Guest author Kelly Medford is a plein air painter living her dream in Rome, Italy. She shares her travels on the Adventures in Painting blog.
Whipping and navigating through Roman traffic on my bicycle, easel and canvas strapped to my back, is fun and exhilarating. I love it. Though scary at first, I’ve become accustomed to it and revel in the sights, sounds and watching the ever entertaining Romans in our shared daily commute.
My office changes daily, and after 2 ½ years of living and painting out on the streets of Rome, I can truly say that the opportunities for a plein air painter are endless.
I didn’t exactly intend to move to Italy, but the opportunity presented itself. I took my first plein air workshop in Tuscany in the summer of 2004 and was invited to attend Florence Academy.
Luckily, I qualified for a full scholarship provided by the foreign exchange program at my school, and there was an opening available, so I made it to Florence and spent a year in the academy’s drawing program. At the end of that year I had to make a choice to stay or to go another way.
I knew I wanted to be out and exploring Italy, speaking Italian, traveling and painting, so I decided to end my time with the academy and to begin life as an American painting in Italy. That was one of the best decisions I ever made.
I lived in Florence for 6 years, working odd jobs and painting, taking Italian lessons, eating and traveling in my free time. In the fall of 2010 my boyfriend was transferred to Rome for work and so naturally I came along.
Rome, the eternal city, is full of wonders and the light for a painter is breathtaking. It’s a rosy warm pink that is a joy for me who loves intense color. But I needed a project, something with focus. How was I going to just move to Rome and paint? That seemed too broad.
I gave myself a project I named When In Rome. For me the scope of the project was to do at least one painting of each neighborhood in order to get to know the city better. 2 ½ years later I still haven’t painted every neighborhood, but at least it’s not so overwhelming.
I started writing about each painting on my blog, telling the story of the place and sharing my personal experience while painting there. Being a plein air painter is special: it allows me the opportunity to interact with people every day while I’m out working and to really learn about a place. Italians love to stop and talk and to answer my questions about the place where I am working.
Upon moving to Rome, I joined the local Urban Sketchers group. They have become my second family as we stalk the streets of Rome and capture the city in our sketchbooks. This prompted me to start teaching both plein air painting but also sketchbook journaling to non-artists visiting Rome as an alternative way to observe and learn the city in a completely personal way.
This has been such a rewarding experience, meeting people from all over the world and teaching them simple techniques of how to capture in their own journal their own Rome. We travel to different places in the city that a tourist may not usually visit, observing everyday life and recording it in our journals in sketches. I’m always blown away by the unique and creative sketches made by people who swear not to be artists and they continually teach me new ways to see the city.
Other painters sometimes tell me that moving to Italy to live and work is their dream. I had the opportunity and took it, not having a real plan other than to make it work and figure it out as I went. I post to my blog almost daily which allows me to maintain and cultivate connections with both artists and collectors from all over the world.
I had the chance to have my first solo exhibition of my Roman cityscapes last fall here in Rome, it was an exciting and cumulative moment for me after working day in and day out. I exhibited 25 paintings together with their stories and included an installation of my bike and easel to show my process.
I’ve been lucky, but I’ve also worked hard and had the generous support of friends and family. I have finally been accepted into a gallery here in Rome and will have my second solo exhibition of Roman landscapes this November.
Living in Italy has taught me so much about joy, inspiration and dedication. Mostly though it has taught me that friendships are the glue that keep it all together. Creating the opportunity to live and work in Italy is a dream come true and one I would recommend to any painter.