Kathy Rennell Forbes, award-winning OLLI instructor and professional artist, educates others around Georgia and the globe about art. In 2017, she was the Invited Master Artist at the Olmstead Plein Air Invitational. She has also conducted plein air workshops in countries such as Cuba and Spain.
OLLI students traveled with her to Tuscany, Italy, the site of her fifth workshop, which focuses on a nature-based style of art. Here, she recounts that experience.
Each day began with a watercolor painting demo and discussion on how to select the best scene. Next, the students had time to paint while I gave individual instruction to each. They traveled with a small bag of watercolor supplies that were easy to transport and very accessible.
They painted “en plein air” (out in the open air), capturing the stunning beauty of the nearby towns. Students created their personal watercolor journal. The images will inspire larger paintings either at their home studios or in a class.
In the afternoons, most continued painting while some explored the town and local shops. Each evening, they completed their paintings, refreshed before an evening of conversation, music, and freshly prepared Italian food and local wine.
Throughout the week, the student’s confidence grew and their paintings improved. [This was] combined with the richness of the people, the food and culture. None wanted to leave!
They arrived at San Fedele in Radda in Chianti after traversing the winding white roads of Italy’s famous wine country. Expecting humble accommodations in a restored 1,000-year-old monastery, they were treated to spacious modern rooms with all the perfect touches to make the week beyond memorable. Refreshing drinks awaited them. After a short orientation, a chef served the first of many amazing farm-to-table meals.
Each day began with an abundant and delicious breakfast buffet, juice and coffee before they departed to a new painting locale in air-conditioned vans. Radda had beautiful panoramic vistas of farms and vineyards and a lovely shaded fountain surrounded by stunning red geraniums. In Sienna, the students painted in the quaint alleys and inside the cool and peaceful Duomo, where they also had a brief tour of the church. They enjoyed a late lunch, gelato and spritzers with an awesome view of the Campo, where the famous Paleo horse race is held. San Gimignano, the “City of Small Towers,” entranced them with both its beautiful historic buildings and the sounds of all the church bells echoing in the hills while capturing the scene in watercolor.
At Castellini (another renovated monastery), the students had the choice of lush gardens, quiet courtyards and gorgeous panoramic vistas to paint. They also painted at the lovely San Fedele property and at a nearby winery, Terrabianca. On the last evening, everyone displayed their paintings and shared comments on their favorite.
In Florence, they took in new sites that many had not seen on previous trips. The group walked around the city taking in the Baptistry and the Duomo before touring the Santa Maria Novella Chapel, where they saw the famed Masaccio painting of The Trinity. Since the Renaissance, artists traveled from all over the world to see Masaccio’s new use of perspective.
Of course, no visit to Florence is complete without seeing and crossing Ponte Vecchio. After enjoying a quick tour of the Pitti Palace (owned by the Medici family), they walked through the Boboli Gardens, the Barnini Gardens, and the Rose Garden on the long ascent to the Plaza de Michelangelo. On top of the town, they were justly rewarded with an amazing sunset view of Florence and the Arno River glowing in all its majesty. While taking in this breathtaking scene and listening to a local band, they were refreshed with gelato or wine.
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