I spent part of last summer at the art workshops of Sàrmede (pictured in the fresco above, by Jozef Wilkon). For those unfamiliar with it, Sàrmede is in northern Italy, in the hilly region at the foothills of the Dolomites about 70 KM north of Venice. Not the kind of place you'd expect to find an international illustration exhibit —nor, more to the point, a highly respected school of illustration. One way or the other, this calm green corner of Italy attracts artists and students from the world over.
Workshops are held from April to September, covering a good variety of techniques— everything from acrylics and gouache, to watercolour, egg tempera and all kinds of printmaking. What they all have in common is a focus on some aspect of children's book illustration: storyboarding/visual narrative to making a composition work (graphically, chromatically and otherwise) to character studies. All the elements of vocabulary needed for the language of illustration. An embarrassment of riches!
I ended up taking two courses, with Linda Wolfsgruber and with Svjetlan Junakovic —both of whom I have long admired as artists, and now appreciate as teachers. Each one with their own style (both in art and in teaching) they succeed in getting the best out of us students, whether it was in struggles with the medium or in our search for a personal style. I really got a lot out of my time with them!
Mind you, the other teachers there also come highly recommended— including Chiara Carrer, Eva Montanari, Simona Mulazzani, Octavia Monaco, to name but a few: the crème de la crème of children's illustration! If you don't already know their work, do click!!
Svjetlan's workshop focussed on acrylics. One of the topics for illustration was "Tales from India", which is the theme of this year's exhibit.
In Linda's workshop, the technique focussed upon was printmaking —monoprints, mixed media and collage. The subject was "Rodari and his tales"— using Gianni Rodari's wonderful stories, or his creative approaches (eg, the binomio fantastico) as outlined in La Grammatica della Fantasia (English version here).
In addition to the coursework, we had a few extracurricular treats, including visits from publishers (Andrea Rauch from Principi e Principi, and earlier in the season Topipittori). We also got to see a mesmerizing documentary film (directed by Karl Bachmann) about Stepan Zavrel, the wonderful Czech illustrator who founded the school /exhibit. And best of all, we had our end-of-term party at Stepan Zavrel's magical home— unforgettable!!
All in all, these workshops had an atmosphere just fizzing with energy and enthusiasm and concentration, much more intense than art school. More than one person remarked that it was like being in another dimension...
And of course, you learn a lot from the other students — the people I was with came from as far afield as Tblisi, Sao Paolo, Vienna, Bangkok, Barcelona, Wales, as well as all over Italy (there were up to 7 languages flying around at any given moment!). Ranging from 19 to 70 years old, with all kinds of experiences: published book illustrators, seasoned print-makers, art students, teachers, graphic designers... the lot! There was a real esprit de corps — an atmosphere of camaraderie and generous exchange. For those of us in this solitary profession, it comes as a real source of energy.
I'll be back, Sàrmede!
PS. If you want to see more photos, look here.