• Piegaro
  • Italy

Excavating the Image – Discovering a Sense of Place with Gillian Lee Smith and Judy Wise

We are so thrilled to share that Bellissima Art Escapes is going to Italy with Judy Wise and Gillian Lee Smith. Italy, the first time you visit, your heart will be forever changed. The people, the history, the colors, the art and the food. Oh my, yes, the food.


The idea of this trip was formed a few years ago when Judy and I visited the National Museum in London. It was there that we saw the beautiful paintings of saints that inspired this trip. How fitting that Umbria is considered the Terre dei Santi or Land of Saints with the highest number of saints in Italy.

Some of the images we saw in London

Some of the images we saw in London

Pictured below is the Patron Saint of Italy, S. Francesco with his beloved friend, S. Chiara who founded the Orders of Franciscans and Poor Clares in 1210. There are many paintings of St. Clare of Assisi as she and her sisters wrote the first Rule written for religious women by a woman.

The Workshop

Drawing is a way of recording what you see, and a way of responding to a certain place and time. Judy and Gillian love to experience new adventures whilst recording in their sketchbooks. It helps them to go beyond recording quick snapshots with a camera that they might only look at a few times. Drawing enables them to really look, to take notice, to observe details that they would perhaps miss otherwise. They both love experiencing new places with their sketchbooks as it helps them to take the time to really sit and observe in a way that allows the memories to stay with them.

During our sightseeing, we will be experiencing structures, scenery, buildings and people. We will see colors, line, and textures. A melting pot of history, scenes and encounters. Layers and layers that will build into a rich adventure each day of our trip.

Our time with Gillian will be spent creating a sketchbook of our trip. We will begin with sketching into an accordion sketchbook on our travels and days out. Recording all that we see and experience. We will create a strong foundation to work into back in the studio. Using simple tools, we will create pages and pages of images, working quickly and spontaneously.

The Beginning

Our trip begins in Rome which will inform our inspiration for the trip. Imagine walking through the Vatican museum taking pictures of the beautiful sculptures made from marble, or the images in the Sistine Chapel.

Creation of the Sun and Moon

Creation of the Sun and Moon

We will visit many other beautiful squares with its statuary designed by Bernini and other famous sculptors

The Pantheon, an architectural marvel

The Pantheon, an architectural marvel

Of course there will be time to stop and experience the wonderful food in Rome, including my favorite, tartufo. A wonderful chocolate layered dessert.

Tartufo as seen on the  Pretty Bee

Tartufo as seen on the Pretty Bee

After our two days in Rome, we will be picked up by our hosts Tom and Colleen and whisked away to our home for the week in Umbria, the Green Heart of Italy, where we will stay in the beautifully renovated glass factory, L’Antica Vetreria which was originally founded in 1292 when glass artists fled Venice to make a new home in the medieval village of Piegaro.

Imagine sitting in the pool overlooking these hills, or walking out the door and into the village to grab a glass of wine in one of the local cafes

Imagine sitting in the pool overlooking these hills, or walking out the door and into the village to grab a glass of wine in one of the local cafes


Day 1, Wed. Sept. 4
Fly into Rome, meet at the hotel at 6:00 pm for introductions and our first meal together.

Day 2, Thurs. Sept. 5
Breakfast at the hotel and then strap on your walking shoes as we head out to experience Rome. For some of us this will be our first time in the Eternal City - this beautiful, vibrant city, for others, it’s a return to familiar sights, sounds and tastes. We will stop for lunch in between our visits to the Parthenon, Plaza Espana (the Spanish Steps), beautiful Trevi fountain, the Plaza Navona (where we will find the tartufo dessert!) and San Luis de los Florentine.

Trevi Fountain where you can toss in your coin for a safe return to Italy just as Audrey Hepburn did!

Trevi Fountain where you can toss in your coin for a safe return to Italy just as Audrey Hepburn did!

Dinner that evening will be at a local restaurant - they are all good!

Day 3, Fri. Sept. 6
After breakfast, we will walk the 15 minutes to the Vatican Museum where we will spend about 3 hours walking through the many rooms filled with the treasures the church has gathered over the centuries. You will see the pink marble that you won’t see anywhere else, tapestries so large that it will make you gasp, as will the sheer size of some of the statues in the main public area. And then there is the Sistine Chapel where you will hear “no flash, no flash” throughout your time in the great hall as you admire the work of Michelangelo. And then there are the Swiss Guards with their fancy and everyday wear.

After lunch, you will have time to explore either the Coliseum or other sites - there are so many. Our hotel is within walking distance of most of the favorite sites. We will meet for dinner this evening to share what we have experienced these past two days. Then it’s off to bed before we are whisked away in the morning.

Day 4, Sat. Sept. 7

Our hosts for the week, Tom and Colleen will pick us up after breakfast and we will start to make our way to Piegaro, stopping in Orvieto for lunch. It is here where we will see the mosaic tiles on the church designed by the artists from Piegaro.

Orvieto on its tufa cliff.jpg
Orvieto Church with mosaics made by artistans of Piegaro

Orvieto Church with mosaics made by artistans of Piegaro


  • Six days of instruction with Gillian and Judy

  • Two and half days in Rome with tours to the Vatican, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and more, includes all meals

  • Transportation from Rome to Piegaro and return

  • Accommodations in historical buildings in Piegaro, all meals

  • Tour of glass museum

  • Visit to Monte Vibiano winery

  • Cooking class

  • Farewell celebration

  • Some art supplies

  • New art tribe

The price for this workshop is $3,980 and is limited to 12

A $1,000 non-refundable deposit is due at registration. The final deposit is due April 16, 2019.   

Price does not include airfare to/from Rome. Price is based on shared accommodations with twin beds. Single rooms are available in Rome only for $350 supplement. All rooms in Piegaro are shared.

Airport: There are two airports serving Rome.

Leonardo da Vinci International Airport also known as Fiumicino International Airport (FCO) is 32 km away from the centre of Rome. The standard 45 minute taxi ride from the airport to the city is 48 Euros.

Ciampino airport (CIA) is technically closer (and is a shorter/cheaper taxi ride).


Hotel dei Mellini is located on the right bank of the Tiber River, 15 minutes to the Vatican, and 13 minutes to the Spanish Steps.


L’Antica Veteria located in the medieval village of Piegaro. Our hosts, Colleen and Tom have renovated an abandoned 12th century glass factory into beautiful accommodations

Imagine looking out over the hillside watching the swallows greet you in the morning, and the evening sunsets closing out the day

Imagine looking out over the hillside watching the swallows greet you in the morning, and the evening sunsets closing out the day

Day 5, Sun. Sept. 8

This morning Colleen will take us on a tour of the glass museum.

Today will be our first class with Judy. It’s time to take all those images you have gathered for inspiration and turn it into your own version of a saint.

In Judy’s words:

Personal Icons: Old and New

When Kathie and I saw these elegantly proportioned Icons at the National Museum in London 2 years ago we just knew we had to offer them in a class in Italy. I chose to paint one in the late Italian tradition and one in a modern style.

In this class, inspired by all we will see, we will each paint 2 modern icons in our own style incorporating symbols, secrets, and personal meaning. We will discuss the role icons played in Italy during the Medieval and Renaissance periods and also some of the changing styles ranging from Giotto to Raphael.

The finishing touch to our painted icons will be the application of faux gold leaf which is really beautiful. 

Icons by Judy Wise

Icons by Judy Wise

Lunch and dinner will be provided.

Day 6, Mon. Sept. 9

This morning we will walk to the farmer’s market and do a bit of sketching in town, topping off with roast pork panini sandwiches that have been highly recommended by Tom and Colleen. We may continue sketching in town or travel to a nearby castle. Dinner will be cooked by Kathie tonight.

Day 7, Tues. Sept. 10

After breakfast, we have a special treat in store for us. We will visit the Monte Vibiano winery, climbing into electric jeeps to make our way through the olive trees to the Count Lorenzo Fasola and his wife, Maryam’s castle. It is here that Lady Vabia in 217 BC dedicated this vineyard to Bacchas after her two sons safely returned from war. Today, the winery is a carbon-neutral producer of organic and hand picked grapes and olives. We will, of course, taste both the wine and olive oil.

Lunch will be at the nearby Citte Della Pieve Restaurant. We will return to the villa for a swim or short rest before returning to our painting with Judy. We’ll have a late dinner that will give us plenty of time to work on our Icons.

Day 8, Wed. Sept 11

Breakfast and then we start our class with Gillian.
We will now work with the accordion sketchbooks that we have been using on our travels and days out to create a strong foundation for our work.


We will add colour and rich layers before partially burying the images to create a cohesive layer into which we can allow emotion and memory to unfold using mixed media techniques. Rendering, exploring, burying, obliterating and revealing the images once again. This could be described as almost like ‘reverse archaeology.’ Beginning with drawings rooted in observation before losing and finding them over and over, abstracting as we go.

Taking our sketches and representations of all that we have seen, we will then work towards a more emotional response to time and place. We will explore various techniques and processes, and you will finish with a richly layered treasure and reminder of your travels and our time together.

Tonight is cooking class with Chef Salvatore.


Day 9, Thurs. Sept. 12

Today is a full day with Gillian. At 4:00 class is over and we will head to the hilltop Umbria castle town of Panicale for some free time exploring and dinner. Panicale is also known as the balcony on Lago Trasimeno.

Panicale sits above Lago Trasimeno

Panicale sits above Lago Trasimeno

Day 10, Fri. Sept. 13

Breakfast then time to finish your projects. We will have lunch in the village and then you are free to wander or relax for the rest of the afternoon with time to clean up and pack. Tonight we will have our farewell dinner cooked by Chef Jennifer

Day 11, Sat. Sept. 14

After breakfast, it is time to pack up and leave our beautiful space returning to Rome taking with us our memories of good food, wine, friendships and great art.

This itinerary may change due to weather, new opportunities or the whim of the group.

Judy Wise at the Miro Museum in Barcelona

Judy Wise at the Miro Museum in Barcelona

Judy Wise is an Oregon artist who has worked as a printmaker, painter, writer, and teacher for four decades. Through F&W Media, Judy co-authored the book Plaster Studio: Mixed Media Techniques for Painting, Casting and Sculpting and has published a series of eBooks on Hot Wax, Cold Wax, Mixed media Journaling, and Plaster. Online classes include Painting Faces and Sculpey Dolls. In 2012 she was an artist in residence at Can Serrat near Barcelona, Spain and has taught workshops across the U.S., Australia, Europe, Bali and Mexico.


Gillian Lee Smith is a Scottish artist living in the beautiful, historic North-East coast of England in Northumberland that daily influences her work. As a teacher, Gillian is inspired to bring her love of people and place to each workshop using a wealth of techniques to make new discoveries along with her students. She has several very successful online courses and a mentoring program.