Archives for March 2015

Come to the edge, says Charles Sluga in his latest painting tip

Painting by Charles Sluga, a tutor at The Watermill at Posara painting holidays/vacations, Tuscany Italy.Our ‘big, bold, bald* and beautiful’ (his words, not mine) Australian painting tutor Charles Sluga, who is returning to the mill for another of his famous watercolour courses this October, has just posted this fascinating painting tip in his latest newsletter

Charles says: Probably the most obvious sign that you are looking at the work of an amateur painter is the inclusion of  to many hard edges. Now before you get upset, of course there are exceptions. However, it is generally a sure sign of someone that has a way to go in understanding painting.

“A painting with too many hard edges makes the image look cut out and flat. “A combination of soft/lost edges with hard edges allows the eye some respite and also allows the eye to travel through the painting in a rhythmic fashion. More relaxing that the jarring hard edged approach.

“So how do you get these soft or lost edges? The soft edges you produce at the beginning of your painting by allowing the water and the paint to flow. Basically avoiding the colouring in approach. Let edges and colours bleed into one another. “The lost edges, they can be produced at any time in a painting. What is the difference between a soft edge and a lost edge and how do you make them? I may have to cove that next time.

“In the meantime, just try to avoid having all, or too many, hard edges (or soft edges) and aim for a combination of the two. “It is a big step towards producing work of a higher standard.
Here’s a Charles watercolour of King’s Cross Station  in London. Charles says: “This painting has a fair few hard edges, but these are offset by lost and soft edges.”

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

The painting at the beginning of this article is of Lucca, the wonderful walled Italian town where we go to paint on Wednesdays during our week-long courses.  Charles says: “This painting has more soft edges than the King’s Cross painting above, but it still has some important hard edges. It is the combination of edges that makes a painting work. Note the counter change of edge of the white tower and the dark building on the left.”

 New Sluga head and shoulders -300dpiCharles 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.


Thinking of a creative holiday on your own? We’ll look after you

Creative writing course group at The Watermill at Posara, Italy

Creative writing course members enjoy a session in the foothills of the nearby mountains before a gourmet lunch

More and more women, according to a recent survey by Trip Advisor, are taking holidays on their own: nearly three-quarters of respondents said that they either plan to travel alone this year, or have already done so in the past.

More than half of those surveyed (54 per cent) said they enjoyed the freedom of being able to do whatever they want, while 35 per cent said they valued ‘the independence and challenge’ of solo travel.

It also appears that there’s a lot to be gained from travelling free of kids, husbands and partners: Fifty-six per cent said their experiences have helped them become more independent, self-reliant, and 43 per cent said they’ve gained more confidence.

Many women, however, do voice safety concerns and adopt strategies like not staying out late and not looking like a tourist.

Well, we think we’ve got the perfect answer to safe, secure, inspiring, fun-filled solo travel (for men as well as women): a painting, creative writing, knitting or Italian language course at The Watermill. From the moment you arrive at Pisa airport on the first day of your week-long course, to the moment we drop you back there the following Saturday, we’ll look after you in safe, secure surroundings – and you’ll get to meet like-minded people, enjoy delicious home cooked food, savour the true Italian lifestyle in unspoilt Tuscany – and be taught by dedicated, sympathetic tutors.

Enjoying painting tuition in the Watermill's walled garden

Enjoying painting tuition in the Watermill’s walled garden

At least four out of five of our guests are single travellers. Among their enthusiastic comments: “This was my first holiday travelling alone and what a wonderful place to start. Everything was so well organised from the very beginning. My room was so clean and comfortable with everything supplied, I was made to feel at ease which before I arrived was a bit of a concern because of being on my own but in the event I can only describe it as one big house party!”

Another says: “During the summer I enjoyed my sixth painting holiday at the Watermill and I cannot praise the whole experience too highly. For a single person this is an ideal form of holiday – the groups of like-minded aspiring artists are always very enjoyable company.”

And a third adds: “Coming from Australia I took a huge risk choosing the Watermill…I had no yardstick… and this was to be my trip of a lifetime! (23 hours of flying economy class was a real test). I was not disappointed. From my first moment of being collected at Pisa I was in the best possible hands. The Watermill is in a fairytale setting in Northern Tuscany. Accommodation and meals are superb; there are trips away almost every day to local painting destinations, with meals at local restaurants. Tutors are inspirational and I met other artists of many nationalities in the group.”

Dinner at the watermill..Great tastes, good company.

Dinner at the watermill..Great tastes, good company.

So, you deserve a break, too, but don’t fancy hectic sightseeing or that boring beach too: What fun to find a new way to express yourself, a fresh enthusiasm. Improving your painting skills, writing technique, knitting expertise or your knowledge of Italian, is both invigorating and relaxing. There’s just enough to do, just enough to concentrate on, that you forget your troubles.

For more about all our creative courses, please click here.

Come and join us! We’ll take care of you.



Knocked out by a rediscovered Italian art treasure

Ognissanti,_crocifisso_di_giotto_02I took a lovely walk through the sunshine of Florence this week, to the Church of the Ognissanti (all Saints), to have a look at the famous Ghirlandaio Last Supper in the refectory of the monastery there. And very fine it is, too. Here’s a picture: Ghirlandaio last supper ognissanti But afterwards I went into the church itself and there I was knocked out by the masterpiece you see at the top of this article: Giotto’s Crucifix, painted around 1310,  more than 700 years ago and some 170 years before Ghirlandaio’s fresco. The colours, especially the lapis lazuli blue, are stunning and the Crucifix, perfectly illuminated, gleams in a chapel to the left of the transept and is a truly inspiring sight. Coming home, I wanted to find out more – and was very pleased to learn that a young British art conservator had played a major role not only in restoring the Crucifix, but also proving that the previously neglected artwork was the work of the early Italian master. I am grateful to an article in the London Sunday newspaper The Observer, from October 2010, which told me more: “For a young art conservator with a love of Italian painting there could be no bigger thrill than the chance to work on a genuine Florentine masterpiece. But to be allowed to spend every day for more than five years repairing one of Italy’s greatest neglected cultural treasures is the opportunity of a lifetime. Anna-Marie Hilling, 33, from Cumbria, has not only fulfilled this dream by becoming one of the handful of restorers trusted to handle the repair of a wooden cross painted in the 1300s; she has now also helped to prove to the world that the cross, the Ognissanti Crucifix, is the work of the early Italian master Giotto.” The article adds: “After cleaning the work painstakingly over several years, whenever funding allowed, Hilling and the other four members of the paint restoration team found strong evidence to suggest the crucifix was a genuine Giotto. Further studies, including infrared photography and X-rays, conducted last year inside the Florentine laboratory Opificio delle Pietre Dure, unearthed clear proof. Visible beneath the paintwork were preparatory sketches which allowed Giotto specialists to attribute the work as the 14th-century artist’s own.” The Observer article says: “The cleaning and retouching of the blackened cross has revealed individual brush strokes and the bright colour of the lapis lazuli used by the artist. This expensive pigment now dominates the background of the work.

The proud conservators around the Crucifix

The proud conservators around the Crucifix

“Giotto was renowned in his day for creating religious images that communicated directly with congregations. In contrast with stylised Byzantine art, his depiction of key scenes from the New Testament was thought daring and his newly rediscovered cross shows the crucifixion as a human triumph, with the image of the risen Christ painted above the dying figure on the cross.” I promise to take you to see the Ognissanti Giotto and the Ghirlandaio – oh! and a Botticelli, too – if you come on our Florence Add-on, which you can do at the beginning of any of our painting, creative writing, knitting or Italian language courses. You can find out more about the inspiring Add-on by clicking here. I am sure you will be as overwhelmed by this little-known Giotto masterpieces as I was – and by the rest of Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance. Here’s one of my favourite early Renaissance paintings, Madonna col Bambino e Angeli by Filippo Lippi, to whet your appetite. We’ll take you to see that in the Uffizi, too: Lippi Madonna

Why is an Italian bottle a theatrical disaster?

Hope it won't be a fiasco!

Triumph or  fiasco?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been fascinated by words and how their meaning changes over the years and between countries.Take fiasco: in English, a fiasco means a dismal failure but in Italian un fiasco is a humble bottle or flask. So how did one become the other?

Rossini: Hope it's not a big flask, Mamma

Rossini: Hope it’s not a big flask, Mamma

Well, there are lots of theories. One suggests that Murano glassblowers, famous for their artistic creations, would only use the best materials and would set aside any glass with imperfections to make bottles. But the word seems to have come into English via the French theatre, where to faire fiasco  is to have a disastrous performance. This in turn seems to have come from the Italian stage, where far fiasco was to suffer a flop. (In his letters to his mother, Rossini used to draw flasks of various sizes, reflecting the reaction to performances of his operas.)  But why is ‘to make a bottle’ linked with theatrical catastrophe?Worldwide Words on the web suggests: “There was once at Florence a celebrated harlequin by the name of Biancolelli, whose forte was the improvisation of comic harangues on any object which he might chance to hold in his hand.

“One evening he appeared on the stage with a flask (fiasco) in his hand. But, as ill-luck would have it, he failed in extracting any “funniments” out of the bottle. At last, exasperated, he thus apostrophised the flask: “It is thy fault that I am so stupid to-night. Fuori! Get out of this!” So saying, he threw the flask behind him, and shattered it into atoms. Since then, whenever an actor or singer failed to please an audience, they used to say that it was like Biancolelli’s “fiasco.”

Blog fiasco ChiantiYet another theory suggests that the Italian phrase fare il fiasco used to mean ‘to play a game where the loser will pay for the next bottle of wine’. Or maybe it’s simply those old bottles, hand-blown and with rounded bottoms might be unstable and easily upset – and spilt wine is certainly a fiasco.

No-one knows for sure. I am attracted to the romantic story of the Florentine actor Biancolelli myself, on the grounds of a lovely Italian phrase Si non é vero é ben trovato, which, in my crude translation means “If it’s not true it jolly well ought to be.”

Come and learn more about the wonderful Italian language on our unique week-long language course at the mill.  You can learn Italian or brush up what you already know. The Watermill’s Italian language holiday combines lessons to help you learn, or improve, your Italian with an ‘immersion’ in Italian culture, tradition and everyday life.

This really is a ‘course with a difference.’ There will not only be formal lessons under the vine verandah (some 20 hours in the week), but we’ll also be making trips and excursions to savour the natural beauty of Lunigiana, the area surrounding the mill, to explore its history and culture, to sample its traditional foods – and above all, to meet the people, speaking Italian, practising what we’ve learned.

Blog fiasco panoramaWe’ve teamed up with a prestigious language school in Florence, Langues Services, to design a week in which people can learn Italian in the most natural and enjoyable way ever. They’ll meet Italian people and interact with their daily lives. Their immersion into the language and culture of real Italians will be individually customised, to suit their interests, helping them to treasure everything they learn.

Blog fiasco conversationWe think this course presents the perfect opportunity to make new friends in the company of like-minded people learning and improving their Italian language skills… and enjoying unspoilt Italy and, of course, fantastic food and wine. The course will run from Saturday 7 May to Saturday 14 May 2016.You can find out more by clicking here.

And of course is won’t be a fiasco! That, definitely, é vero.