Portrait Painting and Etching in Umbria, Italy with Arte Umbria and Adele Wagstaff

Arriving from a wet August London to the clear blue skies of Perugia in Umbria was just great. But then I always feel very happy in Italy. I’ve never been on a painting holiday before, so the week was going to be something of an adventure.At the airport the three others and I on the course met up with David, the husband of our host. He drove us through the unusually green landscape (they’d had a wet July) to Arte Umbria’s country house deep in the Umbrian hills where we were greeted by Dr Sarah Moody.Lunch soon followed and we ate outside under a canopy looking at the sunshine. It couldn’t have been more perfect! The afternoon was relaxed, we were shown the studio and wandered around the extensive gardens. Exhausted I grabbed my book and collapsed into a chair by the swimming pool. No work today.

Richard Tomlin etching under an Umbrella

Adele Wagstaff , the artist and tutor arrived that evening. For the last two years she’d taught me portrait painting at Putney Art School. Over the coming week she would be teaching, life drawing, portrait painting and drypoint etching, which I’d not done before.

The week stretched out before me with its schedule – breakfast at 9am, lunch at 12pm, dinner at 8pm and in between lots of art.

One day we had a male model for life drawing in the morning and life painting in the afternoon. I even tried drawing direct from the model using an engraving tool onto a metal plate. Challenging. I thought once the mark was made there would be no way to correct it, but interestingly a lightly scratched line could be burnished out, or left as it was unlikely to print and then acted as a guide for the subsequent marks that hopefully would became more accurate.

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Views of Art Umbria

Another day we were shown how the printing press worked, how to ink up a plate and prepare the paper for printing. I decided to focus my etching effort on one still life spending about a day doing the initial drawing onto paper and then transferring the image onto the plate. I didn’t take me long to realize I’d bitten off more than I could chew, it was going to take a long time. After a day of scratching into the plate I printed my first impressions only to realize I needed to scratch much deeper if it was to print well.

Richard – dry point etching

The week was flying by and I decided to get up early a couple of mornings at 7.30am and get in a couple of hours before breakfast. It was beautiful at that time of day, working beneath an umbrella in the garden. Bliss. Though I remember saying in frustration one evening at dinner how anal I thought the whole process of dry point was. In the end I was pretty pleased with the result. Like all art, “you’ve just got to put the time in”. David kindly sat for us and my portrait looks a little more painterly and expressive, definitely going the direction I want my painting to go.

All in all I really enjoyed the week and hope to go back again one year. Adele’s an excellent teacher and Sarah and David were perfect hosts. The food was wonderful, the landscape beautiful and peaceful and the sun shone… what more could I have asked for. I highly recommend it.