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Why a squeeze can help your painting

Charles Squeeze 1We hope you had a lovely Christmas and are looking forward to picking up your paintbrushes again. When you do, here’s another great painting tip that you can find, along with many others, on the Friends of The Watermill web page. You can sign up simply by clicking here – it’s free and fun!

Our friendly and talented Australian painting tutor Charles Sluga today provides us with a very simple tip, but, he says, you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.

Charles says: “Over my many years of teaching watercolour painting, I have often had a student come to me with their work and in a despondent manner tell me that they are not very good at painting because all their paintings look flat and insipid. “Well the good news is that in most of these cases the solution is very simple and so obvious that it is often overlooked.

“Basically, if your painting looks flat, it is usually because it lacks any contrast: dark areas or accents. This often occurs because the student has neglected to squeeze out fresh paint.


“Every time I do a painting, I make sure that I have squeezed out fresh paint into my palette. This means that not only will I get freshness of colour in my work, but also those all important rich and juicy darks that often give paintings their punch.

“Look at your palette when you are about to begin and if it is full of dried up paint then give your painting a chance of success by squeezing out fresh paint. I know paint can be expensive, but the way I see it is that you have one of two choices – save money and leave the paint in the tubes and paint with dry paint meaning insipid and flat looking paintings……or squeeze out that paint, enjoy the rich colours and tones and give your painting some life. It is also much more fun!Charles dry-and-wet-paint“The other disadvantage of using dried paint is that you often have to scrub the dried up blob of paint to try and bring it back to life and this is not particularly good for your brushes.

“If you look at the painting of the milkshake maker and flavours above you’ll see that it is generally a high key painting (meaning most of the tones are relatively light), but the few dark accents in this painting are very important. They give the painting a larger tonal range and a visual respite from all the lighter tones. If you look at the close up of the milkshake containers you will see some strong darks in them. Without them there’s no way you could get that feeling of shine.

Charles Squeeze close up“So in summary, squeeze out fresh paint into your palette so that you can achieve rich and deep darks and give your paintings more depth and excitement.”

Charles New photo 2012Charles Sluga is a highly respected and sought-after watercolour artist in Australia who has gained a reputation for his versatility in both his technique and choice of subject matter. He’s a great teacher, with a friendly and enthusiastic approach and an eagerness to impart his wide knowledge.


The unswaddled bambino

blog bambini 6One of my favourite buildings in Florence is the Ospedale degli Innocenti, the Foundlings Hospital, designed by my hero Filippo Brunelleschi, architect of the miraculous dome of the cathedral of Florence. It is one of the first, if not the first, classical building of the Renaissance. Calm, beautifully proportioned, brilliant.

Blog bambini 5When it was finished in the 1440s, there were 12 blank roundels in the spandrels, the spaces between the arches, and in 1487, forty or so years after Brunelleschi’s death, these were filled with the famous ceramic bambini of Andrea della Robbia (Well, ten of them were; the final two, copies of the originals, weren’t put in place until 1845!)

Each bambino is unique. Seven are tightly swaddled , while in two the swaddling clothes are sagging below the waist or knees.

But in bambino number 7 (pictured above, and top left of the four to the left here) the swaddling clothes are untied and falling away; the infant’s feet are unbound. Nobody knows why Andrea della Robbia did this, but there’s a theory, to which I like to subscribe, that the unbound clothes represent the child’s transition from the stigma of being an unwanted, foundling child, to the liberation, the new life provided by the hospital, which incidentally still cares for children more than five centuries after it inauguration.

You can see the Ospedale degli Innocenti if you come on our wonderful Florence Add-on before your holiday at the mill.  You’ll stay in the same classical piazza (Santissima Annunziata), in the historic hotel Loggiato dei Serviti, built almost a century later in the same style as Brunelleschi’s masterpiece. For more details, please click here. Here’s a view of the Ospedale from the front door of your hotel.Blog bambini 1 Piazza_SS_Annunziata_Firenze_Apr_2008

A celebrated sculptor and his fountain: come and paint it!

Cascella with sculptureI’ve been doing a little research into the celebrated Italian sculptor Pietro Cascella, who lived in the castle at Verrucola, where we go to paint on Mondays during our week-long courses.

Born in 1921, Cascella created monumental sculptures for locations as varied as the Auschwitz death camp and Silvio Berlusconi’s mausoleum at his villa in Arcore. He had a distinctive, even archaic style, recalling the art and architecture of the ancient Mediterranean. Cascella often used simplified, geometric shapes, that, while looking as old as time, remind the viewer of the work of the the abstract sculptor Constantin Brancusi.

Other commissions included sculptures at the headquarters of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, Independence Park in Tel Aviv; grand fountains in Italy and sculptures celebrating the Italian resistance. You can also see his work at the Piazza dei Parchi, near the mill, at Soliera, the gateway to the national parks of the Appennines Cascella piazza dei parchiand the Apuan Alps.

Cascella Verrucola fountainCascella renovated the castle at Verrucola, where he moved in 1977. He created the fountain at Verrucola, which was dedicated in 1984, which you can see – and paint — after you cross the bridge into the village.

My favourite painting of this fountain is by our talented and inspiring watermill tutor Trevor Lingard, showing children having fun there last year.

Trevor Verucola fountain

Trevor’s good at fountains (and lots of other things!) Here’s his painting of the fountain in Fivizzano (we go there for the market on Tuesdays). Why not join us and paint these wonderful fountains yourself? More on all our 2016 painting courses can be found by clicking here.

***Don’t forget our special Early Bird offer: If you book on any of our 2016 painting courses, or on any other of our painting courses, before 31 December 2015, there a £ (GBP) 75 discount.***

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






‘The best painting workshop location in Tuscany’

SARAH COURTYARD - reducedOur delightful American watercolour painting tutor Sarah Yeoman commented on my recent blog about the delicious dilemma facing watermill students over our excursion on Wednesdays: shall I go to the stunning seaside villages of the Cinque Terre or to the wonderful city of Lucca? She says: I went to Cinque Terre during my workshop and hope to paint in Lucca when I come back to teach in June next year.”

And she adds: The Watermill is a magical place to paint, the facilities, the food and wine, the glorious light and hosts Bill and Lois certainly have created the top workshop destination in Tuscany.”

Sarah group riverside 2014

Thank you, Sarah – and your inspiring teaching and enthusiasm certainly added to the magic.

Sarah head croppedSarah Yeoman is an award-wining American watercolour artist whose mastery of reflections, unique surface layers, and unusual perspective sets her apart from the crowd. Sarah is also a very talented teacher, who brings out the best in her students, recognising their unique talents.

Her next week-long painting course at the watermill, in watercolours, will run from 4 -11 June 2015.

To find out more about Sarah, her painting and her course, please click here. And to enquire about availability and/or reserve your place, please click here.

***Don’t forget our special Early Bird offer: If you book Sarah’s or any of our 2016 painting courses before 31 December 2015, there a £ (GBP) 75 discount.***Sarah group riverside 2014

Annabel’s pictures record our early Italian life

Annabel silk 2Guests on our creative courses the mill often ask about the striking, colourful silk pictures in our dining room. They were made by our English artist friend Annabel Collis and the represent various scenes from our Italian life when our children, Lydia and Lara, were very young. They’re painted with ‘barrier lines’ between areas of the silk so the colours don’t run into one section from to another.

The picture above shows in its central panel the family and friends enjoying a picnic in the olive groves above Terenzano, with the peaks of the Alpi Apuane in the background. It’s not a snapshot of one moment in time, but rather a collage of events, so the dramatis personae appear several times, notably the children, who appear from babies to toddlers. The dark-haired young man holding the football and flying the kite is Bill! The background is a typical Fivizzano scene, with Bill’s white MG, drinking in a caffé, and the children enjoying ice creams around one of the distinctive dolphins around the fountain in the Piazza Medicea .

The picture below features a diptych, with the Cinque Terre village of Vernazza on the left of the internal panel and the watermill’ bamboozery on the right, while the background captures the ‘blue Italian weather’ of the Cinque Terre coast.

Annabel silk 3

In the main Tuscan house, you’ll find a third Collis painting. This one captures the essence of the mill, the cascades and the river, the family enjoying the gardens, the bamboozery and surrounding vineyards.

Annabel silk 1Annabel VeniceWe commissioned the pictures after Bill had asked Annabel to make a silk scarf of Venice for one of Lois’ birthdays. Lois liked it so much she refused to wear it and had it framed instead. It hangs in our bedroom at the mill (viewing by request!) Lovely pictures, bringing back warm memories.

Annabel, who lives with her husband, the architect Guy Greenfield, in the West of England, is still an active artist. She also writes and illustrates children’s books and makes quirky greeting cards. You can find out more about Annabel and her work by clicking here.  Her particular passion is elephants! Here are some children with an elephant they decorated with Annabel on a school artistic project.

Annabel elephant children

And of course you can see Annabel’s Italian silk paintings if you come on one of our world-famous creative courses. To find out more, please just click here.

  ***Don’t forget our special Early Bird offer: If you book any of our 2016 sun-filled, fun-filled courses before 31 December 2015, there a £ (GBP) 75 discount.***

Why Italian hotels don’t have a Room 17 (or a 17th floor). Mere heptadecaphobia!

SeventeenHave you ever noticed that Italian hotels never have a 17th floor. (Yes, I know, most of them don’t go that high, but when they do, they don’t, if you see what I mean.) Apparently, Italians dislike the number so much that in some tall hotels the floors go from 16 to 18. And you’ll be pushed to find a Room 17 in many hotels, too. You might call it heptadecaphobia The reason? I am grateful to an article in The Florentine, Florence’s English-language newspaper, for explaining. “When written, the 1 mimics a hanged man and the 7 a gallows. Furthermore, 17’s rearranged Latin numerals spell “VIXI.” Often engraved on headstones, the word means “He lived” and thus tempts death to make that statement true of you.” I agree, I’d much be VIVIT, which means “He is alive” and sounds like an acronym for living in Italy. This man closed his shop on Friday the Seventeenth. The sign says “Closed for Good Luck.” Seventeen closed for good luck While 17 sends shivers down Italian spines, they rather like 13. It’s associated with the old pagan Great Goddess and with lunar cycles and fertility. 13 will bring you life and prosperity. The Italians think that’s good news, even though 13 sat down to the Last Supper. This is Ghirlandaio’s version in the Florence cloister of Ognisanti Ghirlandaio last supper ognissanti  

Are we becoming Italian?

We’ve been amused by an article  about Living in Italy from Swide magazine, which says that as expats here, no matter how much we fight it, no matter how we cling to our cultural identity, we become a little bit Italian. It says: “Living it Italy is intoxicating. Being surrounded by so much beauty on a daily basis is bound to have an effect. But modern Italy’s chaotic ways, little by little weave a charm on even the most stubborn of foreigners. When you live in Italy, it may take a year, it may take a decade, but eventually you will become Italian.”

We can feel it happening!  This is how I feel inside these days, although the reality may be a little different!


Swide tells us that there are 20 signs that we’ve been living in Italy too long and are becoming Italian.  Among them: “You know you’ve been in Italy too long when you start speaking English like a 14-year-old Italian student. When you want to tell someone ‘hang on, I’ll be with you in a minute’ and it comes out as ‘wait, I’m arriving’, or when, on the phone you tell someone you’ll be arriving ‘by feet’, maybe it’s time to brush up on your English, maybe you need lessons. You can give them to yourself, €20 per hour.”

Keep calm english lesson

Or there is what the article calls Darwinian queuing strategy: You know you’ve been in Italy too long when queuing means hovering around in a crowd with elbows out and a total disregard for the person standing next to you as you blatantly sidle your way in front of them. When you first arrived in Italy the sight of Italians jostling for position in a shapeless ‘queue’ filled you with dismay, now though, you have become one of them, and you are ruthless. The others ‘shall not pass’. You no longer quietly go to the end of the queue to take you place, but instead simply appear in the middle and nonchalantly step in, staring straight ahead, apparently oblivious to any other people around you. If some calls you out on it, you just say “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise this was a queue!” and stay exactly where you are.”

Is this a queue? I didn't realise!

Is this a queue? I didn’t realise!

We’ll share some other signs of Italianisation in a later blog, but in the meantime, especially for the ladies, here are some Dolce and Gabbana  male models with some very Italian everyday gestures!  Please click hereMama mia!





A short walk in the Appennines

AppenninesSimon Temple, who came as a non-painting partner on Mike Willdridge’s recent painting course at the mill, had an energetic week, enjoying walks in the surrounding countryside – and one long walk in the high Appennines, Italy’s backbone, whose peaks can be seen from the mill.

He took an 8.30 am bus from the nearby walled town of Fivizzano to the Passo del Cerreto, the pass between Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, part of the National Park of this area. We had bought a map for him from our local bookshop and following it he was able to find a waymarked trial to the top of Monte La Nuda.

Here’s one of his photographs from the walk:

Simon 1

Simon says: “I then carried on along the waymarked path for about another 2 kilometres. This did not get me to another peak but did provide some extra views. I returned the same way, stopping off to have a look at the bothy, Bivacco Rosario, which is just above the tree line. This gave me time for a quick beer before getting the return bus.”

Simon adds: “The path is clear throughout and very well waymarked. Overall, it was an excellent walk with great views. But it is steep in parts, quite remote and I guess the weather could change very quickly, so I would only recommend it for reasonably experienced hill walkers.” Here’s another lovely high Appennine photo from Simon.

Simon 2

Thank you for these insights, Simon. We’ll be putting Simon’s full report on the ‘Partners’ Programme’ at the mill, for other non-painting partners (and non-writing partners, too) to follow in your footsteps!

A wonderful way to loosen up, by Sarah Yeoman


                             Sarah landscape 01      Sarah landscape 02

Sarah Yeoman, the immensely talented American watercolourist, who is taking a course at the watermill this September, has just sent me those two striking images. She calls them ‘imagined landscapes.’

Sarah says: “This is one of the exercises I do with my watercolour students. A wonderful way to loosen up and learn to play with the pigment.”

She adds: “I did no drawing for this exercise, working on a steep angle pulling the pigment top to bottom. Cool to warm. After the first wash was dry I applied the second wash in the same manner as the first allowing little bits of the underpainting to shine through.”

Sarah head croppedSarah Yeoman will be taking her painting course in watercolour from Saturday 13 September to Saturday 20 September and you can find out more about Sarah and her course at the watermill by clicking here.

At present Sarah’s course is fully booked (there may be cancellations, so you could put your name down on the waiting list). Sarah is also returning next year, from Saturday 6 June to Saturday 13 June 2015 and if you’d like to come, we can reserve a place for you.

Here’s another of Sarah’s inspiring pictures:Sarah lisianthus

Knitting brings the world together

Knit Pandora and Claudia -reducedThe 11 participants on the watermill’s first-ever knitting course come from no less than seven countries!  Knitting truly brings the world together. Members of our well-knit group come from, in strictly alphabetical order, Canada, Denmark, France, South Africa, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. And our lovely tutor Nancy Marchant is an American living in Amsterdam!

Knitting group 1 - reduced

Whatever their nationality, they are all enjoying the hospitality of the watermill and of course the true Bella Vita Italiana.

Knit Odile and Inger - reduced

We have another knitting course this July – already full with another international group — and, of course, we’ll be knitting again at the mill in 2015.