Teaching in Venice. La Dolce Vita.

I recently taught a six day workshop in Venice through the Italian cultural organization, Teatrio and it was an incredible experience. I was a bit nervous at first, since the course emphasized finding your voice as an illustrator. Language was the one thing the students and I did not have in common. The students were all Italian except for one who came from the Savannah College of Art and Design. As soon as we started working this didn’t matter. The language of pictures transcends all barriers.The class ranged from full-time students to professional illustrators who wanted to sharpen their skills. The group included a graphic designer, an architect and an interior designer who all shared a love for illustration. A number of the students commuted back and forth by train everyday and others stayed in nearby hotels.The students were required to maintain a sketchbook, a practice I require of my class at the Rhode Island School of Design as well. I encourage them to “draw from life,” literally and figuratively. My sketchbooks are my greatest resource for ideas by recording my own experiences and the world around me. We started with a warm-up exercise based on observation. The weather could not have been more perfect. We then moved on to the main project, a poster for an opera based on the life of Casanova. He was a historical figure of Venice and led a fascinating life with many twists and turns, much like the city itself. The assignment leant itself well to different interpretations and for using the location as inspiration.

Laura working on her ink drawing of Casanova. MariaCristina's observational drawings of tourists and birds mimicking each other, Alberta imagines a train coming through Campo San Margherita. Roberta's dog, Ikea came with her to class as did Oddo's beagle, Bernardo.



We had a class trip to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, one of my favorite places anywhere. There are so many wonderful treasures of modern art in a spectacular setting. The collection also provided another opportunity to use our sketchbooks.

The museum is the former residence of Peggy Guggenheim. She is buried in the courtyard next to her beloved pets. I noticed that the lifespan of the pets increased as she aged.
I quickly settled into a routine of starting my day with a ten walk from the apartment, winding my way through narrow streets as the gondoliers prepared for work. The Accademia Bridge was blissfully empty in the morning except for a plein air painter capturing the morning light. Venice is small enough that by the second day, the local cafe owner would make my cappuccino when I walked in the door. In the early evening when I would walk back from school, the bridge would be crowded with photographers and their subjects defying you to walk in between them. Not unlike a mama bear and her cubs.The course was held in an elementary school that was rented for this purpose. The space was converted into a working studio by Oddo de Grandis, President of Teatrio and the lovely women who worked with him. Chiara, Giulia and Brenda all helped with translation and logistics.Although we spent many hours together, the workshop days flew by as we worked, had critiques and ate lunch as a group. I had many slideshow presentations that facilitated the discussions of illustration. One of the great rewards of teaching is starting with a group of students and getting to know them as individuals and artists. It is the one on one time in the classroom that I enjoy the most. By the end of the six days we had become friends and I even managed to learn a little Italian.

On top: Nadia working on her embroidery drawing for Casanova, Silvia combining traditional elements into a graphic black, red and white composition, MariaCristina's colored pencil drawing of Casanova and her digital version as well, Alberta's Casanova has his hair and collar shaped from women, Roberta's portrait of Casanova with a nun and a priest, Chieh's carnevale mask with a reclining woman
My husband, David Flaherty and I had a few extra days for sightseeing and we packed in as much as possible. There is so much great art by the Venetian masters, Titian and Tintoretto as well as some treasures by Bosch and Max Ernst to name a few. Finding your way through Venice with a map can be a challenge. Fortunately, it is a small island so you won’t become hopelessly lost but you can easily get misplaced. We even overlapped for a night with Chris Buzelli who was teaching his course after me. Yuko Shimizu, who followed Chris is finishing her workshop this week.
On top is the view from the apartment we stayed in. The gondoliers would sing as they passed by, far more pleasant than the car horns I am used to. On the bottom is Oddo De Grandis and one of his assistants, Camila. We were treated to a great meal with lots of drinks as you can see from the aftermath.

Top photo back row: Nadia Pillon, Silvia Ungaro, Alberta Tessarolo, Oddo De Grandis, Front: Chiara Canziani, Maria Cristina Boero Baroncelli, Laura Crespi, Roberta Zeta, Giulia Vecchiato and myself. Bottom left: Chieh Lee who came to my lecture at SCAD last year and Matilde di Pietropaolo.

A heartfelt thank you to the students who made it so enjoyable and to the organization of Teatrio. I left Venice inspired and eager to get back to projects in the studio and for the fall semester to begin.