What a pleasure to arrive at Catania airport and be greeted by Mount Etna, snow-capped and glittering in the mid-day sun. I soon made my way to the Fattoria Mosé, and spent happy hours sketching before all the other painters joined me the following day. We were blessed with glorious sunshine and pleasant summer’s day temperatures for our entire painting week.
A merry band of fourteen painters set off the next day to explore the house and gardens, olive and orange groves at the Fattoria Mosé, to whet the appetite for our painting adventures. It always takes a while to find your way through the different entrances, arches, and courtyards, but it never takes too long to find something interesting to paint.
As usual most painters had brought watercolours, so I started each day with a painting demonstration using my tried and trusted watercolour palette. Most of us settled for one of the wonderful old clay oil vessels dotted around the main terrace. A splash of Burnt Sienna and Brown Madder captured the tones of the terracotta colours very well. To finish off, a shade of Cobalt Blue for the shadow side, and a few different mixes of Winsor Green (blue shade) for the surrounding plants and palm trees did very nicely for the first day.
Awakening to a vivid blue sky the next day, we were whisked off by our friendly taxi drivers down to the seaside at St. Leone, where a rocky shoreline with sandy beaches and headland views awaited us. A great opportunity to practice watercolour washes. Cobalt Blue or French Ultramarine mixed with Winsor Green makes for vibrant translucent skies and the turquoise sea. A brilliant white house with a palm tree nearby made a great foreground motif to lead the eye into the painting. We even had a handsome young man sunbathing on a not too distant rock, which some of us could not resist including in the picture!
On Tuesday we turned our gaze to the town of Agrigento for a spot of sightseeing in the old town centre, some light shopping, and the justifiably popular ice cream in a brioche. In the early afternoon we retuned to join the students who had stayed behind at the Fattoria Mosé to paint…
And suddenly it was Wednesday, time to tackle one of the many fascinating views from the Fattoria’s gardens. Framed by huge prickly pear cacti growing out of bed of yellow wildflowers, a vista opens up towards Agrigento stretched out on the steep, rocky side of a mountainous hill. Our previous practice of laying on the soft watercolour washes for the distant parts of the landscape came in handy here. An additional demonstration emphasising the different colour strengths for the foreground and background helped those who were unfamiliar with views ‘en plein air.’
Having stretched our eye muscles over hills and olive groves the day before, on Thursday we headed for the world famous Valley of the Temples, where the ancient Greek ruins find proud columns and arches standing amongst tumbled honey coloured stones. Once pencil-sketched onto watercolour paper, the actual painting was quite straightforward. Tones and shades of Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, and a sash of green and/or turquoise for some of the plants and the sky, was all that was needed. I also took the opportunity to demonstrate how to introduce figures into the painting, which gave the whole composition a splash of extra colour and life.
So arrived our final day. We had planned an informal show of our work in the evening, therefore we were all very busy making use of what remained of our time to finish our paintings. Following on from our day painting at the Temples, it was a good moment to explain some of the rules of perspective when painting figures in a landscape, or people in town. It was great for capturing the folk around us, and putting those essential guidelines into practice.
The end of the week came all too soon, and none of us wanted to leave. Stopping painting once properly warmed up and establishing a daily painting routine is always hard, but when it is such an enthusiastic and fun-loving group, that makes it double difficult to part. Not least because of the splendid hospitality and warm welcome by Chiara Agnello, who shared her wonderful home and delicious Sicilian cooking with us for the week.
With a big thank you to all who joined me and made it such an enjoyable time, and special thanks to Chiara and all who looked after us so well at the Fattoria Mosé
p.s. I shall return in 2019!