For years I'd wanted to visit Italy. I wanted to experience the culture, visit historic sites, eat the gelato (I mean, the food), and of course see the architecture and art. I planned to marvel at the paintings of the masters. At no time did I ever think I'd actually hold a paintbrush in my hand.
I'm not an artist. I don't draw or paint or sculpt. I appreciate those who have those gifts, and I live with and love two people who do. My medium of choice is words, however, and I prefer to create with my pen rather than with paint.
But one of the best ways to enjoy traveling is to be open to new experiences. So two summers ago, when we stayed with our friends in Perugia, Italy, we signed up for a pottery painting class. It sounded like a fun thing to do with my family. After all, no one but my family and the instructor would ever see my attempt at painting, right? It's not like I had a blog or anything...
So, our friend Joan drove us to a nearby village to a small ceramic shop owned by her friend, Valentina Belia. Valentina is such a sweet woman--warm and quiet with a pretty smile. We liked her immediately, and I knew she would be patient with my beginningness.
Her shop's shelves were lined with beautiful plates, platters, bowls, and other tableware graced with vibrant colors in detailed patterns. (You can see them on her website here. Click the buttons on the left. We got some geometrico and girasole.)
As I looked at her work, I wondered two things: How much of it could I get into my suitcase? And, did she have a pattern simple enough for a nonpainter like me?
We learned from Joan and Valentina that in Italy, some people make pottery and others paint and glaze it. Valentina gets the pottery in its rough form and then hand-paints several traditional majolica patterns on it as well as a couple of patterns of her own.
Valentina walked us to the back of her shop and showed us her kiln--an oven where she bakes the pottery after she paints it to finish it off. The large pieces shown in the window above and on her website take hours to paint because they are so detailed.
Sometimes, if a piece of pottery wasn't created correctly, firing it in the kiln can crack it. When that happens, all of the time and energy Valentina spent on that piece is wasted.
But the flawless pieces that emerge from the kiln are glossy, vibrant, and gorgeous. Hand-made, hand-painted, beautiful.
Thankfully, the patterns Valentina offered us were in keeping with our skill level and time frame. She showed us what to do and then assisted us when we needed it.
We each traced the pattern stencil in charcoal onto an unfinished plate. Then we outlined the design in black and painted it.
My husband Mart, who loves detail, precision, and creating, chose a complicated design that surprised Valentina. When he was done outlining it, she said, “Perfect.”
“Ha! Of course it is,” I said, rolling my eyes, not the least bit jealous. He was the first to laugh.
Our daughter immediately took to the whole process. All her art classes at school had made her comfortable with a paintbrush.
My plate, which started out messy, got a little better when my paintbrush decided to relax and stop shaking. Valentina, bless her, came behind me and cleaned up some of the mistakes.
As we finished, she put our plates on a plate-spinner tool and showed us how to add a border around the plate while it was actually spinning. I tried not to think about how one good sneeze could ruin everything.
Given my lack of skill, I was astonished at the finished product. Valentina explained that once they were fired and glazed, the plates would be darker. She would ship them to us afterward.
I didn't realize until recently that for my plate, I chose the colors that would eventually become the colors for Glimsen. It's fitting, actually, since the trip to Italy was a major inspiration for me to start this blog. Now the plates hang in our kitchen, reminding me of a fun afternoon spent outside my comfort zone, surrounded by beauty.
When have you been inspired to do something outside your comfort zone? Does traveling make you more open to new experiences you wouldn't seek out at home?