Monday, 2 July 2012

My Painting Holiday with Flavours

I am not an artist but have loved watercolour painting for as long as I can remember and have been rehearsing to take a painting holiday for as many years. In my mind I wanted to find a landscape which would be inspirational but I also wanted to be around people who would be good to discuss technique with. Most of all I wanted a week where I could devote my time to painting alongside a teacher who could really push my technique along. I had no idea where all those criteria could be fulfilled and dismissed it as a fantasy.

It’s funny how life is often about seeing to the needs of others: partners, children, extended family, friends and the odd Golden Retriever. Yet when I come to thinking about myself, my dreams have often been pushed to the back burner. Go on a painting holiday? With my responsibilities? You have got to be joking.

Still, sometimes a break, doing something which is the antithesis of the everyday, can work wonders in terms of re-energising the mind and also re-acquainting oneself with the real you, which get ignored so often. I had been given some money for my birthday and wanted it to count, somehow a meal out didn’t really tick the boxes. Having been a subscriber to Flavours for a while I thought I would take advantage of a discount voucher, make good use of my money and take the plunge. Before I had a chance to change my mind I booked a week’s painting holiday in Umbria. I remember the overwhelming feeling of excitement and mischief when I finally clicked ‘send’.

I packed my set of watercolour pans, a couple of sketchbooks and my Watercolour Bible, so that at least I had an inkling what everyone else might be discussing. Let me tell you, I have never painted in public before and I was scared to death at the thought of showing my work to accomplished artists. Still, it was booked, no going back and my husband joked that maybe I might paint something we could auction to bolster our pension fund – hilarious!

Can I say that when I arrived at the villa and tasted the delicious dinner prepared for us by the chef Marco I knew that, if nothing else I was in culinary heaven and was tempted not to unpack my paints and make some ravioli instead!

Still, on the following morning, which just happened to be a Sunday, I had my very first painting lesson ever, so different from reading a book let me tell you. I had a fine time experimenting with different techniques, papers and brushes and the time simply vanished. After a short lunch stop I decided I would try out my newfound knowledge and instead of collapsing in a heap by the pool (which was very tempting I must say) I took advantage of the trip organised and did my best to do justice to the location where we spent the afternoon.

I was so very wrong thinking working with accomplished artists would be intimidating. It was wonderful asking questions and looking at how they accomplished different techniques. There are some brilliant plus points to mixed ability teaching and I felt the lowest was pulled up by her boot straps to reach a higher level.

To round off a magnificent day and a real feeling of achievement we had dinner once again in the villa. Conversation flowed as everyone had something to say about the topic of painting; it was invigorating and stimulating there are no other words for it!

I would never have had the confidence to paint on location but with a group of others I felt anonymous and really loved visiting Norcia and the Castellucio di Norcia. I was beginning to feel quite accomplished (in my own way) and my tutor was so encouraging and seemed to know just what to suggest to make me want to improve further. I probably made more progress in 24 hours as part of that group than I had alone. I will always remember the medieval town of Spoleto and I have my own paintings as a memento.

The following day I sat engrossed in the landscape painting tutorial, exploring the use of watercolour and mixed media such as pencil or pastel colours and this opened up a completely different world for me. I just couldn’t wait to put some of these lessons into practise, I felt like I was 16 all week! Even the critique session scheduled didn’t faze me and I really enjoyed what everyone contributed. As the week progressed we learned about composition and the use of colour then a visit to the incredible Orvieto and the Duomo which was a highlight.

Let me tell you dear reader, I did participate in the group show and I loved every moment. That birthday money had been transformed into a truly memorable experience; I think I changed as an artist and in effect the Umbrian painting holiday has never ended, as I feel its influence even now. I paint regularly and make time for it and one of my pictures hangs in the hall – not Bonhams this year, alas!

If you are hesitating to book a painting holiday then my advice is ‘don’t’. You will not regret this really exciting experience and let me say, the food was so delicious I would recommend loose fitting trousers for the journey home!

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