Living on the other side of the world to your family means getting inventive about holidays. But, in September 2018 we discovered the ideal multi-generational holiday: a painting course in Ireland.
In her 60s and 70s, my mum Jean was happy to to join us in places like Yosemite and New Orleans when we lived in the US; or Uluru after we moved to Australia.
But, as time went on, and the long-haul flights got too much, we’d arrange to spend time nearer her home in the UK.
However, since Jean turned 80 we’ve been searching for a new holiday formula.
The vital ingredients to make this work include a picturesque destination that’s not too hot and an activity that doesn’t involve too much walking or driving.
A household name in the UK and Ireland following the success of 90’s BBC series Awash with Colour, Dermot Cavanagh has been teaching the art of watercolour painting for the past thirty years in the UK, Ireland, Croatia and Italy.
We joined his course at Rathmullan House Hotel on north west tip of Ireland, a grand old hotel on the beach in County Donegal, with views across Lough Swilly to the patchwork fields and purple heather-covered hills on the far side of the water.
There’s an element of fear when you sign up for a painting course.
“Will I be good enough?”
“Will we get cold painting outside?”
These thoughts were all swept away as soon as our group of nine settled into individual tables laid out in a hotel room with high bay windows overlooking the garden.
The plan was to paint a typical Donegal scene using one of Dermot’s sketches. Inside.
It looked easy – we’d fly through it in a day, right?
Wrong! I had no idea how many techniques were involved in painting a watercolour, and it took us four days of demonstrations, practice runs (and a few quick repairs) to paint our landscape.
Emerald Isle by name
Over the course, we discovered the intricacies of mixing multiple colours, but especially green.
Several types of green for the patchwork fields; green for the trees bathed in sunlight; green for trees in the background; green for the moss on the path.
The days whistled past as Dermot talked us through equipment, techniques, perspective, shadows, light and colour, interspersed with jokes and anecdotal stories about the people he’s met along the way.
A former teacher herself, Jean was impressed by his generosity as a teacher.
She said: “He doesn’t just demonstrate and then leave you to do it; he helps you out if needed, adds in other interesting information and doesn’t stop teaching – even during lunch!”
On the third day, we headed out in a convoy of cars to photograph paintable views on the peninsula leading to Fanad Head. Part of the 2600km Wild Atlantic Way, the scenic road winds its way around the inlets and heads of Donegal’s rugged coastline.
Having spent so many hours discovering how to represent nature using paint, we all looked at the views in a different light.
As a chilly autumnal wind whipped around us at Fanad Lighthouse, Dermot compared our experience to the ‘en plein air’ painting courses he runs in warmer countries.
He said: “Painting outdoors in a hilltop village in somewhere like Italy or Croatia allows you to fully immerse yourself in the local area and culture as life goes on around you, in much the same way as a walking holiday lets you experience the essence of a region – especially when you finish the day with a good bottle of local wine.”
While a painting holiday in Italy or Croatia sounds very inviting, we were very pleased with our similar but different landscapes – one destined for a wall in the UK and the other for Singapore.
More information: https://www.learntopaintwithdermotcavanagh.com/