Originally from New York, Christine Garvey received her MFA from Concordia University Montreal, and BFA from Washington University in St Louis. Her works on paper and installations have been exhibited internationally, including solo exhibitions with Galerie Circulaire (Montreal), Sur La Montagne Galerie (Berlin), Jules Maidoff Gallery (Italy), and HERE Art Center (New York). A long-time lover of Italy, Christine first visited as a student in 2006 and has been addicted ever since. She returned to Florence in 2015 as a Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Fellow at Florence University of the Arts, and began her own program, Tuscan Drawing Excursions. Since then, she’s been bringing students from across North America to Italy to learn the history and practice of drawing from observation in the inspiring landscape of Tuscany. When she’s not in Italy, Garvey works as a full-time faculty at the University of Texas at Austin.
How does your Tuscan Drawing Excursion give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of Tuscany?
When I started Tuscan Drawing Excursions in 2015, I wanted to share with my students my experience of Italy as an artist. I first visited Italy in 2006 to study and like most young artists, I totally fell in love with it. The art, the culture, the quality of life, (the coffee!) – I was addicted. When I got the opportunity to go back there in a more full-time capacity as a Fulbright Scholar in 2015, I started dreaming up a creative experience of Tuscany that I wasn’t seeing out there. Italy, particularly Florence, can be touristy but I knew there was another side to it that travelers weren’t experiencing. My course offers a local experience of Florence and Tuscany, while teaching students how to experience the beauty and history of these places through drawing. I see drawing as the ultimate way to practice intentional travel. As a teacher, I share it as a means to observe, appreciate, and connect with Florence’s history and culture in a personal way.
How has the experience that you offer evolved since its inception?
The course changes a bit from year to year, based on our group and my collaborators. This past year we had a home-cooked meal in the studio of local artist Zanbi Lotfi. This was really special – to be surrounded by the works of a talented artist, and hear her talk about her work while she fed us her speciality dishes. We also met with a local winemaker to hear about the history of his land, while tasting his chianti and seeing how it was made. My collaborators offer an incredibly personal and intimate look into their lives and I am grateful to them for this.
What is one detail of the Tuscan Drawing Excursion that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?
The pacing of the week. I think a lot about how a particular drawing lesson connects with the location we are drawing, or the artisans we are visiting. The week builds up slowly so students gain confidence in their skills while becoming more attuned to their environment. By the end of the week students continue drawing beyond our class hours. They’re inspired to keep working at it. It’s so great to see.
What do you wish every guest knew as they consider joining you on this week-long guided experience?
You DO NOT have to know how to draw! It’s great if you do, but that’s not exactly the point. It’s really about putting down your phone and actually looking at something. Really seeing it well. That can be challenging but when you do it, you “own” that thing/place/idea forever. A nice picture on Instagram doesn’t serve you the same way that a drawing does.
I believe that everyone can and should draw, and I teach it as a form of creative mindfulness. Seeing drawing this way has brought a richness to my own life and I’m so thankful to have it as part of my “toolkit,” so-to-speak.
What is one unexpected piece of clothing or equipment guests should have to maximize their enjoyment of the experiences you offer?
A really fabulous Fabriano sketchbook. A well-sharpened 2B pencil.
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
Travel learning experiences. I love it. I think the idea of trying to hit 5 cities in 7 days isn’t serving people. You don’t learn anything that way. As an educator, I’m interested in presenting a more in-depth experience of a specific place and its history. I think people want this, and want to experience a city through the eyes of locals.
What is one insider’s tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?
Open yourself up to something new. Even if you can’t draw/ rock-climb/ play the flute/ weave a basket. It’s about letting yourself fail in order to grow.
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?
Not overthinking it. I would have never started this course without the push of a couple friends and the support of my amazing students. I didn’t have all the details worked out when I put it out there, but I had faith in myself that I’d figure it out. Oh … and a good spreadsheet helped!
Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.
Our last day together is always an emotional one. I’m pretty sure one of my students almost didn’t get on her plane last class! One of our most powerful days is our private visit to a Tuscan villa. It’s hard not to be moved by the beauty of Tuscany’s hills while drinking wine in a field and drawing. I had to pry some of my students out of the vineyard that day. But this is what I’m trying to cultivate – to get students to want to have a long-term relationship to a place, to want to go back and learn more.
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