At last the end is in sight!After months of camping out in a corner the basement studio, surrounded by boxes and furniture stacked to the ceiling,the worst is finally over.
After an exhausting couple of days spent scrubbing, scraping and washing away cement dust and debris (I’d seized the opportunity while the builders had a few days off – yet another public holiday!) I moved back upstairs into the main house. The fact the the plumbing electrics or painting is still unfinished is a minor detail having managed these past few months without any cooking facilities, fridge or running water (taking showers under a hose-pipe in the garden is fine now but wasn’t much fun in freezing February! My first priority was to get the computer re-connected in order to update this blog before you’d all presumed I’d lost the plot and left the planet (though I’ll admit now, there were times I came quite close!!)
But that’s all behind me now and there have been many exciting times too despite the set-backs and the chaos all around. My first guests arrived on schedule and classes duly began so I’m now thrilled to announce:
‘Painting Skiathos is at long last, UP AND RUNNING!’
MY FIRST GUEST:
My first visitor was Janice – all the way from Toronto, Canada (via Santorini and a few other islands on her Greek island -hopping marathon!)
Dark days clouded by hardship and frustration were quickly forgotten as Janice breezed into my life filling our days with light and laughter with her own charming, larger than life, inimitable style, with her effervescent personality, constant appreciation, and boundless energy.
She’d arrived in Athens only to discover her connecting flight to Skiathos had been cancelled, at the eleventh hour. Undeterred and as adventurous as ever she simply found an alternative route, altered her plans and took a long bus ride to Aghios Konstantinos. There, she boarded a ‘Flying Dolphin, arriving in Skiathos late at night as cheerful as ever despite what must have been a tiring, arduous journey.
I feel fortunate indeed to have met Janice and in enjoying her company throughout the coming days, I was constantly reminded of one of my main motivations in starting this project in the first place; believing, as I do, that artists are indeed very special people; free- spirited, they are keen observers not only of objects but people and Life itself and they are for the most part, generously willing to share their experiences as well as their talents and skills with humility and a touchingly ssicere modesty. We chatted incessantly from the start and spent a wonderful week exploring Skiathos and it’s neighbours, sightseeing, sun-bathing eating and drinking (probably far too much!) Oh! And yes – painting too!
Icon-painting classes hosted by my dear friend and fellow local artist Despina Mitselou, proved a great success.
Here Despina (with fellow artist Gail Stathakis) explains the age-old traditional techniques used in Byzantine icons.
After priming our wood panels with gesso and leaving them to dry in the sun, we begin to sketch our image.
A raw egg is ceremoniously cracked and the yolk extracted, to bind the natural colour pigment powder and wine vinegar together
Then the painting begins
Slowly building up layer upon layer the thin paints are applied in a strict order of colour and gently blended, using a series of confident, single ‘line’ brushstrokes
Time for a break!
Now for the fun part; applying the gold leaf to areas already coated with a pva glue. Despina makes it all look so easy – believe me, it’s not!
Janice is totally absorbed and justifiably proud of her achievement!
TIME FOR A CHANGE OF SCENERY
After spending a long day in the studio, an excursion out on the open sea with the sun on our back and the wind in our hair, was just what was needed.
We met up with my friend ‘Captain’ Theo on the old port and climbed aboard the ‘Aghios Nicholas’, bound for Skopelos and Alonnissos, where we visited the many tiny churches:
harbours filled with colourful fishing boats:
and the maze of cobbled streets of hill top villages. With every doorway and window-sill spilling glorious blooms of bougainvilla, geraniums, nasturtium and sweet scented basil in our path, there were photo opportunities at every turn.
Back on Skiathos, other excursions included a trip to the Evangelistria Monastery:
And a day out to the north side of the island and its spectacular coastline with secluded beaches and rock formations:
We climbed down to Kastro beach where, after a swim in the crystal-clear turquoise water and a leisurely lunch, we were inspired to try to capture something of the natural beauty of our surroundings.
A few hours of painting, each alone with our reveries, produced two very different paintings.
This from Janice:
And here’s mine:
TIME FOR SOME NIGHTLIFE!
Alexandros Taverna, situated in a tiny cobbled street in the old quarter of Skiathos town, under the spreading branches of an old mulberry tree, provided the perfect setting for some traditional fare, live Bouzouki music singing and folk dancing:
Thanassis (my wonderful carpenter) with Christos accompanying on his guitar, sings traditional Greek songs:
NEXT DAY, BACK TO ‘WORK’:
Janice chose to paint the studio and here’s the result, another beautiful painting:
I also assisted Janice with a painting she’d begun on Santorini:
and here it is – all finished!
With her bubbly personaIity, sense of fun and eternal optimism, Janice was a wonderful companion. I feel so lucky, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect ‘first guest’.
MY SECOND VISITOR: AN ARTIST ON RETREAT:
I was thrilled to welcome my second guest; the established Irish artist and gallery owner, MARY DILLON to Villa Nicara.
(You can see her beautiful work and gallery here http://www.almondtreegallery.ie/).
Mary came to me in search of a week’s relaxation and some new inspiration for her beautiful paintings. I’d like to believe she found both here on Skiathos, in abundance. We hit it off instantly and have become firm friends.
I’d wake up every morning to find Mary, an early riser, already painting happily away under the shade of a tree in the peaceful olive grove, where she chose to set up her work table:
When the sun began to climb high in the sky and the temperature began to soar, Mary would down her brushes and (together with my daughter, who’d arrived on a week’s visit) We would visit the sights; the pretty alleyways of of Skiathos town, for example. Aternatively we’d set off further afield in search of an idyllic spot; a secluded beach. There we would enjoy a simple but perfect lunch of fresh fish, fried potatoes and a Greek salad, washed down with a glass of cold wine. Then each of us would wander off alone to take an afternoon siesta in the shade of a rock or to read our books, or simply to sit quite still, staring out to the blue horizon, alone with our thoughts in private, undisturbed contemplation . Ah, Bliss!
ALL ABOARD AGAIN!
As I’d done with Janice, I took Mary on an island hop; a boat trip to the neighbouring islands of Skopelos and Alonnissos with it’s protected marine park. Although it was the same itinerary, the two experiences were very different. Unfortunately this time, the weather was less than sunny – in fact it poured with rain for much of it. But it didn’t prevent our enjoyment.
With Mary at the helm, on the captains bridge, we pulled out of Skiathos Harbour and headed for Skopelos
We visited the old towns, the potteries and even fit in a spot of shopping at the many beautiful arts and crafts galleries and jewelery shops. The highlight of the trip was spotting the dolphins who playfully swam along side the boat (believe me, they were there! – but too quick for my camera).
IT’S PARTY TIME!
In complete contrast, the evenings would generally find us joining the ever increasing throng of holiday makers as the tourist season got underway.We’d sample the many culinary delights of the Greek kitchen at one of the many tavernas, or indulge in more international cuisine in one of the many restaurants both in and out of town. Over a Cipouro (or three!) with its accompanying m
‘mezze’ side dish. we’d be seated at a waterfront ‘ouzeria’, we’d leisurely take part in the Greek national pastime of ‘people watching’ while putting the world to rights.
We’d sip cocktails or a nightcap at on of the many super-chic , trendy bars along the waterfront.Surrounded by the company of both old and new-found friends, the party atmosphere would often continue into the wee hours Particularly memorable was one evening when Mary, an exceptional woman of many talents, spontaneously took the microphone and entertained us all with her beautiful singing of an Irish ballad.
Having my own accommodation unfinished presented no problems. Both Janice and Mary stayed in (different) studio apartments, situated just a few minutes walk away up the lane and both had been delighted with the comfortable alternative accommodation I’d found for them and their proximity to the nearby beaches.
(see where they stayed: Mary booked directly with www.skiathosdiamond.com )
I am delighted too – to finally realize my long-held dream. In a relatively short time, ‘PaintingSkiathos’ has, from its initial conception, become a reality. With minor teething troubles and trepidation now out of the way, I can look forward to welcoming more new guests and fellow artists and art lovers who wish to join me at Villa Nicara share my passion for Skiathos and experience first hand the delights of painting on this very special Greek island.
The past months have been a very exciting time. ‘Painting Skiathos’ was featured and photographed by the prominent New York photographer Les Myers (www.lesliemeyers.com) for a forthcoming travel publication ‘Passport’ (in Greek only).
Here is one of the photos he took (me at work in the studio):
WIDENING THE CIRCLE:
Over these past few months, I have been extremely fortunate in meeting some remarkably talented artists – including the acclaimed Greek ‘naive’ painter, Yanna Xera who specialises in large oil painting of Greek Monasteries and religious festivals. Architecturally perfect down to the minutest detail, her paintings depict crowd scenes of thousands of figures- each one perfectly represented in their own apparel and with individual facial features! Highly skilled and executed with such intensity and passion for detail, her paintings (in oil) are impressively labour-intensive and take many, many months to complete. we are thrilled she has agreed to hold a one-woman exhibition at Evangelistria, next September.
Yianna, painting in my studio:
and enjoying lunch ‘al fresco’ with Despina:
Thanks to the Internet, the often ’solitary’ world of artists and art lovers has opened up, crossing international borders and has become globally accessible to us all.
I now have ten days or so before my next guests arrive so it’s back to ‘hard hats and ‘whip-weilding’ for a bit. Waking at 7.00 each morning to the sound, not of a beautiful dawn chorus, but rather the monotonous grinding of a cement mixer which will, undoubtedly continue a while longer yet. I plan to return to the UK for July and August (the hottest and busiest months), returning in September when the courses will resume. Classes are already filling up quickly so if you feel you might like to join me in this wonderful adventure – do get in touch soon. Of course not everyone will feature on this blog (unless they want to!) Both Janice and Mary, as my first two guests, kindly gave their permission to use their visits to show others what a fabulous time awaits them at Villa Nicara. Accordingly, I am greatly indebted to them both.
”Colours of Skiathos’ 2008
Preparations are also underway for the forthcoming annual Skiathos Art Exhibition. It will open at the end of June when Skiathos celebrates its traditional ‘Sailors Week’. The Mayor has kindly agreed to let us use one of the large rooms in the cultural centre on the ‘Bourtzi’, this time and not only for a week, but for permanent exhibition lasting 3 whole months! It promises to be a wonderful event for local artists to show their work. Mary, herself an experienced gallery owner, offered us invaluable advice on everything from the construction of exhibition stands to picture hanging and lighting.
Here we are with Despina and fellow English artist Gail Stathakis: I’ll be posting more news and photos over the coming weeks.
The main excitement on the island at the moment, however, is the keen anticipation felt while everyone here eagerly awaits the world premier of the ‘Mamma Mia’ movie (http://www.mammamiamovie.com/) which was filmed on Skiathos (and Skopelos) last summer. Starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth, amongst others, it’s sure to enjoy worldwide success and likely to be a sell-out at the one and only open-air cinema, here on the island. Many islanders took part in the filming as ‘extras’ and are hoping to catch a glimpse of themselves, their friends and their beloved island on the silver screen.
Following the film of ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, the island of Kephalonia became a top destination for tourists and while economically Skiathos would undoubtedly benefit from a sudden rise in popularity, I sincerely hope it will remain the beautiful idyllic corner of the Aegean that all who visit, come to know and love; returning to enjoy it’s unpretentious charm, year after year………….