The first group from left; 2x Charlotte, Ikuko, Jillian, Peg, Felicity, Caroline
My first experimental group was fabulous. Jillian later wrote “I loved the wonderful sense of ‘belonging!’ Belonging in Italy, Roccantica, belonging with the incredible group of women, all artists, all coming to life with a passion for art, history, creativity, comradeship, caring, teasing, laughter.”
We went through the planned activities together and split costs, the driving and the cooking. The good points were that the art week structure gave us a variety of contexts for religious painting from pagan to Christian, there was time for discussion about art and the sites we visited, and the opportunity to explain what we were trying to achieve through our sketches and development of the drawings we made back at the house. Of course the coffee stops in the surrounding villages en route to the different sites added a sociable aspect to the outings. The group responded in various ways to the sites: some preferred to sketch the trees, rivers or hills and hilltop towns that the religious sites nestled into.
The area for improvement, discussed afterwards, was the discomfort they felt when they saw me catering for them. It is not fair if I don’t quickly rectify that impression by explaining that they were wonderful kitchen assistants. However, the idea to employ a local person to prepare, serve a local dish and clear up each evening was put to my wonderful friend, Paola Sansalone (@Trustevertastes) and she has arranged for me that for future art-weeks a traditional local Italian cook will be employed. The pizza evening will continue with the help of our gardener Marco Polletti who brought the forno or pizza oven to a great temperature and had grown the vegetables which we picked and used.
I had expected that during the afternoons when we concentrated on our own drawings, sketches or paintings that we would do this from the studio and that we would have conversations as we worked. Instead conversations took place during meals, journeys and walks. Although the pictorial theme was local religious history, between us our beliefs ranged through Buddhist, Shinto, Catholic, Protestant and Agnostic. Our dietary preferences were equally varied, but what we shared was an interest in creativity, history, people and eating good food with good conversation.
The artists preferred to find quiet corners and spaces to draw or work on their sketches in the afternoons, with another person possibly joining them, or finding a space alone. I was happy in the studio with other artists sometimes joining me. The sites we visited had frescoes on church walls or caves which were largely made using ochre. Therefore I used the time to experiment with the ochre and oak gall ink that I had previously enjoyed preparing. The others also experimented with these materials.
The group had come to experiment and discover the costs involved to set up the ‘course’. The final day, unexpectedly, the group clubbed together for a Cornelissen & Son gift voucher. I was so touched by this gesture and visited the shop to buy the materials that would have assisted me during the week. These were a retractable and tactile sketching pencil and sharpener, an ink brush, a traveling watercolour tin box, with water container and travel-safe sable brush. Finally, I also bought pump action spray fixative made from casein and a fine sign writing brush to work on stone so as not to erase the previous layers that had been carefully built up and I had lost with one coat of varnish brushed over its surface.
The plan to run courses had partly underpinned the decision to choose this house when we set out to buy a house in Italy. A friend and doctoral advisor, Marsha Bradfield, recommended that I share the house with others who might want to enjoy the peace and serenity to develop ideas or write. Therefore, for me this was an encouraging week. The potential for further art weeks along the same lines was evident. It gave me so much pleasure to see other artists enjoying the house and area that I have grown to love so much and to share it with them. The experimental group had joined in to making this a great experience and encouraged me to think that others would also find it so.
The above photos were taken by different members of the group and have been included with their permission. 17 September 2019.
There were many works of art; written, spoken, drawn and painted.
A haiku from the grotto of San Michele by Ikuko and Jillian:
Light amongst the trees
Reflect its glow upon the stones