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,
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,
"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,
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,
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
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,
"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,
"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."
When I arrived at Olhao in the Algarve, our base for the course in Portugal, a day before the course, I was greeted by fresh sea air, glimpses of the distant islands on the horizon, and the skyline of the town. I popped into the art school in the historic centre of town, our home for the week, and admired the recent changes to the well-appointed rooms (all en-suite) enhanced by the two swimming pools.
I could hardly wait to make my way to the harbour, just two minutes away from the Art school. As I strolled along the old cobbled streets, it was difficult to choose from the many painting subjects. However, by the end of the day and secure in the knowledge there was plenty for beginners and advanced painters alike, I had noted the good spots, in readiness for the painters arriving the following day.
On our first day it was great fun to sketch and paint street scenes and the houses with their decorated facades, many still covered in the traditional tiles, and featuring faded and crumbling paints on old doors (the 'shabby chic' of the town). While we painted around the two big churches in the middle of town, the storks were not letting us down, and had settled in their nests on towers and pediments. Naturally the many cafes in the vicinity were very welcome for 'elevenses' and to discreetly sketch people at the same time.
The following day, we painted by the harbour. Olhao is a historic fishing port, and the seafront complete with promenade is a wonderful painting subject, offering shade under palm trees. The Marina mixes pleasure boats with commercial fishing craft bobbing on the water, and an impressive replica of the ship which was involved in the revolt against the French occupiers in the 19th century is moored at the waterfront - and is very paintable too. Also located by the seafront, the red brick towers of Olhao's large fish and vegetable market is the place to be on market day. A riot of colours and shapes with plenty of atmosphere! Most of us painted at the outdoor market, where vendors under colourful umbrellas offered an exotic range of fruit and vegetables which were fun to paint. The inside of the fish market was also worth a visit and sketch, where there was the most unusual range of fish on display. We had several meals at the local restaurants, when we were able to taste some of the better known freshly caught fish washed down by glasses of Portuguese wine.
Now it was time to take to the waters! Our host and the owner of the art school, the Hon. David Clark ? had kindly arranged a private water taxi to take us to the beautiful island of Armona. The driver, Nuno, is a marine biologist and was able to tell us about the wild life and the surrounding nature reserves before we set off. The island was as beautiful as I remembered from last year's visit; small white-washed houses fronted by lush gardens filled with flowering shrubs and trees, and long sandy beaches with Sunday bathers. The lunch on the roof terrace of the seaside cafe was outstanding, though I rely on reports from everybody else for this, since I had grabbed a sandwich from the breakfast table and stayed to continue my painting of the lifeguards on the beach, who conveniently sat still the whole time! However the painting did not turn out as well as I would have liked (you can't win them all!), and I returned to paint on the island after the course, this time with more success.
The next mode of transport was more mundane - a short taxi ride to the charming fishing town of Fuzeta. This small town is one of the Algarve’s least 'discovered' places and it has retained its unique character as a working fishing port. Indeed, its daily routine revolves around the fishermen, whose colourful boats line up alongside the river in town. A line of lively kiosk-cafés spreading towards the river beach are very welcome for that extra coffee and a Portuguese custard tart halfway through the morning. The harbour here is small, and features one of the most paintable old boats I've ever seen, kitted out with a prominent cabin more closely resembling an exuberantly painted shed, than maritime structure. It made a brilliant subject for all painters in the group regardless of experience.
The last day inevitably approached, and some of us spent the day in the studio completing unfinished work. Others painted from the roof terraces or discussed last minute tips for future paintings, and prepared for an informal showing of our paintings in the evening. When we gathered, glass of wine in hand, we were able to admire the fruits of our labours from the week. It was a splendid, varied display, showing the many personal styles in which each painter had captured the scenes encountered throughout our stay in Olhao. Happy and satisfied we tucked into our last, delicious dinner, this time prepared by the lovely Margarida, who looked after our culinary needs when not dining out.
On my return to London I sat down immediately and planned the course for 2016, a good thing to look forward to...
"It was great to paint in the town and so close by the sea. The excursion to the island was sheer bliss and so was the food."
"We had a lovely time and we are now planning where to go next with you."
"It was a joy to be with you in Portugal and I loved every minute of the painting!"
After my trip to Sicily in April, I was itching to return to Italy. So much so, that I flew out a week before the next painting course in Tuscany and spent a few days painting and exploring Lunigiana, the beautiful less known region just north of Tuscany. A long awaited visit to Equi Terme village and Spa set in the most dramatic mountain landscape surpassed all my expectations, even though I have had brief glimpses from the train on previous excursions. However, the week whistled past and it was time to get ready for the painting course. The painting group arrived under a clear blue sky and we gathered after arrival to get know each other and our charming host, Karsten Mueller. After a refreshing cup of tea he made sure that everybody was comfortably ensconced at the apartments in 'La Vecchia Canonica'. It was too late for a dip in the pool – that had to wait for another day- but it was a perfect first evening for a glass of wine on the little terrace overlooking Cotto village and the stunning mountain peaks beyond.
This certainly put us in the mood, and next morning we set to work with paper and brush. Taking it easy on the first day, I suggested to paint the old wine caskets in their attractive whicker baskets dotted around the front entrance to the villa – some of them are holding up to 54 liters of precious fluids.
My demonstration helped everybody to make a good start and by day two we were in the swing of things. We ventured out to the impressive castle of Veruccola, dating back to the thirteenth century. At its base nestles a delightful jumble of stone houses, a splendid river and bridge, and luckily for us also a restaurant, ideal for lunch. Painting in Cotto the next day, the weather had turned and I used the opportunity to demonstrate an easy way to paint people/portraits by using only three colours: Yellow, Red and Blue. I had written an article in the Leisure Painter Magazine about this method the year before, so it was nice to demonstrate the technique first hand. The initial difficulties in capturing the human shape were soon overcome and everybody enjoyed learning a new skill, an experience which would come in handy later on in the week.
Thursday was our excursion day to the fascinating medieval town of Lucca. This time a 'foursome' from our painting group even rented a Quattrocycle for an exciting ride around the top of the double-sided city walls. Lucca has so much to offer: Duomos and Churches, Museums, pleasant shops set in old narrow streets and a great variety of tempting restaurants, cafes and gelaterias. Of course there is no shortage of painting subject there either and the cafes around the old amphitheater are a great place to paint from and watch the world go by. We finished the day by taking the train to the mountain village of Monzone, where we had a delicious meal in the local restaurant. Our enthusiasm was not dented, when grey clouds appeared on the sky the next day. Our friendly driver for the week, Paolo, took us to Fivizzano, the nearby old town featuring a cobbled square complete with Medici fountain. Several hours were pleasantly spent sketching and painting the regular visitors in the local 'Sports Bars' and cafes. Popping in and out for a quick expresso in passing or a longer chat over a mid-morning snack, we had ample subjects despite the fact that some people disappeared unexpectantly fast. Our practise from two days earlier paid off and the wonderful array of local people about their daily business captured on paper was our just reward.
The final day in Cotto presented us with a last chance to paint the stunning mountain panorama of the Apuan Alps from La Vecchio Canonica's terraces above the swimming pool. But is was also a day to finish off details from previous paintings or indulge in a quick still life of the knobbly local lemons and bulbous spring onions on the kitchen table. Soon it was time for a sip of Champagne in Fivizzano's gorgeous hotel and restaurant, the Il Giardinetto. In a private corner surrounded by fabulous portraits of former famous guests we had an informal showing of our paintings - a very suitable setting. We celebrated the week with a delicious ‘last supper’ and a happy glow was on all face as I looked around the table.
The pangs of saying goodbye to everybody on Sunday morning were somewhat softened for me, because I had been invited by my friend, and Cotto resident, Georgina to visit the famous marble mountains above Cararra - the artist Michael Angelo’s favourite Quarry for selecting marble for his sculpture. Cut into the mountains and high above the town of Carrara, the snow white marble ‘fields’ reach up to 1,500m (approx. 4,900ft) and are truly breath-taking. Carrara was featuring open days that weekend for their many artist studios and I was able to observe sculptors at work, cutting stones and polishing marble sculptures. Seeing the variety of art on display was a splendid way to finish my stay in Tuscany.
"Thanks for the fantastic week in Cotto. There was so much to paint in the village and I loved all the other places we visited too - would have loved another week there."
"Great locations and outstanding tuition!"
"It was a truly wonderful holiday and I loved spending time with you and the group and painting so much."
It was a warm night with a lazy sunset over the sea as I was waiting for the painting group on the viewing terrace at Palermo airport. Sicily was in full spring mood already and the colours of wild flowers mingled with the oranges and yellows of citrus fruits. Next day at the Fattoria Mose, the mist from the night before had cleared and given way to brilliant sunshine and a marvellously blue sky, a great beginning to our Sicilian adventure.
After a leisurely breakfast involving a variety of home made jams and marmalades everybody was ready and eager to face the first painting day. We enjoyed an exploratory stroll around the various gardens, buildings, olive and orange groves and settled happily onto our new surroundings. There was no shortage of subjects to choose from: Archways, ancient olive trees (some 500-700 years old!) old pottery, wild flowers, landscapes prickly pears and Acacia trees heavy with yellow blossoms.
For my first demonstration of the week I focused on a nearside object, the huge, old olive vessels grouped around the trunk of a magnificent Palm tree. A perfect motive to get started. We got more adventures the following day and set off to the nearby Lido, a long stretch of beach below the historic town of Agrigento. The sea-shore, sparkling ever brighter as the day progressed, was only rivalled by the blue striped blinds in the building that made our foreground motif. The setting had the mood of an Edward Hopper painting: the modern house fronted by two palm trees with endless blue sea beyond. The local bars and Gelaterias were very welcome for a snack and refreshing drink, or a delicious Sicilian ice-cream.
Tuesday, our third day, was wonderfully sunny again, and we spent another day painting at the Fattoria Mose. This time I chose for my morning demonstration the half open terrace gate with views through to the farmyard and distant landscape. Framed by ochre coloured walls and flower pots, this is also the gateway frequently used by the numerous puppy dogs and cats - painting subjects in themselves, though somewhat unreliable. After the day's work it's lovely to relax on one of the terraces or gardens with a cup of tea or an early glass of wine. A just reward, as one watches the sun slowly disappear behind the hills. Soon to be followed by another delicious home-cooked meal. The food at the Fattoria is rather special; home-grown produce when in season and following traditional recipes of the Agnello family who have lived for several generations at the Fattoria Mose. Chiara Agnello and her sister Simonetta Hornby even featured recently in their own Sicilian television series (not Montalbano!) dedicated to their uniquely local way of cooking.
Midweek, painting took a bit of a back seat, when most of us went on an exciting tour to see the world famous mosaics at the Piazza a Marina, a complex of Roman Villas. The mosaics are highly detailed, and well-preserved. One wall even depicts a group of young women in bikinis exercising in the gym – an astonishingly modern scene. Thus inspired we followed the historic motif, and went to paint another famous sight. The ancient golden Greek temples in the beautiful Vallee di Templi. At the foot of the stone steps leading to he temple of Juno we found shade under pine and olive trees. The tricky bits were not as one would imagine, the magnificent temple columns, but some of the trees and cacti adoring the scene. Plant-life seems to be one of the greatest challenges in outdoor painting. It was however a good opportunity to talk about ways of how to tackle 'greens' the easy way.
We had a chance to practice mixing greens on our last day at the Fattoria, with time to spare for unfinished paintings. There was excitement in the air as we were getting ready for the last night's showing of the best of the week's paintings. It was a delight to see everybody's work, exchange experiences, and marvel at the diversity of the styles and subjects. We celebrated the end of the course with home grown artichokes, wine and song, until it was time to throw a few things into the suitcase for our departure the next day.
The Sicilian sun, Chiara's warm hospitality, and the many subjects to paint combined with the enthusiasm and friendship of our group made this a very enjoyable painting week indeed, and I cannot wait to go back in 2016.
"Such A great group in Sicily, loved the week."
"The best painting holiday I had for a long time. Learned so much from you and loved being with the other painters."
"I wanted the holiday to go on forever... thanks so much for your inspired teaching."
"The Fattoria Mose is a wonderful location."
Morocco was everything that it promised, with blue skies, brilliant sunshine and dazzling views. Our old friend and host Ali Mouni greeted us upon arrival at the Hotel La Vallee in Ouarzazate. Early the next day, we embarked for the desert, enjoying many scenic delights along the way. Heavy rains in February had given us an unusually spectacular array of desert flowers, more than I have ever previously seen. A delicious lunch in the sleepy town of Tinjedad fortified us for the remainder of our journey. A couple of hours later, after a cup of Moroccan tea, we settled into our charming rooms at Ali's Nomad Palace, a family owned and run hotel at the edge of the dunes.
Before we started painting, I showed everybody around the delightful shade dappled courtyard, the new roof terrace, and the elegant arches that lead to the swimming pool. Amongst all the visual treats, everyone found a suitable subject, and I started my first demonstration, utilizing a handy pillar and a Moroccan clay pot. More advanced painters took on the challenge of more complex views through the grand gateway to the desert dunes. Satisfied (hopefully) by the day's efforts, the evening was filled with happy banter, exchanging experiences of the day over a glass of wine, before indulging in the plentiful quantities of delicious food coming from the kitchens.
Day two found us at the Merzouga Palmerie, an area on the edge of the nearby village where vegetables and crops are tended under the shade of date palms. One can add to the scene with the image of traditionally dressed locals about their business, giving our paintings a splash of colour from a different palette.
The following morning we received quite a surprise to find that a huge lake had recently appeared for the first time in six years, right in front of my usual view of the Great Dunes! The reflections of the desert buildings in the still water of the lake were stunning. We painted in the clear light, soothed by the mellifluous tones of my husband James, singing and playing guitar quietly in the background, and incidentally providing an extra life-model! Later in the afternoon we left our hilltop, and drove around the rest of the vast expanse of sand known as the Erg Chebbi, pausing along the way for a glass of tea with some Nomad friends of Ali's.
On the non-tuition day, some students chose to remain at the Nomad Palace and paint, while most of the group came with me on a tour which included a visit to a fascinating fossil museum, and a shopping trip at the local Nomad Depot, where we haggled over carpets jewellery and crockery. We ended the day at another seasonal lake, far larger than usual this year, where a wide variety of desert birds could be spotted by the keen watcher, including distantly seen flamingos!
Camels are notoriously difficult to paint, so we kept ours for the whole day as we attempted to catch their superior expressions, liquid eyes, and gangling limbs. Their attendants, dressed in traditional Berber garb, also made excellent subjects, and were preferred by some to the noble dromedaries! The reward, for those of the group who wanted it, was to ride our sweet tempered four legged models into the dunes, from the top of which we watched a beautiful desert sunset.
Before we knew it, the last desert day had dawned. Another scorcher, where shade at our location, a deserted village near the Nomad Palace, was provided by Ali's men erecting an open sided Berber tent. Our picnic lunch was consumed in an artistically converted ruin overlooking the scene. We celebrated the end of our wonderful week in the desert with the appearance before dinner of Groupe Zaid, local musicians with an international reputation.
Departure from the desert was sweetened by our arrival at the outstandingly beautiful Dades Gorge the next day, where we got down to work straightaway, eager to capture the curves of the mountains and colours of the lush green valley below, viewed from the Panorama Hotel terrace. Lunch and dinner were lovingly prepared by our hosts and fellow painters Mustafa and Ibrahim.
All of which meant that we had reached the last day, and a short journey back to Ouarzazate, where many of this group showed their mettle by painting until the last rays of the sun were fading from the distant snow-peaked Atlas Mountains.
"Thank you, once again, for organising it all - it was, I think for everyone, a huge success."
"You were brilliant in every way and your sense of humour added cream on the cake."
"I would like to thank you for arranging such a wonderful holiday. It was really a unique experience and a great painting time."
"I do hope to join you again sometime.I have learnt a lot and made progress."
"Had a really enjoyable time in Morocco. You were most helpful and your organization was was excellent in every way."
"I enjoyed so tremendously going back to Morocco that I immediately want to do it all over again. I felt I had improved on my work from last time."