Plein air painting is all about being there. Not just painting outdoors, but absorbing the sights, sounds and feel of a place. And when the place is an historic, world-famous landmark, being there gives you an understanding and in-depth knowledge that could never be obtained from looking at photos or reading reference books.
In October 2008, for the third year in a row, I taught a workshop in southern Spain, from a base in the Andalucian mountains. As in previous years, we painted in our home village of Júzcar but also took day trips to other villages in the Genal valley and in the Málaga and Cadiz provinces. But this year we added something new—a day trip to Granada to paint at the Alhambra Palace.
It took nearly a year to arrange permission for our group to paint on the premises. Our host in Júzcar, David Nuyen (www.hotelbandolero.com) struggled through the process of filling out forms and providing information. At the last minute, just before our group departed from the U.S., we were required to provide passport numbers and further information. But it paid off—when we arrived at the Alhambra, our “artist’s passes” were ready for us, allowing us access to the entire grounds at all times, rather than being restricted to certain hours of entry.
We zoomed past long lines and found our painting spots, eager to spend as much time as possible recording light and shadow, architectural detail, forms and reflections. It was not an easy place to paint—tour groups crowded around us, cameras flashed, passers-by nudged our easels and our persons. One artist said, “I’ve never heard so many languages spoken in one place at one time.”
The royal city of the Alhambra, collectively, is of varying ages, with parts dating back as far as the Middle Ages. It is more than just palaces; it once included residences, stables, gardens, and a military fort. Much has been lost to the ravages of time, but the remaining palaces and gardens can take days to explore.
We couldn’t see it all. The painters chose their spots, executed quick sketches, and then spent the time remaining taking many photographs and making notes for future paintings. A group of us chose to paint the reflecting pool in the Comares palace complex. The pool is in the Patio de los Arrayanes (The Courtyard of the Myrtles), and was used for receptions for important visitors. To say it was a stunning view would be an understatement, and the challenge of painting any portion of it was intimidating.
Nevertheless, even a sketch done on location improves one’s understanding of the place, and provides valuable reference for future work. We did our best under difficult circumstances, and the memories of the day—if not the paintings—will stay with us forever.
Read more about Maggie Price’s own experience teaching pastel workshops in the January/February 2009 issue of The Pastel Journal.