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Pastels & Pasta

PUBLISHED: 09:00 25 April 2014

Some of the group at the church studio in Italy

Some of the group at the church studio in Italy


Glen King joins Devon, and international guests on a six-day pastel painting break in Italy to discover her inner artist

"Make the pastels dance - movement, energy and flow - it’s what life’s about"

I’m not your typical arty-type, although I did pass my Art O-Level more years ago than I care to remember. However, when Woodbury-based artist and entrepreneur, Jeremy Jackson invited me to go on an amazing Italian painting holiday, I jumped at the chance.

Our destination was the stunning UNESCO World Heritage City of Ferrara in northern Italy, 40 km south of Venice and on the main rail route. The city has a population of 350,000 and boasts the oldest university in the country, which has strong links to Exeter University.

“Many travellers are aware of popular Italian towns such as Verona, Padova and Bologna,” Jeremy informs me. “However, few have sampled the delights offered by the magical city of Ferrara, which is off the usual beaten track.”

My usual holiday choice is lying on a sun-drenched beach with a good book and a steady supply of cocktails, but I was intrigued and a little excited about a new experience to awaken my inner artist, courtesy of the newly formed company AventHolidays. The company works alongside art website AventArt.com, which was launched by Jeremy in spring 2013 to promote talented but unknown Devon and Cornwall artists. A keen philanthropist, artist, writer and retired public relations executive, Jeremy generously gives a percentage of the profits from these commercial ventures towards the building of a new hospital in Nepal for the EarAid charity.

Painting breaks in the UNESCO World Heritage City of Ferrara, Italy for 2014

12–18 April: Double Act – Beth Pearson & Kat Heueston (Mixed Media)

28 June–5 July: Rebecca de Mendonça (Pastels)

5-11 July or 12-18 July: Peter Goodhall (Oils)

The inaugural painting holiday is led by local AventArt artist Rebecca de Mendonça, who has developed considerable skills in the use of pastels. She has worked on West End shows, including Aspects of Love and Phantom of the Opera, specialising in paint finishes and now lives in Exeter where she runs art courses.

I travel with good friend, BBC Radio Devon’s Judi Spiers, and we’re met at Bologna Airport by Exmouth-based Liz Oram, who speaks fluent Italian, and local girl Ylenia Tumani, and are driven through stunning scenery to Ferrara.

A warm welcome awaited us from the owners of the intimate Hotel Dolcemela, which is typically Italian with simply furnished rooms and centred on a delightful private courtyard with its splashing Fontana Del Mezzo Tonno (Fountain of the Half Tuna), created by Serafini. We meet our fellow painting companions for the first time; an eclectic group including American girl Kristie; Linda, a book illustrator from Sweden; Lympstone artist Dina Clements; and Ken and Christina who live in Budleigh Salterton.

The next morning we take the short walk to the Academia D’arter St Nicola, a former church used as an art studio for the last 20 years. Issued with art materials and sketch book, we sit at our easel and Rebecca‘s passion to use pastels to capture movement and energy is infectious.

Teaching us the technical side of drawing, she demonstrates the various ways to use charcoal including soft, strong and clean lines. Inspiring us to work nice and big and not be restricted by the size of the paper she encourages by saying: “Little marks make a big difference, you don’t need to fill the whole piece of paper, and less is definitely more”.

Moving on to pastels, Rebecca asks us to experiment with at least ten different colours from our palette and study how light reflects on the subject. Choosing a simple apple as my still-life, I incorporate the technique of hatching taught by Rebecca; a form of criss-crosses to create a 3D effect giving depth and form to bring the art to life on paper.

“Make the pastels dance – movement, energy and flow; it’s what life’s all about,” she enthuses.

Fortunately, unlike oils, pastels are very forgiving, so after much smudging I surprised myself and my teacher with the finished result. Where did those two hours go? I was totally absorbed and found the whole experience very therapeutic.

I instantly fell in love with bustling Ferrara and its history, wonderful architecture and authentic Italian food using fresh local produce. It’s a stunning city with the majestic Estense Castle surrounded by its original moat standing proudly in the medieval square. The narrow cobbled streets are a delight to explore and the many cafés, bars and restaurants spill out on pavements; perfect for a morning latte and people-watching.

The highlight of the week for me was a day tour to the romantic city of Venice, renowned for its unique architecture and artworks, where Jeremy was our guide for a cultural tour which saw us visit Ca’Rezzonico art gallery.

Although this was my third trip to the city, I still found the sight of the bridges, canals and gondolas breath-taking, and after an enjoyable morning on the group tour, the afternoon was our own to sketch or explore this fabulous city.

Following the success of the art holiday, AventHolidays is launching new Italian experiences including cycling, language and cookery breaks - my case is already packed!


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