A Class Without a Classroom

Stories From the Classroom: Painting En Plein Air

written by Amber Roldan for Special Project: Experiential Learning in Journalism

The city of Florence replaces the traditional classroom setting for students enrolled in FUA-AUF’s Painting En Plein Air class. This unique class structure allows students of all levels and expertise to gain hands-on experience and practice during their time in Florence. Students explore the city and familiarize themselves with the pleasures and challenges of painting outdoors.

The course’s combination of art and sightseeing creates an unparalleled way for students to paint the town during their time abroad. Traveling to new locations each day allows students to explore locations that they may not have seen otherwise, while simultaneously refining their skills and building a portfolio.

“I would like to encourage students to join because it's an inclusive course and art is inclusive,” said Professor Nicoletta Salomon. “We sometimes think that art is just for artists. That's not true, art is for everyone and everyone can learn. And it's very thrilling to teach beginner students,” she added.

“[There is] a larger selection of locations, because when you paint you have to take into account the light and the light changes based on the seasons and based on the day... and that makes it very interesting," Salomon said.

With a unique class structure comes unique considerations, and one of the main challenges that comes with teaching this class is rain. Rain is inconvenient to walk in, to learn in, and is dangerous to expose to sketch books. Therefore, there is always a backup plan in case of rain. Additionally, since the course is not classroom-based, students must carry all materials with them while traveling between locations. When deciding what tools students would use to paint in the class, colored pencils and a water pen were chosen for their practicality — “they really are handy to carry... They are malleable because you can use it dry or wet,” Salomon said. 

This course presents students with the foundations of outdoor painting, enhancing their capacity to engage with different styles and techniques. For example, the day of class I was able to observe tackled painting with a limited palette, color wheels, and color mixing. Visiting two locations, students had the opportunity to paint a variety of scenery, while applying the techniques that they learned. The first stop was Giardino Martin Lutero, followed by a visit to Palazzo Pitti. At Giardino Martin Lutero, specifically, students produced a small painting of something they saw in front of them; from flowers and a water fountain to the cityscape featuring the Duomo.

Palazzo Pitti was the second location. Upon arrival, Salomon spent a few minutes going over the Piazza’s history and significance. She then transitioned into lecturing about primary colors, and prompted students to share prior knowledge and locate primary colors in their kits. Palazzo Pitti’s location epitomized the adaptability that Salomon considers when planning her classes. Palazzo Pitti’s larger canopy protected students and their sketchbooks on Friday as a light rain passed through Florence during class time.

Open to all study abroad students and majors, this course allows students to discover their new city in a creative way, capturing its beauty through painting. At the end of the course, students have an entire sketchbook full of sights of the city that serves as tangible proof of their progress that they can take home as a souvenir.

“I love being able to document the places that I'm going to in a physical journal,” Audrey Nawa, a study abroad student from Penn State said. “I like learning new techniques like mono chromatics and depth; it's been so fun and relaxing,” she added.

Walking around Florence with watercolor materials may not resemble a typical class structure, but the juxtaposition of walking and painting presents a colorful addition to any student’s schedule.

Tiny Florence: A Student Exhibit

Hosted at Via Ricasoli, 21’s Palazzi Community Center on May 30, “Tiny Florence” showcases the work of summer semester FUA-AUF study abroad students enrolled in both the courses of Introduction to Digital Photography and Intermediate Landscape and Architectural Photography.

Inside the Mind of Leonardo

The class, which counts for three semester credits, serves as an overview of da Vinci’s life, art, and his experiential and interdisciplinary approach to the exploration of nature.

Cultural Introduction to Italy

Arriving in Florence for my semester abroad, I felt a mix of excitement and uncertainty. Having
never left the United States before, I was eager to explore this new chapter of my life. Enrolling
in a Cultural Introduction to Italy Course seemed like the perfect way to dive into the experience.

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