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!