Watermill painting tutor Fiona Graham Mackay


Fiona Graham Mackay

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Painting by watermill tutor Fiona Graham-Mackay

The Ponte Vecchio Bridge, Florence.

Oil on paper

Mid-summer in Florence and it being far too hot to paint during the day I decided to do an evening painting on the banks of the river Arno with a grand view of the Bridge. I was struck by the vivid shades of orange and reds on its buildings, quite a contrast to the greenery of the Tuscan countryside I was staying in. Whether I managed to capture it or not, I loved the sense of atmosphere and in my mind could see the Medicis’ spying from the Vasari corridor, on the intrigue of the gold markets down below.

Painting by Fiona Graham-Mackay a tutor at the watermill in Italy

Dusk, Venice, in the rain

Oil on linen and hardboardr

for A very limited colour palette. It’s important to work with the conditions when painting outside. Don’t be overly ambitious. Time and weather conditions dictate which is part of the challenge and the fun. I worked quickly on a pre-prepared board with a very limited, colour palette of indigo, raw sienna, raw umber, titanium white and ultramarine blue. No detailed drawing as such, more a collection of tones and shapes to create atmosphere.

Painting tutor at the watermill in Italy Fiona Graham-Mackay

The Boboli Gardens, Florence

Oil on paper

I paint with oil on paper a lot when traveling. I work quickly, spontaneously without feeling precious. I always start with drawing, whether in paint, pastel, charcoal or pencil. Drawing is committing consciousness to paper. Even with abstract painting, you have to understand what it is you are looking at before you abstract. The problem is, we often simply don’t believe what we see. If you put down what you see, it always works. I teach in such a way to give the individual confidence, to believe in what they are seeing and this, along with the development of technique, builds confidence and ultimately greater pleasure in whatever we turn our minds to.

Painting tutor Fiona Graham-Mackay at the watermill in Italy

Girl being blown over bridge, Venice


Perhaps I am unlucky with the weather in Venice but that day I enjoyed sitting in the safety of a café, sketching. Venice is moving all the time, and I loved the image of this girl trying to cross the bridge, with her umbrella being blown inside out.

Course dates

Saturday 17 August to Saturday, 24 August 2024


Painting en plein air (oil, acrylic, watercolour and pastel)

Fiona Graham Mackay is one of Britain's foremost portrait painters (her sitters include Lord Carrington, Prince Michael of Kent and Seamus Heaney), but she is also one of Britain's leading landscape painters, with her work covering idyllic river and wildlife scenes in Britain to edgy landscapes and individuals in Pakistan and the Taliban country along the Afghan borders.

Fiona is a highly sought-after tutor, teaching in Italy and France, and running courses at her studio in East Sussex. We are delighted to welcome her to the Watermill, painting en plein air in the glorious unspoiled scenery of rural Tuscany. Fiona teaches in oil, acrylic, watercolour and pastel. She says: “All mediums have their unique quality and I enjoy the flexibility of using a diversity of mediums.”

Fiona studied at the Royal College of Art under the illustrious Quentin Blake. Even before she left the RCA her work was in demand by leading London publishers, and her painting has been so in demand during the past five years that she has travelled thousands of miles to fulfil commissions – some of them in less-than easy circumstances. At the height of some of the worst tensions in Afghanistan, for example, Fiona was painting in Pakistan and the Afghan border.

At the more comfortable level of painting, Fiona has in the past six years returned to portraiture. Her painting of the late Baroness Thatcher’s foreign secretary Lord Carrington now hangs in London and was featured in his biography written by the historian, Christopher Lee. Her portrait of Prince Michael of Kent is in the entrance to one of Europe’s most famous yacht clubs where he is admiral. Shortly before his death, the Nobel prize winning poet Seamus Heaney unveiled Fiona’s portrait of him and it now hangs in pride of place at the Athenaeum in Pall Mall London.

Fiona is well known in the UK for her BBC radio series A Portrait of... and is also regularly featured in national newspapers and magazines. Her work is exhibited at a number of prestigious galleries across the UK.

Praise for Fiona’s 2023 painting course at the Watermill

The painting course was an excellent time, not only for me, but for all the participants.There was all the time a tremendous feeling trom the moment I came and met you in this wonderful peaceful place. Thank you very much for making my dream come true. CB

We had a wonderful week. The Watermill is a beautiful setting for a relaxing holiday. Bill and Lois are perfect hosts and ensured our stay was a seamless week of healthy, delicious, culinary delights, with aperitifs, digestives, tours and painting in and around the Watermill. We felt very nurtured. From a painting viewpoint there is certainly plenty to enjoy both around the Mill and its surrounding woodland and river features and also a great studio. AD

It is an aspiring artist’s delight and I had a wonderful time, with the great company of fellow artists and splendid hosts.Loved the bed pillows, the food, the relaxed atmosphere Fiona GrahamMackay is such a great tutor. PR-S

Praise from some of Fiona’s previous students

"Fiona is the best tutor I have ever met. She is so talented, friendly, helpful and generous with her ideas. She adjusts and helps all abilities and all painting mediums. I learnt so much. The effort she put into arranging the final evening made it such a success. Where does she get her energy? I had a week's painting that I will never forget. Roll on next time”.

Our tutor, Fiona Graham-Mackay, was brilliant: intelligent, warm, and empathetic. She has the gift of enabling students to give the very best of themselves, and to push their boundaries.

"You represent the "Spirit of Art”, encouraging us to see every artful moment - a ray of light, the shape of plants, the voices around us. Your enthusiasm is delightful. Your dedication to each artful moment will carry me into my next explorations.

You remind us to "Just make Art. Just do it!" You remind us of the importance of sketching every day in order to develop our capacity to SEE."

"Fiona is a wonderful teacher - she corrects so gently, you just don't notice but improve in spite of yourself.”