Returning from their first trip to Umbria in 2002 feeling refreshed, Alan and Susan focused their efforts on the new Alan Reed Art Gallery just a stone’s throw from their home in Ponteland.
The gallery quickly became a go-to destination in its pretty village location amidst the local coffee shops and village pubs. Alan continued to receive a number of interesting commissions during this time – one memorable commission in particular was for banking group Northern Rock, who commissioned a series of paintings of Northumbrian castles for their boardroom.
Fast forward to May 2003 and the couple began to get the travel bug once again. Alan’s ever-expanding Italian Collection of paintings continued to sell exceptionally well and so the couple decided to embark on a new adventure to the Amalfi coast and Sorrento. Looking up prices online, Susan found a fantastic deal that would take them to the cerulean coast for a week’s sightseeing and research, but at £1,500 for the pair they jokingly asked God that if he wanted them to take this trip, someone would come into the gallery that afternoon and buy a painting to fund their trip. As luck would have it, their prayers were answered! They sold two original paintings that afternoon of Italy which went towards their trip.
With its pastel coloured fishing villages, glittering coastline and clifftop olive groves, the Amalfi coast certainly didn’t disappoint. Moving on to soak up the culture in Sorrento, Pompeii, Rivoli and Capri; Alan and Susan saw as much as they could in a week, including a fascinating trip to the oldest paper mill in Italy where Alan was gifted a few sheets of paper from the master craftsmen which resulted in a painting of the iconic Colosseum.
Having purchased a selection of handmade sketchbooks whilst in Fabriano, Umbria, Alan continued his new method of cataloguing his references in these pocket sketchbooks during their trip to Sorrento and the Amalfi coast.
During the early years of his career, Alan vividly remembers his artwork being featured on local news programme BBC Look North. Reporting at the time, broadcast journalist Wendy Gibson mistakenly mentioned that Alan painted without a pencil – which certainly sounded impressive, but wasn’t quite true in Alan’s case. It wasn’t until Alan naturally felt inspired to adopt this new method of painting directly into his pocket sketchbooks during this trip that reminded Alan of this news report and signalled a sort of rebirth in his method of painting.
As life got back to normal at the gallery after their trip, Alan uploaded pages from his sketchbooks to his website. From quick painterly sketches of scenes before him, to little anecdotes of their trip (like the time their bus driver concentrated more on a pretty female passenger than the winding roads up to Positano) the sketchbooks had, in a way, become unique photo albums of his travels and varied from Umbria, Venice and Florence.
Unbeknown to them, another couple half way across the world were looking at the very same photo album…
One of the joys of being an artist is never knowing what opportunities are going to come along – and for Alan, an exciting opportunity to return to Italy had just popped into his inbox. Chrissie and David had escaped the rat race and purchased four derelict 16th century dwellings in the Umbrian Valley, transforming one into their home and the remaining three into beautiful self-catering cottages. With panoramic views from the terrace of the valley beyond, Chrissie and David invited Alan to recapture the beautiful scenery for customers to enjoy on postcards and in the cottages themselves at Casa san Gabriel.
Alan and Susan jumped at the chance to return to Umbria, where they had once laughed about being snowed in despite the sunny weather the day before and organised the trip to coincide with a trip to Venice with Alan’s parents in February 2004. Gathering more reference of the iconic Venetian carnival whilst there, Alan and Susan introduced his parents to some of Susan’s friends Franca and Massimo who live on the outskirts of Venice and of course to much loved old friend Nai whose story you can read more about here.
From there, the family went their separate ways – with Alan’s parents heading back to England and Alan and Susan catching a train to Umbria where Chrissie and David would pick them up from the station and take them to the cottages.
Alan and Susan stayed for just one night which gave Alan a short window in which to take reference of the cottages to produce a sketch for Chrissie and David at a later date, but it took even less time for the couple to fall in love with the beautiful cottages and view here. Surrounded by the Umbrian countryside, Casa San Gabriel had been thoughtfully furnished by Chrissie and David and Alan and Susan knew they would be back.
As it turned out, the couple have returned to Casa San Gabriel on a number of occasions over the last ten years and witnessed the cottages evolve with an outdoor pool, landscaped garden, BBQ facilities and a soon-to-be-completed winery. Alan and Susan also got to know the couple’s two young daughters Eli and Lucia over the years and always make a trip to see the family when they are visiting the area. As the gallery in Ponteland blossomed, so too did Alan and Susan’s love for Umbria, thanks in part, to Chrissie and David’s vision for Casa San Gabriel. Chrissie and David also took on an old church just a short distance from their cottages as the years passed – managing it alongside their own cottages.
The Chiesa del Carmine left a lasting impression on Alan and Susan – although in a sorry state at the time, they kept an eye on the church during its planned restoration and an idea began to form in their heads – wouldn’t this be an amazing place to bring guests on a painting holiday?
Wouldn’t it indeed.