Unexpectedly hot and sunny after a cold weather warning, I happily set foot on Sicilian soil. The pool at the Fattoria Mose looked very inviting, so I dropped my bags immediately and delayed the offered cup of coffee in favor of a dip. Then it was time for a proper catch up with my friend Chiara Agnello, who so generously offers her home to me and my fellow painters every year to run the paining course. Two days later all the painters had arrived from Palermo airport and the painting fun could begin. As usual on our first day we sorted out paints, pots, boards etc. and then strolled around our new home for the week. The Fattoria Mose consists of an old 19th century main house with green window shutters and Moorish crenelations at either end, and various buildings and courtyards. It is surrounded by ancient olive trees (some over 700 years old), lemon and orange groves as well as almond and pistachio trees, terraces and gardens. So there was plenty to paint and we were spoiled for choice.
At the beginning of the painting course I like to start with an easy painting demonstration to cover a few ‘ground rules’. The large terracotta olive oil vessel on the nearest terrace conveniently shaded by Jacaranda palms was just the thing. A bright blue sky lit up part of the urn and the colourful plants at its base, and I was able to discuss the basic light and dark contrasts essential in a good composition. The colour choices were relatively simple since it was a close-up object and everybody eagerly set to work. Afterwards we were rewarded with tea on the terrace under a brilliant, clear blue sky. For the evening we gathered in the splendid dining room for pre-dinner drinks and our first delicious meal prepared with produce from the Fattoria, based on original Sicilian recipes handed down to Chiara over several generations. Chiara and her sister, Simonetta Agnello Hornby, actually feature in an Italian TV series where they teach and cook on the very spot where we had our tea in the afternoon.
Thus fortified and after a hearty breakfast we set off to the seaside at St Leone to tackle the wide open bay beneath Agrigento town, below the famous "Valley of the Temples". A couple of years ago, I found a small park there with palm trees for shade and a wonderful view of the sea breaking gently on some rocks in the foreground. Ideal for my second painting demonstration involving the treatment of seascapes in watercolour. It was an enjoyable and successful painting experience, no doubt made even more pleasurable by the ice cream cafe around the corner. With more sunshine the following day, we were back painting at the Fattoria. By popular request I demonstrated a more abstract approach to landscape painting. The view was of the hills towards the outline of Agrigento on the far horizon. It was wonderful to share the excitement of laying on strong and dense watercolour washes and then splashing them liberally with water from a big brush to lift off some of the thicker layers. The exposed images and patterns - partly intended and partly accidental - are always a revelation. This very free way of working however is quite an advanced technique and takes a bit of practice. We then settled to paint from our chosen corners, peeping through foliage into the landscape past clumps of Iris with orange trees below, or framing the view with giant cactus plants and fresh, yellow spring flowers. Yellow stayed with us the next day when we visit the ancient Greek temples of Agrigento. The temple columns were glowing in a rich golden ochre under an azure sky - irresistible to paint! We spent the morning there drawing not just the temples but also took the opportunity to sketch people. After a late lunch back at the Fattoria, I was able to demonstrate ways of applying colour to our drawings. The contrast of the blue sky against the solid ochre shapes of the temple ruins were an inspiration to us all.
Towards the end of the week it was time to venture into the old town centre of Agrigento. Most of us opted for a leisurely stroll through the ancient narrow roads up to the cathedral, from which the view widens across the sea and to the hills inland. We had a singular challenge: to find the back entrance to the Monastery of Santo Spirito where the resident nuns bake especially tasty traditional almond biscuits. The door is hard to find, but we succeeded and obtained our objects of desire.
Unavoidably, our final day dawned, and with it beckoned another wonderful day of painting at the Fattoria grounds. Having admired the Baroque architecture in town the previous day, we were ready to focus on the various arches of the main housem, and private family chapel attached to it. Great subjects for the last day when we were all painted in. A lesson of perspective regarding buildings, alongside my watercolour demonstration, was well received. There was even some time left in the afternoon to do a quick demonstration of painting the people we had sketched at the temples. That evening we were gathering, not as most evenings on the upper terrace, but in the lounge area adjoining the dining room, where we enjoyed an informal showing of our paintings. It was impressive to see so many inspirational paintings, and a pleasure for me as a teacher to observe how everybody had expressed their personal vision of the scenery we experienced together. A toast was in order and a big ‘thank you’ to our charming hostess Chiara, to Corrina who cooked so many of the tasty meals with Chiara, and to Marcello who never tired of looking after us. Friendship, inspired painting, sunshine every day and Chiara's warm welcome made this a perfect painting week. Needless to say I am already planning the next one!
With thanks to everybody on the course, and at the Fattoria Mose,
"I so enjoyed my week at Fattorio Mose and my painting with you. The group was lovely and we met some very talented artists and charming people."
"Thank you again for making our holiday so special. Our trip to Sicily was simply a delight from start to finish."