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 – Double or Twin rooms are currently available.

We are also taking interest for the 3rd -10th of September 2016 staying at Villa Capanne
Please contact us directly to register your interest.

May and June 2017

 

 

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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 Nai 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.

Come and join us

“Come and do another painting holiday! It’ll be fantastic”

Sitting on the patio of Chrissie and David’s beautiful Umbrian villa looking out over the pool to the valley beyond, it wasn’t hard to imagine how perfect this place was for people craving a sun-drenched escape. There was plenty to keep people occupied too for when the sun goes down or hunger strikes. Unspoilt countryside brought a bounty of fresh fruit and vegetables to cook supper, while the nearby towns of Spello, Perugia and Assisi promised an authentic Italian experience.

Guest sketching at Villa Capanne
A guest sketching on the lawn of Villa Capanne

British expats Chrissie and David had been running the estate for well over ten years and had restored the apartments and villa here to exceptionally high standards.  The little ‘houses’ are close but incredibly private, each with its own terrace. Their restoration is sympathetic and unpretentious – the off-white décor and soft furnishings enhancing undulating beams and stone walls. Producing their own wine, olive oil and seasonal herbs and vegetables on-site, Chrissie and David’s two children would take great pleasure in showing the guests how to feed a fluffy alpaca.

Alan and Susan decided to do it! They booked the Villa Capanne, which sleeps 12 for a week and put the feelers out in their local community. It had been five years since their last visit to Umbria, but having visited on so many occasions over the years Alan and Susan knew Umbria and the surrounding hilltop towns like the back of their hand. Alan would devise a painting schedule of must-see places like Cortona, Perugia, Assisi, Spello and Umbertide, stopping points and range of scenes to ensure the painters on the holiday would have every opportunity available to them. Non-painters were more than welcome too, there was the pool, nearby golf course, gardens, library of books and board games on offer in the main house to keep them occupied. The estate’s cooks would prepare all of the guests’ food, the bedrooms were suitable for families, couples and single travellers – all that was left to do was get on a plane and enjoy it.

 

Crit of Guests paintings 2014
Alan’s crit of the guest’s paintings after an unforgettable week away on their Reedart Italian Painting Holiday

The trip sold out, with 12 guests joining them from the North East and as far as Cheshire. It was the beginning of a brand new arm of Alan Reed Art, an exciting new business venture working alongside Alan’s art and exhibitions that had grown organically from the couple’s love of Italy and adventures they’d taken over the past decade. During the trip, David mentioned the crumbling old ruins of the Chiesa Del Carmine which Alan had sketched in the past. Did they remember it had undergone a no-expense-spared restoration by the estate owners, and did they want to see it now?

 

The newly restored Chiesa Del Carmine
The newly restored Chiesa Del Carmine

The old church was breath-taking. Sunlight bathed the old stone walls, there was an elegance about the place now, where weeds had once penetrated its old crumbling walls there were now state-of-the-art furnishings, private landscaped gardens and beautifully refurbished original features. Chrissie and David’s two girls found a tune on the grand piano, before Leon, one of the guests sat and played a beautiful piece. It was a magical moment for all, and one that cemented the future of Reedart Painting Holidays.

 

 

Whether you’re a keen painter, just at the beginning of your journey or a non-painter craving some peace and quiet, culture and adventure, you are welcome to join us on our next trip to Umbria

New Year, New Adventures

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

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

 

Charles Cecil Studio, Florence
Charles Cecil Studio, Florence

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

Susan & her Mum in Florence

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Happy New Year.

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.

The Light

Sitting on the sunny piazza in Marostica
Sitting on the sunny piazza in Marostica

It was a surreal moment as Alan sat surrounded by some of his closest family members and friends sipping coffee in the bright sun in the Piazza degli Scacchi in Marostica as his painting of Marostica on the exhibition posters stared back at him ten times over…

It was the 17th of November 2005, two days before Alan would launch his very first overseas exhibition in Italy and here they were, sitting beneath a number of promotional posters advertising the exhibition to the locals of Marostica in Italy’s Veneto region. “The Light” was a long a time coming considering how much time artist Alan and his wife Susan had spent gathering reference around Italy for his ever-expanding popular collection of Italian paintings and unlike the ancient oil paintings that tourists and locals alike were used to seeing hung in galleries, or the fly-by-night souvenir paintings sold for pennies at local markets – Alan’s lively, unique watercolour paintings of some of Italy’s most loved locations and some hidden gems proved popular with the Italians. Carefully loading around 40 paintings onto a private courier, Alan, Susan and their parents flew to Bergamo to meet them, joined by friend’s Loretta, Hilary, Carrol and Franco, Cath and Mike.

Alan Reed The Light Exhibition poster
Alan Reed The Light Exhibition poster

Much of their first day in Marostica was spent hanging paintings with the help of Alan’s father.

Within the town of Marostica there are two medieval castles, an upper Castle known as Castello Superiore and a lower castle known as Castello Inferiore. In front of the old Castello Inferiore and its ancient library is a prominent chess board.

Every even year during the month of September a game of chess is played using live pieces.

The custom began after the First World War where members of the local chess club began playing chess in the main square and decided to play a game of chess using people as the game pieces. After the Second World War, comedy writer Mario Mirko Vucetich wrote a play in which two noblemen fell in love with the beautiful daughter of a local lord. They challenged each other to a duel to win the hand of their beloved – only to be stopped by the Lord of Marostica who did not wish to see them duel and so forbade the encounter. Instead, it was decreed that the two rivals would play a game of chess and the winner would win his daughter’s hand in marriage and the loser would marry her younger sister.

Alan Reed outside The Light exhibition
Alan Reed outside The Light exhibition

With such a rich history and artistic background, the lower castle was a popular place to host events and exhibitions and so with the help of publisher and exhibition curator Alberto Brazzale whom they had met in Rome not long ago the space was booked to run from the 19th of November 2005 until the 6th of December.

The Commune di Marostica were too incredibly helpful to the couple promoting and facilitating the exhibition – one lady in particular named Francesca did an excellent job of promoting The Light on Alan and Susan’s behalf whilst they were back in England running the busy Alan Reed art gallery in Ponteland.

Although Marostica was not on the tourist track, the couple’s friends Paul and his wife lived nearby and they fell in love with the area. Sending across images of his work to Alberto across to Italy via CD (it was 2005 after all!) the exhibition began to come together.

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Invite to The Light, Marostica

The couple vividly remember how they rose early each morning with eager anticipation to introduce Alan Reed Art to a new audience.

Alan was to be interviewed by respected art critic Signora Maria Lucia Ferugatti on the afternoon of the 18th, the day before the exhibition opened.  Signora Ferugatti was impressed and wrote rave reviews about the exhibition for the local paper and regional news.  The opening date passed by in a wonderful blur of opening speeches, chatting to locals and listening to their stories about the history of the town, followed by a very welcome visit the next day by their dear friend Nai who had travelled by train all the way from Venice to Marostica to be there.

Lovers of Italy’s slow food movement, the group enjoyed a number of fantastic meals whilst in Marostica, and to this day Susan still recreates the divine polpette meatballs they ate at Osteria Madonnetta.

The exhibition was without doubt a high point in Alan’s career.  Now a fully-fledged international artist, light remains an incredibly important theme that weaves throughout his work.  From painting against fading light “on location”, to establishing a light source in the painting and creating highlights, contrasts and shadows using watercolour to bring the painting to life.

Demo in Marostica
Alan’s live painting demonstrations at The Light

Returning to Marostica on the 2nd of December, Alan did a series of live painting demonstrations at the exhibition which delighted visitors.

Crediting the whole event as a stimulating and thoroughly enjoyable experience getting to chat to the locals in Italian and introduce Alan’s work to them, there was just enough time to enjoy a wonderful supper at their hotel restaurant, Due Mori where they had been upgraded to a room that overlooked the castello beyond and also to their indispensable assistant Francesca’s family home for a home cooked meal.

Alan Reed Art was moving in the right direction – and fast. Selling several originals, The Light was a collection of Alan’s paintings of Italy, London, Edinburgh and even Chicago and all showcased his lively style of working with watercolours to create light and darkness in his paintings.

Skating in MarosticaLimited edition Print

Leaving Marostica on the 6th of December after taking the exhibition down, there was just enough time to relax and soak up the scenery – including one particularly lovely scene of ice skaters on the piazza. Begging Alan to capture the scene for a future Christmas card, Skaters in Marostica later became one of Alan’s most popular Christmas card designs, and now you know the story of how and where it all began.

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…