Skip to content

Sketching Algarve : the Coastal Towns

April 29, 2016

Though I thoroughly enjoyed the days painting the rocky coastline, there were also plenty of towns and villages to explore in the Algarve. From our home base in Alvor, we’d head out every few days on a bus trip to nearby Portimão or Sagres, or go inland to Silvas and Monchique.  Each ‘travel day’ we’d try a different guided painting exercise in the morning and explore in smaller groups in the afternoon.

16Apr15_Algarve_Alvor_Harbor_Pano_Combine copy
Some of the days I’d do a longer demo like this one above. This 11×30″ diptych is a view of Alvor harbor seen looking back from the boardwalk on the salt flats.

Lately I’m doing a kind of classroom demo I call a “paint-along”. I’ll show how I’d break down a scene with the drawing, then help out as people try it themselves. After they’ve had a chance to draw their own, we go back to watch my painting process. As people get the hang of it, they can return to their own pieces and apply the ideas. I might repeat that step again at the end, calling them back to see a demo of the final touches of dark, before people are getting there in their own work.

I like this method as it allows for people to digest the steps – applying the ideas immediately instead of trying to remember the whole process start to finish.  Plus it seems more fun for people – as compared to watching me paint for an hour without a break.
16Apr15_Algarve_UrbanSketches (15)
On another day in Alvor the Australians from USK:Melbourne asked me to show how I’d handle this narrow street view.

It ended up being kind of an overly long demo – I did a lot of drawing to carefully explain things – but then ended up simplifying it down to just a bunch of brushstrokes on the right hand side. My main goal was to start at the tiny gap in the distance and build the perspective of the narrow lane – making sure to get that small sailboat well in frame. I liked the idea of people parallel parking their boats in the back alley. That’s a slice of life that we don’t have at home.

Note how I use the highest contrast and brightest color to draw focus onto the red and white plaster house at center left. Those black and white windows are the strongest light-on-dark contrast. I softened the value of red painted trim as it vanishes out of the lit foreground (because of course it was the same bright red everywhere in reality) – but that helps keep the attention in the mid ground. This supports the way all the composition lines are pointing you down the alley. (See this old concept – Gradient of Interest).

So – it might have been a long drawn out demo – but it gave one of us time to sell her version of the drawing to the man who owns the sail boat. Meanwhile another artist who’d gone off on her own sold one page of sketches to two separate shop owners. They both wanted the original but she wouldn’t sell, so they settled for prints – and were willing to pay in advance to have her send them back when she got home.
16Apr15_Algarve_UrbanSketches (1) copy

This spot is kitty-corner from the city hall in Portimão. I thought this fallen roof was more interesting than the official looking edifice. That, and I wanted to capture the irony of this run down block covered in old political campaign posters.

Painting these two sketches made me think back to the town of Paraty Brazil. We’d seen the Portuguese marble mosaic sidewalks show up in Macau, and now made the connection with the colorful plaster houses in Brazil. Real evidence the Portuguese once sailed the whole world.

16Apr15_Algarve_UrbanSketches (9)
When it came to the city hall itself, I still avoided the issue – finding the parking entrance more interesting than the building itself. Ran out of time too after a false start, so this ended up being a 15 min single line sketch to wind up that day.

As the days went by, we collected something from every town we visited in the area:

16Apr15_Algarve_UrbanSketches (8)

Just an ordinary block of buildings in Portimão. This kind of typical shop feels a bit like Italy, but with the little white balustrade along the roofline, it has its own Portuguese style. These were up behind a freeway on-ramp, and I liked the natural ground line it made by leaving that ugly-but-practical modernization out.
16Apr15_Algarve_UrbanSketches (10)

This square in Lagos features the Igreja de Santa Maria. This is supposed to be the site of an old slave market. I originally intended to make something grim and moody to convey a sense of the history here – but when we arrived, the place has been so completely changed – all white and sparkling in the sun – it’s hard to imagine that dark side of history ever happened.

16Apr15_Algarve_UrbanSketches (11) copy

The Mercado Municipal in Lagos. This was one just for fun at the very end of the day. Immediately to our left is a taxi stand, which was our ticket home. If you go the other way, reverse to where we’re looking, you’ll get out to the Ponta da Piedade in about 30 minutes of scenic walking, or of course a short drive.
16Apr15_Algarve_UrbanSketches (13) copy

Inside the medieval castle at Silvas. Coincidentally while we were there USK Algarve was having an exhibition in the art gallery on site. Great motivation for our class of sketchers!

This final page starts at Fóia – the highest point of the Algarve, just above Monchique, then back down to Silves, where we got off the bus at this old bridge – then raced up to the cathedral to sketch it before we had to be back on the bus. Not the best way to be a sketch tourist – but this is the reality of travel – sometimes you have to draw fast, or not a all.

My favorite on this last page of sketches is the strange one at the top with the green dome.

I didn’t expect this, but Fóia is of course capped with radio antennas, cell towers and this space station looking dome that might be radar? I don’t know.  It was so cloudy when we arrived, we only stayed a few minutes – this was the only thing to see from here. So that’s the oddest sketch – but it’s neat to be surprised sometimes.

16Apr15_Algarve_UrbanSketches (12)





14 Comments leave one →
  1. April 29, 2016 11:24 AM

    Absolutely WOW !!!
    The light on the landscapes and the urban scenes is beautiful !!!

  2. April 29, 2016 12:38 PM

    The Portimao sketches are wonderful. I lived there on Rua Judice Biker for 2 years and it was the best time. The other sketches are equally amazing. I miss the people, the very fresh food and fish, the beaches. Is the piri piri still the greatest in Moncique?

    • April 29, 2016 12:45 PM

      I bet it is – I had some awesome grilled squids there, even though it’s inland. We have pretty decent piri piri in Montreal too! What with the Portuguese community here :)

  3. Liz Steel permalink
    April 29, 2016 6:52 PM

    loving these vibrant Portugal sketches A LOT! In particular love the glowing shadows – especially to the church in this one. Can I ask what are you using for those warm shadows as they are glowing?
    Can I see moonglow in a lot of them?

    • April 29, 2016 8:16 PM

      Yes I do go to Moonglow for the shadows, but they’re warmed with the wall color – I realized I dislike it a lot when the transition between wall and cast shadow on the ground is too sharp – so I’ve been trying to let the wall color bleed into the shadow. That would mean there’s Quinn Gold and/or Trans Red Oxide most likely – plus I’ve added Neutral Tint to the mix.

      • Liz Steel permalink
        April 29, 2016 9:51 PM

        Ah! quin gold… was chatting to Jane about that last week. I find it is too synthetic a ‘gold’ for me in urban scenes (more a still life,, teacup colour) but it has been on my list to explore further. And TRO is the best!!!
        And yes agree I love loosing the edge between the wall and the cast shadow and merging washes. Looks wonderful in these sketches.

        • April 29, 2016 9:53 PM

          Actually only learned that blended shadow thing just this trip!

          • Liz Steel permalink
            April 29, 2016 9:58 PM

            having a chat in your blog comments is fun!…
            I picked that concept up from Charles Reid in the wonderful intro section in his Flowers book years ago… but doing a little thumbnail exercise of a tomato and implementing it on location is a different thing.
            Keep it up… love seeing people’s developments from a sketching trip… and also all that colour and sun in these painting.
            I am happy seeing it after all your winter work on the book.

  4. May 1, 2016 10:59 PM

    Gorgeous watercolors of the Algarve! Just came back from the Algarve and your paintings made us relive its magic.

  5. May 2, 2016 7:28 AM

    I love your painting and love the idea of painting and touring! What fun!!

  6. May 7, 2016 8:25 PM

    That’s beautiful 💚💛

  7. September 19, 2016 7:13 AM

    Wonderful paintings! WOW


  1. Travel journal : the big picture. Wide views sketches! | Watercolor sketching
  2. Painting the Sea: Rocks and Water in the Algarve | Citizen Sketcher

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: