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."