What memorable days I spent this summer capturing the light, color and illumination of Positano. . .
As a landscape painter and teacher from the mountainous regions of North Carolina, my primary experience with landscape painting has been depicting gently rolling hills, with reddish clay undertones.
I’m always eager to seek out new terrains, however—I find both the similarities and differences inspiring—and I have an ongoing love affair with all things Italian, having spent my infancy in Naples and frequently returning as an adult to teach landscape painting in the Chianti region.
So this summer I took a special painting trip with my friend Kathy to Positano, Italy, a wonderful Italian village perched on a hillside, facing seaward. We arrived during unusually chilly weather, but it didn’t keep me from setting up my easel on hilltops, under balconies and along the coast.
I’ll admit, I was tempted to don a sweater and sit in a café for the day, to sip cappuccino and enjoy the lively parade of shoppers and tourists who passed. But there turned out to be plenty of time for kicking back in the evenings. . . and sampling the glorious wine and seafood in any one of the little street-side cafés.
As expected in any tourist town, resident artists were already set up on the seaside who relied on visitors to buy their original paintings. Resident artists are understandably territorial, so it is always important that the traveler/painter not appear to infringe on their market.
Since I was already seeking to avoid any scenes that I would describe as “clichéd,” it was better for me set up off the beaten path anyway, and find my own slant on common themes. However, as I’m sure all painters who visit Positano have done, I did attempt to capture the illusive beauty of the water, with its constant shifts in hue from teal to turquoise.
Once, as I was painting, an Englishman and his wife stopped to chat and he told me he had painted the very same view 20 years ago! Something about this place, he recalled, made him paint better than he should have. “Carry on,” he said as they walked away.
I remember the light changing, constantly—but this is the joy and bane of every landscape painter. In Positano, the light fairly dances across the water, pausing only long enough for the artist to load a brush, deliberate, and commit to Nature’s whimsy.
It was also no simple task to accurately describe the playful, pastel-colored buildings that seemed to tumble down the hillside. I strove for a sense of layers and ghosted forms under lively hues, hoping that my colors would convey some sense of the rich texture and centuries of history there.
If you have never gone on a painting trip, I highly recommend it. I can’t fully describe the joys of painting on location, or the total absorption you’ll experience when you engage in a visual conversation with a far-away place. It makes travel richer and painting an adventure, all at once.
Today I am back in my North Carolina studio, transforming some of my small Positano paintings into larger more sustained works. It brings back sweet, saltwater memories of a chilly summer week—but in no way can it replace those wonderful hours of absorbing the sun and the sights.
So, someday soon, my easel and I will return to Positano.
It will be warmer, perhaps, but the windy little roads of Positano will still lead to new vistas. . . and my endeavor to get the water “just right” will happily continue.