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?

30th May – 6th June 2020

June 2019 Fully Booked

June 2018 Fully Booked

June & October 2017 – Fully Booked

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

September 2019 2 single rooms available – please contact

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.

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 dear friends Jonathan & KarenMarks. 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 Jonathan & Karen 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 Phil had worked at local Michelin star restaurant Arnolfo for a summer in 1992 and therefore they decided to drop by to introduce themselves. Despite not feeling quite as dressed for the occasion as they hoped, Alan & Susan were warmly welcomed and enjoyed a truly 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….

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.


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.

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

A Prophetic Dream

After Susan’s kidney transplant in the year 2000 and a phenomenally successful summer at the Alan Reed Art Gallery in Eldon Gardens, Alan and Susan could both, at last, look forward to the future with a sense of security as post-transplant life for Susan was getting brighter each day. Indulging in their shared love of travel was of course top of their list.

During this time a member of their congregation, Christine, told them about a prophetic dream she had about the couple. The dream carried the message that God was going to uproot them and she had the word Jubilee, which in the Biblical sense refers to a concept of ‘jubilee’ a time when debts were cancelled. Perhaps most peculiar of all, Christine could vividly see a house in her dream, in which Alan was visible upstairs putting sold tickets on various paintings. Downstairs, there were “For Sale” signs in the window.

Neither Christine or Alan and Susan knew what any of it meant. Not long after, the couple were unexpectedly called into a meeting with the management of Eldon Gardens. They were to be given one month’s notice to pack up the gallery and find a new unit to rent as management had found a new, higher bidder to pay for the space. Suddenly their whole livelihood and future was thrown into uncertainty. The gallery had been doing exceptionally well – customers were already earmarking paintings for Christmas gifts and Alan’s artwork was earning a fantastic reputation across the region. Despite the sudden shock of having to close the gallery in Eldon Gardens and look for new premises, Alan and Susan remember feeling nothing but a remarkable sense of peace.

Did this have something to do with Christine’s dream, they wondered?


The gallery closed its doors after six years in March 2002, giving Alan and Susan a renewed sense of freedom. Until they decided where to open a new gallery, they were technically free to do as they pleased. It had been so long since they had been to Italy together due to Susan’s ill health, they decided to book a trip to Italy’s “green heart” – the lush valleys of Umbria, an Italian region bordering Tuscany, Lazio and Le Marche. Beloved for its medieval hilltop towns, dense forests and local cuisine, particularly foraged truffles and wines, Umbria would be a new adventure for the couple – little did they know that this would be the start of a very special relationship. Alan and Susan had booked to stay in the Relais il Canalicchio, a picturesque hotel overlooking olive groves and rolling countryside.

Reedart Holidays
Umbria, by Alan Reed

As they drove along the winding drive and enjoyed a simple supper of tomato and mozzarella salad on the patio in the warm evening sun: it was the perfect retreat Or it was, until they woke up the next day snowed in!

Waking up to blankets of snow carpeting the rolling hills they had admired only the day before in t-shirts, Alan and Susan found themselves snowed in for the day unable to go anywhere. Instead, they explored the hotel, the kitchens brought warming soups to the guests and Alan sat by the log fire and sketched.

Reedart Holidays

As if by magic, the snow had vanished by the next morning and the couple were free to explore the various hilltop towns of Perugia, Spello, Assisi, Spoletto, Orvietto and everything in between over the next two weeks. Hunting out some of the local cuisine, Alan and Susan remember coming across a traditional family-run pizzeria in search of a light meal. Though they spoke no English, it gave Susan an opportunity to recall her Italian after living in Italy and learning the language many years ago. Fully immersed in the Italian culture, something shifted…

Reedart Holidays
Alan’s sketches of the Hotel Relais il Canalicchio whilst snowed in

Life had been such a struggle lately with Susan’s illness and now the gallery being uprooted, they had the opportunity to sit back and enjoyed a slower pace of life here in  Umbria. Blessed with endless beauty spots and inspiration for Alan’s Italian Collection of paintings, his working method even began to change. Having previously used a watercolour block (a pad of pre stretched watercolour paper) to paint, Alan would sometimes lament the fact that his reference of that place, or moment in time was lost once the painting was sold. He would work carefully in pencil sketching various features and scenes, but after a day trip to Fabiano, he decided to buy a selection of leather bound sketchbooks which fitted neatly in his pocket.

The region of Fabriano has a long heritage of making paper for Italian bank notes and Alan immediately fell in love with these beautiful, distinctive sketchbooks. Instead, Alan now found himself working directly with a brush filled with watercolour paint as he painted various scenes in his new sketchbooks. A type of shorthand for himself, Alan could record what he saw and paint it larger on a sheet of stretched hand made watercolour paper whilst still keeping his original references.

Reedart Holidays
Old methods of painting solely using a block and new methods of painting in pocket journals.

The sketchbooks were a catalyst in bringing back memories of the beautiful places he’d visited and remain so today. Umbria also refreshed Susan’s love of food and cooking. Often, Susan would look out for unusual oils or ingredients you couldn’t buy at home to recreate real Italian flavour in her dishes. Prior to this trip, the couple had been given a bottle of truffle oil as a gift but didn’t enjoy the flavour. Known for its rich source of truffles, Umbria completely changed the couple’s feelings about truffles as they were served them in pasta and sauces, on bruschetta and even scrambled eggs in the morning. Suddenly, they couldn’t get enough of it and even today they still love truffles – the taste taking them back to their very first trip to Umbria in 2002. Umbria was a fantastic tonic for both Alan and Susan, and it’s little surprise why it is their chosen location for their Reedart Italian Painting Holidays.

Reedart Holidays
1 Main Street, Ponteland. The Alan Reed Art Gallery seen in Christine’s dream 2003-2008

With so much to enjoy and explore, Alan and Susan returned home after their trip and decided for now, to run the Alan Reed Art Gallery from their home in Northumberland. But what did Christine mean when she said she saw Alan in a house with “for sale” signs in her dream? In December 2002 Alan received a phone call from one of the local estate agents, out of the blue, to say there were some rooms available for rent above her shop in Ponteland which could be used as a studio and gallery. Looking around, she was quite right. The space was large enough to create a beautiful gallery and give Alan a studio to work in. Shortly after, Alan could be seen hanging paintings upstairs, putting price tickets on his work as “for sale” signs could be seen in the windows of the estate agent below…

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.