When I asked Elena’s group of painters what was the most important thing they had learned from the week, someone said that it was how to use plastic cling film to cover their palette. There was a lot of laughter at this but actually it contained a serious point that went to the heart of plein air painting. Painting outdoors demands a whole new skill set to painting inside a studio. The artist needs to plan what to take on location and lay it all out carefully. They must learn to put up their portable easel, which can be a tricky piece of maneuvering with extendable legs and adjustable bolts. The cling film comes in because in a hot environment like Fiji, particularly when there’s a breeze, the paint dries up much faster than indoors and needs protection.
And all this before they even start to put paint to canvas!
Elena spends a first morning make sure everyone is familiar with these new demands, and then ventures into the field to look at the landscape. The first lesson focuses on mixing colours, getting the right tones of blue for the sea, green for the mountains and whites and a lot else besides for the clouds.
Those clouds! Much gnashing of teeth on this task. Clouds are not just fluffy white things that dance off the paint brush. They need shade and form, and dabs of yellow and streaks of grey. There were clouds on the horizon on the first day at the beach, and then very different clouds hanging over the mountains two days later at the location in town. Slowly, gradually, the painters mastered the techniques and by week’s end were producing impressive depictions of them.
Each day Elena added a new dimension. First the class looked at sea and sky. Then they added mountains and sand. Next came cloud and shadow, and finally figures in the landscape. On the final night, they showed a marvelous array of paintings in which their progress over the week was clear to see and admire.
Elena’s next painting retreat at Daku takes place in June 2014: 21-28-june-2014