Behind the scenes of a Reedart Painting Holiday in Italy

Having stayed at the Villa Capanne in 2014 and fallen in love with the refined rusticity of their accommodation, Alan, Susan and their guests were certainly in for a treat in 2015 when they returned to Umbria for a second Reedart Italian Painting Holiday, this time in the newly-renovated Chiesa Del Carmine: a stunning, no-expense-spared ancient church and adjoining farmhouse nestled deep in the heart of a picturesque valley. Far enough from civilisation to sit and enjoy the silence of the unspoilt Italian countryside, but close enough to the spectacular Robert Trent Jones Championship golf course at the Antognolla Golf Estate and nearby hilltop towns, Chiesa Del Carmine was the perfect spot for Reedart Holidays to settle into.

Chiesa Del Carmine
Chiesa Del Carmine

Borgo San Jacopo 2

There were trips aplenty on this Reedart Italian Painting Holiday too – stopping off to sketch at Todi, enjoying lunch alfresco in Gubbio and browsing the market at Umbertide and buying cheese, ham and souvenirs to take home. As always, there was a good mix of guests who were here to paint – from beginners and hobby painters – to the more advanced and those who were simply here to eat, drink and explore some of Italy’s hidden gems thanks to Alan and Susan’s unrivalled knowledge of the area.

 

 

A painting of Leon playing the piano for guests at Chiesa Del Carmine
A painting of Leon playing the piano for guests at Chiesa Del Carmine

The group had the added bonus of fellow guest Leon’s piano playing skills this year, who often took himself over to the baby grand piano in the lounge in the evening. It was a magical moment which made the holiday even more memorable for those who had come along to paint, and those who had not.

This particular trip was a memorable one for two guests in particular – with Arthur’s special birthday approaching, his wife Diana commissioned Alan to paint a portrait of her husband. It was to be a surprise so she asked Alan if he could work from photographs. He could, but if possible it would be better try and do a sketch of him and take his own photographs. So Alan devised a cunning plan. On the last evening of the holiday, he began to sketch various guests after dinner as they were all relaxing in the living room of Chiesa Del Carmine. Eventually it was Arthur’s turn and he willingly obliged to sit without suspecting that Alan’s humble charcoal sketch would develop into a 20″ x 16″ portrait in oils!

Arthur's birthday Portrait by Alan Reed
Arthur’s birthday Portrait by Alan Reed

Arthur was delighted with the result….

I am the ever so proud and thrilled owner of the most marvellous portrait of me. Unusually for me, I was struck dumb, and did not know what to say. Now a little recovered, I can tell you directly how thrilled I am. I think it captures the very essence of me. Just perfect. Thank you so much for taking so much effort to capture the very being of me. I am thrilled. We both enjoyed both our original Easter visit to your home, and our wonderful week with you in the summer, and hence we are both equally looking forward to next year. You cannot imagine how happy you have made my celebration week, for my larger birthday number than I really like to think about”

A sketchbook watercolour of Gubbio by Alan Reed
A sketchbook watercolour of Gubbio by Alan Reed

For those who would be painting, the owner of Chiesa Del Carmine light-heartedly offered €250 to the best painting of the villa and left it up to Alan to judge the worthy winner at the end of the trip. Thanks to Alan’s expert guidance and tuition over the past seven days, the guests’ painting skills had undeniably come on leaps and bounds and so the eventual winner proved to be a difficult choice for Alan. The winner was John Chapman, whose painting of Chiesa Del Carmine hangs proudly in the venue today.

Seven fun, inspiring, adventure-filled days exploring Italy, roaming from sea to city to countryside and sampling some of the finest food and drink left the guests of Reedart Italian Painting Holidays heading home feeling fantastic. Many were struck by how incredible value for money the holiday was – food, drink, travel and accommodation was all included in one price for the entire week. They had journeyed to some unforgettable places, enjoyed some magical moments and really bonded with their hosts – so much so that when Alan and Susan mentioned they were heading to Florence for a couple of nights before flying home all of their guests who flew out with them from Newcastle asked if they could come too!

Susan scoured the internet for suitable accommodation, found apartments for everyone in a convenient spot near Ponte Vecchio as well as places for them all to eat and drink together. It was a perfectly unexpected ending to a perfect trip. Due to their popularity, Reedart Italian Painting Holidays became a fully-fledged arm of their 31 year old family business.

A sketchbook watercolour of Florence by Alan
A sketchbook watercolour of Florence by Alan

The couple returned to the area in October 2015 to look for new places they could take their guests – not least because some of them would soon be joining them for the third year running! A truly organic business venture that is driven by a love and passion for Italy and a long-lasting relationship with Chrissie and David who own Casa San Gabriel and run the estate, it’s little surprise the first of two holidays in 2016 sold out almost immediately…

Would you like to join us?

21st – 28th MAY 2016 – Fully Booked.
4th – 11th JUNE 2016 – Fully Booked

June & October 2017 – Fully Booked

June 2018 Fully Booked

2019 Please contact us directly to register your interest.

 

 

 

A Venetian Fairytale

Having visited Italy at least twice a year for work over the last decade Alan and Susan returned after a three year interlude whilst working on commissions in Oman to studying in Florence, where Alan participated in a challenging portraiture course at the renowned Charles H. Cecil studio.

Fast forward a year later and Alan and Susan found themselves back in their beloved Venice for 5 nights, this time with Susan’s mother and sister coming along for the adventure too. While they stayed in the beautiful Carnival Palace hotel, Alan and Susan were overjoyed to stay with dear family friend Nai who had taken Susan under her wing when she was in her early twenties and lived in Venice with her two children Louise and Oliver for several years.

 

Portrait of Nai, by Alan Reed
Portrait of Nai, by Alan Reed

Keen to continue to develop his new skills in portraiture, Alan asked our friend Nai Fasano if she would sit for him while he painted her. What better way to preserve the memory of their dear old friend than with a portrait? Scanning through his trusty Italian pocket sketchbooks today, it’s clear to see how much Alan’s confidence had grown since his first tentative classes learning the art of portraiture and the sight-size method just a year previously.

Having forged an internationally-successful career as a watercolourist, working with oils and swapping figures in the distance of his cityscapes for the finer details of a person’s hair, skin and facial features was undoubtedly a new challenge.

 

Giardini della Biennale
A sketch of Giardini della Biennale

During their trip to Venice in September 2012 the family visited some of the city’s best known landmarks: an afternoon at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, where 20th century modern art devotee Peggy Guggenheim lived, now the location of her museum, an unfinished 18th century palace on the Grand Canal in the Dorsoduro sestiere of Venice.

They enjoyed a stroll through the Giardini della Biennale (Biennale’s Gardens), supper at the Gam-Gam Restaurant in the Jewish Quarter and coffee beneath the beautiful architecture of  before pausing at a rather special, significant place for both Alan and Susan…

A sketchbook painting to gather reference of Susan sitting in St Marks
A sketchbook painting to gather reference of Susan sitting in St Marks

Hanging proudly on their staircase at home in Northumberland, Alan’s portrait of Susan sitting inside St Mark’s speaks louder than perhaps any of the other pieces of artwork in the house. It was here Susan found her salvation – a beautiful, completely unexpected moment where she felt the presence of God and thus began her rebirth as a Christian. As always, Alan would sketch fervently, often painting on location come rain or shine to gather reference for his popular Italian Collection – a series of original paintings and prints of Italy.

 

 

Girl in the Red Coat
Girl in the Red Coat, Venice.

On this particular trip Alan took reference of St Mark’s Square on a rainy winter’s day and decided to add his granddaughter Emily, in a vivid red coat into the crowd of people scurrying across the piazza keen to escape the impending snow shower, similar to a painting he had completed of Newcastle’s iconic Grey Street. Unintentionally reminiscent of the 1973 Donald Sutherland film “Don’t Look Now”, in which a married couple grieving the recent death of their daughter, often pictured in a red coat visit Venice, “Girl in the Red Coat” went on to become one of Alan’s most popular giclee prints after the original had sold.

Venice in the Rain by Alan Reed
Venice in the Rain by Alan Reed
A sketchbook painting on-location in Venice by Alan
A sketchbook painting on-location in Venice by Alan

 

A beautiful balance of inspiring architecture, reflection, gaining reference for future paintings and a chance to enjoy a trip away with family, Alan and Susan were about to embark on a brand new adventure that brought the business and Italy closer than ever.

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 friends David and 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 to and driving 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.

Mission to Commission

After the resounding success of the first Reedart Painting Holiday in Umbria, Italy in early 2006; Alan and Susan found themselves back in the region just a few months later in search of reference for a commission Alan had been contacted about. It was also an exciting opportunity for Alan and Susan to return to their beloved Italy and spend a week eating, drinking, exploring and sketching.

Casa Panfili by Alan Reed
Casa Panfili by Alan Reed

Their starting point was Umbria, where Alan would sketch the beautiful Casa Panfili owned by Alastair and Betty Stuart. After one night here the couple moved on to San Quirico d’Orcia in the Province of Siena, Tuscany to meet up with their friends Karen and Jonathan Marks. The group were staying in the Hotel Relais Palazzo del Capitano, a stunning boutique hotel set in a 15th century mansion, and spent the next two days eating, drinking and exploring the distinctive hilltop towns of Pienza, Siena and Montalcino.

Alan painting on location
Alan painting on location

 

Foodies Alan and Susan thoroughly enjoyed the local cuisine, sampling everything from antipasti and steak to fresh white truffle pasta.

After a long day of exploring the various hilltop towns in the area, Alan and Susan headed straight for the tranquil gardens at their hotel, the Hotel Relais Palazzo del Capitano in San Quirico d’Orcia to relax. This trip was a perfect opportunity for Alan to sketch some of Tuscany’s unspoilt countryside and became a popular new addition to his burgeoning Italian Collection at the time.

Alan and Susan with friends Karen and Jonathon Marks
Alan and Susan with friends Karen and Jonathon Marks

The next stop on their week-long trip was to Colle di Val d’Elsa in the province of Siena, Tuscany. Alan’s brother had worked at local Michelin star restaurant Arnolfo for a summer in 1992 and the group decided to drop by to introduce themselves. Despite not feeling quite as dressed for the occasion as they hoped, the group were warmly welcomed and treated to an unforgettable Michelin star meal at the restaurant.

The last stop on this particular trip was to Lucca, a picturesque city which lies alongside the Serchio River in Italy’s Tuscany region. Renowned for its impressively preserved city walls which date back to the Renaissance era, the group couldn’t resist taking part in a popular tourist pastime of cycling around the city walls which overlook the historic city, cobbled streets and beautiful tree-lined paths.

Another wonderful trip exploring more of Italy’s tourism and hidden treasures, Alan and Susan returned home to their gallery in Ponteland.

Until next time….

PART 2:
After a busy year travelling to and from Italy in 2006, Alan and Susan did not return to Italy until May 2007. This time, it was for a very special occasion!

The couple were jetting to Venice with their friends John and Liz Wilthew their friends from church who were celebrating a rather special wedding anniversary. Having never visited Venice before, John and Liz were certainly in good hands with Alan and Susan as tour guides. As it was a special occasion, the group stayed at La Calcina Guest House – also known as Ruskin’s House – which boasts beautiful views of Venice and a superb terrace on the water.

John Singer Sargent exhibition poster Venice
The John Singer Sargent exhibition the group attended at the Museo Correr whilst in Venice

How better to enjoy their first trip to Venice than with coffee in the piazza at Café Florian, an evening at the opera at the iconic La Fenice opera house – and for Alan – the chance to see an exhibition of one of his favourite artists: John Singer Sargent at the Museo Correr was unmissable!  For Alan and Susan, it was a pleasure to be back in Venice catching up with old friends – especially Nai, whom had become almost like family over the years. This trip to Venice was also a perfect opportunity for Alan to commission something special of his own…

The shop "Il Mercante Veneziano" where Alan bought a handmade sketchbook
The shop “Il Mercante Veneziano” where Alan bought a handmade sketchbook

A visit to the Il Mercante Veneziano resulted in a beautiful hand-crafted leather sketchbook which Alan had made for his wife Susan. Every page, to this date contains a painting based on a memorable event or trip from when they met in 1990 to 2007.

 

 

To Umbria Again: The First Reedart Painting Holiday

After the hustle and bustle and excitement of launching their first overseas exhibition in Marostica, Italy in November 2005 – an undisputed highlight of Alan’s career – Alan and Susan were already planning another exciting new aspect of Alan Reed Art : painting holidays in Italy.

IMG_0738

Alan and Susan had kept in touch with Chrissie and David after first being introduced to the couple through a commission request to paint their cottages and the view from Casa San Gabriel in Umbria two years previously. During their last visit, they had talked about bringing guests to the cottages for painting holidays and after falling in love with the area Alan and Susan were so excited at the prospect of sharing this hidden gem with others that they decided to give it a go.

Painting on location in Spello with Reedart Painting Holidays Italy
Painting on location in Spello

The first Reedart Painting Holiday in Italy took place in April 2006 at Casa San Gabriel. Alan and Susan were joined by another couple from the North East called Kevin and Nicola Brown and a young man from Canada called Matthew. With a beautiful, traditional Italian cottage at Casa San Gabriel to themselves furnished with everything you could ever need, the group spent a week exploring the hilltop towns of Cortona, Gubbio and Spello with their sketchbooks in hand to paint on-location under Alan’s expert teaching.

Enotecca in Spello
Guests enjoying a wine tasting evening at an Enotecca in Spello

Alan and Susan took their new role as tour guides in their stride, confident that their guests would fall in love with this beautiful part of Italy and really develop their painting skills. It was important for Alan and Susan to ensure that non-painting guests still had a memorable holiday too and so they took trips to Fabriano’s famous paper mills, local shops, beauty spots, cultural landmarks – and even bagging an invite to a local gentleman’s 61st birthday street party in Spello where they all enjoyed a simple lunch of freshly baked bread, broad beans, Pecorino cheese and white wine together, sampling some real local Italian culture.

 

A mid-afternoon snap of Assisi on a Reedart Italian Painting Holiday
A mid-afternoon snap of Assisi

It was little things like this that added a sense of authenticity and true value to the very first Reedart Painting Holiday – not to mention the confidence Alan and Susan instilled in their guests as they drove from town to town or picked out local restaurants to dine at, having explored the area at length themselves.

All too soon the week came to an end and their guests went their separate ways – full of praise for Alan, Susan and their “home from home” cottages at Casa San Gabriel in Umbria. Before heading back to Newcastle, Alan had a number of appointments to make while in Italy. Word had spread about the painting of Casa San Gabriel he was commissioned to paint another holiday home in the next valley which led to a number of other new commissions of the area.

Sunday evening life in L'Aquila
Sunday evening life in L’Aquila

One memorable stopping point on this trip in particular was to L’Aquila in central Italy for three nights where Alan would be sketching for reference for a another potential commission. Describing the town as delightfully “olde worlde”, L’Aquila isn’t on the tourist trail and so the locals certainly took Alan and Susan to their hearts. L’Aquila is the capital of the hilly Abruzzo region and during their stay Alan and Susan ventured to the Monti della Laga National Park to do some exploring.

 

Gran Sasso and the chorus of crocuses
Gran Sasso and the chorus of crocuses

One memorable stopping point on this trip in particular was to L’Aquila in central Italy for three nights where Alan would be sketching for reference for a another potential commission.

Describing the town as delightfully “olde worlde”, L’Aquila isn’t on the tourist trail and so the locals certainly took Alan and Susan to their hearts. L’Aquila is the capital of the hilly Abruzzo region and during their stay Alan and Susan ventured to the Monti della Laga National Park to do some exploring.

The magnificent Gran Sasso
The magnificent Gran Sasso

Neither could forget how the snow was piled at least ten foot high either at the side of the road as they drove to the Gran Sasso – the centrepiece of the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park. Despite the mountains being covered in snow, Alan and Susan were taken aback to find the air was warm and spring had sprung, covering the ground in beautiful purple crocuses.

Despite their numerous trips to Italy over the past decade, it would seem Italy still had a few surprises up its sleeve for Alan and Susan to discover.

A Foodies Paradise

Touching down in the beautiful Côte d’Azur, Nice in March 2005, Alan and Susan picked up a hire car and headed an hour’s drive away across the borders to Liguria – also known as Italy’s Riviera for a week-long trip of research and getting reference.

The couple had booked a space at the hugely popular La Dolce Vita event in London (a three day event hosted by Italy magazine aimed at promoting all things Italian) later in the spring, so their trip to Liguria would be a fantastic research opportunity for Alan to sketch and add to his collection of Italian paintings which he would be showcasing at the La Dolce Vita event. Despite its reputation as a jewel in Italy’s coastline, Alan and Susan arrived in Liguria on a dull, grey rainy day.

Corso Palladio, Vicenza by Alan Reed
Corso Palladio, Vicenza by Alan Reed

They had decided to book a hotel once they arrived, giving them more freedom and scope to explore the area but with the weather being so bad they decided to drive to their next destination and see whether they could check in at their hotel a few days early.

As luck would have it, heading straight to Alba turned out to be the best decision they could have made… Stopping for directions on the way, Alan and Susan were told “you will eat well” in Alba, and they certainly did! Alba is known for its slow food movement – no fast food culture grows here, but instead an appreciation for seasonal, organic local produce.

As Alan and Susan would discover, there were no menus in Alba’s Osterias. Instead, you were served what was seasonal and fresh that day – like pizza topped with deliciously soft stracchino cheese which is unavailable to buy in England due to its quick sell-by-date.

The food in Alba was unlike anything they’d ever eaten before…

The couple still vividly remember one favourite Osteria Sognatori in Alba where they were treated like old friends and served a culinary feast of antipasti, salami, cheese, pasta and ravioli to start, before moving on to a main of meat and fresh vegetables served with local wine. Finishing their meal with coffee and the customary grappa, Alan and Susan were amazed to find the whole meal at Osteria Sognatori cost just €45.

Tommaso' vineyard in Veneto
Tommaso Bussola vineyard in Veneto

Alan and Susan spent the remainder of the trip in the Piedmont region of Italy driving to nearby hilltop towns of Bra, La Morra, Neive, Mango and Nebbiolo, stopping to visit their hotel owner’s vineyard in Barolo in between and sampling some fantastic local produce to bring back home.

Picking up salami and cheeses at various other stops on their trip, Alan and Susan were taken aback by the beautiful scenery in the Piedmont region.

 

Six days of adventure passed all too quickly and it was time to head to the airport via Liguria and Monte Carlo – but not before Susan stopped a local fisherman to ask where they might find the best seafood restaurant in Noli, Liguria to enjoy one last fantastic meal here.

 

A sketch from Alan's sketchbook of the beach at Liguria
On the beach at Noli, Liguria – by Alan Reed

 

Sketchbook watercolour from the couple's trip to Alba, Piemonte
Sketchbook watercolour from the couple’s trip to Alba, Piemonte titled: “On the way from Mango to Stephano Belvo”

With a sketchbook full of reference of vineyards, street scenes, rich Italian landscapes and a head full of memories of bustling streets lined with wine bars and friendly locals who “never get English people here” – Alba was not yet on the tourist radar, but Italy enthusiasts Alan and Susan had certainly discovered a true hidden gem.

 

Fast forward from March to September 2005 and Alan and Susan were packing their bags for Italy once again. Thanks to an influx of incredibly cheap Ryanair flights during this time, there was no excuse not to, and so the couple booked to stay at La Mason, a complex of apartments near Verona.

Landing in Bergamo, they headed for the Veneto along the motorway following La Serenissima, once an ancient trade route between Venice and Milan. They spent 7 days exploring the area. Travelling off the beaten tourist track,  Alan and Susan also discovered one of the most incredible seafood restaurants they had ever eaten at.  Said to be a favourite of one of the famous Formula 1 champions, they were in good company as they dined at Il Tenere where the owner, an enormous hulk of a man sat down in front of them and asked them what they wanted. Instead of being presented with menus, they were treated to an incredible meal of fresh fish and local wine.

Alba and Veneto

Such is the life of an international artist,  Alan visited the historic towns of Marostica, Asolo, Asiago, Padua and Vicenza on this particular research trip.

Providing him with an abundance of reference for a forthcoming exhibition, the trip was also a perfect opportunity to meet up with their old pastor Paul in Marostica and Alberto Brazzale, the publisher whom they had met a year earlier in Rome.

 

Working on location, often battling against quickly fading light conditions gave Alan’s work a painterly sense of immediacy and energy. Painting directly with his paintbrush using watercolours rather than pencil or charcoal gives Alan’s work a truly distinctive style enjoyed the world over – from their gallery in Ponteland to London’s La Dolce Vita and even at the airport in Italy!

 

Alan Reed artist sketching in Veneto
Alan sketching on location in Veneto

Alberto and Tommaso
“We try to make two working trips to Italy each year, every trip is different and deepens our love affair with the country.”

From the very first Italian Collection of paintings assembled on his very first trip to Venice in the early 90s, to an ever-expanding collection over ten years later, Alan Reed Art had certainly seen The Light when it came to focusing on Italy as a collection of paintings, not least because it meant jetting off to Italy for research purposes, painting on location and getting to uncover some memorable hidden treasures, but more on that later…

 

 

 

 

 

An Exciting Agenda

February 2004

Sitting in a quiet corner of Pani’s Cafe in the heart of Newcastle city centre Susan and Loretta are babbling away in broken Italian. Half English, half Italian phrases carry through the air to the kitchen, where a superb Italian feast is being prepped for the busy pre-theatre rush later that evening…

Having lived in Venice for several years in her early twenties, Susan was introduced to Loretta after a meal at Pani’s and the pair would often catch up over a coffee or bowl of pasta so Susan could practise her Italian. It was during one of these meetings that Loretta mentioned she knew a publisher in Italy who she would love to introduce Alan and Susan to, with a view to publishing a book of his work.

Sketching in Vicenza 2004
Sketching in Vicenza 2004

With their gallery on Main Street in Ponteland now well on its way to being well established, the couple were looking forward to the future of Alan Reed Art and decided to meet with the publisher, Alberto Brazzale in Rome in September 2004.

Meeting Alberto for the day at the hotel where they were staying in the Trastevere area, he talked confidently about his previous work and explained how he sought sponsorship from local companies and banks in Italy to publish his books. Giving Alan and Susan some exciting ideas to go home and discuss, Alberto also suggested some new locations Alan might like to visit and paint to add to his collection of Italian paintings.

One of Alberto’s suggestions was to visit Vicenza, a historic city in the Veneto region highly regarded for its Palladian architecture. Knowing very little about the area, Alan and Susan later met with old friend and pastor Paul and his wife who now lived there in the November of 2004.  It was a joyous trip for both parties as Susan was delighted to be reunited with old friends from the church congregation she was part of whilst living in Venice, and Alan sketched some new scenes for his Italian Collection of paintings. As the couple mulled the idea of creating a book about Alan’s Italian-inspired artwork, and possibly even hosting an exhibition in nearby Marostica, unbeknown to them, another idea was brewing. They just didn’t quite know it yet…

After their meeting with Alberto the pair were off to Umbria again! This time, they would be meeting their good friends Bob and Heather at Rome airport and heading two hours into the sunset to Umbria to stay with Chrissie and David at Casa San Gabriel.

Painting of Casa San Gabriel by Alan Reed
Painting of Casa San Gabriel by Alan Reed

Cultural heritage is not Umbria’s only selling point – this produce-laden province is beloved by Susan in particular for the wild boar and truffles of its woods that grow in abundance here. Umbria is rustic, rural, romantic Italy at its undiscovered finest, where sheep roam free in the unspoilt valleys and medieval villages and landmarks that dot the landscape.

Alan and Susan wasted no time in introducing Bob and Heather to the area – driving along its winding roads to the foot of the Sibillini Mountains and onto the wild and wonderful Piano Grande basin where lentils grow in abundance and a patchwork quilt of red, purple and blue wildflowers carpets the view below during the summer months. Unquestionably one of the most spectacular sights in the area, the scenery and the silence up here are exhilarating no matter what time of year you visit.

The foursome stood still, drinking in the view. For Alan, it was a wonderful opportunity to sketch and catalogue some of the world’s most far flung locations that would delight customers at the gallery. Despite their wonderfully rural location, Susan spotted a small caravan parked up in the distance serving sandwiches and light lunches. They decided to stop for lunch here and headed over to the mysterious caravan…. Greeted with wild boar sandwiches and a glass of wine, Alan, Susan, Bob and Heather enjoyed a fantastic lunch at the top of the Piano Grande basin – one they still vividly remember today.

Spending a week together touring the sights of Tuscany and the Umbrian Valley, a little over an hour’s drive from Casa San Gabriel took the group everywhere. From the pretty hilltop town of Cortona to chocolate and salami shops in Norcia and onwards to the peaceful mediaeval town of Gubbio on the slopes of Monte Ingino. Their base at Casa San Gabriel, nestled deep in the Umbrian Valley proved a perfect spot to stay – Chrissie and David were the perfect hosts and opened up their own home for dinner one evening on the terrace of their home with breathtaking views of the valley where Bob and Heather celebrated their 25 th wedding anniversary and Bob presented her with a beautiful ring to mark the occasion.

Shortly before their trip came to an end, the foursome discovered the crumbling ruins of an old church tucked away just a ten minutes walk from where they were staying. While Alan sat and sketched the ruins, Susan and Heather sat in the sun and chatted about how wonderful it would be to have the money and time to renovate the church and make it into something….

Chiesa del Carmine 2004
The ruins of Chiesa del Carmine 2004

The Chiesa del Carmine was renovated, not by Alan and Susan – or Bob and Heather, but by the landowner and is managed by none other than Chrisse and David who own Casa San Gabriel. Standing in the very same spot ten years later, in 2014, Alan and Susan thought back to that conversation with Bob and Heather and the concept of Reedart Painting Holidays in Italy was born

New Beginnings

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.

Warkworth Castle by Alan Reed
Warkworth Castle by Alan Reed – one of the castle’s in Alan’s collection available to purchase as a limited edition print.

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.

 Ravello, an iconic scene from the Amalfi coast.
Ravello, an iconic scene from the Amalfi coast.

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.

The Faraglione Rocks, Capri
Faraglione rocks, Island of Capri from trip to Sorento May 2003

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.

Rosso e Nero, inspired by the couple's trip to Venice February 2004 featuring the Rialto Fish Market and is available as a limited edition print.
Rosso e Nero, inspired by the couple’s trip to Venice February 2004 featuring the Rialto Fish Market and is available as a limited edition print.

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.

Casa San Gabriel, Umbria  by Alan Reed
Casa San Gabriel, Umbria by Alan Reed

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.

To Old Friends

There are people we meet throughout our lives that leave an inexplicable mark on us. These people shape us in wonderful ways and guide us through some of the darkest storms we face. Nai is one such person for Alan and Susan Reed. Almost like a second mother to Susan, and a delightfully enigmatic and wise lady, now in her eighties – this is the story of Nai.

 

Nai from her balcony in Dolomites
Nai from her balcony in Dolomites1983 

Navigating a new world with her two young children Louise and Oliver as a young twenty-something herself, Susan rented a small apartment at the top of Via Garibaldi for her young family after moving to Venice in 1983. A beautiful old building in the Castello District, it wasn’t long before Susan was introduced to the lady who lived in the apartment above – a hardworking Italian housewife and mother of two sons. Taking Susan under her wing almost immediately, Nai adored Louise and Oliver and helped Susan learn the language. It was the perfect friendship – Nai took Susan and the children to places across Italy they could only have dreamed of. Picnics in the park, to Dodges Palace – one of Venice’s gothic landmarks and across to Burano Island, famous for its lace and coloured houses – just to name a few.

Once the children settled in at nursery, Susan would spend many mornings accompanying Nai shopping in the hustle and bustle of Venice – to the barge on the canal where they would buy the most succulent fresh fruit and vegetables, to favourite lesser-known bakeries, and to the tabaccheria for her cigarettes “Esportazione” (the same brand that she had smoked since the war) before heading back to her house to cook lunch for Nai’s husband Mario.

Nai's Cigarettes
                          Nai’s Cigarettes
Alan's sketches from Nai's house
Alan’s sketches from Nai’s house

Nai’s home in Via Garibaldi was very much a traditional Venetian family home where much of the furniture belonged to older family members who lived there previously and kept in immaculate condition. Alan took great delight in sketching the various rooms and corridors of this old house during the couple’s visits many years later. Giving Susan a first-hand experience into the wonderful family values and Italian culture is something she’s never forgotten. Whether through watching Nai’s mother in law, the head of the household sewing intricate swatches of lace by hand for the family’s bedding and linen, or the unforgettable dishes Nai taught Susan to cook from scratch. From fresh artichoke hearts – “carciofi” floating in salted water and divine when cooked, to a simply delicious starter of zucchini and pasta, drizzled with fresh lemon juice, olive oil and parmesan. Wine was always enjoyed with every family meal, followed by a caffe corretto – espresso and Nai’s favourite tipple – a shot of grappa.

Nai's Grappa
Nai’s Grappa

A fiery spirit, grappa is fondly remembered as the liquid courage carried in Italian soldiers’ flasks in World War One to sanitise their drinking water, warm them up and lift their spirits. While its common name is “grappa”, the drink’s formal title is acquavite di vinaccia, derived from the Latin aqua vitae, or “water of life” – Nai remains a figurehead of her family even now in her 80s – perhaps thanks to, her water of life! Susan couldn’t have had a better teacher in Nai, and it’s no surprise that when she decided to return home to England after five incredible years, they remained close. Returning to Venice often and sometimes with with close friends such as John and Liz Wilthew in 2007, it was Nai who saved the couple time and money by purchasing tickets to the famous Teatro La Fenice, before welcoming the group to her home the next evening for a fabulous family meal – a perfect example of how fond Nai and Susan had become of each other.

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Alan and Susan often stayed with Nai on their trips to Venice over the years, and one trip in particular to the Dolomites in 2006 remains sharp in their memories. Knowing the Dolomites like the back of her hand, Nai and her sister used to explore the mountains in the North Italian Alps every summer in their youth. The family owns a beautiful rustic chalet in the area, and so Nai invited Alan and Susan to come and stay with her one year.

Now in her 70s, Nai would fervently send the young couple off out into the mountain range for a days’ exploring – sharing invaluable tips of where the best place to catch the sunset was or stop for a picnic for lunch. As if by magic, the stony grey and white mountain range would light up a beautiful shade of pink before falling into darkness and giving way to a starry night sky, providing incredible scenes of inspiration for artist Alan. As is tradition in Italian culture, Alan and Susan would drive off in the morning to explore but return to Nai in the evening – calling her at ten to eight on the dot so she could put the pasta on as part of the meal for them to enjoy together as they arrived home. Alan recalls fondly being asked to make the coffee after dinner, a sure sign that he was officially one of the family.

Nai’s kindness and compassion has never wavered over the years, despite the thousands of miles that keep the old friends apart. Whenever Alan hosts an exhibition of his artwork, he dutifully sends Nai an invitation – which she fondly keeps in her bedside table as a way of keeping up with the couple’s news and adventures. Despite her husband Mario sadly passing away over 20 years ago, Nai remains a wonderfully independent lady. She leaves Venice for a month every August to enjoy the cooler weather in the Dolomites, or packs up her famous tiny suitcase (containing little more than a clean blouse and her essentials) and travels across Italy, often to Rome to stay with nuns and enjoy a simple meal while she soaks up the history of her beloved country. Susan’s much-loved personal tour guide, confidante and wise old friend; Nai has been an integral part of Susan’s adulthood, giving her a taste of the flavours of life and cementing her love of Italy which in turn has inspired the couple to create Reedart Italian painting holidays.

Susan Reed Pasta Recipe
                                               Susan’s Pasta Recipe

Susan’s winning pasta zucchini recipe – inspired by Nai’s original dish for you to try at home…

Ingredients:
175 grams of Orecchiette
2 Large Zucchini
Clove of garlic
Olive oil
Fresh Parmesan
Flat leaf parsley
½ lemon
Toasted pine nuts (optional)

Method:
Slice the zucchini as thinly as possible (I use the flat side of my grater) In a large frying pan heat the olive oil with the garlic left whole (just to add flavour) and fry the zucchini in small batches so they brown quickly, when cooked drain on kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil until they all are done. Discard the garlic sprinkle the zucchini with salt and freshly ground pepper and stir in with the cooked pasta and pine nuts. Serve, add a squeeze of lemon juice, freshly grated parmesan and finish with chopped parsley