the most of final hours. Since we were all well ‘painted-in’ it was a good moment to look at the little iron gate at the side of the house opening up into the farm-yard, revealing more old buildings with pan-tiled roofs and the green hills beyond - a more complex view. Later in the afternoon the private chapel complete with bell-tower that is attached to the Fattoria Mose’s main building, was bathed in sunlight, just waiting to be painted. Those who did not fancy the unusual angles, turned the other way along the path towards the olive and orange groves, or chose to watch a very loose and liquid demo of the red striped deckchair and darker buildings behind, and then had a go themselves enjoying splashing paint and water about, until the right atmosphere appeared on the paper. Great fun!

Our last night was a celebration of a wonderful, creative painting week. We had a showing of some of everybody’s work, washed down with the local wine, followed by another of Chiara’s delicious Sicilian meals, following family recipes handed down from generation to generation. It’s maybe worth mentioning here that Chiara and her sister Simonetta Agnello Hornby have written a cookery book with the family recipes, alas not yet translated into English. But have a look at the TV series showing both sisters cooking at the Fattoria to whet your appetite, not just for the painting: http://it.dplay.com/il-pranzo-di-mose/stagione-1-episodio-7/

We left with a very big ‘thank you’ for Chiara and everybody at the Fattoria Mose who made our stay a great experience.
Next year I will return for another Sicilian adventure and hope you can join me there or perhaps at another of my locations.

With warm wishes for a colourful Spring,
Bettina

Constant sunshine? Check. Stunning scenery? Check. Comfortable accommodation? Check. Delicious food? Check. Excellent company? Check. We must be in Merzouga! What we didn't have were the warm evenings and balmy nights we might have expected, but the sun-drenched days with perfect visibility were the best thing a painter could hope for.

Our first night in Morocco was at the well appointed Hotel Le Jardin, a new venue for us, just 20 minutes from Ouarzazate airport. It was from there that we embarked for the desert early on Sunday morning. Lunch on the terasse at the restaurant Ferkla along the way was a pleasant break, and a first introduction to Moroccan cuisine for some of us. Replete with Berber omelette and juicy oranges, we completed our journey a couple of hours later.

In the afternoon, the desert greeted us in its finest clothing, as did Ali Mouni, our charming host, friend of thirteen years, and owner of the Nomad Palace. The sun, sinking low in the afternoon sky, threw crisp shadows from the long curving shapes of the dunes, and turned the sand a deep peachy hue, that begged to be captured in paint. Once settled into our rooms, we gathered for dinner in a cosy corner of the Nomad Palace, and discussed our plans for the week.

    

Weary travellers were grateful that we stayed in the environs of the Nomad Palace on the first day, painting subjects that acclimatised us to our new surroundings. Some chose rooftop views of the desert, others a Berber tent in the courtyard, or intriguing corners with earthenware pots, spring flowers, and Moroccan artefacts.

The next morning we ventured into the fertile world of the village Palmerie, where tiny green fields liberally dotted with date palms offered us a variety of subjects. Moroccan garbed locals, quietly tending their plots, might be captured by the brush of the curious painter, while the trees offered us shade and a place for our picnic lunch, with 'Berber Pizza' (Madfona), fresh oranges and mint tea. This sustained us until the evening, but before we returned to the hotel, we visited the Nomad Depot, where local crafts, carpets, and clothing are bought and sold. Some of the group revelled in the chance for a little light shopping, and a spot of judicious bargaining saw several potentially magic carpets begin their journeys to a new land.

    

Wednesday found us in 4x4s, racing over the piste (flat stony desert with sandy patches), to our next location. Deep in the desert, on a hill looking out on the magnificence of the Erg Chebbi, Morocco's largest single dune mass, a lonely auberge has all the appearance of a foreign legion fort of legend, and provides the perfect motif for our eager painters. The Salama, a smaller auberge where we based ourselves, fed us splendidly, and provided all the comforts a remote painting location might need. After the day's work was done, we went on an exciting trip around the the perimeter of the dunes, back to the Nomad Palace, pausing along the way to drink tea with nomads at their lonely settlement. The temptation to abscond with one of the adorable baby goats frolicked around us had to be sternly resisted!

The optional non-painting day gave the opportunity to those who chose, to join me on a local tour, taking in a visit to an historic Kasbah. Though empty now, it was once a royal residence. Onwards to a fascinating site where fossils can be seen in their natural state, followed by a visit to a fossil museum and workshop, where we found out how the million year old creatures are freed from their rocky captivity. A sumptuous home cooked lunch with Ali's sister, in the county town of Erfoud was a delicious added bonus.

Another day at the the Nomad Palace is never a hardship, especially when you have the chance to paint the friendly camels that Ali keeps for desert trekking. We were set up with our own three languid subjects, who delighted and sometimes frustrated us with their superior expressions and curious physiognomy. The young men in their traditional Berber robes who attended the noble beasts soon found themselves included in our paintings. The intrepid amongst us later rode these camels to the dunes for a spectacular sunset.

    

We didn't want to admit that it was our last day in the desert, so we journeyed to one of our favourite locations, an adobe built village, deserted since 1969 when the well dried up. It is now gently subsiding back into its natural form, giving us curious shapes and shadows, corners and vistas to tempt the most jaded eye. One family remains in residence who bring their water by donkey from the nearest source, several kilometres away. The only other resident is Yusuf, a gentleman who was born in the village, and has now set up an intriguing and artistic example of desert scavenging and recycling. He kindly cooked us our lunch of Berber Pizza in the traditional way.

    

Knowing what was waiting for us in the Dades Gorge made leaving the Nomad Palace easier for my husband and I, but it was a wrench to the rest of the group. Their sadness turned to delight when we arrived at the Hotel Panorama, and were greeted by its owners, the brothers Moustafa and Ibrahim. Both men are fellow artists, whose own work adorns the walls of their delightful hotel, which is perched on the side of the steep valley with views to impressively multi-colored peaks, and the meandering Dades river below. An idyllic afternoon's painting followed, before I took the chance to enjoy examples of all of the group's work, with a few words of encouragement and praise for everyone at the (almost) end of what was an exceptionally productive week.

On our final day we were back again at the hotel in Ouarzazate, where we started from. It was a last chance to spend time painting, to visit the local shops, or to just sit by the pool and enjoy the sun.

With best wishes for a creative spring,
Bettina

Leaving London on a very hot August day for the course in Devon, I was glad when I arrived just in time for a refreshing drink with our hosts for the week, Lara and Martin Lloyd at the sun filled terrace. Coombe Farm Studios is now run by Lara with her husband Martin. Lara grew up at Coombe – it was started by her parents Paul & Tina Riley- and after her arts career at Dartington Hall Trust amongst others she took over the day-to-day running of Coombe Farm Studios in 2012.

The wether stayed sunny and warm for a couple of days, allowing us to investigate (with the help of our paint brushes) the lush, colourful country side around Coombe Farm Studios. But I am getting ahead of myself. Our first day was spent painting the intimate 'nooks and crannies' in the gardens and the courtyard at Coombe. There is all a little group of attractively glazed pots and urns in the shadow of an old cheery tree - a wonderful subject for beginners to learn how to lay in those lovely, translucent washes. Lunch time was very special that day, since we were able to eat outside in the sunshine to enjoy the first of many delicious meals to come, prepared by the very talented Lauren. We all felt we really were on holiday!

    

After a hearty breakfast the next morning we popped over to my colleague and friend Jilly Sutton's fantastic house and studio at the banks of the River Dart. She is a very talented and well known Sculptor and kindly invited us to paint the breathtaking views from her home. It was a good opportunity to practice some of the techniques we learned the day before, adding a few tricks for painting boats and distant buildings. Another lunch 'plein air' went down a treat.

The following two days, when the weather looked unpromising, we decided to paint in the studio. Coombe Farm always has a wonderful array of cottage garden flowers. A great riot of colours and shapes, the flowers were arranged in a variety of attractive vases and vessels and everybody could choose one or several vases or objects to achieve just the right composition. After my demonstration dealing with the delicate tones and shapes of petals and leaves, it was time to cut loose. The second demonstration was very different, an almost abstract way of depicting flowers, introduce strong vibrant colours sometimes straight out of the tube. We had great fun and at the end of the two days there was a huge variety of paintings, reflecting the different approaches and
personal styles.

    

Our last day approached and the weather improved, so we could venture out to nearby Dittisham village, where we painted the harbour view. As the day progressed the mist kept rolling in, transforming the little harbour into a dramatic scenery, just the thing for creating a special atmosphere in our paintings. However, we settled for lunch at home, and Lauren added a delicious soup to our sandwiches, when we arrived back at Coombe Farm Studios at midday. The last evening was very special with a fantastic showing of everybody's work in the studio. It was also lovely for all of us to meet Paul and Tina Riley, the founders of Coombe Farm Studios and have a glass of wine together. A suitable end to a very productive, fun week that should never have ended. Fortunately, I was able to return to Devon a fortnight later, making the big good-by a somewhat easier affair.

    

The painting weekend in September was a great success. We had mostly sunshine and on Sunday the blue sky reminded me of the Mediterranean. White doves where sharply silhouetted against the skyline at the very paintable dovecote at Coombe Farm. The previous day we had an exotic looking gaggle of geese settling close to us as we painted the distant green hills across the estuary, making it a perfect view. This time my husband had come to Devon with me, and on Saturday night we had a musical evening, when he played guitar and sang while I accompanied him on my Ukulele. We all agreed, it was a most enjoyable weekend, the only thing laking was more time. Therefore I decided to teach a full week's course in September next year.

With best wishes for a sunny and many-hued September,
Bettina

"Thank you again for your help and encouragement and your sense of humour during the week in Devon."

"The course, as always, was most enjoyable and the venue was excellent - you seem to have a real flair for picking great places for painting, also offering really friendly hospitality."

"You are a wonderfull teacher, inspiring and understanding."

"Lara and her team were most welcoming and friendly. Lara's organising and driving were impressive, and Lauren's cooking was really creative and delicious! The Dartmouth area is also a fantastic area for painting, particularly the visit to Jilly Sutton's house."

"I did enjoy it so much, despite the weather, because that meant I could do my flowers and writing! I have put all my photos of the week into a lovely album ... such nice memories of all that lovely food, and the place and the people."

The magnificent views of mountains and lochs mingled with the sweet scent of foxgloves greeted me as we drove up the drive to Brynaport, our base for the weeks painting course in the Scottish Highlands. The warm welcome by Gillian and Mark Pattinson made made us feel at home straight away. This time however it was not as usual Gilian herself, but her charming daughter Fiona who run the course with me. After a first of many super delicious meals prepared by our splendid cook Alice on the night of our arrival, we were well prepared to ‘inspect’ the painting territory on Sunday morning. And what a fine view it was, down to the little village of Achintraid and across the Loch towards the Torridon Hills with Applecross on the other side of the 2053 ft high 'Bealach na Ba' pass. To begin with we settled our chairs and easels nearer to the house, where a row of old cottages made for a good foreground subject to our paintings of the mountains in the far distance. The day’s work almost done, we gathered in the studio at teatime to finish details and round of the day with a slice of home-baked cake.

    

Warming up to our surroundings, we were itching to go a bit further down the lane to the waters edge of Loch Kishorn. Whitewashed fishermen's cottages punctuate the shore of the loch on one side, and the bay on the opposite offers a wonderful view towards the mountains. Luckily there was an almost hidden old building behind a prominent fire tree and some picturesquely rusty sheds to give a nearside object to our composition - simplifying the grand scene and making it more intimate. We kept close to the water the following day and drove the short distance to the eastern side of the loch. The skyline of hills and mountains (including the Isle of Skye) at the far end are breathtaking. Some of us felt inspired to tackle the panoramic view, while others were fascinated by the receding tide, exposing more and more beach and rocks, beneath a group of houses on the shore. I gave a special demonstration including rocks, as the foreground often proves the most tricky area, rather than the landscape itself.

One fine evening the high mountains were clear and a small expedition of painters took the winding road over the pass to Applecross to admire the rocks, steep gulleys and views from the top down into the valley. I had opted for another cup of tea and a sketch at Brynaport, since it stays very light until dinner time. Because of the wonderful light we were able to watch impressive sunsets and cloud formations through the conservatory windows where we enjoyed our dinners every night.

Not rocks but boats came into view when we visited Lochcarron. The village stretches for almost 2 miles, meandering along the shore of the loch. At the entrance, a little cove with boats made the perfect composition complete with beach, a wooden post and bright red buoys on ropes slung over board. The first impression of a boat scene can be a bit daunting, but it is surprising how quickly everybody, including the less experienced painters and beginners, got to grips with those shapes. At the end of the day we all agreed that it had been great fun and we had something to show for it, as well.

    

Inevitably the last day approached much too fast, but we were determined not to let the parting pains get to us prematurely, and ventured out to the nearby lake surrounded by the most stunning hills and mountains. The sun came out as we arrived, and lit up ridges and slopes making the water-lillies on the lake sparkle like snow flakes. Again there was a difficult choice: should we gaze towards the distant landscape with the wooden bridge and stream in the foreground, face the hill with the old shed and foxgloves in the meadow or throw ourselves into the wild rocky landscape head on? As it turned out, we all found our special subject including a couple of more abstract paintings inspired by the Highlands.

Later that day and after yet another piece of delicious cake we prepared for the informal showing of our paintings. It's always such a pleasure for everybody to see the the many different paintings of the week. We painted similar subjects, however the personal ways in which scenes were captured was very impressive. Everybody had been able to take advice from my daily demonstrations and teaching, but had also managed to retain their individual style. And I feel that is what painting is all about - to create a personal vision of the landscape encountered.

We said good by to friends and colleagues with a heavy heart and the promise of meeting again soon. With a big thank you to all at Brynaport, who made truly made us feel at home and looked after us so well and all the best for this summer's painting,
Bettina

"Wonderful locations to paint and such enjoyable company."

"Your painting demonstrations were really helpful and I feel I have moved forward with my watercolours."

"Fun, great food and inspiring tuition. It was the best."

In 2017 Bettina is going to the following locations: in the UK there’s Devon and Scotland, in Italy there’s Cotto, Tuscany and Sicily of course, in Portugal there's the Algarve, and for the more adventurous there’s Morocco.

"30 Minute Portraits"

Read Bettina's article from the February 2014 edition of the Leisure Painter magazine.

Click here to read

The previous article
"Colour Choices"
can be found here.

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