New Year, New Adventures

As we approach the horizon of a new year we find ourselves reflecting on 2015, imagine the endless possibilities that could be in store for us, goals we’d like to achieve and metaphorical mountains we wish to conquer. For Alan, the next part of the story is one we look back at with the benefit of hindsight and wisdom – let us take you back to 2011, before the trips to Oman, painting courses in Florence and commissions the new year took him on….

An artist trained in graphic design who instinctively specialises in watercolours, things were about to change for Alan as a trip to Oman for a series of commissions brought new opportunities and a chance meeting with a young sculptress. Having spent the last decade gathering reference for paintings in Italy, Alan and Susan were unknowingly about to take a hiatus from the country and spread their wings much further – to the Middle East.

Charles Cecil Studio, Florence
Charles Cecil Studio, Florence

It was three years since their last visit to Italy as the couple swapped pretty city piazzas and lush green countryside for the beautiful marinas of Oman and the glittering shores of the Indian Ocean beyond. Fast approaching his 50th birthday, this was also a time of reflection for Alan who had so far enjoyed an incredible, award-winning career as an international artist. Alan’s passion for painting had only grown stronger over the years and it was important for him to continue to develop his work, his methods and style to further grow as an artist. It was during this time that Alan met sculptress Domenica de Ferranti in Oman, who had studied portraiture at the prestigious Charles H Cecil School of Fine Art in Florence for three years.

Founded in 1991 to preserve the atelier tradition – a practice stemming from Renaissance Italy in which a master painter opens his studio to a group of students and dedicates his teaching to the Sight-Size method. This is a method used by painting masters since the 17th century – including Alan’s idol John Singer Sargent. The technique requires the painter to place the image and subject side by side to further study the scale and proportion of the piece. While admittedly, Alan couldn’t dedicate three years of his career to studying in Florence at the Charles H Cecil School of Fine Art, he was overjoyed to discover they ran a two week intensive short course and enrolled for the new intake!

Alan's study in oils of John Singer Sargent's "Head of a Capri Girl
Alan’s study in oils of John Singer Sargent’s “Head of a Capri Girl

The irony that meeting Domenica in Oman during a hiatus from their trips to Italy would send them back to the country was not lost on Alan and Susan, who booked a two week trip to Florence coincide with Alan’s studies in September 2011. Susan’s mother would be accompanying them for a week at the apartment Susan had booked after spotting something central and conveniently situated in Florence’s Oltrarno Quarter on website Windows On Italy.

Packing their bags for Italy for the first time in three years, 50 year old Alan Reed was to become the student again, attending classes from 9am-4pm, five days a week. With her mother for company, Susan relished the opportunity to slip back into the easy way of life she had enjoyed in her early 20s with her children when living in Venice. Popping to the market for fruit and vegetables, visiting the local shops for bread and fish to prepare fresh from scratch every evening – the trio settled into the Italian way of life quickly.

Susan & her Mum in Florence

Taking the same route to class every day, passing beautiful old buildings bathed in bright September sunshine Alan was acutely aware of the path he was walking. It was a path of The Greats – of so many historical artists who had studied in Florence and most likely walked this very route. The adrenaline alone appeared to be the catalyst he was looking for to grow as an artist.

Portrait in charcoal by Alan Reed
Portrait in charcoal by Alan Reed

The trip was a tonic for all three of them. Though undoubtedly challenging, the two week course pushed Alan out of his comfort zone as he worked alongside seven others and learnt to paint using the sight-size method, using oils for the first time with just five colours to utilise: Lead White, Yellow Ochre, Light Red, Burnt Umber and Ivory Black.

Behind closed doors Alan was inwardly undergoing a transformation. His brain felt fit to burst after two intensive weeks, it was the first time Alan had been “taught” since his four years as a student at Newcastle College. It felt good to be a student again and undoubtedly helped Alan pick up tips which he now uses with his students during Reedart Painting Holidays today.

Emanuela - a portrait by Alan Reed
Emanuela – a portrait by Alan Reed

While Alan didn’t initially feel he had the aptitude for portraiture at that time, he wasn’t about to head home feeling defeated thanks to some motivating feedback from the course leader Nicholas Beer. After seeing some of Alan’s watercolours, Nick remarked “if you can paint like that in watercolours, you’ll have no problem with portraiture!”

This trip to Florence was a truly invigorating, challenging and fruitful for the couple. It brought about new possibilities, enabled Alan to conquer goals he wanted to achieve as he approached his 50th birthday and pushed this Northumberland artist to climb metaphorical mountains he had long wished to conquer in the New Year, and many more after that. As we approach the horizon of a new year we find ourselves reflecting on 2015, imagine the endless possibilities that could be in store for us, goals we’d like to achieve and metaphorical mountains we wish to conquer…

Happy New Year.

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