Meet Kelly Medford, Artist of Our Bonus Print “Umbrian Farmhouse”

Every year I try to come up with an exquisite bonus to offer along with our holiday gift memberships (and if you become a member of Dream of Italy yourself, you receive the bonus as well). This year, I am thrilled beyond belief to offer our most beautiful bonus ever – a stunning 8″ x 10″ print by Rome-based artist and instructor Kelly Medford. The painting is entitled Umbrian Farmhouse and I think you can’t help but smile and feel the warmth of Italy when you see it. I asked Kelly to tell us more about her profession, her sketching tours, living in Rome and the inspiration behind the print you will be receiving. – Kathy McCabe, Editor, Dream of Italy 
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How did you come to be an artist? Are you self-taught or did you learn professionally?
I have always loved to make things with my hands and from the time I was very little I used to write, illustrate and hand bind my own books. I did not study art until I went to college, where I was meant to study photography. My first semester though all of the photography classes were full, so my advisor recommended that I take a beginning painting class with a new and young professor from Yale. I did take that painting class and I never looked back. Handling the paint was so exciting and exotic, but seemed like something that came naturally to me. I was (and still am) endlessly curious about applying paint, putting colors and shapes together and creating a world and a story through light and color and paint.

I went on to study drawing, painting and printmaking first at Antioch College, then at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga and then at the Florence Academy of Art in Italy. I also apprenticed to several successful painters over the years before moving to Italy.

What brought you to Rome?
I came to Florence in 2005 on a scholarship to study classical figurative drawing at The Florence Academy of Art. After 5 years in Florence I was looking to move to a bigger city with more diverse artists and more opportunities. Then my boyfriend was offered a job in Rome and I jumped at the chance. I just knew that Rome was exciting and the place for me. That was six years ago and Rome is still as new, exciting and alive as when I first moved here.

Tell us about the inspiration behind this painting Umbrian Farmhouse…we’re giving away a print of this to every new/renewing member or with each gift membership this holiday season. 

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This was painted on commission for a family who comes together to stay here each summer. It was once a monastery converted to a farmhouse just outside Torigiano near Perugia in Umbria. The place is called Villa Chiara and has the most gorgeous view to the valley stretching out for miles below.
I spent the day with the family here and did loads of sketches, mostly in watercolor. At the end of the day we came together to look at the various ideas and sketches to decide on what should be in the final painting, which is what you see here.

This painting was a complete joy to create, since it has a special meaning to this family and is where they take the time to all come together once a year. It is a serene spot, with centuries of history and most appropriate that it goes on in history as a gathering place for friends and family.

(Receive an 8″ x 10″ print of of Kelly’s painting Umbrian Farmhouse when you join Dream of Italy or give a holiday gift membership package to a loved one – includes a bonus print of Umbrian Farmhouse – $25 value.)

How did you decide to teach sketching tours?
When I moved to Rome and met loads of people working in tourism I wondered why there was not more offered based on art. Rome has such historical importance as a place on The Grand Tour and for the study of classical architecture, it is also a city that has been documented through the centuries by foreign artists. I want to continue that tradition, so in 2012 I started Sketching Rome Tours as a fun, creative and alternative way to see Rome through an artist’s eyes and to bring a new level of appreciation to the beauty of The Eternal City.
Since I am out in the streets drawing and painting every day, I thought it would be more fun to include others in this unique experience.
What is the experience like? Are people surprised at their level of ability?
The sketching tours first and foremost are fun. I bring a group spirit to our time together so that people are never intimidated and feel good about their sketches. In giving people some simple and straightforward techniques that they can put to use right away, they create wonderful sketches of the places around them. People generally are surprised, especially those who are not artists and have little to no experience drawing, by not only what they can create and capture, but also how truly enjoyable it can be. Most of us loved to draw as children and we either forgot or no longer had time to dedicate to it. This is a fun and no pressure way to rediscover the joy of being outdoors and capturing your memories of time spent in Rome.

What makes Italy a captivating place to paint – light? Colors?
Yes and yes! Italy it such a wonderfully sunny and colorful place, the architecture and layout of the buildings, streets, parks and piazzas is a playground for artists.

Tell us about one of your favorite places to paint in Rome or in Italy.
I have traveled and painted all over Italy and every place is unique and beautiful. Some of my favorite places in Rome are the Aqueduct Park, it seems like you have stepped back in time with herds of sheep grazing along the ancient Roman aqueducts. The winding narrow streets of Trastevere and behind Piazza Navona are wonderful and give you a feel for what Rome was in times past.
The place that I love to paint the most though is my neighborhood Pigneto. The small buildings, bright colors, little piazzas, daily market and outdoor cafes make you feel like part of everyday Italian life.

Is there a difference in sensibility between American and Italian artists?
Yes, certainly. Mainly plein air painting (painting outdoors on location) is not popular in Italy like it is in America. It is something that Italian artists with a classical training did in the early 20th and 19th centuries. Now Italian artists are looking to become more a part of the contemporary art scene. Going back to the past of plein air painting mostly evokes a nostalgia that is no longer relevant to the Italian contemporary sensibility.
What mediums, tools do you use for your own work?
I paint in oils and watercolors, draw in pen and pencil. These are my main mediums and what I carry with me everywhere I go.
Kelly Medford from Kat Tan on Vimeo.
Since you live in Rome, give us some tips – favorite restaurant, best place to shop, favorite museum, favorite park, best view, anything else you want to add.
Wow, there are too many wonderful things about Rome. One suggestion I have is to take time here, don’t try and see everything in just a couple of days. See the main sights and then spend time in some off-the-beaten-track neighborhoods. Sit in a cafe and watch people. Eat at a hole in the wall and order what an older gentleman at the next table is having.

There are loads of great museums in Rome, but I think hands down the best is Palazzo Massimo just next to the Termini train station. This is the most wonderful museum full of ancient Roman sculpture, painting, mosaics and so on. It is always empty, so you feel like you can really enjoy it. This is an amazing place to sketch and you cannot believe the colors and decorations of the paintings and mosaics. For me it is a must see if you are coming to Rome.

There are also loads of great parks, which I frequent daily. The best views are from Pincio and Parco degli Aranci. My studio is just around the corner from Rome’s largest park, Villa Pamphili, which I absolutely adore and explore regularly.

Is there a place you are longing to paint in Italy but haven’t yet?
I think the 1 place that I have not painted yet is in the Alps around Val d’Aosta and Bolzano. Since I love to be outdoors I have backpacked through four of the 13 chains of Alps (with just a watercolor sketchbook), but have yet to get to these area of the Alps.
I also have spent time in Puglia, but always on holiday with my family and never had the chance to paint. This coming year I plan on taking some time to just visit and paint there.
Plus, receive an 8″ x 10″ print of Kelly’s painting Umbrian Farmhouse when you join Dream of Italy or give a holiday gift membership package to a loved one – includes a bonus print of Umbrian Farmhouse – $25 value.