A note from Holly Quan (2011 Participant)

For the past two weeks, we’ve been living in a paint box.

Think about it. Everywhere you look, there is color, juicy color. Gelato in jewel tones, pottery, brilliant flowers, everywhere your eye settles there is color. Whether your native palette is the black and white of a prairie winter, the monochrome of the high desert, or the concrete and glass of a big city, I think it’s safe to say that most of us are unaccustomed to this assault of color. In Italy, it blasts the eye.

Beyond color, there is much more to snag the artist’s eye in Italy.

First, the big things or course — the maggiore:

  • great churches and cathedrals
  • cliffs and hilltop towns
  • valley vistas
  • undulating hills with their quilts of corn and wheat and sunflowers, vineyards and woodlands
  • enormous thunder clouds like upraised fists. Or like scoops of creamy gelato…

Bringing our gaze to the middle ground, we find:

  • streets and squares full of nuns and friars, kids and grandparents, families, and travel groups with their dreaded red hats
  • chapels, fountains, sculpture, brilliant paintings, gold leaf, frescoes, stained glass
  • shop windows stuffed with shoes, hats, pottery, jewelry
  • bicycles and Vespas and all manner of cute tiny vehicles that seem to go anywhere and park everywhere — no slope too challenging. Guys who run brake shops and transmission repair must make a fortune here.

And bringing our focus even closer to the ends of our noses, we see the details:

  • flowers in every intense shade of crimson, magenta, school bus yellow and my favorite watercolor paint shade: OPERA — all sprouting from curbside pots or window boxes or any little corner that needs a touch of brilliance
  • we see the kind smile on someone’s face as they bid you “buon giorno” in the street
  • alcoves and laneways, steps (and more steps, and still more steps), mosaic floors and cobbled streets, hidden courtyards
  • sidewalk cafés, glasses of prosecco, cups of cappuccino
  • ah, la dolce vita!

But more than anything, what catches the eye here are the amazing colours. I’ve already mentioned the flowers — what about the trees in every thinkable shade of green (plus several we haven’t thought of yet)… stone in shades of toffee, cream, caramel, chocolate and champagne… Stucco exhibiting the entire citrus rainbow from lemon through tangerine to grapefruit…and on to cantaloupe, strawberry, even tomato.

Hmm, I seem to have a food fixation — so let’s follow that path — and it leads straight to the kitchen of La Romita. The color, the rich scent, the comfort of simply GOOD food. That path leads also to the warm welcome and limitless information from Enza, Ben and Edmund (to say nothing of his infamous maps and flawless weather predictions). The clothesline, the sheltered garden, the accommodating studio space — it all makes us feel like family, and as such, welcome.

All this and Raniero too — a man with an unlikely character, combining the patience of San Francesco with the driving prowess of Mario Andretti. And a sense of humor too… if only we could understand his jokes.

And now it’s leaving time. Many of us are returning to our normal lives, some are continuing with their adventures. For certain we are all moving on to vistas less drenched in color than the gorgeous towns and countryside of Umbria. We leave this experience taking new friendships, painting knowledge, and enough inspiring images to last through many a cold dark North American winter.

Our thanks to one another for care and encouragement and laughter, to our gracious hosts including our very fine cooks, and especially to Diane Scholar and our “brilliant color” instructor Julie Pollard, without whom.

From Edmund to espresso, from tartufo to tiramisiu — it’s been a slice, it’s been a loaf, it’s been a whole damn bakery!


Holly Quan
19 June 2011
La Romita

Canadian writer Holly Quan is an award-winning creator of corporate communications and marketing materials. She’s also written numerous video scripts, newspaper and magazine articles, interpretive guides, and six books including “Sam Steele: The Wild West Adventures of Canada’s Most Famous Mountie.” As a visual artist, she dabbles with watercolour, acrylic, and mixed media. She loved the food, wine, instruction and ambiance at La Romita during her visit in June 2011, and only needs to lose another 10 pounds before she visits again…

Holly attended the two-week session “Brilliant Color” taught by Julie Gilbert Pollard at La Romita. The other students suggested that Holly write some thoughts and impressions about their collective Umbrian experience. Here’s the result:

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