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.

The Merchant of Venice

After a chance meeting in local pub The Diamond in Ponteland, family members and friends could scarcely have predicted the adventures in store for Alan and Susan who married three years later. Having recently returned home from living abroad in Venice with her two young children and settling back into life in the North East, Susan longed to show Alan the sights, sounds and smells of her beloved Venice and introduce him to some of the lifelong friends the family made there.

It was June 1991 when the couple finally took that much-talked about trip. This would be Alan’s first trip to Venice and armed with little else than a conversation he’d had with an old colleague about the architecture and stories he’d read about this iconic city, it became one of the most memorable trips of the couple’s lifetime and the couple returned to Venice in August 1994 where Alan painted 14 “en plein air” watercolours which were part of the “A Tale of two Cities” exhibition in the Spring of 1995.

Reedart Holidays in Italy

While Alan’s family had strong Christian roots, Susan’s rebirth as a Christian was borne in St Mark’s Church whilst living in Venice, and a visit to this magnificent church tied the couple even closer together as Susan shared this chapter of her life with him. Introducing Alan to the friends and “family” Susan made whilst there, Alan quickly found himself falling in love with the Italian way of life. A true home from home for Susan, she happily wandered around the shops with the children, buying handmade sketchbooks and exploring the little back streets and lesser known piazzas whilst Alan painted the joys of Venice – soaking up every inch of the Grand Canal, the view from the vaporetti (the water buses of Venice) and everything in between.

(Image Credit: Alan Reed Art)

It was undoubtedly the beginning of something special, especially for Alan who compares their trip to Venice “like being on a stage set”. The pinch-me moment came when the week all-too-quickly drew to a close and Alan found himself overcome with emotion, already planning his next trip to the city that had stolen his heart after only a week. “I’ll definitely be back”, he thought and he was right. Venice, and indeed Italy has been a constant source of inspiration for Alan’s artwork throughout his career, his works of Venice have been featured in art galleries and various art books over the years – but none can compare to the feeling of pure excitement and exhilaration the young family felt as took their first trip together to a place filled with so many memories – giving Alan a wonderful sensory insight to the wonders of Venice that he in turn shares with us all through his artwork.

When to Visit Venice:
Venice is magnificent any time of the year, beautifully hot in the summer months before turning icy cold in winter. The sight of everyone wrapped up in their furs and the frost dazzling on the canal is unforgettable – while the iconic Venice Carnival which takes place in February is a must not miss.

Where to Go: Head to the Castello neighbourhood of Venice and you will find the “Giardini” (gardens) where is nice to wander in the shade to cool off. We often took the boat over to the Lido to sunbathe on the beach. I would make a large container full of home made lemonade to take with us to drink throughout the day, it was so refreshing made with about a dozen fresh lemons.

Where to Eat: An unusual restaurant in the Jewish part of Venice was Gam Gam which serves fantastic tasty food and very reasonably priced. We also highly recommend Osteria Enoteca near San Marco and Antico Forno, near Rialto for a nice pizza. Try Al Covo Restaurant and Osteria all’Alba near Rialto for cocktails.

“When I lived there, my old Venetian friend Nai used to take the children and I to the island of Burano famous for its lovely different coloured painted houses and the old ladies sitting in the doorways making lace. I could hardly wait for Alan to capture all its colours. We ate in a restaurant called Al Gatto Nero (The black Cat) and sat outside in the sun eating Fritto Misto with a bottle of white wine, a memory to treasure”  – Susan Reed

 

Reedart Holidays in Italy

“The moon shines bright. In such a night as this. When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees and they did make no noise, in such a night…”
― William ShakespeareThe Merchant of Venice

Follow this link to view all of Alan’s Venetian paintings currently available for sale. 

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.