Learning to paint on holiday is a great way to slow down and breathe in your surroundings...
For me, school art lessons were an ideal cloak for messing about, so I wasn't really sure what to expect a few years back when I enrolled on a watercolour painting holiday in rural Andalusia. It was an assignment to write an article for the Sunday Times, and after a little research online I spotted the website of expat Scots Eddie and Gill Lange, and got in touch.
I confess to enjoying “Paint along with Nancy” as a kid. It was a television series in which Italian-American and ever blue-smocked Nancy Kominsky revealed the secrets of oil painting with a trowel. I remember producing a set of still life's that looked like polychrome grouting, but I hadn't picked up a trowel, or brush, since.
The school was in the beautiful mountain village of Ojen; itself a learning environment, with snaking lanes, whitewashed walls and terracotta pots billowing with blooms. There’s an Arabian echo in the streets, the people and their pace of life, and everyone really does say “Hola” as they pass by.
Eddie and Gill were from Dundee, and pitched up by accident on a Mediterranean driving holiday. Eddie is a professional artist, and provided the tuition while Gill organised the trips. Their approach is supremely informal, and Eddie has a light touch — suggestions and tips rather than must-dos and mantras. Lunches were in village tapas bars, dinners at a clutch of simple local restaurants - with outstanding seafood paella, fried fish and crisp local wines.
We stayed at the delightful Posada Del Angel, its rooms, around a tranquil courtyard, decorated in spare Andalusian style. The hotel was peaceful, yet still felt part of the village, with views of washing drying on the rooftops and the sounds of family life below.
Eddie puts me at my easel from the word go. I thought I’d be embarrassed sitting with palette in direct line of titters from passers-by, but it wasn’t so. The locals were supportive even, and painting in their village made me feel (temporarily at least) part of their community.
My first painting took a couple of hours. It was of a sagging housefront on a steep lane, and I soon learnt that it doesn’t matter if you think you can’t paint — because Eddie knows that you can. Each session produced a painting and each rather surprisingly left me itching for the next one. Groups were kept to fewer than 10 people, and while some students can paint well, it was ideal for beginners.
It’s a scenic drive up to Ronda, made famous by its dramatic gorge. Avoiding the tourist ruck in the town, we pitched our easels in a silent, flower-scented field far below. Had I been walking here, I’d probably have stopped just long enough to snap a photo — so it was a treat, instead of winding on, to unwind and absorb the view properly.
On the final evening, Eddie assessed our work. It was fun and uplifting that everyone had achieved their goals, and I came away with unique mementos of the week and a new way to interpret my surroundings.
I bought paints on returning to London, and had a stab at rendering the East End skyline, but it was never quite the same as Ojen, and soon after the paper and paints went the way of all things and I lost them. But that's fine - I imagine only a small percentage of people who take learning holidays actually carry it on properly on returning home. Mostly it's just another way to enjoy a new place, meet new people, and enjoy learning a new skill.
Ediie and Gill are no longer in Ojen, but Eddie is still giving courses in his native Dundee. See Lange Art Studios.
There are so many painting holidays to choose from, but here are a few starting points. Try Authentic Adventures, Paint Andalucia or Painting in Spain. Art Courses has a list of UK, European painting course and holiday ideas.