After nearly a fortnight in the Algarve it was a pleasant surprise to come back home to a sunny London. Still, it’s quite an adjustment from the open horizons over the lagoons stretching along Olhao harbour, to the narrow skylines of the metropolis. But each painting holiday must come to an end, which this time was made sweeter for me by tacking a few extra days onto the course to explore the area more, and enjoy the miles of sandy beaches. It was also an opportunity to do some more drawing and painting. Though admittedly, the painting side took got the short straw when the open sea was beckoning on my outing to Farol, one of the nearby islands. Walking along the extraordinary long stone jetty towards the lighthouse after the painting course had finished, also gave me time to contemplate the fantastic week we’d had: “Oh we had such an amazing time - we didn’t want to go home.” My thoughts exactly!
Our time in Portugal started off unseasonably cooler in tone, with around 21 degrees Celsius, actually an ideal temperature for painting outside! As in previous years our home for the duration of the painting course was the wonderful art school ‘Art In The Algarve’ lovingly created by the Hon. David Clark, and since his untimely death two years ago run by the wonderful Margarida - also a fantastic cook - and David’s daughter Camilla. To get us all in the mood and to encourage casual sketching, the art school presented everybody with a ‘concertina’ artist’s sketchbook on our first night.
There was no need on our first day to search out shady corners, and we were free of such mundane considerations when we choose our first painting subject. We settled in a typical narrow side street in the old town of Olahao, minutes away from the art school. We could have stayed at the art school, which has many delightful terraces with roof top views across town, or intimate courtyards and the spacious studio itself, however I wanted to reserve these for our last day, when time is of the essence. The street scene in front of us was also a good (if somewhat steep on the learning curve) opportunity for us discuss the perspective of buildings, and how people walking along a road can be sketched quickly in watercolour. The white buildings were gleaming in the sunshine, and strong shadows helped with getting perspective lines right. There was no shortage of slow moving people, since the small pedestrian only backstreet services the restaurants at the front of the tall houses, and deliveries of all sorts of goods were made for lunch and evening meals. Needless to say, the aromas wafting down the road as lunchtime approached made us very hungry, despite one of Joanna’s luscious breakfasts only a couple of hours earlier. So the first of many delicious lunches to come was very much enjoyed and everybody returned to to their paintings with full vigour.
Our next painting location was very exciting. We took a water taxi to the island of Armona, a great boat trip across the lagoons made even more enjoyable by our skipper Nuno, a local marine biologist who gave us a short lecture on board about the area and it’s special marine wildlife. Thus fortified with knowledge and eagerness to get our watercolours out, we took a short stroll to a spot with trees to sit under, should we want to sit in the shade. I had painted there before because there is a long low building by the beach - typical of the many small cottages of this island village - with palms and jacaranda trees framing it in just the right way. The perspective lessons from the day before came in handy and by lunchtime most drawings were complete. My watercolour demonstration after a sumptuous meal of freshly caught and grilled fish on the top terrace of the ‘Armona4’ restaurant, focussed more on the landscape aspect of the view. The relationship between the far distant hills and sea in the background, and foreground motifs, is always a bit tricky, but easy to handle once you know how. The distance needs only a very thin, watery layer of watercolour paint, while the sandy foreground and trees require stronger colour mixes with more paint pigment. It was a successful encounter, and we boarded the water taxi in high spirits, dashing across the water on our way home.
Saturday is Market day in Olhao, a spectacle not to be missed. The red brick market halls by the town harbour are magnificent, and only a couple of minutes walk from the art school. The outdoor stalls arrayed between the harbour wall and the market building itself were shaded with vivid red, orange and acid green sun umbrellas, only matched by the multiple colours of the the various fruit, vegetables, spices and household goods. A heaven for the painter, and a chance to try out long forgotten colours from your palette. Watercolour painting is ideal for capturing people on the move, and we had ample opportunity for practice and warm up sketching, before attempting to apply paint. There were plenty of people of all shapes and sizes to observe, with some kindly taking a rest on close by benches, making sketching even easier. Some of our group opted for the amazing fish market inside one of the market halls, and produced impressive watercolours of those silvery, scaly sea creatures.
Soon it was Sunday and ‘no rest for the wicked’. Though it was a non-tuition day, I am proud to say that the painting and sketching was not neglected. After enjoying our painting trip to Armona island everybody choose to take the ferry to the other island of Farol I mentioned earlier, to experience the ocean side of the islands, as well as the flatter expanses of the lagoons. The ferry winds its way around sandbanks and clam fields, where one can observe fisherman collecting clams for the dishes served later in the evening. A pleasurable trip, rewarded by welcoming cafes and bars right by the jetty where the ferry passengers disembark. Reports of swimming in the sea, interrupted by sketching (or was it the other way round ?), reached my ears later on that evening, when we met for dinner at the ‘O Piteu’ restaurant, to round off a perfect day with wine, fish, and a stroll to view a series of impressive murals depicting the the life of fishermen and women, painted on old factory walls nearby.
The week was progressing fast, and so were we, in the sense of skill and our modes of transport! Not a water taxi this time, but another Nuno with a fleet of taxis whisked us off to the coastal village of Fuseta, where a small lagoon inlet harbours working fishing boats, and where fishermen clear away nets and the debris of the morning’s catch. By then the painting of people in their environment had become not exactly routine, but definitely no longer daunting. Though getting the size of people in a boat into the correct proportions can still be a challenge.
It’s easier to compare the size of a person to let’s say a door or a tree we are all familiar with, and it’s another matter when the person is standing in an unusually shaped boat. But what boats! With huge metal cages at the back and disc like winches for pulling in bright green nets, they make splendid painting subjects. You can also take a bit of artistic license when it comes to representing those colours and shapes, since their organic forms and functions vary quite a bit from large rounded ones to smaller trim vessels.
And so, reluctantly, we came to our final day in Olhao. As planned we spent the day at the art school correcting some minor mistakes, or finishing off paintings from previous days, and in some cases also painting just one last watercolour. Staying in and around the studio - close to the two little pools for a dip if needed - gave me the chance to demonstrate more specific issues, like the ‘painting’ of masts with a edge of a piece of paper dipped in colour, or the use of masking tape to achieve straight lines with ease. After a seafood lunch we were ready for a concluding outburst of painting, before choosing the watercolours each of us was going to exhibit in the informal showing of our works that evening. There was a lovely surprise waiting for us, since one of our group had made excellent use of the concertina artist’s sketchbook and filled the entire book, several metres long when unfolded, with panoramic scenes from the old town. Above this display, all the other paintings were hung along the walls in the studio. It was with proud pleasure that we all viewed our week’s achievement, glass of wine in hand, and celebrated an exciting week filled with creativity, friendship and fun.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank both Margarida and Joanna (our breakfast chef), for looking after us so well, and also big thanks to Camilla for all the work she does behind the scenes. We had a great mixture of delicious meals, partly enjoyed in bars and restaurants with local cuisine, or cooked by Margarida at home, frequently finished off at the ice-cream parlour around the corner, with harbour views for atmosphere. And the biggest thanks of all to everybody on the course who made it such a memorable time.
Who would want to go home after such a week?
All the best with your painting throughout the summer,
“Thank you so much for another memorable week of art and friendship. Thank you too for your wonderful effort, in so many ways, to give the group such great tuition and inspiration - but also incorporating time for fun!”