Palladian Odyssey 2019: First Umbrian Tour

May 14, 2019 | 4 Comments

I’ve just finished the first Palladian Odyssey Umbria Tour and it was such a incredible week. It’s really hard for me to find adequate words to describe how special it was!

But if I had to reduce it to a few bullet points, these would be the main highlights:

1. The People on the tour

An incredible group of people – 10 out of the 12 participants were “Veneto Graduates” and we had two lovely newbies as well who fitted into the gang perfectly. (Plus two fun ‘plus ones’ who helped the male:female ratio). I love this group of people very much!

Knowing so many people in the group to start with made it feel a little like a reunion of friends. But more importantly as a teacher, it was extremely special to see how much everyone’s sketching has developed since I first met them.

We had an incredible safe, supportive and fun environment for the week and this enabled me to share some more advanced techniques and concepts then usual, and also be more directional with my comments – suggesting things which I think will suit each persons unique approach to making art.

2. The Place and the locals

For starters, Umbria is a beautiful region of Italy. As Paolo, our fabulous tour guide for the week, told me, Umbria is more authentic and less touristy than Tuscany. Assisi was the only place we saw tourists and even there it was mainly groups of Italians or people on pilgrimage tours. So we all feel as if we have had a real Umbrian experience.

But more specifically Montone (our home base) is a very magical little town. It’s tiny but incredibly rich on many levels – every vista is beautiful!

And… the people of this town are so incredibly friendly. I’m making friends with many of the locals even though I can’t speak the language!

The orange building in the photo above is Aries Cafe – the heart of the town. The locals (especially the men) hang out here all day long. This photo was taken on a cold day so everyone is inside but when it’s warmer they spill out into the piazza.

Hopefully I will get more photos with some of them to share with you next week – but here are the two owners of one of the restaurants we visit during our stay. I run into Chef Giancarlo every day and I’ve promised to sketch him this week!

My favourite part of sketching is how it connects me to place and people, and this last week or so in Montone has been the best experience of this I have ever had.

3. The Sketching and teaching

In this tour I have been able to teach some of the fun stuff which I often don’t get a chance to share. We have been doing a lot of watercolour – mixing colours and using a dagger brush. We have had a wide variety of subject matter sketching numerous street scenes, cityscapes and complex piazzas, as well as landscapes. In addition we have been thinking a lot in values and have been assessing scenes in terms of 1,2,3,4 or 5 (referring to a 5 step value scale.) We had some tough conditions during the week (cold and rain) but everyone did amazing work.

There is really some special about sketching with the same group of people for a week!

Every time I teach I learn new things and refine my approach /explanations. But during this week I have quite a few new ideas for my teaching – especially when I have a big range of sketching experience in the group. So it’s been really exciting as a teacher!

(Here are some funny photos of my explanation of eye height line.)

In addition, I’ve been sketching more than I expected:

– During the workshops I have started doing two versions of the demo – one to explain the concepts and techniques and then a second one so people can follow along step by step.
– I’ve been sketching during tours (we had four this week). For these tours I have returned to using watercolour pencils which I haven’t used much recently.
– I’ve  been going out to the piazza before dinner to sit and sketch while surrounded by the locals. So yes, I’ve been sacrificing a little of my rest time, but being in my own little world surrounded by the life of the town is the kind of environment that re-charges my batteries. And I love Montone so much!
– I’ve also been sketching my dinner most nights. Although this might sound tiring to many people, it means that I’m talking less (which is good after a full day of teaching) while still being part of the conversations around me. It’s also a great way of connecting with the local restaurant owners. So for me it’s another way of re-charging my batteries.

I have filled another A4 portrait watercolour moleskine in a week. And yes, I am loving the new format more every day! I can’t see that I will go back to the landscape version any time soon.

Anyway…. I could go on and on! But I should start sharing some photos and sketches from the week.

A huge thanks to Jacques (one of our ‘plus ones’) who took a lot of wonderful photos during the week so I could share with you! This article is full of his amazing photography.

These photos don’t cover everything we did during the week… but I hope you’ll get the idea!


Welcome lunch at an amazing local restaurant followed by some warmup exercises (edges, shapes and volumes) and a watercolour mixing session.

Assisi – an amazing piazza!

Sharing techniques for capturing story in a busy (overwhelming?) place.

Collection of thumbnail stories

My demo: Starting with my focus and working outwards.

Yummy lunch and then great tour by Paolo, our tour guide for the week.

Here are some of my sketchers from the tour. It was interesting to find out a little more about Francis of Assisi and why he is so important to Roman Catholic – especially Italians. I also very interested in seeing Giotto’s version of the temple in the main piazza with the wrong number of the columns.

A short sketching session at the end of the day of the Basilica.

I only gave them 20 minutes to do a quick shape based sketch of the Basilica – aren’t the results amazing!

Montone – sketching street scenes and doing some measuring.

A big issue was thinking about how to balance capturing charm vs accuracy. Here is my demo.

We then had a little session on values in the main piazza (along with a morning coffee!)

Montone – sketching the surrounding countryside (thinking about values first) with a little workshop on using a dagger brush.  (Rosemary and Co Series 772, half inch sable blend dagger)

Amazing collection of sketches. First time using a dagger brush for more than half the group.

Pre dinner sketch of Aries cafe (hands started to freeze) and then amazing dinner at Tipicio.

Dramatic Gubbio!

Gubbio: Grand building and spaces workshop. The conditions for sketching were tough but we braved the elements and managed to get the main elements of our sketches down before the rain hit. There were not enough people in the piazza so we had some volunteer models from the group.

Once it started raining we retreated to a warm cafe for coffee and cake… and finishing off our sketches.

Another fantastic tour by Paolo!

Here is the first spread from my quick tour sketches. Paolo liked that I gave him a fancy hat!

Tour sketches part 2

Montone: morning workshop sketching local buildings, starting with the darks and revisiting our watercolour mixes for the local stone.

Here is my first demo from the workshop.

After lunch we sketched some rooftops from this lovely terrace.

Here is my demo.

Then Mike drove us to the opposite hill (which we had sketched earlier in the week) to sketch the town.

Here is my sketch.

On the final morning we had a session on sketchbook layout and design – outside on the terrace of our hotel.

Then lunch at a winery – which included a tour of their wonderful underground cellars. Of course I was sketching!

During the final afternoon I had 10 minute one-on-one sessions with everyone in the main piazza. I love this part of the PO tours and it was special to do it surrounded by the Montone locals.

I returned to the piazza early so that I could do a final sketch of the week surrounded by locals.

Final dinner: The plan was to sit on a terrace enjoying this view, but it is just too cold here at the moment for that.

So we had it inside – great food, great company.

It was such an incredible week. Thank you to everyone who was part of it – we had so much fun and we all learnt a lot.

All the best for your creative journeys my dear friends, until we meet again.

And most importantly of all – a huge huge thanks to Mike – our amazing tour director who makes it all happen!


Okay… time to get ready for Umbria Tour 2.

If you want to find about next year’s tours please join the PO mailing list. We haven’t confirmed the dates yet, but people on the list will hear first.


  • Emily DeArdo says:

    Beautiful! I’m so jealous! 🙂
    Yes, St. Francis is important to us Catholics! I’ve been wanting to visit Assisi–oh, who am I kidding, I want to see all of Italy, especially since I’m Italian! So seeing your pictures has been so great. It’s also been inspiring me to keep up my sketch practice.
    I love your sketch of the fountain!

  • It looks like an amazing week. It is always great to get off the beaten track to sketch and mingle with the locals.

  • Deborah Hopkins says:

    Liz-The trip looks absolutely wonderful! Thanks for bringing us along though your stories & photos. It has made me think seriously about joining you next year! Deborah from San Francisco

  • Kerry Harris says:

    Hi Liz. We were on a tour of Umbria at the same time as you, visiting Assisi, Gubbio, Orvieto, Cortona and Spoleto. We were based in Perugia. We had Paolo for our guide and he was so knowledgeable and a nice guy. As a sketcher myself I was in heaven with the beautiful old buildings and managed to get in quite a few sketches. Done most of Italy but Umbria was a first for me.

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