Thursday, December 5, 2013

Recorded Webinar for "Gardens and Villas" Tour

If you missed the webinar full of information about:
- Collette Vacations
-The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS)
-The itinerary of the tour of the villas and gardens we'll visit, and
 seeing photographs of some of the highlights,

You can watch the recorded webinar at your leisure by clicking the link below:

Some things I'm particularly excited about:

- Membership for one year in the RHS (included in tour) allowing access to over
    80 botanical gardens,
  A year's subscription to The Garden Magazine,
  Personalized gardening advice, and
  Priority booking and discounted tickets to RHS events (I see a trip to the
     Chelsea Gardens in my future...)

-Murano. I've been a docent at the Corning Museum of Glass for five years
     and have become very appreciative, and even somewhat knowledgeable,
    about glass.  Murano is the place.

-Alpine gardens of Lago Maggiore. There is a plant in the webinar recording I
   want to see in the flesh!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Gardens and Villas of the Italian Lakes

Next June I will host a trip to the gardens and villas of the Italian Lakes, in conjunction with Collette Tours and the Royal Horticultural Society. This will be a tour, with time and drawing tips for my favorite pastime, Botanical and Travel Journaling!

Dates are June 21-30, 2014.

Cost hovers around $4999, including airfare, 10 days, accommodations, 12 meals, field trips, transfers, busses, boats and my mini-sketching lessons. After December 22, the $4999 becomes $5249 and space is at a premium, so contact me soon if you're interested. You could purchase some fine Italian leather gloves or a piece of glass in Murano with that $250 instead of sending it to me!

Here's where we'll go:

  • Venice
  • Murano Island
  • Doge's Palace
  • Giusti Giardino
  • Como
  • Lugano, Switzerland
  • Bellagio
  • Stresa
  • Lake Maggiore
  • Villa Cicogna
  • Isola Madre
  • Isola Bella

The link below is full of information:

Contact me with any questions or to register.
Please put "Botanical Travel Tours" in the subject line. Grazie!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Deadline Extension to March 1!


There is now time for two lucky souls to join a friendly group of adventurers in Tuscany this summer for exploring the gardens, landscape and ancient hilltop villages with their sketchbooks! In other words, the class is not yet full, so, if something like this--or this workshop specifically--has been on your list of fun, rewarding, professionally or personally gratifying, shoot me an email. Companions, as always, are welcome to participate as much or as little as they choose. OR


Monday, August 6, 2012

Springtime in Italy, 2013

Nature and Travel Journaling in Tuscany
Tenuta di Spannocchia-view of the compound
June 16-23, 2013
Tenuta di Spannocchia
Siena, Italy
Instructor: Gretchen Halpert
Fee: includes 7 nights lodging in a 16th century Villa, 19 meals, wine, field trips, daily classes, evening events and a one-year membership to the Spannocchia Foundation.  Fee does not include personal travel or expenses.
$2475 per person based on double occupancy
$2750 per person based on single occupancy

You may request a roommate if you are traveling on your own and would like to share a room.
Meals: All meals are prepared on the premises, using fresh wholesome ingredients. Much of the food is grown in Spannocchia's own organic gardens. The farm grows fruits, vegetables, meat, grapes for the wine, olives for the olive oil. You'll receive dinner the day you arrive, breakfast the day you leave, and three meals a day every day in between except for Saturday night. On that night, the cooks take a break, we go to Siena, and dine as a group or on our own. This is the one meal that is not included in the package, so bring a few Euros for whatever you're craving. There is exquisite dining to delicious pizza and plenty of gelato stands to satiate every palate.

Breakfast and lunch are served family style in the dining room. Before dinner each night, we gather on the terrace for wine and conversation.Dinner is then served at long tables outdoors by the family of Spannocchia interns. On Wednesdays, the outdoor pizza ovens are fired up, exotic pizzas are made, wine is poured and the community  feasts together.

View of vegetable gardens
from the terrace 
Accommodations: I have reserved a 16th century Villa overlooking Tuscan hills, 
flower and vegetable gardens. Each room has a private bath, either in the room or adjoining it. Rooms have large windows opening onto the countryside, simply appointed with furnishings from the estate. Think 16th century Italian farmhouse, not 21st century American hotel. Stone staircases are worn from 500 years of guests. The property includes a swimming pool, vegetable and flower gardens, olive groves, livestock, trails, an abandoned hermitage and, within a healthy walking distance, the ruins of The Castle That Only God Knows (Castiglion che Dio Sol Sa).

WorkshopThis workshop is about creating a journal, focusing on nature and expanding to architecture and travel. Daily lessons in pen and ink, watercolor, composition, text, observation, and writing give participants the tools to document their time in Italy and whereever they go in the world, including home. All takes place on one of the first privately owned wildlife sanctuaries in Italy. Wildlife, trails, an abandoned castle and gardens offer plenty of material.  Afternoons are set aside for field trips and working on your own, relaxing by the pool, hiking, reading, exploring and enjoying life.  The week ends with a wine and cheese opening of our sketchbooks.
Lesson in perspective
This workshop is open to all skill levels and individual needs and interests, as well as those of the group, will be considered. Spouses are welcome too!

Field Trips: On Saturday, we will visit the historic city of Siena to practice our travel journaling and explore the museums, galleries, shops and restaurants. One other day of the week we will travel to other historic hilltops towns. On both of these excursions, you will be able to explore at your own pace to draw and write at will. We'll share our discoveries back at the Villa.

Extra-curricular activities:  Italian language lessons and Italian cooking classes are always popular. Both are offered for an additional fee. See what there is to do at Spannocchia:

Instructor bio: My interests and professional life combine science, art,  nature, travel and education. I received a BA in Botany from Connecticut College; attended the University of New Haven for biological illustration and received a certificate in Scientific and Technical Illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design/CE. I worked as a scientist for many years and taught illustration courses for RISD, Brown University and Wheaton College, as well as workshops for a number of institutions. I have been a freelance illustrator for many years as well. When we meet in June, I will have recently returned from teaching nature journaling in Asia and perhaps developing new exercises for this class.   For a full rĂ©sume´ and examples of my work, go to

Registration is now open. Deadline is March 1, 2013. Early registrants (Oct 1) receive a gift in Italy.
Enrollment is limited to 12

To register: For registration forms, contact me at

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Nature Journaling in Tuscany-a great time

2011 Journaling workshop
From left to right: Katherine Lundgren, Alex Dougherty (back),
 Carol Jean Rogalski, Cynthia Camazine, Sharon Shapiro,
Gretchen Halpert (instructor), Scott Rawlins, Brent Bauer, Nancy Gerald
Notice the impressive cacti in the background and, of course, our handmade journals.

We had a fabulous time in Tuscany. Eight students plus teacher met in Firenze for a chartered van ride to Spannocchia, our destination in Siena province for the next nine days. Immediately, this group clicked. We chatted our way during the hour plus drive to Spannocchia, over wine on the terrace overlooking golden hillsides, through the bountiful dinner meal and on through the week, punctuated with plenty of laughter and serious drawing.

Day 1 we set up in the limonaria for a full day of  bookmaking.
Carol fits her journal cover paper over grayboard
From then on, we set out to fill our books with paintings, drawings, observations and words.

Here are some photos from the week.

©Brent Bauer draws some architectural
details in graphite and pastel.

©Scott Rawlins produces a beautifully delicate and accurate
watercolor of the Spannocchia tower on right, then makes a
breakthrough with an elegant quick sketch on the left.
Scott sketches the tower and our
home for the week.
Cooking class included a tour in
the organic vegetable gardens and
resulted in a feast for all.

Building and geranium sketches © Cynthia Camazine in watercolor. Geraniums are 
strategically planted around the compound, brilliant in the summer sun against cerulean skies. Note the reference value scale on the right page of 
 the building sketch. This reference helps you develop a deeper range of values.

Scott, Gretchen and Alex at
 Santa Lucia, an abandoned
monastery on the property

                                       Sketch books of Brent Bauer, Cynthia Camazine and Gretchen Halpert


Walking the old road in
Fonterutoli to the home
of botanical artist Margaret Saul
Botanical artist Margaret Saul graciously shares
her techniques.
Drawing on the lawn at Spannocchia

Margaret's drawing board displaying
her work, sketches and finished
paintings. See also the GNSI newsletter!

View from bedroom window.
Heritage Cinta Senese pigs
An exhibit opening of our week's
work was shared with the Spannocchia
community. H'or d'oeuvres, wine and art.
Nancy and friend

Capparis Spinosa-capers! The plant was blooming and I have
wanted to paint it. This is the first step in a botanical painting-
studying the structure, taking copius notes and photographs.

Inside the ancient monastary of Santa
Lucia. Stairs warped from ten centuries
of wear. Ten centuries.
©Gretchen Halpert 2011

A couple unedited reviews from the class:

What a nice variety of exercises. I enjoyed every one. The bookmaking, journaling, poetry, pencil and water color were superb and all levels of experience benefitted. The field trips to the various towns and Margaret's home fit well into the program. Gretchen kept things flowing and interesting the entire times. What talent!!!!!

All of the exercises were worthwhile -- some were review, but much appreciated, and others (especially the writing exercises) were new and interesting. We sometimes forget that a journal is not just a sketchbook, but a "journey" in both images and words. I can't think of anything I would change or omit -- though the trip to Margaret's was very valuable and something I understand has not been included in the past. I liked the freedom we had to explore after class or just stay near the villa and draw (or sleep or read). I highly recommend the garden tour -- this helped put the goals of the Spannocchia Foundation into perspective. 

I plan to offer this workshop again during the summer of 2013. 
Contact Gretchen Halpert at for more information.

The description for this 2011 workshop is in the August 2010 post.

We held to the description, adding some late afternoon writing sessions,
 a field trip to Fonterutoli to visit Ms. Saul, and to 
Castellina-in-Chianti for famed gelato and sightseeing. Field trips may vary, 
but the city of Siena is always on the schedule. See the location of Siena on the 
map link at the bottom of this page.

Thanks to all the participants for their enthusiasm, good nature and artwork!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cooking class

2010 class
From left-Mitch Reese, Jeannine Reese, Clara Richardson,
Frank Ippolito, Judy Halpert, Annagrace Kasten(back),
Gretchen Halpert, Laurie O'Keefe, Steve Halpert,
Britt Griswold, Jennifer Seabaugh
Ready to make dough

Spinach filling for ravioli-2006

Ready to start eating our feast
2006 participants
Sketching during cooking class



Relaxing after finishing first course of wine and bruschetta appetizers

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Nature Journaling in Tuscany 2006

2011 Workshop Description is in August posting

 From the GNSI Newsletter, Volume 2006 Number 7 September

Nature Journaling in Tuscany-A Report on the Summer 2006 Workshop-
-Gretchen Halpert

 It’s true what they say about the light. 

Castiglion Che Dio Sol Sa
watercolor value study
D. Piemonte ©2006
You stare at it until it absorbs you. You drink it in like it will quench your summer thirst, and then, you must record it.

         We all fell in love with the Tuscan glow, calling to us from the luminescent wheat fields we passed on our sojourns. In the early evenings, it called us gently from the hills,  while we drank homemade wine on the terrace. From acres of sunflowers in full bloom, it called us loudly. We gasped at the brilliance of thousands of orange-yellow heads demanding our attention until every one of our heads turned and snapped their pictures.
         Ten artists converged at Tenuta di Spannocchia, a working farm and nature preserve on 1200 acres of forest, gardens and history. Each morning we gathered for field sketching exercises. From the shade of the secret garden to the domain of the chickens and Cinta Senese pigs, we drew. From the Escher-like Castle That Only God Knows (Castiglion Che Dio Sol Sa) deep in the woods, we drew. We sketched, painted and photographed at the Monastery Among Olive Trees (Monte Oliveto Maggiore),  where 14th century frescos painted by Signorelli and Il Sodoma line the walls of the Great Cloister. We drew in a Zen-like garden nearby, during Pre-Palio festivities in Siena, in museums where the architecture is as impressive as the art, on field trips to walled medieval cities and from the bedroom windows of our 16th century Villa overlooking terraced vegetable gardens and Tuscan hills.
watercolor value study
W. Smith ©2006

         The afternoons we weren’t on field trips, we spent on our own: exploring, hiking, drawing, writing, swimming. Whatever we chose to do, we never missed our farm-grown, creatively prepared,  sumptuous meals. One day we spent playing in the kitchen under the direction of a local chef. We cooked up a 5-course meal then feasted on it. Another afternoon some of us took an Italian language class so we could order meals and buy postcards and souvenirs in Italian. Another couple (hundred) of those and we would fit right in.
         Evenings we held slide shows as well as an art opening to share our drawings with the Spannocchia community. The ten days we were in Tuscany coincided with the Palio, the 4th of July (yes, we had a barbecue, beer, chips, and fireworks) and the World cup where Italy reigned. Thanks to all the participants: Diane Dorigan, Wendy Smith, Antonia Ross, Rachel Robinov, Cally Gurley, Susan Horigan, Colly Geer, Diane Piemonte, Carol Rothberg and honorary participants Ronald Faris, Jim Ross and Cally’s whole family for making this a memorable workshop. The participants coupled with the wonderful staff at Spannocchia have made me look forward to offering this workshop again.

2006 workshop participants
Front row from left-Gretchen Halpert (instructor), Colly Geer, Diane Piemonte
back row from left-Jim Ross, Toni Ross, Susan Horigan, Diane Dorigan,
Wendy Smith, Rachel Robinov, Ron Faris, Carol Rothberg, Cally Gurley