• Karen Thomas

Painting Holiday Part I - Amanda Hyatt

I've just returned, refreshed from the most magical time at Dedham Hall. Those who follow my blog will know that this is one of my favourite places, and I was lucky enough to spend two weeks there this year. For the first week I joined top Aussie artist Amanda Hyatt's group. I'd love to share the experience with you!

Firstly, for the curious, Dedham Hall is a fantastic, cozy, home-from-home type place that invites renowned artists - some from as far as Australia - to run workshops. During the year's schedule, those workshops range from some suitable for beginners, through to those where a good proportion of the attendees are pro artists and fellow tutors, looking for good painting company. The accommodation is wonderful, the atmosphere buzzy and creative, and don't get me started on the food! There's a central studio, where it's not unusual to find enthusiastic artists working from the crack of dawn, right through to the after-dinner crew who have brought their wine over from the dining room to mess around with paint a bit longer.

Then, there's the iconic spots to be explored with easels and brushes. Painting en plein air is one of life's great pleasures, and around the Dedham Vale area you're simply spoilt for choice. Love pure landscape? You have Dedham Vale itself, with The Stour winding through it, through the back gate. Love boats? Pin Mill, Heybridge Basin, Woodbridge, West Mersea are all regular haunts. Simply want to sketch followed by a good pub lunch? All the areas visited have wonderful waterside pubs, and the fare tastes all the better for the fresh air and company. There's even plenty to keep a dyed-in-the-wool painter of animals like myself happy!

But back to the painting, the group had an amazing week with Amanda Hyatt. Her painting prowess is only matched by her ability to get some of her ethos across. A natural teacher, she scoops up stragglers with a positivity and energy that wins over those of us having even the worst of painting days (yes, it happens to all of us). Some truly breathtaking demonstrations left us all with jaws hanging, but a good mix of studio sessions and plein air adventures soon got our creative juices flowing.

It takes bravery, as an artist who's already attained a certain level, to move out of your comfort zone and allow yourself to be utterly rubbish! But that's often what it takes to add an extra magic to your work, after years of gaining familiarity with your own work. It's a testament to the sort of supportive atmosphere Amanda and her equally lovely husband Al created that, by the end of the week, even the most entrenched of us had loosened up and allowed the magic in. Equally, it takes bravery to attend such a week as someone close to the beginning of their watercolour journey, and I was struck by how brilliantly Amanda could switch from discussing erudite, nebulous arty concepts with one person, and the next minute turning to another and giving a highly practical, 'put that brushstroke there' sort of direction.

Critique sessions were bolstered with gin, and the conversation, jokes and general conviviality continued well into the evening. Amanda and Al are good company, with wicked senses of humour and plenty of anecdotes. Furthermore, Amanda has that rare skill that is so important in tutors - sensitivity! She was gentle with those who were truly after a holiday, and not particularly wishing to have their art dismantled in the name of learning, while at the same time providing valuable guidance and feedback to others (I'll leave you to guess which camp I fall into ;) )

Amanda worked us hard! Here's a selection of paintings I completed under her guidance:

All good things must come to an end, and before I knew it week one was over.

Part II - The Second Week