Guest blogger ANDREA WATSON enjoys a tailor-made painting holiday on a magical Greek island
THE CHARMING Cycladic island of Kea remains little known to English tourists for a simple reason; it has no airport. You meet Italians, Germans and French in summer, but rarely hear an English voice. This obscurity is rather odd, given that Kea is just an hour by ferry from the port of Lavrio, an important silver town in antiquity, but now a sleepy backwater with a ferry port serving just a few islands.
What better way to start a Greek island holiday? Instead of fighting for tickets with hordes of tourists at Piraeus, you enjoy an hour of peaceful sailing across the wine-dark waters of the Aegean Sea until the delicate 19th century lighthouse of Agios Nikolaios at Voukari hoves into view. Step ashore and the familiar scene greets you; sunshine dancing on the crystal-clear waters, children fishing with strings, loud taxi drivers jostling for a place at the quayside, family-run tavernas with genial owners bidding you to sit down and take lunch.
Among the small crowd you may also see Sotiria Antonopoulou, who used to run a gallery on the island. A passionate collector of paintings by young contemporary Greek artists, her business has taken a new path with the launch of skolidays, art holidays that combine learning with having fun.
Taking the ancient Greek word for school σχολή (scholē) which originally meant leisurely pursuits, these week-long breaks offer the chance to work alongside professional painters, print-makers, designers and photographers, becoming part of the artistic colony that Sotiria has created.
I joined the inaugural Skoliday in July, staying at The Art House which Sotiria built on a hill overlooking Voukari harbour and the lighthouse. Over the next six days I worked with three artists.
Painter Pavlos Habidis in Kea
Our instructor Pavlos Habidis (www.habidis.com) got up every day at dawn, and if you were a sleepy cow or goat you might have caught him bouncing down the lane which leads to the harbour and beach, portfolio in hand, zig-zagging this way and that to find new and interesting perspectives for his sketches.
I have nothing in theory against post modernism but this avenue is closed to most amateur artists, if indeed they like it, so I did not go with expectations of becoming the next Tracy Emin or Phillyda Barlow.
With a background in art history, and a simple enjoyment when younger of ‘Drawling, Stretching, and Fainting in Coils’ as the Mock Turtle described art lessons, all I wanted was to get back-to-back to these roots on the skoliday and to work en pleine air, which is very appealing with a warm sun, sparking sea and herb-scented mountainsides.
Since 1985, Pavlos has dedicated himself to painting and has had numerous solo shows. A talented linguist (he speaks fluent French, English and Swedish) he described himself as a ‘nomad’ having travelled across the world – though he drew the line when I recommended Ethiopia (but struck an Egyptian pose for me).
Guest artist Marina Krontira (www.marinakrontira.gr) worked just as spontaneously on the skoliday, creating dozens of small watercolours and pen and ink drawings. It was a delight to look through her sketchbooks, from which she draws inspiration for greater studio works.
Leonidas Giannakopoulos (www.monoblog-art.blogspot.gr) arrived on the third day. Leonidas worked mainly in ink and is a gifted printmaker. He trained in the classical Athens school of art where, he says, you began by drawing the statues in the national museums. “If there was a mistake, you were told to start again, it was very strict.”
As for Kea, (www.mysteriousgreece.com/travel-guides/islands/cyclades/kea) the climate is perfect for painters and the landscape is colourful and rugged, with plenty of old churches, a beautiful monastery and verdant olive and oak groves in the interior. The roads are good and pretty much car free, and there are dozens of footpaths which criss-cross the island. It has four picturesque and charming old hill towns which provide endless material for the artist, including Hora, which we visited three times.
Sotiria encourages people to follow their own mood and schedule, so they can explore the villages, meet the locals, visit unique archaeological sites, learn the history of the island, and enjoy time with like-minded people.
Depending on your ability, you can work exactly as you please or have more formal instruction. All materials are provided, but if you have a favourite type of paper, brush or medium, it is best to bring them. I like sketching in pen and ink and watercolour, so I did not need to pack anything, but I would take some extra pads and brushes next time to work on a larger scale. Non-painting partners are welcome. I look forward to the spring course when, I am told, there will be print-making as well as the chance to sell work at the end at a pop-up exhibition, something that I have never seen offered by any other painting holiday.
- Images © Andrea Watson
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