When we learned our traveler Gail is an accomplished artist, we couldn’t wait to see her sketchbook from her trip. She recently visited Italy on our tour of Lake Como, the Italian Riviera and Venice and captured so many beautiful scenes—and incredible memories—with her watercolors. She may just inspire you to carry a pencil and paper on your next tour, too.
What were you most excited to see (and sketch) on tour?
I was a teacher of both art history and studio art, so I wasn’t really able to travel until I retired. One of my first destinations was Italy. I wanted to see so many of the masterpieces that were included in the curriculum and wanted to check items off my “bucket list.” That first trip, in 2006, included Venice, Florence and Rome. I took a group, and the trip was fabulous, but I still felt like I wanted more time in Italy. I went home planning to return someday and was very interested in a tour that would take me to Lake Como, Venice and Milan.
I really wanted to see Venice again and spend more time there sketching and painting, so I booked the trip. It was just as beautiful the second time and I loved exploring Lake Como and Milan, which were new destinations for me. Lake Como’s crystal blue water and charming villas were amazing; I was able to paint some of the boats there. I also painted in the town of Como, too, and got to explore a wonderful antiques fair.
As an artist, are you inspired by Italy’s famous art and architecture?
Yes! My “bucket list” item in Milan was Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, and I was able to see it. I bought tickets several weeks ahead of time and scheduled the tour on our free day. That is something I would recommend to Go Ahead travelers! If there is something that is not scheduled on your tour, you can make your own arrangements well in advance if you want to go during your free time.
I also attended a symphony performance in the Opera House in Milan that was quite wonderful. We traveled to the Italian Riviera from Milan and stayed in Santa Margherita. This whole portion of the trip was beautiful.
How was visiting Venice for the second time?
It looked exactly like I remembered it. St. Mark’s Square, the pigeons, the water, the shops… it was all fabulous. I chose to paint in the square on the waterfront one morning, where I had a little crowd watching me from time to time. I also went to paint the Ponte dell’Accademia and the view of Santa Maria della Salute. It was thrilling to be back where I had dreamed of being for 10 years, doing what I loved to do. I continued to sketch and paint all over Venice and decided to spend three extra days there on my own after the end of tour.
During the extension, I traveled to both Burano and Murano, where I met lots of artists and did some painting on location in both places. I loved Burano. It was so colorful and quaint, and I am so glad I got the chance to see it as well.
Did you meet any other artists while you were out drawing?
I did meet some amazing artists, and plenty of locals stopped to watch me paint. I met a young boy and his mother in Portofino, and he said he wished to buy my book! Another man told me he was inspired to travel and paint himself.
One young artist was painting watercolors in Monterosso, using his art to support his wife and three children. He traveled over an hour by train every day, set up in the area where the tourists got off the boat and sold his paintings and prints to them. I bought a couple, and we had a great conversation about art and life.
I met another artist on Burano; she owns a studio there and paints full-time. She signed a page of my book and attached a small copy of one of her trademark paintings. Another man on Bellagio was looking at my book and recognized his house in one of my paintings that I had just finished! He signed the book too; that was very cool.
Do you always have your journal and watercolors with you when you’re traveling?
I do always travel with my sketchbook and watercolors. When I finish the trip’s book, I make a digital copy and sell it to the other travelers on the tour. It’s just part of being a professional artist, and it’s a great way to help pay for my travels. I have a whole library of journals from my escapades all over the world. They are some of my most treasured possessions.
How long does it take you to make a sketch?
I can sketch or paint a scene pretty quickly. When you’re traveling, you have to be fast because you move around a lot! Most of the time, I take lots of photos and do a lot of the artwork in my hotel room at night. But if I have 30 minutes or more, I can finish a watercolor easily and have time for it to dry. Watercolor painting is a very portable art; I have a small palette and a Ziplock bag of pencils and brushes that fit in my backpack. I usually find a shady spot to sit or stand, and quickly sketch a rough outline in pencil. I like using bright colors and a loose style when painting outside. It’s blissful for me; I absolutely love doing it.
What are your favorite things to paint? How often do you work on your art?
I own my own art gallery and studio. I manage to work on some kind of art almost every single day. I also paint or draw late at night, after my husband has gone to bed. When traveling, I do a lot of landscapes and cityscapes. I also draw a few people along the way. It all depends on the destination. In the Galapagos, I drew almost nothing but wildlife like birds, sea turtles and iguanas! But in a place like Paris, I drew the famous landmarks, flower markets and the Seine. On my own time, I do a lot of Louisiana subjects such as birds and wildlife, swamp landscapes, and flowers—all popular with visitors! I also do a lot of commissions: house portraits, pet portraits and children’s portraits, too.
If you could go anywhere in the world and spend the day out drawing, where would you go?
The one destination that I long to go to is Egypt. I studied Egyptian culture and included it so much in my classroom. I’m hoping in the future, I’ll be able to visit. I also want to go on safari in Africa. My daughter would like to go as well, and we are waiting for her children to get a little older (she wants them to go, too!).
Have a story you’d like to share? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org!