The Grand Tour (where wealthy young men came to Rome in search of art and culture), took at least a few months and could even stretch to years. I’ve lived in Rome for six years and I love that there is always something more to discover. I am the eternal tourist. If ever the daily aggravations of life in a big city start to take hold, I try to find something that renews my love of Rome and I am always looking for a new way to explore my adopted city.
Last week Rome-based artist Kelly Medford organised one of her Sketching Rome Tours in one of my favourite areas of the city, the ex-Mattaoio (ex-slaughter house) in Testaccio. Perhaps a strange place for a watercolour, but I love the architecture and history of the place. What also attracted me was the possibility to see Rome with a different eye, to slow down, to take note of the details.
Kelly is a plein-air painter, painting everyday on the streets of Rome explaining: Artists and non-artists alike have been keeping sketchbook journals of their travels through Italy and Europe for centuries and I am honored and excited to continue this long standing tradition. That is why in 2012 I started Sketching Rome Tours as a way to offer this experience to everyone.
Kelly starts by handing out a handy travel sized sketch kit and takes you through some simple sketching warm-ups which are reassuringly manageable. I know nothing about art, I haven’t really drawn since I left school, but Kelly convinced me that there was no need to be an artist, architect or otherwise experienced at drawing. When you sit and observe a place while recording your own personal memories of that day, these memories will be more vivid than any photograph of your trip.
As a primary school teacher for ten years I quite liked teaching art. Mostly because I could defer responsibility to the children themselves. I would ask them for their ideas of how to approach any task as their ideas were invariably better than my own. Children, at least initially, are much less terrified than adults of drawing. My mum always quoted Bradford artist David Hockney in such circumstances, but it turns out it was Picasso who said: ‘The critics say I draw like a child. When I was a child I drew like Raphael. It took me my whole life to draw like a child.’
David Hockney actually said: ‘I was aware that the teaching of drawing was being stopped almost 30 years ago. And I always said, ‘The teaching of drawing is the teaching of looking.’ A lot of people don’t look very hard.’ And Kelly’s Sketching Rome Tour reminds you to really look.
What I remember from school is that I could copy, draw lines fairly accurately, but that anything to do with shading or colour was beyond me. Having Kelly on hand with encouraging, helpful suggestions was a joy.
Thanks again to Kelly and the rest of the lovely group for a great Sunday afternoon and to Rachel Roddy for the sketching company and a delicious well-earned soup, wine and cheese afterwards.
For more information on Kelly’s Sketching Rome Tours and events: