Piazza del Popolo
If you’ve ever dreamed of sketching your way through Rome, then you’ll love today’s interview. Kelly Medford of Sketching Rome Tours will give you a chance to sketch your way through Rome. As you take in the classic Roman architecture and sketch in charming neighborhoods around the Italian capital city, you’ll have the chance to fall in love with Rome during your visit.
In this interview, Kelly shares how she ended up in Rome, what it’s like getting used to a new culture, and her favorite spots in and around the city.
When did you first know you wanted to move to Rome?
I had been living in Florence for over 5 years where I studied art and really wanted a change. While Florence is beautiful, it felt too small and I wanted a bigger city or a change of scenery. I got my wish when my boyfriend at the time was transferred to Rome for work and so off we went. Like many things in life, I didn’t have a plan per se to move to Rome (or Italy for that matter), but the opportunity presented itself and I said yes.
Once you arrived in your new ‘hometown’ what was the very first thing you did?
As a Plein air painter I wanted to see, explore and start to take in the overall feel of Rome, so I got a bicycle and started to ride around everywhere. I explored parks, monuments, far-out neighborhoods to see everything that I could. I did this for months before I even painted anything- it was my way to get input before jumping into painting, I wanted to take Rome in.
The other thing that I did was find the local Rome urban sketchers group and join them in one of their monthly outings to sketch somewhere in the city. This was the best thing I could have done because I instantly found my Rome family and they continue to be my closest friends 8 years later.
What was the hardest thing to adjust to culture-wise?
I think that you go through a series of stages when you fully move to another country. At first, there is a sort of romantic stage (maybe like dating?!) where everything is great and perfect and you are in love and don’t see any flaws. Then the next stage is kind of the opposite where everyone and everything starts to get on your last nerve. In Italy that can happen quite easily, since it’s common for even a small task to become complicated. The final stage is relaxing into your home and you find your groove.
So, to answer the question I had to adjust to a different mentality and way of life. Italians have lots of funny quirks, which I think, is what makes them Italian.
I think really for Americans especially, the biggest mental adjustment can be getting used to the Italian sense of “time.” Time does not equal money to Italians like it does Americans. Just relaxing a bit and knowing that not everything is going to be efficient, done now, when you want it or in the easiest most direct way will make your life much more enjoyable. In exchange, you get a slower pace of life, which I find to be beneficial to my health since I’m not stressed out all the time. Italian culture also highly values relationships- whether that be friendship or family and so you spend a lot of time with friends and family, doing nothing in particular but enjoying each other’s company. I also find this very healthy and it creates a great humane network of caring friends that you can always count on.
Is there a particular brand of pencils and watercolors that you like to use when you are sketching around the city?
No, honestly I will draw with anything. I use all kinds of pencils- I like a good old-fashioned pencil, anyone will do. I do use mechanical pencils of different widths, especially when drawing before painting in watercolors. I also use very soft pencils that don’t really have a point on them (woodless graphite pencils) or even water-soluble pencils, but I am not very skilled at using them. I never really use colored pencils, but instead prefer to go straight for colors like watercolors, gouache, or oils.
I have a small travel watercolor palette with about 10 colors and that is all I ever use. I always use high-quality artist-grade paint for its high pigment content; it makes all the difference in the world. I use a mixture of brands from Old Holland, Schminke, Daniel Smith, Holbein, and Winsor and Newton.
Tell me about what attendees will experience on one of your Sketching Rome Tours…
I love leading what I have branded “sketching tours”. On the surface what happens is we go to several locations around a neighborhood in Rome and I give people some fun and easy techniques for working in pen, pencil, and watercolor through a series of exercises. They also have time to put them into practice sketching on their own.
What else happens in an intimate group setting is that people will begin to learn from each other in the sharing of their sketches and also sharing what they are learning, their insights and they get to see where they might be more hesitant to let themselves not be the best at something. There are moments of being uncomfortable if one doesn’t feel confident in letting themselves be free in sketching, there are definitely ah-ha moments as well when something clicks and they see a new way to draw. Mostly we enjoy documenting a time and place, a moment of time spent together sketching Rome and everyone seems to enjoy the experience and come away with new skills for sketching and hopefully feeling more confident in their ability to sketch and is inspired to continue sketching on their own.
Is there a location in Rome that you like to take attendees to (or) a place that you find yourself visiting often when you want to sketch?
I sketch everywhere and have painted or sketched most places in and outside of Rome. With that said, I do have some favorite places.
I normally like to take sketching groups to The Jewish Ghetto because it is centrally located and full of great Ancient Roman architecture (a theater, fountains, a portico, the synagogue, small streets, and an ancient temple for starters).
I also love most of Rome’s many parks such as Villa Celimontana, Parco degli Acquedotti, Villa Pamphili, Colle Oppio, Giardino degli Aranci, the list goes on.
Tiber Island is a great little getaway in the center of the city along with a host of small courtyards and small streets in Campo Dei Fiori and Trastevere especially.
I also have a whole mental list of secret places like courtyards and gardens that I love to duck into and sketch or paint in on a day when I feel I need a more relaxing pace.
One of the great things about Rome is just how distinct each neighborhood is, each one is like a village and so there is a whole wealth of life and architecture and streets, piazzas, fountains, and parks to explore.
San Cosimato Fountain
What do you enjoy the most about giving tours around Rome?
I love to see the amazing drawings and paintings that people make and to see their delight, surprise, sense of accomplishment, and how much they enjoy just sitting and taking a place fully. Each person creates a uniquely personal expression through their drawings of a place and they will remember that moment forever.
In addition to sketching the architecture and sites around Rome, you also do en Plein air painting on larger canvases. What locations outside of Rome do you like to visit to paint en Plein air?
Yes, I love to work on larger canvases and have a big easel to drag out semi-large canvases either out on the street or into the countryside. If it is a really big canvas then I create several smaller studies outside on location and then take them back to the studio to make a larger painting from them.
I really love all of Umbria, southern Tuscany on the coast (Maremma) and Lazio north of Rome is such a gem that really is not very populated. The entire country is full of picturesque hilltop towns, so I find that in any direction I go, I find amazing places to paint.
When you’re not sketching or giving tours, what is your favorite way to spend an afternoon in Rome?
I love to ride my bike around, go for a walk, visit museums, or used bookshops. Probably my favorite activity is hanging out with friends in the piazza playing music, having a coffee or a beer, and talking to other random people also hanging out in the piazza. This is one great thing that America does not have- the piazza- and the concept of a communal life that is such an essential part of Italian livelihood and culture.
What is one of the most unique experiences you’ve had since moving to Rome?
There are so many! One that really stands out is when a friend who is a restorer called me on a sleepy August afternoon and let me into a pre-Christian Basilica located in one of the busiest intersections in Rome. She was working cleaning the walls and since it was August everyone was on vacation and she was there working with just 1 or 2 other people. I got a glimpse into a world that was truly magical and that very few people have the chance to see.
Do you have a favorite place to go when you need a getaway?
Yes, I have these little getaway hideouts or places that I can escape from the chaos all around the city. Lots of them are ancient cloisters and courtyards located in various neighborhoods around the city and on a day when I feel that I am not up for all of the interaction that comes with painting out on the street I make a beeline for one of my little hideouts.
My other favorite getaway place is Parco degli Acquedotti, I find it to be truly magical and the light is never the same on any 2 days. Going there is like stepping back in time and there is a quiet there with the open fields and looming Ancient Roman aqueducts that I can’t compare with any other place.
If there was one piece of advice you could offer to someone considering a move overseas, what would it be?
I think the best piece of advice is to really be up for integrating yourself rather than looking for a little bit of home away from home. (Not that you don’t need that sometimes.) Learn the language, which will help you understand the way people think. Learn the history, culture, look at a place’s art, and read their literature. You will never become someone from this place, but you get an in-depth look and access to a culture and way of life that is unique and different from yours. This will make you a better person to be with!
Personal Website: www.kellymedford.com // Tour Website: www.sketchingrometours.com // Instagram: @kellymedfordart / @sketchingrometours
All images in this post were provided by Kelly Medford.