Tuscany welcomed us with open arms and blue skies. The old village of Cotto, nestling on the slopes of the Apuan Alps gave us all instant inspiration. There is so much choice, that it takes always a bit of time to adjust the painters eye. A short and leisurely stroll did the trick and we chose to make a start just outside the Vecchia Canonica - our home for the painting week.
The typical Tuscan front door and huge old wine flagons in their wicker baskets and palms in terracotta pots flanking the entrance to the villa made a perfect composition – and an ideal first demonstration. Beginners were able to learn a few simple rules about drawing for before applying water colours and also concentrate on suitable colours to use to represent the Mediterranean climate.
We were blessed again the next day as we made a painting excursion to the impressive medieval castle Verrucola, presently occupied by our friends, the family of the well-known Italian sculptor Pietro Cascella. The setting is particularly exciting because the big bridge over the river at the foot of the castle leads to the small village situated just under it, giving us a perfect foreground motif. This was a great opportunity for me to explain some basic rules for perspective, especially appreciated by the less advanced painters in our group. I was very impressed by the resulting paintings, since even the beginner painters had achieved a good representation of the jumbled roofs, towers and trees by the river. Another bonus point for this attractive location is the little restaurant by the bridge, where we had a delicious lunch.
The following day we painted around the village of Cotto with its many old stone farm houses, narrow roads leading up into the terraced hills at various angles. The stunning old church in the centre has almost Duomo like proportions, dwarfing the village and thus making it a irresistible to paint. Though the church has classical proportions and a lot of straight lines to deal with the old farmhouses offered easy subjects like old doors, stone arches leading into barnyards and ruined stone buildings with colourful roofs. These old stone buildings were the perfect subject with which to demonstrate how to create stone texture in watercolour painting. It was also time to practice further the 'wet into wet’ technique, which can make watercolour painting so exciting. This technique is particularly useful for covering large expanses in landscapes or on buildings on the outset of the paintings. Everybody had fun watching the colours 'explode' on the paper. But of course some more controlled brush-strokes were necessary as the watercolour progressed to capture the subject more precisely.
After painting for three days, we were ready for our free day in the beautiful city of Lucca. The train journey there through the National Park is wonderful with views towards mountain peaks, villages balancing precariously in hilltops or fringing lakes, while tunnels plunged us into darkness and back into bright sunshine. A day in Lucca is always great fun. Whether you are sketching , shopping or strolling under a canopy of trees along the stunning city walls that have protected the city since the middle ages. Naturally it's also a great place for visiting museums and to admire the white Duomo San Martino amongst other architectural gems. A local ice cream by the main town piazza in the shade of a sun umbrella was a must, since it was a lovely warm day again. On our way home we stopped of three quarters of the way in the village of Monzone, where our lovely bus driver Paulo and his son picked us up after a most enjoyable meal in the local restaurant.
Friday approached and we were eager to explore our nearest town, Fivizzano, a few kilometres down the hill. The bus delivered us promptly in the main square by the fountain and our lunchtime restaurant. But before lunch we had to get down to some 'serious' sketching, so we settled in one of the five cafes, or the gelateria. The aim was to sketch local people in a casual loose manner, not necessarily aiming straight away for a likeness, but to captures essential features and gestures. We had a lot of fun, sometimes making contact with people from the town over their coffee or ice ream. After another delicious lunch we went back to Cotto to add watercolour to some of our successful sketches. My demonstration of the simple three colour technique (see also my article in Leisure Painter magazine: link to add!), came in handy and I was able to explain how much can be achieved with just three colours!
Inevitably our last day approached and everybody was keen to finish unfinished paintings or get last minute painting tips before going home the next day. One of the 'tricks of the trade' I wanted to pass on was quickly demonstrated by the ancient public laundry troughs - still used by some of the al women of the village women to wash their clothes - where we focused on painting water. There was just enough time after lunch for a session with a very loose and watery panting of the big church with strong and dramatic colours. Later on we had an informal showing of our watercolours in the evening and we very much enjoyed seeing each others favourite paintings from the week. This is always a great pleasure for me, and judging by the happy expressions on everybody’s faces the pleasure was shared by us all. To celebrate a successful week’s painting we set off to a very special restaurant higher up in the mountains in the village of Pieve, where we enjoyed a last meal together, talked shop and laughed a lot. There only remained to give our thanks to our lovely host Karsten who looked after us so well, and to thank everybody on the course for being such enthusiastic painters and great company.
With the best wishes for a summer full of painting,
Bursting with wild flowers and bathed in sunshine, the Fattoria Mose in Sicily welcomed us with open arms on Sunday morning, our first painting day. After a late evening arrival, it’s always a wonderful surprise to find yourself transported into the lush gardens and courtyards, terraces and rambling olive groves that compose the estate. There were still some late ripening oranges and lemons clinging to the trees, a perfect splash of colour to lift our paintings.
A short stroll through the surroundings of the Fattoria helped us to select our painting subjects. Some of us settled for the massive, antique olive oil vessels adorned with flowers, while others chose smaller pot plants to begin with, or shady corners with views towards the old farm buildings. My first demonstration of the week focussed on colour choices, and how to apply watercolours in a free and easy way, while maintaining ‘control’ of the flowing pigments. Having made a good start, we were all ready for lunch on the main terrace.
The next day we awoke again to blazing sunshine, perfect weather for the seaside. Nearby views of rocky seashores and golden beaches at St Leone were an irresistible subject to paint. The azure sea was gently lapping and soon we set our paintbrushes to work. The intense colours of sea and sky gave me a chance to explain colour mixing and aspects of perspective in landscape.
We had another chance to practice some basic perspective rules on our outing to the famous World Heritage site, the ‘Valley of the Temples,’ near Agrigento. The ancient Greek Temple of Juno with its partly tumbled, rich ochre columns standing in symmetrical rows is a magnificent sight. It is surprisingly easy to capture on paper, because the shapes of the columns (Doric) are relatively simple and repetitive, and their colours are obvious variations of ochre and burnt sienna. Green colours were supplied by gigantic cactuses, and a range of shady trees at the foot of the temple, which was also a perfect place to paint from. Some of us took the opportunity to walk along the ancient road connecting the temples of Juno, Concordia, and Hercules, further along. An awe-inspiring sight with the sea glistening in the distance.
Wednesday was a non-tuition day, and we were able to admire the Temples from a higher vantage point. The town of Agrigento was built on a parallel hilltop, with the main road in the old centre and vistas towards the Temples and the sea. It’s a pleasure to explore the narrow old streets, and visit the famous churches with their Rococo architecture and chequered histories. Naturally we combined this with a bit of light shopping, sketching, and refreshments in the various cafes and ice cream parlours.
As the week went on and our paintings progressed, we were able to tackle more complex views back at the Fattoria Mose, like the private chapel attached to the Fattoria’s manor house. A challenging corner, not for the faint-hearted! But both, oil painters and water-colourists did it justice and achieved some fine results. Fortunately, there was a more user-friendly view from the track just above, with a riot of flowers and colourful trees. Here, the huge prickly pear cactuses made a perfect foreground to lead the eye into the composition.
Since we had non-stop sunshine for the entire week, the interplay between light and shade was particularly strong. This made our painting subjects the more exciting. The archway to the main courtyard, terra cotta urns by shady palm trees and surrounding fleshy succulents stood out in painterly contrasts. This variety gave me a wide choice for my daily painting demonstrations, tailoring them to the needs of beginners and advanced painters alike.
Inevitably, the week drew to its end, but not without an informal show of a selection for the work we had accomplished. We gathered with a glass of wine in hand, ready to have a look at each others’ paintings, and compare notes. It was impressive to see such fine paintings and the progress that everyone had made in such a short time. A lively discussion ensued, and the happy faces bore witness to a successful week.
We all would have loved to stay longer, but Saturday came, and we had to say our goodbyes to our charming and warm-hearted hostess Chiara Agnello, and her marvellous assistants Corrina and Marcello. With great thanks to Chiara for making us so very welcome in her beautiful home, and with thanks to all of you who joined me for the fun and who made the week such a great painting experience.
All the best for your painting summer,
PS: there are more pictures to bring back memories on my Facebook page.