The change from London to Portugal on Tuesday afternoon could not have been more pleasant. Rain and grey skies at Gatwick, brilliant sunshine the moment I set foot outside Faro’s new Arrivals hall. And it stayed that way all week!
A short taxi-ride with Nuno, and I dropped my bags off at the Art School, unpacking my painting equipment first, to be ready for the week’s painting adventures. It was a joy to be back in Olhao, the attractive old harbour town, and to explore once more the narrow streets and traditional buildings with wrought iron balconies, where many of the houses are still tiled in the old-fashioned way.
On Wednesday everyone in our painting group arrived safely, and we got to know each other over a glass of wine and our first meal together. To spur us on we were all given a lovely sketchbook to take home with us.
The next day it was time to get our paints and brushes out. The sun was already high in the sky, so we choses a shady alley in the old town centre, where we had a good view of the church, complete with stork’s nest on top! Cafes with outside tables were also nearby, and after my first watercolour demonstration we took it in turns to have refreshing drinks. Soon it was lunchtime and we briefly withdrew to the cool of the Schoolhouse. We resumed painting later on, and most of us were able to finish the first painting of the week.
On Friday we were in for a treat. Nuno, not the taxi Nuno, but a young marine biologist, picked us up with his boat from the harbour down the road for a painting excursion to the picturesque island of Armona. The small whitewashed houses with their lush front gardens looked just the thing to paint. We settled down under some shady trees where we had a wonderful view across the lagoon, and a little house surrounded by Palms and Jacaranda trees, and a few upturned boats by the beach. After the morning’s work we had a delicious lunch of grilled fresh caught fish in one of the island’s restaurants.
My painting demonstration in the morning focussed on the contrast between foreground objects, such as the trees and house, and the seascape and headland in the distance. The little fishing boats were not too difficult to capture this time round, but the excursion to the little harbour town of Fuzeta, later on in the week, put us in closer contact with some larger fishing boats. These make a magnificent painting subject because of their varied colours, and partly because they have a small cabin resembling a little house on top. Combine that with all the rust coloured winches, ropes, and bright red buoys, and even people who normally don’t ‘do’ boats cannot help but get inspired!
But I am jumping ahead of myself. Before the Fuzeta trip was market day in Olhoa. The eye-catching market halls are right by the waterfront, and feature several towers and an open market with a riot of colourful sun umbrellas shading the fresh fruit, vegetables and other goods. Inside the halls is the amazing fresh fish market, presenting the shopper with the most astonishing sea creatures apart from the more familiar varieties like octopus, mackerel, sea bream etc. etc. Some of those no doubt made it to the restaurant tables where we dined and had a great fun choosing fish to eat with the help of the charming waiters and waitresses practicing their English.
The market is of course a great place to sketch and paint people. At first it seemed impossible to draw the constantly moving figures. However, after a short watercolour demonstration, I was able to point out typical representative movements and postures that make it easier to ‘catch’ people on paper or canvas. We ended the day with a range of great sketches and finished paintings depicting the hustle and bustle of the outdoor market by the harbour.
After all the hard work of the first couple of days, Sunday made a welcome break, where everybody was at leisure to do what they wanted; further explore the town, or paint in the cool of the studio, or take a dip on the roof-top swimming pool, and check out the new ice-cream parlour later. Shopping in the town is always fun too, since there is the largest number of shoe shops with summer sandals I have ever come across in any of my travels! I chose to take the ferry to another island a little further away, facing the Atlantic to see if it was suitable for a painting excursion with my students. I had a lovely tome there, but the lack of trees meant there was no shade for us to paint under, so I kept it on my list of places for a good swim.
Our last day together was inevitable approaching, and a lot of things learned during the week came to fruition, making the final session very productive and great fun. In the evening we enjoyed looking at our achievements. Oil and acrylic paintings were placed on easels, and watercolour paintings were pinned to the walls in the spacious studio. This enabled us to admire each other’s work, discuss technical aspects , and pass on tips in a congenial and inspiring atmosphere. Margarida’s little daughter and her friend, both aged five, joined us. They were given the honour of picking out their favourite painting from the show, a view of the market scene, and handed the lucky winner a Fuchsia pink Art School apron.
The aprons were the late David Clark’s idea. He was the inspirational founder of the Art School who sadly passed away a couple of years ago. His daughter Camilla is carrying on with organising the courses from the UK, while the wonderful Margarida, manager ‘on the ground, cook, and mother of two, looks after everything in the Art School wonderfully. Not to forget Joanna, the ever-present and helpful breakfast chef, who completes the team, making our stay in Olhoa such a success.
For me it was a particular pleasure to return, and help to fulfil David’s dream of filling the Art School with students, creating art and enjoying life in Olhao. I will be back next year – same place, same time! With big thanks to all who came to Algarve and who made it such an enjoyable week.
With all the best for the paint summer,