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GET GOING Learning Holiday


Line of Sight A sketching course in Orvieto, Italy, gives the author a new way to holiday Text & Sketches by Mamta Dalal Mangaldas


few years ago, I began to dream I was sketching. In this recurring vision, I’d be travelling round the world and drawing what I saw: a glass of wine, a lone tulip, a fruit vendor. I’d wake up in a sweat. I did not have permission to sketch. Thirty years ago, my school art teacher had withdrawn this consent in no uncertain terms when she declared I had no talent. But Betty Edwards had given it back to me. In her landmark book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Edwards says that anyone who can hold a pencil, write their name and

doodle has the skills to draw. All I had to do was to switch off my overactive, logical left brain, slow down my eyes and learn to see. I began to read every book I could find about sketching. A little while later, I bought the finest implements of the trade: soft and hard pencils, erasers, pure pigment ink pens and cotton rag paper in different weights and textures. The only thing left was to actually grasp the pencil and put it to paper. It turned out to be more difficult than I imagined. But one day, in a trance, I typed three innocuous words into the magic cauldron of Google—sketching, holiday,

Italy. The next thing I knew, I had signed up for a week-long sketching trip and was on my way to the hill-town of Orvieto in the verdant Umbrian countryside, less than two hours north of Rome. It was May. Bright splashes of red poppies dotted the patchwork of rolling hills, neatly planted vineyards, and fields of grain. In the distance I could see a medieval town with spires perched on top of a golden volcanic outcrop. But as we started the climb to Orvieto, all the butterflies I could see in the stunning landscape seem to have invaded my stomach. The fear

of failure loomed large as I rang the bell on the wrought iron gates to the convent that would be my home for the next week. Would I actually be able to put pen to paper and capture the likeness of a bowl of olives or a market scene? As I struggled with my thoughts and my unwieldy suitcase, the gates to Istituto San Lodovico on Piazza Ranieri opened and Sister Maria ushered me in with a 1,000-watt smile. She and two other nuns run a hostel in the convent to finance their charitable school. I surveyed the terracotta tiles, lemon-yellow stone arches and a tree-lined central courtyard, as my hosts Kristi and Bill Steiner, who organised this sketching holiday, took me to my spartan but comfortable room. All doubt flew out of the window as I threw open the louvred shutters and took in the stunning view. I noticed the many shades of green: the black-green of the stately cypresses, the silvery-green of the gnarled olive trees, the lime-green of the vineyards and the yellow-green of the corn fields. That evening, I was introduced to my course instructor, Jane LaFazio. I also met the other participants in the course, all North American women united by the desire to draw. After a long ice-breaking dinner at a local trattoria, we were companionably ready for the week to come. The next morning, Jane began to tell us how to “truly see”. When we learned to see properly, she told us, “the hand would become an extension of the eye”. We were drawing fruit: pears, peaches and apples. I got to draw cherries. “Let your eye caress the cherry,” she urged. “Look—it

is not round. See here, there is a depression where the stem begins. See the connection between the fruit and the stem. And notice the colours. The cherry is not all one colour. There is a bit of red, a bit of blue and some violet that is almost black. See how the light falls on the cherry. Those sparkly bits are the areas that you will not paint—where the whiteness of the paper will show through. This will make the cherries come to life.” To learn how to see, we explored Orvieto. There was no checklist of monuments to tick off and no scurrying from place to place. Instead, we were encouraged to linger. As we eventually returned to the garden of our convent, Jane asked us to choose something we wanted to sketch. I was torn between the rosemary bushes with their spiny leaves and the impossibly red poppies. Eventually, I chose the poppies because they were so evocative of Umbria in the springtime. I looked closely at the flowers. Were they really red?  The parts lit by the sun were orange and the parts in the shade were crimson. Their petals were soft and yet papery.

I wondered how to capture all these conflicting elements on paper. Later, I tried to draw the arches framing the courtyard. Drawing the vaulted ceiling made me dizzy. I decided that botanical paintings were much easier than architectural sketches. Perspective was going to be my bugbear. One day, we walked at a leisurely pace down Corso Cavour—the main drag with tiny shops selling the region’s specialties: hand-carved olive wood souvenirs, artisanal pottery, the local white wine called Orvieto Classico, black Norcio truffles, and a million other gastronomical delights. The buildings were made of tufa rock. They changed colour from dark ochre to glowing honey with every movement of light. We discovered that the sun and the clouds have an important role to play in drawing. Jane taught us how to use our arms and hands to gauge perspective and transfer the angles we measured onto paper. It was not as easy as it looked. A short walk from our convent brought us to Via Ripa Medici, the street that rings the walled town and offers a 360 degree balcony view of the Umbrian countryside. We slowed down our eyes and took in the scene before deciding what to sketch and paint. Jane is also a quilter and often described art using textile terminology. We

NOVEMBER 2012 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 113

GET GOING Learning Holiday learned to look at the scenery with new eyes. Each field had a different texture and colour, depending on the crop it nurtured. The small stone farmhouses, hedges and trees were the embroidery, and together they formed a tapestry of the countryside. When our eyes got tired, there were plenty of opportunities to use our other senses. One evening, we visited the Ristorante Zeppelin, where Chef Lorenzo taught us to cook Umbrian specialties. We made pasta from scratch and kneaded vast amounts of dough for rosemary focaccia. We sat down to eat at a long table amidst laughter and chattering. Another evening, we descended into the caves beneath the town for a wineand olive oil-tasting session. We learnt about terroir—how the soil the grapes are grown on changes the taste of the wine. We tried to distinguish between the different tastes and smells but the subtleties were lost on us because we forgot to spit the wine out after swirling it around our mouths! However, I did have enough sense left to notice that the red wine was the colour of molten rubies. My favourite day was when we visited the bustling weekly market in the Piazza del Popolo. I

Italy wanted to buy everything: vine-ripened tomatoes on the stem, massive wheels of aged Parmesan, barrels of a hundred different kinds of olives. But I ran into a problem. I couldn’t decide whether to eat or draw. We sat down in the local café to be revived by a mid-morning espresso and a chocolate cream puff. Some of us decided to sketch in the midst of all the chaos. Transferring the energy of the market and the freshness of the produce on to paper was a challenge. Our unbridled enthusiasm melted even the stony reserve of the café owner, Madame Scarponi, whose eagle eyes never left sight of the cash desk. The waiters said it was a miracle that she left her throne to come out and greet us. For one excursion, we drove down to the Palazzone winery and restaurant, which gave us a majestic view of the town of Orvieto from below. It looked like a fairy-tale town floating in the sky. The Dubini brothers who ran the place had given up their life in the city to tend to their family winery. We tasted their wine, sampled their food and olive oil and then sat down to draw. There were so many things I wanted to sketch. I suddenly learned a big lesson about composition, which is as much about what not to put down on paper. There is beauty in simplicity, so I decided to draw the detail of a single vine leaf.


What to expect

Orvieto is a wine-producing town in Italy’s central region of Umbria. It is about 95 km/2 hours north of Rome.

Apart from learning to draw and paint and exploring Orvieto on foot, participants get to cook a meal with a chef at a local restaurant, visit the weekly market and Etruscan ruins, tour a wine estate and sample local wines and olive oils.

Getting there

My sketching trip to Orvieto changed the way I travel. I decided that less is more and that slow is better. Now, I carry my sketchbook and paints everywhere. It gives me an excuse to stop rushing, sit down and stare. Once I have drawn an object or a scene— I have really seen it and it is embedded forever in my mind. It does not matter how artless the sketch is. I have learnt that the value is in the process of sketching not in the end result. The journey is even more important than the destination. I still dream about sketching, but now my dream is a reality. n

Air Orvieto is about an hour-anda-half from Rome airport, mostly on the A1 Autostrada. It is also possible to take a train directly from the airport to the town. Rail Orvieto falls on the RomeFlorence line. Rapido and IC trains from Rome’s Termini station take between 60-80 minutes to reach Orvieto (`500 to `1,400; tickets on www.fsitaliane. it). Mini-bus and funicular rail services connect Orvieto train station to the main town. Road Orvieto is an easy drive on the A1 Autostrada from Rome and Florence. Take the Orvieto exit to reach the lower town and park at Campo della Fiera. Parking is difficult inside the walled town of Orvieto.

• Kristi and Bill Steiner accom-

pany every group and provide hands-on assistance for this course prior to and during the trip, from packing advice to reading lists and offering restaurant and food suggestions.

• The lodging provided at San

Lodovico Convent is basic, clean and comfortable. There are single and double rooms with attached bathrooms.

• At the end of the course, the participants create a portfolio of their travel sketches and paintings.


Where to stay

The Apennine mountain range shields Orvieto and Umbria from extreme weather. The region enjoys a typical Mediterranean climate. Being on a plateau, Orvieto experiences breezy weather in the evenings even in summer. Hot summer months (June-July) see temperatures reaching 24°C. Winters are dry and the temperature ranges from 3-14°C. March to October is an ideal period to visit.

Istituto San Lodovico The historical San Lodovico Convent property is a run by nuns and they have a curfew of 11 p.m. There is no restaurant attached, but great food is available a two-minute walk away (www.; Singles `3,500 and doubles `6,000).

Hotel Aquila Bianca This fourstar property is in the heart of Orvieto, close to the Sant’Andrea church. It offers free Wi-Fi and breakfast in the ballroom (+39 0763 341246, +39 0763.342271;; doubles from `8,000). Hotel Duomo Its location next to Orvieto’s landmark cathedral makes this an ideal place for accommodation. Most rooms offer views of the Duomo (+39 0763 341887;; doubles `7,000). Outside Orvieto Locanda Palaazzone Located outside the walled city of Orvieto on the grounds of the Palazzone vineyards is a family-run, sevenroom bed and breakfast. It is a 700-year-old hostelry converted into a contemporary lodging with stunning views of the countryside (+39 0763 393614; www.; doubles `13,000). Beyond Sketching in Orvieto Duomo di Orvieto The imposing Duomo is the epitome of gothic architecture in Italy. The cathedral contains important works of art, including artist Luca Signorelli’s “Last Judgment”. The angels in the vaults of the ceiling

were done by another great Italian artist, Beato Angelico. Museo Emilio Greco This museum is dedicated to the sculptor who created the three bronze doors of the Duomo. The museum, next to the Duomo, houses Greco’s 32 bronze sculptures and 60 graphic works including etchings, paintings and drawings. Torre del Moro This 13th-century tower is the highest vantage point in town and is a must-visit for picture-perfect Orvieto skyline views. Underground Spend an hour exploring a city underneath the city. The Etruscans, who inhabited Orvieto much before the Romans, are said to have built a network of passages and underground streets. Other places to learn sketching in italy Art Toscana offers various courses in northern Tuscany (Gargagnana Nature Reserve, Barga) as well as in Sicily (Busetto Piazolla). Courses include painting and drawing, mixed media, sculpture, or walking and sketching (+39 0583 1802545;; `65,000 per week).

Course and cost Adventures in Italy is run by Kristi and Bill Steiner (they run several courses in Orvieto from painting and cooking to mixedmedia, collage and quilting). Bella Italia-Orvieto Sketchbook is a seven-day course with six to ten participants. The $2,975/`1,60,000 fee includes lodging for six nights on double occupancy and basic course materials. Singles cost an additional `8,200. The fee also includes six breakfasts, three dinners and a lunch (www.adventuresinitaly. net; +1 828 221 2322 or +39 0340 323 3786).

NOVEMBER 2012 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 115

Line of Sight - Sketching course in Italy  

A sketching course in Orvieto, Italy, gives the author a new way to holiday. Article from National Geographic Traveller India. November 2012...

Line of Sight - Sketching course in Italy  

A sketching course in Orvieto, Italy, gives the author a new way to holiday. Article from National Geographic Traveller India. November 2012...