I had the opportunity to travel to Italy recently through the generosity of the Artist’s Network. Since the weather is turning, I decided to finally write about this trip, in order to revel in the memory of those warm summer days in the dream land that is Tuscany.
I realize I have been harping on with this news for a while now, so I promise this blog post will be a closing on the topic. For those of you who don’t know - Earlier this year I entered my painting “The Calling” into the Artist’s magazine’s annual art competition and won first place in the portrait/figure category as well as the grand prize. The grand prize consisted of a retreat to Tuscany which included a watercolor workshop with artist Thomas Schaller.
Upon arriving at the airport in Florence, we took an hour and 15 minute cab ride south near Sienna. Our cab driver talked with us about everything from making olive oil and wine, to the large population of deer and wild boar in the area as well as their hunting season. Eventually he pointed to a tower at the top of a hill and said, “Ah! Spannocchia!”
After climbing a long winding dirt road, the entry gate of the estate appeared. We drove around to the back, passing rows of olive trees, pigs and a swimming pool, tucked behind a vine covered stone wall and wash house.
Spannocchia (pronounced span- oh- key- ah), is a working organic farm, eight centuries old and started with the tower that was one of many guard towers in the area protecting Sienna. The villa came afterwards and was continually added on to over the centuries. The interior has all the original details such as family crests, paintings and furniture. It is really spread out so there is lots of room for large gatherings, while still offering plenty of hidden nooks and crannies to be alone with a book. There are endless gardens and trails to wander and plenty of breathtaking views to paint.
Our group occupied most of the main villa. A breakfast buffet was available for us every morning at 8 in the dining room, located where the medieval kitchen used to be. Lunch was at 1, coffee and sweets at 4, drinks on the veranda for the sunset at 7 and dinner at 7:30 where many courses were passed on platters at a long table outdoors.
During the day, we attended Thomas Schaller’s watercolor workshop. As an oil painter, the only experience I have had with watercolor prior to this workshop, was playing around with it as a teenager. So, I was a bit out of my comfort zone but really excited about learning a new skill. There are so many water color artists I admire and I am looking forward to implementing what I learned in this workshop within my studio practice. I enjoyed watching Schaller’s demonstrations. The way he uses pigment, water and gravity to create such emotive pictures, makes it clear how years of hard work and practice can produce such a skilled artist. I really admire the simple, solid shapes he uses and how he connects those shapes to make strong design.
After a week of playing around with a new medium and exploring the grounds of Spannocchia, we ventured back to Florence where we spent just half a day. Ulan and I took off and went directly to our favorite art store in Florence: Zecchi’s, where we stocked up on our favorite brushes, panels and other art supplies we can only get in Florence. (I could probably write an entire post on how I was able to fit said art supplies in my luggage!)
Two years ago I lived in a little apartment on Via dei Pepi, mere steps from the burial site of Michelangelo, Dante, and many other greats. I spent one month that summer, exploring Florence and painting with the Florence Academy of art instructor Tanvi Pathare. This was my first time back since then, and I was overwhelmed by how much I wanted to show Ulan. I was a little heartbroken that we didn’t have more time. We walked until our feet were raw with blisters and when we limped up the stairs to our hotel room at the end of the night, we knew it was worth it.
While reflecting on this whole experience during the flight home, I remembered the state I was in while starting The Calling. I was afraid and unsure of my future. I still am at times, but realizing that the choice I made to stick with that painting lead me to all of this, gives me butterflies. The life of a painting is a pretty amazing thing and you never know where it will take you. Right now I still own the painting and she looks down at me every day, reminding me to carry on and enjoy my work.
I love traveling and am so grateful to have had this opportunity. I am already in the planning stages of my next trip to Europe and hope to continue traveling for as long as I am able to.
A little note about competitions:
I love art competitions like these. They inspire me, and fuel me to reach greater heights. Competitions help raise the bar, build strong artists, and many of them also offer substantial monetary awards that help artists financially so that they can continue making more work. There are so many competitions and grant opportunities available these days, so there is no reason why more artists making the best quality work they can, shouldn’t be entering them.