Enjoying A plein air painting experience – Escape to Corsica

Sardinia, whose breathtaking beauty I was blessed to know during my childhood, is often on my mind. I consider myself a fortunate person, having discovered many of its treasures at a young age. I will never forget foraging for wild asparagus with my family, looking for bocconi (sea snails) and limpets between the rough rocks surrounding the many beautiful beaches, collecting field flowers growing in the hills and swimming between black dragonflies in a mountain brooklet.
However, having known all that when I was little has turned me into a rather narrow-minded being, for I seem to be unable to appreciate any landscape as much as Sardinia’s. Only there, I thought, would I enjoy a perfect plein air painting experience. Though I can definitely see and admire the characteristic beauty of other places, I sadly find myself always pointing out why they are not in the same league as the island from my childhood. I know it sounds pathetic, but it’s just the way it is.

Therefore I felt completely devastated when, a week ago, I had to cancel my painting holiday to Sardinia, because of the new safety measures concerning the spreading of the coronavirus. My husband Meindert and I were packed and ready to leave when we were forced to see that it would be impossible for us to reach the ferry to
Golfo Aranci with all the serious problems going on in the Northern Italian regions. What to do? Stay home? No way! I had spent a fortune on sandwiches for the car journey and I wasn’t going to eat them all at my own dining table. Quite quickly we came up with a plan B: we booked a new ferry, an apartment at the western coast of Cap Corse and we left a couple of hours later.

Once we set foot on Corsican soil, I had to admit that the island’s spectacular views make my heart beat every bit as fast as Sardinia does. The rough sharpness of the many coloured rocks, the harmonious green, grey and rubiginous hues of the macchia meditteranea and the delicate beauty of blooming rosemary, wild garlic and asphodels made me feel right at home. Our apartment is immersed in nature and it’s west-facing terrace spoils us with a view on an immensely blue sea, which we can see embracing the evening sun at dinner time. At night we fall asleep with the gentle sound of the babbling brook that flows near the house, all the way to the sea. In the morning, we are awaken by a concert of singing birds.


Marina di Negru is a quiet little bay with interestingly coloured rocks that are grey, green, blue and copper depending on the weather and the time of day. There are only a few houses surrounding the beach and most of them seem to be empty in the low season. In these troubled times, we feel this last-minute decision of coming here in this isolated place, may have been the best we could have made. So are we using our time well? Why, yes! Already on our way from the ferry to Olmeta we couldn’t suppress many oohh’s and aahh’s as a particularly well shaped rock or a group of mimosa’s entered our sight, so you can imagine how our hands were aching to capture the natural beauty of our surroundings in drawings and paintings.

The first day of work was a struggle. Meindert and I had set up our easels between the rocks at our ‘private beach’ and though we weren’t blessed with a blue sky and a warming sun, we definitely couldn’t complain about the weather, since the thick layer of white clouds seemed to offer a diffuse, but constant light. I quickly made a composition sketch in which I put the emphasis on the elongated shape of the rocks on which Meindert was sitting and I went on with the block-in process in oils, making sure to mix my colours as close to nature as possible. However, after little less than one hour the clouds suddenly disappeared and in their place came a blinding sun, which completely altered our drawing and painting objects. The sunlight remained for so long, that I decided to change the colours in my painting and go for the ‘sunny look’ You can probably guess what happened next: after another 45 minutes or so, the clouds came back and they arranged to form a dense blanket that left no room for light. I was quite desperate, for I can take a lot of fluctuating factors during the painting process, but this weather was absolutely impossible to work with.
Part of my composition had a really strong tonal contrast, the sunny part, while the other had only midtones, the cloudy part. I didn’t know how to proceed and the more brushstrokes I added, the more I felt I was loosing control, which made me very frustrated. This was not the perfect plein air painting experience I had envisioned for myself. 

At one point I considered throwing myself from the highest rock, to take me out of my misery. Of course, the fact that Meindert’s drawing skills weren’t influenced by the changing weather didn’t make things easier for me. In the end I gave up the struggle and I refused to look at my painting for a couple of hours, until I became my normal self again and decided to face the production of the day: it wasn’t so bad after all. Of course, it could have been better, but not under the circumstances.

The next day it could have been summer and I worked with constant focus the whole afternoon, trying to capture not only the beautiful warm and cold colour contrasts, but also the specific character of the rocks at Marina di Negru. I got a sunburn on my nose and cheek while doing so, but it was worth it. The only problem was choosing a composition, because everything looked so appealing and it felt like such a pity not being able to squeeze all of it into my frame. In the end I found a way to show both the diagonally arranged rocks and the vibrant colours of the sea, partially overlapped by a playful stone wall.

More about our artistic excursions, struggles and triumphs, soon!

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