“The Brecon Beacons in South Wales are a veritable artists’ paradise. The area is not only a haven of practicing artists of all kinds, but is also home to the Welsh Academy of Art. The Academy is a relatively new institution dedicated to teaching traditional methods of painting and drawing and is owned and run by Lucy Corbett who trained at Charles H. Cecil Studios in Florence. This summer, the Welsh Academy played host to an American master of landscape painting, Donald Jurney. Donald had been invited by the Academy to run an intensive landscape painting summer school spanning nine days, and I had the privilege of being a student on the course.
The course was open to all abilities, ranging from relative beginners right through to professional level artists. Our group of twelve consisted of Victoria an experienced landscape painter and teacher from Nantucket Island off the east coast of America who had wanted to paint with Donald for years, but had only just found the opportunity to do it, Jeannine, also American, trained at Charles H. Cecil Studios in Florence and was now living with her English husband in Devon, Lucy, Chiara and Ann who had also previously trained in Florence, (Lucy and Ann were now both running their own art schools, Lucy’s school being the Welsh Academy and Ann’s being the Lavender Hill Studios in London), Hannah, a PHD student who was expanding her horizons outside academia, Lee, a professional printmaker and regular at the Welsh Academy, Clare, Karen, Dave and Di who were part time students at the Welsh Academy and finally me, who’d attended art school in the late 70’s during a more expressionistic period of schooling, and was now attempting to channel Rembrandt. For the record, I also attend the Welsh Academy from time to time and am quite sold on the structured traditional approach to painting. I wondered how Donald would manage a group with such a diverse range of experience, but from the start, Donald’s well developed sense of humour had us all relaxed and laughing and at ease with the prospect of six days of intensive painting together, and less worried that we might get overwhelmed by greenitis (green being a fairly predominant colour in the traditional landscape).
The course format worked extremely well for all of us. After every two days painting, we were given a day off to relax, restore and slob about if we wanted to. We painted for six days overall and had three days off, one of which was set aside for a group visit to the Cardiff National Museum, where with our new found expertise, we metaphorically ripped apart the techniques of several old masters (not mentioning any names), before deciding that some weren’t too bad at all. Corot and Sisley were two of Donald’s favourite painters, and given that by now we had all become discerning art critics, we naturally all agreed that they were indeed very good.
We worked on a new painting every day in a different location each day. Spectacular scenery is not hard to find in the Brecon Beacons, so we were spoilt for choice. Each location was chosen to give us experience in tackling different types of landscape, from distant views and riverscapes, to shadowy valleys full of foliage. We learnt how to lay down a fairly detailed drawing in paint first, (known as grisaille), before introducing colour using various combinations of glazes and opaque paint. Amongst other things, we discussed what makes a good composition, tonal values, how to replicate the effects we see in nature and the many ways of handling a paintbrush.
Over our ten days with Donald, we discovered that not only is he a highly experienced and gifted painter, but he was also exceptionally good at bringing out the best in all of us with his warm hearted, generous and enthusiastic way of teaching. He inspired us continually with his beautifully executed demonstration paintings and was a constant source of humour and fun. Ultimately, in between prolonged bouts of laughter, we all managed to produce some quite respectable results and were able to see the colour green in a new light. None of us wanted it to end and that’s the truth!!”
– written by Jean Tyrrell