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.

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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. Each stayed in one of the beautiful, traditional Italian cottage at Casa san Gabriel  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 around the Umbrian villages and towns choosing 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.

 

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.

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.

Sketchbook Watercolours by Alan Reed

Umbrian Sunset
Sketchbook Watercolour of Umbrian Sunset

Our first trip to to the region Umbria in Italy was in 2002. We stayed at the Relais il Canalicchio which boasts commanding views over the Umbrian countryside.

On one of our trips out to explore we visited the Fabriano paper factory where I purchased several leather bound sketchbooks containing their beautiful hand made paper which is a delight to paint on. In fact these tiny sketchbooks are so lovely you initially feel a little scared to paint in them in case you mess it up!

I did pluck up the courage though and one evening I painted the view from out window, a simple composition of a small farm building silhouetted against the warmth of the spring evening light.

These are the kind of subjects that I would be encouraging guests on our painting holidays in Italy to paint. I would be leading by example but also overseeing their work, deciding on the right composition, advising on choice of colours, sequence of washes and of course making sure that they don’t spoil the painting by overworking it.

Nowadays there are some excellent sketchbooks available in the UK and online containing good quality paper to paint on. I also recommend the Arches watercolour blocks for slightly larger paintings. A 14″ x 10″ or 12″ x 9″ containing rough paper which is small enough to pop into a bag with the rest of your painting gear.

I usually have a range of materials available from my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland, Northumberland.