Mind the Gap! A simple tip for painting trees, from Carl March

Painting by Carl March, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

Our watercolour tutor Carl March has just sent me a simple little tip to enhance your paintings of trees.

A friend of his took a charming series of pictures of Carl painting an autumnal woodland exercise. Carl says: “It was a ‘wet on wet’ exercise about how to blend rich secondary colours, starting with the paler colours then progressing to the medium and stronger darker tones. But I also wanted to demonstrate on how to show tree structures and foliage.”

Carl adds: “A little tip when painting foliage is to leave ‘gaps’ in your painting lines. For example, do not paint every detail, leave gaps between some of the branches and twigs when suggesting dense foliage. This will give the image a ‘lift’ and look more realistic.” 

The picture above shows the final result. And below, we have some illustrations of the process. Stage 1: After the ‘wet on wet’ stages are dry, complete all the trees with same colour and strength of tone. Taking care not to paint every detail, leaving gaps within the branches and twigs.

Painting by Carl March, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

Stage Two: Paint the foreground tree with the same strength of colour, again leaving gaps from the previous stages for leaves and twigs.

Painting by Carl March, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

Stage Three: Add the final stronger colours with thicker paint, plus adding finer details.

Painting by Carl March, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

Stage Four: A reprise of the final painting:

Painting by Carl March, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.
Carl March, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

Carl’s week with us next year is called ‘Drawing and Painting for Pleasure’. It will run from 18-25 April 2020. As well as being an inspiring painter, Carl is also a great teacher. He says: “I love the genuine satisfaction in passing on my knowledge to others. For example, demonstrating a ‘step by step’ exercise, then witnessing students repeat the exercise for themselves. Suddenly the penny drops, and it all makes sense. Surely this is the real reward for any teacher.”

Here’s a comment from a previous student: “Carl has a gentle but effective way of teaching and we have learnt a lot from. Most importantly, however, under his guidance the class always becomes a very sociable and happy group. Quite simply, his classes are not only well planned and informative but also great fun.” 

We already have nine people signed up for Carl’s 2020 course at the Watermill, so we have room for three or four more painters (and their non-painting partners, if they’d like to join them.) You can find out more about Carl at his course at the Watermill by clicking here.

If you’d like to come on Carl’s course, now really is the time to book. And don’t forget our Early Bird discount offer: If you book before 31 December 2019 there’s a £75 (English pounds) per person discount on this fabulous 2020 painting holiday.

We would love you to join us. As well as trees and foliage in the glorious Lunigiana countryside, we will no doubt also paint some daffodils:

Painting by Carl March, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

Season of mists and lingering beauty

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Even though we are deep into autumn and many of the trees and bushes are bare, the Watermill walled garden still looks beautiful. Here’s a shot I took at the weekend, as the sun slowly melted away the morning mists.

The sharp-eyed among you will notice a concrete mixer the bottom right of the picture. Yes, the builders are here again. We are putting a new roof on the frantoio (the olive press) and installing air-conditioning everywhere: in all our public rooms and bedrooms and apartment suites. There seem to be rubble and old tiles everywhere, but we’re confident it’s all going to look even more beautiful before our season starts next April.

We would love you to join us. You can see details of all our creative courses – painting, writing or knitting and learning Italian – by clicking here.

Here are a group of painters enjoying the walled garden last June. Come and sample its delights for yourself.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Picture: Francesco Lastrucci

A picture is worth a thousand words…

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

As a wordsmith who likes pictures, I particularly savour pictures that tell a story. Or rather, pictures that invite you to make up your own story. I was reminded of this while browsing recently through the website gallery of Watermill tutor Chris Hughes, when I stumbled across his atmospheric oil painting of Claude Monet’s garden and lake at Giverny. If you look carefully at the bridge in the background you will see Claude painting away.

I wonder what happened next? Do you think Madame Monet called him in for lunch, but he was so engrossed trying to capture his waterlilies that he didn’t hear her? It took three shouts, each becoming louder and less patient, to rouse him. He pottered slowly, enlivened by the smell of cassoulet drifting across the garden, and, taking off his hat, entered his tranquil blue kitchen…

See what I mean? Here’s the bridge sans Monet. (He couldn’t be in the picture, since he was painting it, replete with cassoulet perhaps.)

I feel the same way about the watercolour below by my friend David Jones, which shows Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec at work in his studio in 1890, with a 1960s girl in a mini dress sitting in front, looking out at us. You can see the original in the Watermill’s Fra Angelico bedroom.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

What does it mean? Had Henri been drinking too much absinthe? Or is it a comment, comparing and contrasting the joys of fin de siècle Paris and 1960s swinging London? One thing’s for certain, were Toulouse-Lautrec’s lover, Suzanne Valadon to have come in at this moment, she would not have been at all pleased. Here’s the studio with Henri on his own:

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
(Photo by adoc-photos/Corbis via Getty Images)

Enough of this musing. Why not come and make pictures – and words – of your own? Chris Hughes, who imagined Monet on his Japanese bridge, will be with us for a course on watercolours en plein air. His course will run from Saturday, 27 June to Saturday 4 July 2020 and we would be delighted to welcome you here. You can find out more about Chris and his course by clicking here.

Chris says: “During the week, I will show the watercolour painting and drawing techniques that I’ve developed as a professional artist over the last 40 years. I believe in a laid-back, non-nonpressurised approach – and being in the Tuscan countryside will make the experience even better.”

And who knows, we may find Leonardo da Vinci taking a great interest in the water gushing from the mill cascades and incorporate him in one of our pictures!

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Don’t forget if you book now you can take advantage of our Early Bird Discount Offer: £75 (English pounds) per person reduction if you book before the end of the year. (But as our bookings for next year’s courses are flowing in, it would be wise to reserve your place as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.) And bring your enthusiasm — and your imagination.

The Watermill rose pergola in summer, by Vicki Norman. Join her here next year

Painting by Vicki Norman, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

At this time of year, when the leaves have been blown from the trees and the roses are long gone from our pergola in the walled garden, it’s pleasant to be reminded of summer. How better to do so than with this lovely oil painting by Watermill tutor Vicki Norman? It shows the pergola last June, with the hydrangeas in the foreground and the arch of roses leading us towards Watermill buildings.

Vicki will be with us again next June to celebrate the Tuscan summer and the roses in full bloom. Here’s what they look like:

Picture: Flavio Terenzoni

To brighten our winter day we thought we would also enjoy some more of Vicki’s wonderful paintings of Posara and the surrounding area.

Painting by Vicki Norman, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.
A vineyard at first light
Painting by Vicki Norman, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.
An olive tree in the sunlit garden of a local convent

And here is a wonderful study of two jugs and two heads of garlic:

Painting by Vicki Norman, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.
The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Why not join Vicki for her course here next year and enjoy the early Tuscan summer for yourself? She will be with us from Saturday 20 June to Saturday 27 June, teaching in oils and watercolours en plein air. Here’s a comment from one of our guests on her week last year: “An excellent painting and holiday week. All the trips out to painting locations were well organised and Vicki was very good as a teacher and an inspiration due to her wonderful paintings.” You can find out more about Vicki and her course at the Watermill by clicking here.

Vicki’s paintings seek to capture the essence of the day and the sense of place through the colour and play of the light. You can see this in the Italian study below, of the Apuan Alps, the stunning marble mountains of Carrara, which you will also paint during your Watermill week with Vicki. She says; “I wanted to record the colours of the hills as they receded. The bright yellow of the ginestra at the front contrasted beautifully with the lilac of the marble- capped mountains behind. I knew if I could capture the colours of the moment, I could use them for subsequent studio paintings at home.”

Come and join Vicki and paint the glorious Tuscan countryside yourself. (To say nothing of the rose pergola!) Now is the time to book and take advantage of our Early Bird Discount Offer: £75 (English pounds) off this holiday if you book before the end of this year. But our 2020 bookings are now flowing in, so if you want to be sure of a place is probably best to book as soon as you can. We would love to welcome you here.

Painting by Vicki Norman, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.
Vicki’s vivacious painting of Laundry Day.

One location, a dozen different interpretations

Painting by Maggie Renner Hellmann, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

I love observing how artists interpret what they see, taking their own viewpoint, adding colour and emotion to the scene before them. Take the imposing Malaspina castle at nearby Verrucola, where our painting groups go for their first en plein air excursion during a Watermill week. The picture above is a demonstration in progress by Watermill painting tutor Maggie Renner Hellmann, and is a fine example of what I mean. Aren’t the colours vibrant?

And here, as they say, is something completely different: Sandra Strohschein‘s evocation of a rainy day on the bridge leading from the gate of the fortified village.

Painting by Sandra Strohschein, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

And here’s a wonderful pastel by Rebecca de Mendonça of the archway of another gate into the village.

Painting by Rebecca de Mendonça, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

This is Mike Willdridge’s watercolour and ink sketch of the castle and village:

Painting course participant Robert Christopher chose to capture the fountain, created by the famous Italian sculptor Pietro Cascella and donated to the village.

Whatever your point of view, Verrucola provides dozens inspirational things to paint and sketch. Why not join us and look at it from your own perspective? Sandra’s two courses with us next year already completely booked, although there are often cancellations and we can put you on a waiting list. We still have spaces on Maggie, Rebecca and Mike’s weeks (but not that many!) You can find out all about them by clicking here.

And don’t forget, if you book now you can take advantage of our Early Bird Discount Offer: £75 (English pounds) per person off anyone of these 2020 painting courses. We’d love you to join us.

Here’s a Watermill group setting off for an inspiring visit to the castle and village.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

An Autumn walk will work wonders for your writing, says Jo

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Jo in the autumn countryside: when you walk, really look – and think.

Jo Parfitt, tutor at our inspirational Writing Your Life Stories courses at the Watermill, recommends an Autumn walk to add zest to your writing. She says in her latest newsletter: “This time of year is perfect for the writer wanting to flex their writerly muscles. Autumn, when the leaves are turning and falling there is so much to ignite the muse within.

“We all know the benefits of going out and walking in nature; it’s an antidote to the winter blues. For me, though, a walk in the woods at this time of year gives me time to think, to clear my head, to devise poems and lessons and to give my eyes the chance to focus on something that is not a screen within a few inches of my nose.”

Painting by Sandra Strohschein a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.
Autumn acorns and oak leaves, by our painting tutor Sandra Strohschein.

And as she walks, Jo looks: “I mean really look, at everything I see. And after a second or two focusing on something I make myself come up with an unclichéd description of it. So, the bark of the silver birch could be like old white paint peeling off in sheets from a damp black wall. The spreading branches of the horse chestnut are not allowed to be like arms reaching to the sky because that’s a cliché, but they could be goddess Shiva’s arms or a hannukah candelabra. The few dried and shriveled leaves that cling to the ends of those same branches could be the scorched remains of love letters the tree can no longer bear to read but still clutches with the tips of his fingers.”

Jo concludes: “As you walk among the trees and footpaths, notice how some tree roots might be the feet of marching elephants, others the slender feet and ankles of a pair of ballet dancers, high in en pointe. Might the deciduous yew be jealous of the jeweled colours of the beech beside it, for we all know that green is the colour of envy? Trust me, when you start to play this game you’ll soon find there are 50 new shades of green and that nature and your writing comes alive.”

Painting by Sandra Strohschein a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.
Wild spring flowers around the Watermill.

Jo will be with us in Tuscany this spring, where there will be even more sights to stimulate and inspire your writing. And, of course, Jo will be here every day to help you produce your best work, to find your true writer’s ‘voice’ and to write authentically.  Jo says: “You will be empowered to write in a compelling way, bringing your experiences to life.”

As one of our previous guests said: “It is a very special and beautiful place, and everything was organised so perfectly. Jo is a great tutor and we all had an amazing time.” Another said: “It was a great week: “Beautiful setting, perfect weather, delicious food and some super outings, who could ask for anything more — and I did quite a bit of writing!”

Here are some members of Jo Parfitt’s writing group earlier this year sharing snippets from their lives. One of the group, Sue Reed, tells us: “The vine verandah has been the perfect place to gather to write and share our stories. My life feels so much richer for having met and shared stories with these .wonderful people.”

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Jo says: “The course at the watermill will provide a safe haven in which to unlock your creativity, write from your heart and hone your writing craft”. And there’s more laughter than tears, with the warm camaraderie of like-minded people

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Sharing your experiences on the vine verandah

Come and learn the secrets of compelling writing, when Jo returns next year. Her Write Your Life Stories course will run from Saturday 9 May to Saturday 16 May 2020. You can learn more by clicking here.

And if you book now, you can enjoy our Early Bird Discount Offer: £75 (English pounds) you reserve your place before the end of the year. But to be sure of a space it is probably wisest to book sooner rather than later. We already have eight people booked into Jo’s course, so we only have room for two or three more.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Jo Parfitt is an author, journalist, teacher, blogger, conference speaker and poet. She has published 32 books herself, has helped more than 100 authors into print and more than 1,000 people to begin writing. Jo’s a compassionate, inspiring, and encouraging teacher: her motto is ‘sharing what I know to help others to grow’.

 The workshop will include several methods and genres and is perfect for anyone wanting to write about their own lives for an effective journal, memoir or blog. If you would enjoy an injection of inspiration in a safe and supportive environment this course is for you. It is appropriate for students of any level.

Everything is included in the cost of your holiday at the watermill: tuition, accommodation (including all linen and towels), pre-dinner aperitifs, all meals and wines (including outings to charming local restaurants) and all local transportation (including transfers to Pisa airport and an excursion by train to Lucca or the Cinque Terre). You get to Pisa, Italy, we do the rest!

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
A collage of conversation on Jo’s last course, compiled by Sue Reed.

Small is beautiful when you are out on location, says Chris Hughes

Painting by Chris Hughes, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.
Small images from Chris Hughes’ sketchbook

Our new inspiring watercolour tutor Chris Hughes has been sharing some of his thoughts about painting in the wonderful locations around the Watermill.

He tells me: “We all like to paint decent-sized paintings, but painting outdoors is tricky and for that reason I advocate ‘small is beautiful’ for plein air painting, especially to begin with. Even in the beautiful Tuscan countryside you need to give yourself a chance to build up confidence to produce your best work. You will find it easier if you start by painting and drawing a few small pieces, rather than one big one.”

Chris, who will be with us in June next year (details below), adds: “On a week’s painting holiday, you will have plenty of time to acclimatise and get used to the surroundings, the light and the rhythm of the place. I would also recommend that you carry with you a small sketchbook (say about 7” x 5”, or even 6” x 4”), so that you can draw and do colour washes this is a great thing to do anyway and it will help you create a pictorial diary of your Tuscan adventure!”

Painting by Chris Hughes, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.
Chris Hughes’ small (15 cm x 10 cm, about 6″ x 4″) watercolour of a Tuscan village nestling in the hillside
Picture of Chris Hughes, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.

Chris will be joining us for a week teaching watercolours en plein air from Saturday 27 June to Saturday 6 July 2020 and he is keen to show you the watercolour and drawing techniques that he has developed over all his years as a professional artist: “By simplifying the stages of producing a painting, I’ll encourage you to develop your own style and create your very best work.” 

As one of his students says: “Chris teaches his technique with patience, humour and generosity: he gave me the confidence to develop a style of painting I can enjoy and develop.” 

Both beginners and experienced painters will benefit from Chris’s course, through watching demonstrations and by painting together. He says: “I believe in a laid-back, non-pressurised approach — and being in the beautiful Tuscan countryside will make the creative experience even better.” You can find out more about Chris and his course at the Watermill by clicking here.

Painting by Chris Hughes, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italy.
Sketches can be worked up into larger, more complex compositions.

The Vasari suite: a self-contained apartment in the restored 17th-centurymill, with an elegant sitting room and views over the Watermill cascades and the river

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Today we reach the end of our tour of the Watermill bedrooms, with the second of our self-contained apartment suites, The Vasari Suite. As usual, I have made one of those short Facebook slideshows, which you can see by clicking here.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Giorgio Vasari, who lived and worked in Florence in the 16th century, was another of those great multitalented Renaissance men: painter, architect and town planner, as well as writer and historian. His most famous for his book, The Lives of the Artists, the first book on art history, in which he lauded Michelangelo as the apotheosis of artistic development.

He painted (with others) the inside of the dome of Florence cathedral, wonderful frescoes in the palazzo vecchio; he built the uffizi and in particular the loggia of the uffizi, creating a unique Renaissance street with unified architecture, the first regularised streetscape in Europe. Oh, and the Vasari corridor, linking above street level the palazzo vecchio with the Pitti place, so his Grand Duke, Cosimo 1 de’ Medici, wouldn’t have to mix with the hoi polloi on his way home.

And he built the Fish Loggia, one of my (many) favourite buildings in Florence.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

The Vasari Suite at the Watermill has an elegant sitting room and a double bedroom, with views over the mill cascades and the River Rosaro. It is ideal for a couple, or two friends sharing. (We can make a bed in the sitting room for two friends sharing the apartment.)

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

We’d be delighted to welcome you here for one of our caring and inspiring creative holiday weeks – painting, creative writing, knitting and Italian language. Come and join us and choose your favourite bedroom.

You can find out more about all our fun-filled, sun-filled, inspiring creative courses by clicking here.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

The Lippi suite: a self-contained apartment with an elegant sitting room and views over the Riverside gardens and the river

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Continuing our tour of the Watermill bedrooms we move today to the first of our self-contained apartment suites, the Lippi suite. As usual I have made one of those short Facebook slideshows, which you can see by clicking here.

The suite is named after Filippo Lippi and his son Filipino Lippi, painters in the mid-15th century. Filippo, a monk with a scandalous private life, was a sublime painter and, incidentally, taught Botticelli. Filippo’s Madonna and Child with two Angels (below) is one of my favourite paintings. I particularly love the smile of the angel of the right.

Filippo’s son, Filipino, was, among other things, responsible for some wonderful frescoes depicting the life of St Peter in the Brancacci Chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence.

The suite has an elegant sitting room and two bedrooms: a larger double one and a smaller single. There are views over the Riverside gardens the public River Rosaro. It is ideal for a couple, or two friends sharing.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

We’d be delighted to welcome you here for one of our caring and inspiring creative holiday weeks – painting, creative writing, knitting and Italian language. Come and join us and choose your favourite bedroom.

You can find out more about all our fun-filled, sun-filled, inspiring creative courses by clicking here.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Summer guest Tamara is still enjoying her Watermill painting holiday!

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

Tamara Zakon, who was with us for a painting holiday at the Watermill last June, continues to enjoy it, more than five months after she left. She shared with us this email she sent this week to her friend Antonia Hollingsworth, and other members of the group.

Tamara says: “Do you remember the outing on the 7th of June, when the two of us were sketching in this secluded spot in Monte dei Bianchi, seated somewhat precariously with our easels on the uneven terrain? That day I managed to create one painting en plein-air, and five months later, on Nov 18, I painted another version in Montreal (homework for my current ink and watercolour art course).

“Winter this year started six weeks earlier than usual in Montreal, and a sketch with glimpses of Tuscan sun, as well as the memories from our week at the Watermill in Posara, are such a wonderful antidote to the snowy and grey weather.”

When I asked Tamara for permission to use her pictures, she very kindly also send me a couple of others she made during her week with us. Here they are:

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Tamara’s painting of the old mill with the river beyond, painted on her first day
The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Tamara’s picture of the narrow streets of the village of Verrucola, where we go on Mondays during our painting weeks.

We are glad you are continuing to enjoy your memories of the Watermill, Tamara, and thank you for sharing them with us. We would be delighted to welcome you back for another of our sun-filled, fun-filled, inspirational painting courses. Our 2020 courses are beginning to fill already, and you can see details by clicking here.

And don’t forget that if you book now you can take advantage of our Early Bird Discount Offer £75 (English pounds) per person off anyone of our creative courses, if you book before the end of the year. You will find it is a week that will last for ages, if not forever.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
Stunning views to make painting memories