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


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Comments from Previous Workshop Participants

These comments are from evaluation forms I handed out at the end of the workshop. Anything in parentheses are my edits. Those who wrote me with input and ideas for future classes, I thank you. Your input will help shape the 2011 workshop.-Gretchen

From a 2007 and interested 2011 participant:
"Hey Gretchen, I am SOOOO glad you are offering this trip again and I would love to attend!  It sounds like a great venue with different things from before, but I have to tell you that was one of the best trips I've ever been on. I still think the price is reasonable too! ... I have a feeling this might fill up pretty quickly so want to take advantage of not lolly gagging and missing out." L.O.

"The mapping lesson was fun-a great way to document in my journal"

"The field trip to M. Olivero/Pienza....was so inspiring and the ride beautiful"

"(I loved) the guided field trip. It was a great day. Also, our morning at the Castle Ony God Knows was an excellent lesson."

"I really would have loved to stay the summer. However, reality does need to be faced."

"Well done. Even though I have had some of these (exercises) before, I felt very enthusiastic about the lessons. These are lessons we should do ourselves regularly-especially sitting quietly before we begin."

"I liked being away, meeting wonderful people, seeing new sights and being able to have the uninterrupted time to practice."

"I'm going to save my pennies again-loved everything! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"

"...Spannocchia is a wonderful world!"

"Thoughtfully designed with realistic objectives and flexible to needs of group. Good group dynamics, therefore."

"You gave us the best possible sense of what was to come. The schedule was particularly helpful. For first-time participants there is just no way to visualize the place/time"

"It's very inspiring to see each others' artwork."

"Hiking on your own and making your own discoveries is a "must" do!"

Pictures from Nature Journaling Workshops in Tuscany

Day in Siena
2006 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
Morning view of cypress trees and hills
from my bedroom window
Siena rooftops

Italian cooking class
We cooked and feasted!

Entrance to Spannocchia compound


Sharing our sketchbooks in the Secret Garden

One on one time

The swimming pool is a perfect respite on hot summer days

Drawing at the Castle

Tuscan Countryside

Tuscan Countryside
Fields of sunflowers
Cactus-sketchbook page ©GKH
At the Escher-like "Castle that Only God Knows"
Drawing  perpective

Sketch of Cinte Senese Pigs

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Workshop Description

Nature and Travel Journaling in Tuscany
Tenuta di Spannocchia-view of the compound
June 16-25, 2011
Tenuta di Spannocchia, Siena, Italy
Instructor: Gretchen Halpert
Fee: includes 9 nights lodging in a 16th century Villa, 25 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.
Fee: $2250 per person based on double occupancy; $2950 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 the 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 feet. 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 on creating a journal, focusing on plants, nature, architecture and travel. Beginning with an optional class on making your own sketchbook, we will spend the week filling those books with drawings inspired by the Tuscan countryside, ancient architecture and cultivated gardens. Pen and ink, watercolor, composition, text, observation exercises and writing lessons 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. We will begin the first day with an historic tour of the Castello and continue with daily sessions. Afternoons are set aside for field trips and working on your own, relaxing by the pool, hiking, reading, exploring and enjoying life. 
Lesson in perspective
This workshop is open to all skill levels.

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 my 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. Always, I carry a sketchbook with me. For a full rĂ©sume´ and examples of my work, go to

Registration is now open.
Enrollment is limited to 12

To register: For registration forms, contact me at