Sharp Pencil, Keen Eye

The humble pencil. During my time in Umbria, I saw what Amity Parks could do with a pencil, so when she landed in nearby Guelph, I just had to take her popular Sharp Pencil and Keen Eye workshop.

In class, we played with many (many!) techniques, but I was particularly drawn to playing with pressure and release on Roman capitals.

Version 2Using a 2B pencil and the pressure and release technique to create highlighting. Pencil  on Arches Text Wove coloured with paste.


IMG_1701Same technique on Arches hot press (smooth) watercolour paper.


IMG_2223Experimenting on paper with a bit more texture.


IMG_1688Amity and me at the end of her two-day workshop which satisfied my curiosity about everything graphite.


Umbria: Farewell—Ink, Paint, Paper, Passion

la romita pics - 180Light is an interesting phenomenon. For 10 minutes each morning, there’s a pink cast at sunrise. I savour this beautiful light during morning meditation and prayer.

la romita pics - 109Late night chats with new friends. Enlightening exchanges as darkness descends.

During this season of transition, La Romita is my place to turn the corner to see what’s around it.

la romita pics - 243On the last day of class, we gather to share our manuscript books and tell our stories.


la romita pics - 245


42168865_10156710366718874_8581805129441738752_nAnd then it’s time to say farewell. Heading home with warm memories of new friendships and fresh perspectives.

la romita pics - 254One final door. I see that it is open. The light beckons.


La Romita, Terni, Italy, September 4-18, 2018.
Umbria series photography: Amity Parks, Lily Yee-Sloan
with images from Ellen Bauch, Monica Cimino, Janine Mitchell, Glenn Parks, Wren Parks, Lonnie Watts

Umbria: Cascata delle Marmore—Manmade Waterfall

IMG_1609Cascata delle Marmore, Italy’s largest waterfall was built by the ancient Romans to divert water from the Velino River, sending it over a cliff to generate power for hydro-electricity.

IMG_1611Its flow is turned on and off according to a published schedule. It has three sections with a total height of 165 metres (541 feet). The tallest section is 83 metres (272 feet) high.

IMG_1619Hiking to the top of the waterfall with Janine, Tracy, and Leesette.

la romita pics - 216Along the way, a tunnel leads to an observatory where you can step out to get a closer look at the falls, but the water’s coming down so hard, you can’t open your eyes wide enough to see anything. Wren and I get a good soaking—a refreshing surprise on a hot day!

la romita pics - 222We made it to the top!



Coming up in the series:

Umbria: Farewell—Ink, Paint, Paper, Passion


Umbria: Bevagna—Papermaker

42160714_2427531397274015_6792626761583558656_nA visit to Bevagna’s La Cartiera to see hand papermaking.

IMG_1590Paper is made using various fibres including linen, hemp, and cotton. Lime is added to break down the fibres into a “mash” or pulp.

la romita pics - 199Pulp is transferred to a barrel and stirred to get a homogeneous mix.

IMG_1575Using a mold and deckle, a sheet of pulp is pulled from the barrel.

la romita pics - 200Sarah helps to tip off a sheet from the mold and deckle.

IMG_1577A felt absorbs the moisture.

IMG_1564Sheets hang to dry on a wooden peg system.

IMG_1595Sheets hang on bamboo rods to dry further.


Paper is flattened in a press before being brushed with gelatine to add size (for paint absorption without feathering).

IMG_1599The cobbled streets of Bevagna bustle with Saturday shoppers. I recommend the Nutella pastry and the pistachio cookies from the bakery. Oh, and the cashmere wraps from Badiali come in a rainbow of colours.

IMG_1603San Filippo church bells ring at noon as a couple exchange wedding vows. We were hoping for a glimpse of the newlyweds, but had to dash off to catch our shuttle.



Coming up in the series:

Umbria: Cascata delle Marmore—Manmade Waterfall

Umbria: Farewell—Ink, Paint, Paper, Passion


Umbria: Deruta—Maiolica

IMG_1548Deruta is a tiny town whose residents make maiolica—tin-glazed earthenware with opaque white glaze and decorated with coloured metal oxide enamel. Ceramic artists Amity and husband Glenn pause at the town’s entrance featuring a welcome sign, a maiolica design.

IMG_1554Maiolica reached Italy in mid-15th century and became a celebrated ceramic art form.

IMG_1552OK, I couldn’t resist sharing another door—this one featuring a decorative transom.

IMG_1556Storefront signage.

DerutaMaiolicaI returned home with two ceramic pieces painted by artisan Diana D’Orsi. The upper, a traditional design, contrasts the lower more modern peacock feather pattern. I’m looking forward to using them as paperweights in my studio.



Coming up in the series:

Umbria: Bevagna—Papermaker

Umbria: Cascata delle Marmore—Manmade Waterfall

Umbria: Farewell—Ink, Paint, Paper, Passion



Umbria: Assisi—Basilica of Saint Francis

IMG_1498All roads lead to the Basilica of Saint Francis (San Francesco).

la-romita-pics-1851.jpgThe Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000, is one of the important places of Christian pilgrimage in Italy. The basilica (begun in 1228) is built into the side of a hill and comprises two churches known as the Upper Church and the Lower Church. A crypt in the Lower Church contains the remains of Saint Francis.

la romita pics - 192The Upper and Lower Churches are decorated with frescoes created by numerous late medieval painters from the Roman and Tuscan schools, and include works by Cimabue, Giotto, Simone Martini, and Pietro Lorenzetti. The range and quality of the works show the development of Italian art from this period.

No photography is permitted inside the basilica. You’ll  have to visit Assisi yourself to soak in the magnificent art and Gothic architecture!

img_1495.jpgArt is everywhere! Street chalk drawing of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.


IMG_1488Buttresses supporting the Basilica of Saint Clare.

IMG_1547The choir practiced while we wandered through Chiesa Nuova, providing an enchanting acoustic backdrop.

IMG_1514The Temple of Minerva currently houses a church, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, built in 1539 and renovated in Baroque style in the 17th century.

IMG_1503The temple was originally built in the 1st century BC by will of Gnaeus Caesius and Titus Caesius Priscus—two of the city’s quattuorviri (civil servants) who also financed the construction. The temple façade features six Corinthian columns.

IMG_1506Frescoed remains appear in an alcove across from the Temple of Minerva.

IMG_1544Assisi is hilly (an understatement); it’s easy to rack up those 10,000 daily steps!


IMG_1480Stopping with Ellen and Sally to catch our breath and to enjoy gelato and cappuccino.



Coming up in the series:

Umbria: Deruta—Maiolica

Umbria: Bevagna—Papermaker

Umbria: Cascata delle Marmore—Manmade Waterfall

Umbria: Farewell—Ink, Paint, Paper, Passion




Umbria: Stroncone—Choral Books


IMG_1390Stroncone was founded in the 10th century. On this field trip, we visit the town’s municipal building which houses choral books from the 14th century.

la romita pics - 119A choral book or choir book is a large format manuscript used by a musical ensemble of singers in churches or cathedrals during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

IMG_1397The music is large enough so that the entire ensemble can read from the one book. Choral books were generally placed on a stand with the shorter boy sopranos standing in front and the men behind.

IMG_1419A choral book was a major investment. Many of them were utilitarian, and existing books show signs of extensive use.

IMG_1402Because of the translucency of vellum skin, you can see music, written on the verso,  showing through faintly, adding an ethereal quality.

la romita pics - 120


IMG_1395At larger cathedrals, choral books were lavishly decorated and illuminated.

IMG_1424Illuminated choral books were expensive to produce, so they were usually owned by families or institutions rather than individuals.

IMG_1423Once the printing of music became more commonplace, choral books were replaced by smaller, more economical books.

la romita pics - 112Throughout Umbria, lettering appears everywhere.

IMG_1522Even on the worn doorstep of a pharmacy in Assisi, the next town on the itinerary.



Coming up in the series:

Umbria: Assisi—Basilica of Saint Francis

Umbria: Deruta—Maiolica

Umbria: Bevagna—Papermaker

Umbria: Cascata delle Marmore—Manmade Waterfall

Umbria: Farewell—Ink, Paint, Paper, Passion