I’ve always dreamed about what it must have been like for the artists who came to Florence some 100 years ago on the grand tour, settling in a villa in the hills of Fiesole and idling away the days painting close ups of lemon trees and the landscapes just beyond them. I picture fragrant gardens, the scrape of a palette knife on canvas and the buzz of bees the only sounds, a world away from our life today that is contaminated with the bleeping of smartphones and traffic. Turns out there are a few artists who still live like this – or something like this – today, and there are occasional opportunities to share this paradise with them. Tuscany Plein Air is a new one.
Tom J. Byrne and Llewellyn Matthews are amongst those lucky artists who have made this paradise home. Tom is Irish born, after a lifetime as an artist he left his homeland 12 years ago to study trompe l’oeuil in Paris, and two years ago came to Italy to study painting and drawing at the excellent Angel Academy of Art. He paints in plein-air. It was in the Angel that Tom met and teamed up with Llewellyn Matthews, a classically trained representational artist, and Rory Haran, a landscape painter who divides his time between London and Tuscany. The three of them have founded Tuscany Plein Air, art-focused holidays in the countryside surrounding the city of Florence.
Starting this September, 2015, these week-long holidays take place in beautiful, luxurious country villas, close to Florence, with excellent fresh, local food. Each day, attending artists learn from the three artist-guides with short demonstrations and lots of practice. They’re not calling it a “school” or “workshop” on purpose, because it is a process of self-discovery, with each participant working at his or her own pace and level.
Guests are welcome to take part in the workshops but they are completely free to take or leave the information. I asked Tom more about this and he answered: “Our work is to distill the knowledge and make the most relevant elements available in an accessible manner. Sometimes the process of personal change is about being exposed to information, picking and choosing what you need. There is no dogma and if you simply want to be in the company of other creative painters with whom you can share experiences, that is perfect.”
What makes their method different is that it is the first school exclusively oriented to applying the studio painting methods to Plein Air. Landscape painting differs from studio art in that certain key concepts become more emphasized such as simplifying the scene, understanding perspective, composition and working fast outdoors.
Tom explains: “The studio environment is wonderfully controlled with artificial light and a fixed painting subject, no wind and no moving elements and an easily identified visual target. Outside in nature there are vast amounts of visual information, points of view and potential painting subjects. Nonetheless the rules of the studio still apply to the landscape, fall of light, composition, understanding of color and values, organizing your pallet, materials and painting procedures. Additionally there is the pleasure of being in nature and capturing that magic on a canvas or paper.”
During the week long event, each participant will develop the skills and awareness of the process of painting in oils, watercolours and pastels. Demonstrations include things like methods of manufacturing paints from scratch, free from fillers and other impurities, or learning about the different supports for painting on and how to prepare them. There is a lot of misinformation about the latter subject and Llewellyn Matthews is an expert on the topic.
Another very interesting opportunity offered by Tuscany Plein Air is a scholarship for an artist to attend the workshop and stay at the villa free of charge, including a stipend towards air travel. This allows talented artists who cannot afford the per-person fee (a reasonable €2000, all inclusive) to participate nonetheless in this amazing learning experience. The scholarship application deadline is July 20 to win a spot in the first workshop, which is scheduled September 12-20, 2015. Further dates are already planned for 2016.
Normal reservations for the villa are being taken right up to the end of August and non-resident guests are also welcome. The workshop might also suit people living in or near Florence who are interested in attending each day without residing in the villa (they pay only for tutoring and food).
For more information: