I recently returned from my third teaching trip this year with Kathie of Bellissima Art Escapes. This time Kathie flew over the pond and we met in Amsterdam for ten days of sightseeing, complete immersion in art, culture and creating in the most incredible art studio I have ever set foot in.

I have so many images to share and words to write about this trip that I have a feeling it is going to take more than one blog post to even begin to cover the experience of this incredible retreat. One thing I now realise is that I really must begin writing in a travel journal – it is so easy to forget the details once home, although the memories will always stay (and Kathie’s excellent description of the trip itinerary is useful when trying to remember what we did each day!)

I truly fell in love with this amazing city. The buildings, the canals, the way nature is given prominence from the wonderful tree lined pathways and the hollyhocks exploding from every space in the pavements next to the buildings and roses blooming from even the smallest plant pot.

Kathie and I had a day in Amsterdam before the students arrived and we could not wait to get to the studio – I had seen photos, Kathie had told me how amazing it was but my jaw still hit the floor (whist recovering from climbing the steps to the top of the building). It really is as amazing as it looks. A huge vaulted ceiling, boards to enable you to work as big as you like and the light – well – no daylight lamps needed here. It really is a dream space to create in.

Then off to the book market which was filled with stalls selling books of every description and in every language it seemed. Of course it was the art books and antique books that drew us like moths to a flame – this one was from 1781 I think – amazing!

Walking around the city can be quite the challenge with bicycles coming at you from every direction – crossing the street is an adventure in itself – particularly if like me you are a distracted sight seer more interested in looking at the beautiful views and the teeny details. Thank goodness I had Kathie to keep me right!

On Saturday, the students arrived and we walked around the city taking in an art store, admiring the views and just enjoying getting out and about. Our hotel was one of the wonderful canal houses (steep steps up to some of the rooms!) – very welcoming and comfortable for our ten day stay, close to the studio and the main galleries we would be visiting.

Sunday was a day for complete immersion in inspiring art with a visit to the Rijks museum. We had a guided tour of the work of Rembrandt (our main inspiration for the week) and then some time to sit in front of his paintings and sketch. Not always easy with the other eager museum goers but everyone did brilliantly and it really was an experience to sit and work from the paintings themselves – so much to learn about shadows and light and the layers of paint it took to.

Our group in front of The Night Watch. I had to come back to this painting again and could have stood there for hours!

A detail of the layers of paint in the garments in the painting ‘The Jewish Bride’ – so fascinating to see up close!

I have many books on Rembrandt and I look at the images often but truly, nothing can beat standing in front of the actual paintings. To see the textures, the areas that have been built up in layers and layers of heavily applied paint contrasting with areas that are crude in the appearance and yet equally as beautifully rendered. The deep, dark areas and the colours that glow. The broad brush strokes and the tiniest of details in the fabrics. The way he used light to focus the eye of the viewer and those lost edges to bring deep emotion to his portraits. I have been lucky enough to see an exhibition of his work before in London and I hope I get to see his work many more times as I know I would never tire of it.

My brief demo in charcoal.

The next day saw our first day in the amazing studio and we spent the day thinking about how Rembrandt used shadow and light in his work and trying to bring some sense of that to our charcoal drawings using reference images. With space to work and move around the drawings soon built up in layers around the studio with a huge variety of characters, being rendered in this beautiful, expressive medium.

Work by Katie O’Sullivan, Sue Stevenson Pennal and Sharyle Doherty

Drawings in progress!

Work by Zohra Amed and Michele Rawlings Unger

Our second day in the studio was very exciting as we had the morning session led by Daniella who owns the incredible studio that was our creative home for the week. This was also the day for working from our beautiful model, Claire, who sat for us with Daniella in the morning and my session in the afternoon.

A limited palette and energetic expression in my painting from our session with Daniella in the morning.

Piles of drawings and paintings from our session led by Daniella.

Our senses were awakened as we used the movement of our whole body and painted with our hands in a way that encouraged freedom of movement and expression on large sheets of paper. First of all painting entirely intuitive paintings, then working from our model, Claire, who was a joy to draw and paint.

Artwork by Sharyle Doherty, Gilly Rochester, Katie O’Sullivan

For the rest of the day, I encouraged each artist to incorporate what we had learned about shadows and light whilst going back once again to charcoal. It really is the most wonderful, expressive medium and the drawings were outstanding!

Artwork by Michele Rawlings Unger, Zohra Amed

There is still so much to share but that will come in the next post!

I have exciting news!! Kathie and I are planning our trips for next year and recently announced this exciting venture – London and Northumberland (my home place) where I will be teaching alongside Judy Wise. There are only a couple of places remaining and you can read about it here at Bellissima Art Escapes.