Twenty six degrees Celsius and a light breeze greeted me on arrival at Faro airport in Portugal – perfect weather to start the painting week at Art In The Algarve painting school.
The picturesque harbour front in Olhao is always my first port of call for a coffee with one or two of the classic Portuguese tarts “pastel de nata”. Thus fortified I unpacked and sorted my painting utensils to be ready for our first day's painting. We did not have to venture far the next day to find the perfect spot. For beginners we found a large old wooden door. Sunlight was streaming through the gaps in the wood panels throwing an attractive pattern on the ground while the door itself hinted at the history of the old town. A small side street with receding buildings for the more advanced among us seemed just right and offered additional life models in the shape of leisurely moving pedestrians.
A few rules about the perspective of buildings under our belt and we set off via water taxi across the lagoon to the idyllic island of Armona. The island is mostly nature reserve, car-free with a village of small white washed houses smothered in Bourgainvilla and Jasmine stretching away from the jetty and beautiful sandy beaches all round. Though no time for us to sunbathe. We took one of the narrow walkways and settled by the sea with view to one of those typical white cottages fringed by jacaranda trees and two impressive palm trees. A few boats lay turned upside down off to the right to make it an ideal scene to paint. At lunchtime, Nuno, a young enthusiastic marine biologist and also our water-taxi driver, took everybody to the restaurant for a delicious fresh fish feast.
More fresh fish and not just to eat, was in abundance on view at the huge market halls at Olhao harbour the following day. Saturday is market day and the indoor market spills out over the large pavements, with stalls selling every vegetable and fruit known to mankind. Since the market is teaming with vendors and visitors it was an excellent opportunity for me to demonstrate how to quickly and simply capture the human form. Fortunately some customers spend a bit more time to negotiate the price of their purchases, giving us extra time to study their movements and postures.
Sunday was our free day where everybody could venture out on their own and explore the old town and its surrounds further. A visit to the nearby Ria Formosa, a nature reserve with an amazing old salt mill, was on offer or an excursion to one of the other islands. I opted for Culatra Island where I sketched an almost 360 degree view in one of the concertina sketch books which we were given by the art school after our first delicious dinner as a welcome present.
Up to then we had not spent time painting boats and so we set off to the small fishing village of Fuseta. The village has a smaller, more intimate harbour with traditional fishing boats and fishermen going about their business. These boats with their shed-like cabins and large, unusually shaped fishing tackle are surprisingly easier to paint than their northern European brothers due to their special character, their colourful décor and unique shape.
Tuesday, our last day, arrived much too soon. Time to nip back into town where storks sat in several nests on top of the various church roofs and bell towers, rhythmically clacking their beaks. Beneath them town life with its hustle and bustle carried on as normal, and we had a last opportunity to paint street scenes, grabbing a chair under a sun umbrella in a cafe or sitting in the cool shade of an old building to paint. The afternoon was reserved for finishing off paintings and for the preparations of our informal show in the evening. It was exciting to see what we had achieved during our painting week in Olhao. A reason to celebrate with a glass of wine or two.
As ever I cannot thank everybody enough for being so enthusiastic and dedicated to their painting, experimenting with new techniques and for being such a fun crowd to “hang out” with. Many thanks also goes to Camilla who organises operations from the UK and to the lovely Margarita, who runs the show at the art school with such joie de vivre.
With best wishes for the summer,