A brief escape to the artist within

Susi Bellamy
May 31, 2007

As an artist moving to Florence, everyone told me, that I couldn’t be luckier and that this was the place to learn how to paint realistically. As an abstract artist, I was thrilled about the possibility of picking up a new skill and trying my hand at realism. Having left a fine art degree mid-course in the UK, I thought it would be easy to enroll in another art course and use my existing credits to save a couple of years apprenticeship. But this was not to be. As most art colleges in Florence did not accept my British credits, my only option was to enroll in a long, drawn out four-year course, and with three young children in tow, I knew that this was not to be either. So I put my ‘realistic’ dreams on the back burner and concentrated on my own colourful, abstract work.

 

Then I came across the possibility of doing a summer course in Florence. Instead of working for two years on copying the famous Bargue drawings and casts, this summer workshop enabled students to go straight for the jugular and immediately paint in oils. Just like that!

 

I chose a still-life painting course run by the Angel Academy as that was the only time I had to spare during my children’s summer holidays. The course lasted all day, every day, for two glorious weeks. Sumptuous still-life arrangements had been carefully put together in specially lit cubicles for two people to share with an easel on either side. My painting partner was an Australian woman who had left her husband and two children behind in Sydney for a month-long painting extravaganza in Florence. She also ended up as my post-class cocktail drinking buddy as part of my childfree two-week summer holiday.

 

Our still-life was an arrangement of a wooden palette complete with old paint splattered brushes and a vivid pile of red pigment. We began by drawing a sight-size image, which is a still-life and easel at same level and exactly the same size, first on paper and then transferred it onto a canvas painted a pale shade of grey. I personally found this to be the most painful part of the process as accuracy has always been my bête-noire. I certainly felt my stamina was being tested, and there were times during the course when I would have liked to have given up. But the beauty of this sort of course is that it keeps you going—something I find difficult to do when I work on my own. Needless to say, the whole experience was definitely worth the patience. As the days went by, we built up our paintings with layers of oil paint and with varying degrees of dammar varnish and turpentine, creating a rich, traditional image.

 

What the course mainly taught me was patience and careful observation. To break up the periods of concentration, and often frustration, our teacher gave us sporadic demonstrations on how to set out your palette or prepare your canvas in the traditional way. The results were very impressive. Being part of a group helps you succeed—it is also wonderful to see everyone’s work evolve over the two-week period. I was even impressed by the likeness of my painting. A friend from Florence who also attended the course had only been painting for about four months, and he was thrilled with what he was able to achieve afterwards.

 

For those interested in doing a short summer course in Florence, here is a sampler of some courses on offer this summer:

 

Angel Academy of Art

email: info.angel@angelartschool.com

Summer courses in still-life, fresco and oil painting and figure modeling.

 

Le Arti Orafe

www.artiorafe.it

Intensive summer courses in from jewellery design, hand engraving and stone setting.

 

The Florence Academy of Fine Art

email: info@florenceacademyofart.com

Summer courses in figure drawing, still-life and oil painting, portraiture, figurative sculpture and landscape painting.

 

SACI

www.saci-florence.org

Summer courses in drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture, photography, design, Renaissance art history and art conservation.

 

Scuola del Cuoio

www.leatherschool.com

Summer courses in the art of leather crafting and design.

 

Charles H. Cecil Studios

email: cecilstudios@dada.it

Summer courses in figure and cast drawing, portrait drawing and painting.

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