Drawing Light & Space
“Look at light and admire its beauty. Close your eyes, and then look again: what you saw is no longer there; and what you will see later is not yet.”
- Leonardo da Vinci
In this stunning area of northern Sicily where the sea stretches before you and the mountains rise at your back, we will visit Cefalù, Castelbuono, Palermo, Monreale, Segesta, and Bagheria. Drawing from archeological sites, architecture, landscape, sculpture, mosaics, and frescoes, we will explore the relationship of space and light.
Drawing Light & Space
We will draw for three hours a day, with demonstrations, guidance, and handouts, to deepen your understanding of drawing principles, Sicily, and your own creative process. We will investigate the optics of perception, Brunelleschi’s principles of perspective, Da Vinci’s treatises on atmospheric perspective, and how architecture shapes light. This course is appropriate for all skill levels, from advanced to absolute beginners. It is limited to 20 participants.
With a seasoned artist instructor and a small group of participants, you will grow artistically — technically and conceptually — in a nurturing and inspiring environment. With ample individual attention, you will encounter the poetics of space firsthand. Prior to your departure, you will receive a select reading list, including essays from artists, and travel writings, to inspire your drawing and develop an understanding of the soul of Sicily. In Italy, participants will use drawing as a way of seeing, studying art from the ages, and developing ideas and skills. The drawing sessions will be held in museums, archaeological sites, on the street, and in contemporary art spaces.
Woven into this eight-day program, designed with care by experienced tour leader Karen La Rosa, are guided excursions to important landmarks, a sampling of regional foods and wines at unique places, select accommodations, and time to ponder the layers of cultures that have left their mark on this unique and exceptional island. We will walk, observe, and draw. You will gain an appreciation for the words written by Goethe, “To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.”
Jessica Houston teaches drawing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where she has also trained graduate art students at Teachers College, Columbia University. She has lectured at McGill University, Concordia University, and Ontario College of Art and Design in Canada, and The Art Institute of Florence. She exhibits both in the United States and abroad, and she has a permanent public work in the Castello do Corigliano in Puglia, Italy. In 2011, she was nominated for a Rema Hort Grant and in 2010 she was invited to create a site-specific work for the New Jersey MOCA inaugural exhibition. She has participated in residencies in Italy with the collaborative artist duo Rosenclaire, and William Kentridge. She was awarded residencies at NES in Skagaströnd, Iceland and at the CAMAC Centre d’Art in France; she was an artist aboard a Cape Farewell voyage to the Arctic; and she appears in the expedition documentary by Big Heart Media, London, UK. Jessica Houston’s site-specific installation work uses color, light, and sound to explore the physical and immaterial nature of perception. She studied drawing, painting, and art history in Florence, Italy, where she lived for many years. She is fluent in Italian. (www.jessicahouston.net).
The Tour Leader
Karen La Rosa owns and operates La RosaWorks, LLC, a company that specializes in tourism to Sicily. Motivated by her Sicilian ancestry and love of the island, she arranges custom tours for groups of all sizes, including tours based on various themes such as food and wine, art, music and those inspired by mythology and literature. Through very personal attention, knowledge of the island and its gems, however off the beaten path, she directs attention to the magic of Sicily and creates memories from fun and interesting travel.
Accommodation and Transportation
The tour will spend four nights in a three-star hotel in central Palermo that boasts a beautiful terrace for outdoor eating and relaxing. The tour will also spend three nights in a four-star hotel in Cefalù, within comfortable walking distance of the Piazza Duomo. This is one of Cefalù’s best. Transportation will be mostly by private bus and occasional public transportation. Participants will also walk to best observe many sights.
PALERMO to CEFALÙ Sunday
Travelers arrive at the Palermo Falcone Borsellino Airport where they will be met by the tour leader, Karen La Rosa.
Everyone transfers to Cefalù hotel by private bus.
During our welcome dinner we will enjoy wonderful regional food served with elegance and accompanied by excellent Sicilian wines and desserts.
Morning: Intuitive Perspective & Flatland
Dominated by its 12th century Norman Cathedral and La Rocca, the large crag that is dotted with remains from an ancient acropolis, Cefalù is full of narrow, sunlit and cobbled streets. It is medieval in character, and its archways lead the eye to a sea full of fishing boats. This idyllic setting lends itself to awakening your intuition of space and its translation onto the picture plane. One hundred years before the Renaissance began, Giotto planted the seeds of a radical new way of depicting the world. Through close observation of the ancient port town of Cefalù, you will begin to draw and sense architectural space intuitively as Giotto did. Learn to think in the round within the horizontal and vertical coordinates of Flatland by establishing points of view and identifying angles using viewfinders.
During the afternoon you can have lunch in any number of charming trattorie around town. Then you can explore sights on your own, including The Duomo and Cloister in Piazza Duomo. Roger II began building this splendid and quite dramatic cathedral in 1131. Finished in stages and consecrated in 1267, the outside soars up. Inside, the mosaics are some of the earliest and best preserved of any church mosaics in Sicily. Created by Greek craftsmen that Roger imported, The Christ Pantocrator is a masterpiece.
There is also the Museo Mandralisca (Via Mandralisca 13). This is Cefalù’s own “Frick Museum” with a very personal collection assembled by the Baron Mandralisca, who lived there in the mid 1800s. This one-time member of the Italian Parliament amassed a variety of items including: paintings and decorative arts, archeological finds, shells and other items of natural history. Here you can see Antonello da Messina’s famous “Portrait of an Unknown Man” welcome you with his impish gaze.
Dinner on your own and free time.
Morning: Day Dreaming in The Dark
The group takes a bus from Cefalù to Castelbuono. Once in Castelbuono, we will draw in the Matrice Vecchia (Old Mother Church). Across from the 16th century fountain still used today, this 14th century church has a lovely loggia of marble columns in front. The interior has 16th century statues and frescoes. In the crypt underground, there are extensive 16th century frescoes of the Passion of Christ. It was built upon the ruins of a Pagan temple. Through a subtractive exercise of rub-out drawing, experience how light and dark inform one another to create space in the crypt of Matrice Vecchia. Break for espresso and sweets from the famous Fiasconaro Brothers, known for their panettone, even in the United States.
We will enjoy a delightful group lunch in town, after which, you may visit on your own The Castello Ventimiglia. Built by that family in 1316, this castle is in very good repair, so much so that it is said to be often visited by the ghost of Queen Chiaramonte. Inside there is a chapel to St. Anne, with stucco relief work from the Serpotta School. It is well worth seeing. There are exhibits of regional traditions as well as contemporary art.
Dinner on your own and free time.
Morning: Brunelleschi’s Scientific Perspective
The group will transfer to Palermo and check into a three-star hotel. Palermo is a fascinating city situated in the Conca D’Oro (the Golden Valley) on the sea, and cradled by mountains of greenery. The traces of its many conquerors are evident everywhere, from Jewish street names, to Norman architecture, to Arab inscriptions, to modern day graffiti.
We will walk through the narrow alleyways, passing the vibrant street market, to arrive at Oratorio Del Rosario Di Santa Zita. Built in the late 16th century the church took a big hit during WWII. There is a beautifully carved tabernacle and archway and a lovely altarpiece panel painting. The Oratorio is a feast for the eyes. It is full of the most fanciful rococo sculptures, some in high relief, which reflect both allegorical and biblical stories, imagery of women, children and cherubs. It is Giacomo Serpotta’s masterpiece. He worked here in the late 1600’s to early 1700’s.
Our next sight is the Oratorio Del Rosario Di San Domenico. Here is a magnificent altarpiece by Van Dyck from 1628 and additional Serpotta sculptures, from a slightly later, and perhaps less wild, but very highly skilled time. Elegance and style grace the walls here, as well as some of the best in baroque decoration. Both of these locations will allow us to practice seeing through Brunelleschi’s eyes, as we study his principles of scientific perspective, and learn one-and two-point perspective in a series of architectural sketches.
You can enjoy lunch in any number of cafes in the area, and then you may choose to visit on your own the Palermo Cathedral. This striking building was erected in 1185 on top of an earlier 9th century basilica and mosque. It is a mixture of styles layered over 600 years, but the exterior is Catalan Gothic. Its iconic image is synonymous with Palermo. Inside you can see tombs, reliquaries, statues and altars made of refined materials.
You may then visit the Palazzo Dei Normani and the Capella Palatina. The Norman Palazzo (aka Palazzo Reale) is today the seat of the Sicilian Parliament. Various parts, including the royal apartments of Roger II, are open to the public at various times. The Cappella Palatina, like the Duomo in Cefalù, was commissioned by Roger II in the 1130’s. This chapel houses some of the finest mosaic work in the world with descriptions written in Latin, Arabic, and Greek, reflecting the melting-pot that was Sicily at that time. Once again, it was Greek Byzantine craftsmen that produced such spectacular work. As you walk and visit, you will collect postcards and images from your meanderings to manipulate in a later perspective exercise.
We will enjoy a dinner in the hotel with lovely views of the rooftops, cuppole and mountains of Palermo.
Morning: La Finestra Aperta & The Figure in Space
Spend the morning in the Benedictine cloister of Monreale Cathedral, drawing among its 228 unique Romanesque columns supporting Arab-Norman arches. They surround a formal central garden of Sicilian Arab influence. Then head inside to view the renowned and magnificent Byzantine mosaics in the 12th century Duomo, considered by some to be among the most important churches in the world. It was the last and most important of the Norman churches. You will be provided with an audio guide. Here you will apply the previous days’ learning toward a long perspective drawing, with the introduction of figures in the space, in an area of your choice in the cathedral. There will be a demonstration of how to use the centerline, cross-referencing and foreshortening.
We will return to Palermo. There is an optional group visit to an art supply store, Di Benedetto, in Piazza Politeama followed by an optional group exercise—a ‘collage of space’—altering found images and invented spaces.
Dinner on your own and free time.
Morning: How Light Changes Space
We will drive to the archeological park of Segesta with our guide, an art historian. These Elymian ruins (pre-Greek c. 484 BC) are in a spectacular setting and still undergoing excavations today. The Doric Temple, one of the world’s finest, sits alone on the hill stunning passersby with its majesty. The theater, perched higher up, is testimony to the skill of these ancient people in combining a secure location, excellent acoustics, and incredible beauty for its 3200 spectators. We will investigate the optical effects of light in the atmosphere—what da Vinci called atmospheric perspective or the perspective of disappearance—as you draw from the evocative ancient landscape.
We will have a group lunch at a local farm with wine and then return to Palermo.
Dinner on your own and free time.
Morning: Light Moves
Bagheria is the one-time summer retreat for Palermo’s aristocracy. This town retains many of the original Baroque country villas that in the 17th and 18th centuries were situated in olive and lemon groves. Some are open to the public. We will get an early start and visit the Villa Palagonia, which sits behind a gate protected by two monsters. Built in 1705, its most famous resident, the strange hunchback prince, took revenge on his wife’s lovers and characterized them all in these wild and grotesque figures that sit atop the outer walls of the gardens. Of the original 200, 64 remain, striking against a deep blue sky. Using ink, you will consider the compositional effects of the placement of light and dark in your picture plane. You will also record the ephemeral qualities of the element of light.
As a group, we will then visit the Villa Catolica and The Museo Guttuso. This fine villa, built in 1737, houses a gallery of 20th century art, the Museo Guttuso, and is home to a permanent exhibition of one of Italy’s most important modern artists, Renato Guttuso. We return to Palermo for free time.
We will return to Palermo and you can enjoy a relaxed lunch in town. The remainder of the afternoon is for free time.
Farewell group dinner.
Transfer to Palermo’s Falcone-Borsellino Airport
Cost & Booking
Contact La RosaWorks for cost and payment details.
Not included in the tour: Airfare, travel insurance, personal expenses, meals not specified, and art supplies for your personal use as listed (please see sidebar).
Arrival time into Palermo’s Falcone-Borsellino Airport will be designated to begin the tour. Those arriving prior to the start date can arrange to meet at the airport or in Cefalù. La RosaWorks can help with add on travel before or after the tour.
To reserve a spot, please contact Karen La Rosa at: email@example.com. You will receive instructions to make the $400 deposit by check, wire transfer or via PayPal. Please fill out the Drawing Light Tour reservation form:
Your deposit will be completely refunded if arrangements cannot be confirmed or the tour is cancelled for unforeseen circumstances. Your deposit is refundable up until final payment is due, prior to which you will receive an invoice.
The Fine Print
Travelers must have valid passports that will not expire within the 6 months following the tour.
All luggage must be identified with tags and a personal identifier such as a ribbon or other unique marking.
Due to tour cancellation charges imposed by the vendors, the following charges apply to tour participants:
- Over 60 days: $200 Administration cost
- 59-40 days: 25% of the total tour cost
- 39 to 10 days: 50% of the total tour cost
- 10 days or less: 100% of the tour cost
- Forced Cancellation
In the event that the tour does not reach a minimum number of 14 participants, it may be necessary to cancel the tour or surcharge.
- Currency Conversion
Pricing for the tour is based on the exchange rate and booking rates as of September, 2013. If the exchange rate rises more than 10%, a surcharge may apply. If booking rates change dramatically, alternate hotel choices may be made. Once final payment has been made, no surcharge or changes will be made.
This program may be varied slightly to accommodate local festivals, performances and other seasonal events as information becomes available, and include additional activities deemed worthwhile and exciting at the discretion of the tour leader. Unexpected factors, such as inclement weather or sudden church closings, may also result in changes. While changes may occur, the range and number of activities will remain the same.
For further information, please contact:
Karen La Rosa at or call 917.225.8415
At A Glance
Please reserve your place on the Drawing Light Tour of Sicily soon. Because of the nature of this tour we are limiting participation to only 20 people.
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact us!
What Is Included
- 3 nights accommodation in Cefalù, 4 nights accommodation in Palermo, double occupancy
- All breakfasts
- 4 unique meals with wine
- A wine and olive oil tasting
- 7 days art instruction with instructor, Jessica Houston
- Guided tours to Monreale and Segesta
- Excursions to Castelbuono and Bagheria
- Transportation to and from the airport
- Admission fees to museums, archeological sights and points of interest on the tour
- Select reading list and other informative materials provided by Jessica Houston and La RosaWorks
- Sunday: Palermo
Arrive at Palermo, transfer to Cefalù, check-in, and welcome dinner.
- Monday: Cefalù
Explore architectural space and perspective in this ancient port town.
- Tuesday: Castelbuono
Apply traditional and rub-out techniques to experience how light and dark inform one another to create space.
- Wednesday: Palermo
Transfer to Palermo and check-in to three-star hotel. Learn one-and two-point perspective in a series of architectural sketches.
- Thursday, May 1: Monreale
Spend the morning in the Benedictine cloister of Monreale Cathedral, engaging in long perspective drawing, with the introduction of figures in the space.
- Friday: Segesta
Tour the Elymian ruins (pre-Greek c. 484 BC) and practice what da Vinci called atmospheric perspective.
- Saturday: Bagheria
Record the ephemeral qualities of the element of light in this one-time summer retreat for Palermo's Baroque aristocracy. Farewell dinner.
- Sunday: Palermo
Transfer to Palermo’s Falcone-Borsellino Airport. Depart Sicily.
- Glue stick
- Masking tape
- Correction fluid (e.g. “White Out”)
- Range of pencils (2H, 4H, HB, 3B, 6B at least)
- Pencil sharpener (with container to hold the pencil shavings)
- White, brown and black cont é crayons
- Charcoal pencil
- Small box of vine charcoal (4 sticks or more)
- Cotton cloth (small piece of old t shirt) or chamois rag
- Kneaded eraser/hard eraser
- Sketchbook of your own choice (11 x 14 — or similar size recommended)
- Small watercolor brushes (size #2, #6)
- Small jar of black ink
- Small plastic palette with 4-6 wells
- Small, portable drawing stool
Please email with any questions about materials.
Space is limited, please reserve your spot as soon as possible.