Italy with Arte Umbria 2019

My first time painting, and leading an art holiday, in Italy.
About 18 months ago I was contacted by Seraphina at Arte Umbria asking if I had ever considered leading a painting holiday in Italy. Italy?? Well, you try and stop me! Over the next few months arrangements were made, flights booked and before I knew it I was getting on the plane at Stansted about to jet off on a new adventure. I must thank my wife and children for all their support getting to this stage - without them I wouldn't be able to do what I do and they have sacrificed much to allow me to fulfil my dreams as an artist (For those that don't know, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/M.E. in 2014, which led to me losing my job, being very ill/house-bound for a year and needing a walking stick. My family were incredible during this time when I couldn't be the husband/father they needed me to be. In 2015, whilst still very ill, I registered as a self-employed artist.)

01 Boarding the plane at Stansted

Thankfully there are direct flights from Stansted to Perugia Airport, just a 2 hour flight so for me it was a straight-forward and non-stressful journey. To avoid bad weather over France we headed east over Germany and then south over the Alps - what a view! I was fortunate to arrive a day earlier than our guests to give me a chance to settle in and plan the week before everyone arrived.

I was met by David at the airport and we made our way on the 1 hour drive to the house. Once out of the vicinity of Perugia we were in the amazing Umbrian landscape - olive groves, sunflower fields, hills and mountains.

03 The stunning Umbrian landscape

Arte Umbria is equipped with a very good studio which leads straight out into the grounds. With equipment available for watercolours, oils, acrylics and pencils there is plenty to keep you creative and busy! The weather when I visited was sensational - if a little too hot - so it was much more pleasant for us to do our lessons up on the covered terrace rather than the enclosed walls of the studio.

04 the studio at Arte Umbria

I decided to start a watercolour painting in the shade looking out over the landscape towards the small town of Montegabbione on the day those who had booked onto the painting holiday arrived from the UK. With a large piece of watercolour paper it was great fun using a large brush as quickly as I could (mainly because it was drying so quickly!) and the finished painting can be seen below. I finished just as the guests arrived - I thought they would find it inspirational to see some work being created as they were welcomed to the house and it had the desired effect! That first day was a 'getting to know you' day - spending the afternoon chatting and chilling, some heading for the swimming pool and others getting settled in to their accommodation. Dinner at 8pm was followed by plenty of chat, drinks and stories before heading off to bed, excited for the start of painting in the morning.

Thursday morning and after a continental breakfast we started our first lesson of the day in watercolours. I had the class do an exercise where they have just 30 seconds to paint a picture of a boat. Initially they just painted what they thought a boat looked like rather than focussing on the reference photo; after a few attempts, and a little guidance, they realised that they needed to look very closely at the photo and decide how efficiently they could convey the image before them in paint: what do you leave in and what do you leave out? How much detail do we need to include? Can we simplify the composition and the detail to make it work better as a painting? It came as a relief for them when I told them they now had 5 minutes to paint the same thing - but they still had to think carefully about what they needed to do, so that when it came to producing a bigger, more detailed painting they understood both the composition, detail and techniques required to produce some great work.

07 the class working on their watercolour paintings

Painting at Arte Umbria is a relaxed affair - it is, after all a holiday - so in the heat of the afternoon sun we had a 'siesta', which was just an excuse to get in the pool again....except for me as I planned the next lesson and got materials ready! I was working, honest....
We next painted at 4pm until 6pm, again allowing time for everyone get cleaned up before dinner at 8pm. Day 1 tick!

The following morning we headed for the grounds of Arte Umbria overlooking the beautiful valley towards Montegabbione. Thankfully we were under the shade of the large oak trees nd what an enjoyable morning it was. We were using acrylics and some of the guests hadn't used them before, so we started off with an explanation of how to use them, being able to layer them like watercolours and like oils, and the ability to correct our mistakes if we use thin layers (of course, we don't make mistakes - we make artistic discoveries......). In our late afternoon session we finished off these paintings before dinner....yum! Day 2 tick!

Day three was a day trip to Orvieto. As this was both my first time leading a painting holiday AND my first time ever in Italy, we were taken to Orvieto by our hosts, as I didn't know the way! I was mentally making notes every step of the journey so that I now know what to do and where to go, and which tickets to buy for the train and bus. Orvieto sits high up on a hill (mountain??) and is a beautiful little town, dominated by the magnificant cathedral which marks our arrival on the bus.

11 day trip to Orvieto

As our guests shopped I took some time to do some sketching - one in watercolour and one in pencil. You can see these sketches, and all the others I made during my trip to Italy, on my Italian sketchbook page. We had a fantastic lunch in the (relative) cool of a shady courtyard before heading off back home late afternoon. I would thoroughly recommend a trip to Orvieto! Day 3 tick!

Day four began with more watercolours, this time we painted a large, broken urn in the grounds which was surrounded by beautiful flowers and greenery. It made for an interesting subject as it sat in an elevated position in front of a textural stone wall of the house. We covered wet-in-wet techniques, wet-on-dry and dry brush techniques and the class again produced some great work. These were finished off later in the afternoon following our siesta.

09 painting en plein air in the grounds of Arte Umbria

On the morning of day five our guests visited a local castle for a wine tasting tour before arriving back in time for lunch. Several bottles of red wine were brought to the table from the vineyard (it was very nice, not that I had any...) with everyone saying how much they enjoyed their trip out. There is also an opportunity to paint and sketch within the grounds of the castle, who are very good friends of Seraphina and David. I took the morning to have a rest as I was struggling with the heat and workload; it was always a concern about being able to do so much due to my CFS/ME; thankfully a good long rest for most of the day was a welcome bonus until we painted again at 5pm until 7pm. The time was spent finishing off previous work and the guests firing all sorts of art-related questions at me. Day 5 tick!

15 some of the acrylic palette knife paintings created on the course

Our final full day of the holiday started with acrylic palette knife painting of a vivid sunset painting. We started by covering the canvas with yellows, oranges and reds before using the palette knife to negatively paint in the blue sky. We built up layers of paint across the canvas before painting in the silhouettes of the mountains with brushes. I was really impressed by the paintings created by the class, considering this was only the second time some of the class had used acrylics. They really enjoyed this session, and I ended the day by painting a watercolour demonstration which was filmed by Arte Umbria and will be up on their YouTube channel soon. Before we knew it, it was time to pack our bags for an early start in the morning to catch our flight back to Stansted.

Final Thoughts

If you had said to me just three years ago that I would have flown out to Italy to do this I would have laughed; even when I agreed to it I wasn't well enough to go ahead with it, but I'm so grateful for the strength and energy I had to do it. It was a thoroughly enjoyable week, with amazing scenery, great company and incredible food and drink. Most importantly for me though was the fact our guests really enjoyed it and learnt plenty of new techniques and skills in painting. I had some amazing comments from the group and it was a real pleasure to spend time getting to know them and encourage them in their art. Would I do it again? You bet! It's already being planned for 2020....
Find out more on the Arte Umbria website here.