The Good Life

For most of us, our commute to and from work usually involves sitting in traffic staring at the snaking queue of cars in front of us, getting stuck at every red light or sitting on whichever toy the children or grandchildren left behind after a hectic school run that morning…

Alan Painting in Todi, Umbria
Alan Painting in Todi, Umbria

For Alan and Susan Reed however, their commute to work was becoming increasingly longer as they racked up air miles from their home in Ponteland to Rome, Florence, Umbria and seemingly everywhere in between. Sipping espressos en-route to pick up their hire car and head off (quite literally) into the hills of Italy’s unspoiled countryside became the norm for internationally-successful artist Alan Reed and his business partner and wife Susan.

A selection of sketchbook studies by Alan Reed whilst on-location

Thanks to the success of Alan’s unique watercolours of various Italian locations and landmarks (referred to fondly as The Italian Collection), Alan jetted to Italy at least twice a year to gather research for commissions and new paintings to add to the collection with his tried and trusted collection of handmade Italian sketchbooks on hand to gather reference. The autumn of 2007 saw Alan return to Italy with wife Susan to gain reference for a number of commissions he had been contacted about. Flying to Pisa in the October of 2007, Alan and Susan picked up their hire car and headed to Chiesa Pagano – a beautiful hilltop villa nestled in the Umbrian valley.

As far as business trips go, Alan and Susan certainly made the most of theirs – sampling the fresh, local cuisine served in nearby restaurant agriturismo Calagrana – a 19th century farmhouse serving “lost dishes” of traditional Umbrian cuisine and comforting classics such as asparagus served with poached egg and drizzled with white truffle oil, or baby goat with seasonal vegetables and fresh tagliatelle.

Commission near Panicale, Umbria
Next stop on their trip was the Niccone Valley, a lush green hilly area dotted with restored private farmhouses, luxury villas and apartments where Alan sketched the incredible home of an interior designer. With one more appointment to make on this week-long trip, Alan and Susan headed to the medieval town of Panicale which overlooks Lake Trasimeno on the border of Umbria and Tuscany. They were here to meet a gentleman called Michael Box to discuss a commission of his home which nestled in the grounds of a large olive grove.

Alan and Susan had booked to stay at the historic Villa LeMura and arranged to meet Michael and his family at nearby Albergo Ristorante Masolino. Run by two brothers – one with a penchant for wine and the other desserts – Alan and Susan enjoyed a wonderful meal here before taking a trip to The Abbey of Sant’ Antimo, a beautiful Romanesque church, in a picture-perfect setting just south of Montalcino in southern Tuscany to gather reference for another commission, this time of the church.

Sant' Antimo, Tuscany

Sant’ Antimo

San Antimo
San Antimo sketchbook watercolour for commission

Fast forward a year and Alan and Susan were off again, this time to Papiano, a tiny village tucked away in the Province of Perugia to stay with Ian and Barbara Harrison whom had invited them to see their holiday home in the hope that Alan could paint it for them.

The couple still vividly remember how quickly they slipped into the local way of life – sipping espressos at the coffee bar across the street in the warm autumn sun, or buying cheese and fresh vegetables from the piazza as they chatted to the locals.

The Cheese Van, Papiano
The Cheese Van, Papiano

As Alan headed off to paint on-location, Susan thoroughly enjoyed immersing herself in the Italian way of life, cooking typical Italian dishes from scratch just like she had in her twenties with dear old friend Nai while living in Venice.

Sketchbook watercolour of Papiano

After two days at Ian and Barbara’s beautiful apartment in Papiano, Alan and Susan made a beeline for one of their favourite hotels – the Relais il Canalicchio whilst in the area to say hello. One of the unexpectedly lovely bonuses of being invited to Italy for commissions of particular landmarks or locations meant Alan and Susan were able to broaden their knowledge of Italy’s tourist-dense areas, but also the more suburban areas and uncover authentic hidden gems and beauty spots. Unknown to them at the time, this “local knowledge” would come in exceptionally handy when the couple launched their Reedart Painting Holidays in Italy some years later.

Papiano Commission
Papiano Commission

Fortune favoured Alan and Susan that day, and as luck would have it the hotel had a fantastic deal on offer, so they made the spontaneous decision to stay for a few extra days here instead of heading elsewhere to meet up with Alan’s old school friend David Skipsey and his wife Val. Naturally Alan and Susan loved showing David and Val the sights – stopping by Casa San Gabriel in Umbria to introduce them to owners Chrissie and David whom they had become very close friends and drive to some of their favourite nearby hilltop towns for a leisurely lunch, glass of wine at a bustling wine bar or fabulous evening meal.

Both trips were not only productive in terms of helping Alan gain new reference to grow his Italian Collection of paintings and seek inspiration for his commissions but also wonderfully fruitful for both Alan and Susan in terms of relaxation and exploring new places off Italy’s well trodden tourist track.

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