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Throughout the year we hold special retreat courses in which students stay and learn in a beautiful Italian location. These courses allow students to learn as much as possible during their stay in Italy and are perfect for those who are unable to get away for long periods of time. The locations are carefully chosen to offer you one of the most picturesque settings imaginable, together with very comfortable accommodation. They are ideal places for creative exchanges and inspiration. 


Your tutor, Alison Woolley, accompanies you and teaches daily lessons during your stay. Alison is a a master artisan recognised by the region of Tuscany. She has over 20 years experience teaching decorative arts and she specialises in hand painted decoration using traditional media. 

Information will be found for upcoming courses below as they are scheduled. If you would like to enquire about a course, please complete our Course Enquiry Form.



Retreat Name
Retreat Dates
Retreat Location
Fall Gilding Retreat at the Castle of Volognano
Learn about Water Guilding through this immersive course in the stunning setting of the Castle of Vologano, just outside of Florence.
October 2021
Castle of Volognano, Italy


If you are interested in joining a retreat, please complete our Course Enquiry Form or email 




Enjoy and be inspired by working with an artistic group in a beautiful Tuscan castle setting surrounded by vineyards and rolling hills. Learn traditional water gilding and explore egg tempera painting at a relaxed pace on site in the studio on site. In the hills north of Florence, among the olive trees and vineyards of this small wine producing estate, we dedicate time and attention to the development of your craft. 


About the course:​

Welcome to the Castle of Volognano, an ancient hamlet including a castle, a cluster of farm buildings, a tiny church and a boutique winery in the hills not far from Florence. This breathtaking Tuscan castle is the perfect setting for a week of immersive art practice and inspiration at a relaxed pace. We will have exclusive use of the castle and will offer gilding and painting techniques workshops on site, catered meals and beautiful accommodations. This trip is ideal for learning the antique craft of water gilding, but also for painters who want to enjoy the views and landscapes around the castle and work with some traditional paint mediums. We also include a touring day to see a Medici villa and the nearby ancient Etruscan town of Fiesole with its Roman amphitheater.

Course level:
This course is suitable for all levels, beginners or professionals. The skills taught are useful for people who would like to decorate or gild frames and furniture, to restore or refurbish old gilded frames, or create contemporary works of art using these high quality materials and techniques. Small class size assures participants plenty of individual attention from your instructors.

Course projects: make a gilded frame, work on small gilded and painted wooden panels (panel sizes vary from 10x15 CM to 30X40 CM, the number of project panels completed depends on individual choice). Contact us if you have a special size in mind.

The Accommodation:


  • Three ample sized twin rooms with bathrooms for shared accommodations (plenty of space not to be disturbed by your neighbour).

  • Two luxury double rooms with ensuite bathrooms (These are suitable for couples or for single use).

  • One double room with bathroom beside the room (Suitable for a couple or can be used as a single).


There are many common areas in the castle, including a tower with a billiard room, outdoor terraces, kitchen and living rooms.


See the accommodations at the castle. 

Course objectives:


Gilding course lessons include:

  •  preparation of grounds including the making of rabbit skin glue gesso and bole

  •  techniques of water gilding with 22 karat gold leaf, and silver leaf

  •  toning, antiquing techniques, oxidation and patinas for metal leaf surfaces

  •  techniques for frames and panels

  •  graffito, punch work (bulinatura)

Traditional water gilding: We will cover the techniques for preparing wooden surfaces for water gilding, including the preparation of rabbit skin glue, gelatin and bole. Students can choose to work on a frame or on a gilded panel, or both. We will cover the application of the gold leaf, burnishing and finishing.


Decorative Painting course lessons include:

  •  making the egg tempera binder

  •  making of colours with egg tempera and pigments

  •  imitation of marble and tortoiseshell, gilded accents.

  •  decorative brushwork 

  •  layering oil paint and egg tempera 

  •  patinas and distressed colour


Traditional paint mediums: We will make egg tempera medium and use them in combination with natural pigments. Egg tempera paints are used traditionally to paint on the gilded surface, as well as on gesso surfaces. We will also explore the use of egg tempera in combination with oil paint.

Painters attending are welcome to bring their sketchbooks, watercolors or oil paints for any personal field studies they may wish to do. The studio area will be available on site from morning to late evening for those who wish to work on their projects. Projects are prepared step by step by the students. Product recipes and procedures, are given in the class notes. Example projects will be available.

Instruction is available in English and in Italian.


Example Schedule (Fall 2021 Gilding Retreat)


Day One Monday September 27, 2021: 

  • Arrival afternoon: Pick up in Pontassieve, stop at grocery store to purchase personal items and individual breakfast supplies.

  • Welcome dinner at the castle 

Day Two Tuesday September 28, 2021: 

  • Workshop class on gilding, start on projects, preparing gesso and bole

  • Catered lunch

  • Afternoon class: Making egg tempera paints, making preparatory drawings

  • Catered dinner


Day Three Wednesday September 29, 2021:

  • Class session on gilding projects, sanding, applying bole, applying leaf

  • Catered lunch

  • Afternoon studio session: painting on gesso ground, various techniques for egg tempera painting

  • Catered dinner


Day Four Thursday September 30 , 2021: 

  • Excursion: departure late morning to visit to a Medici villa then to Fiesole. 

  • Independent lunch and dinner 


Day Five Friday October 1, 2021: 

  • Morning class on gilding techniques: burnishing, decorative work on the gilded surface workshop

  • Catered lunch

  • Afternoon painting: continue egg tempera and mixed media panels 

  • Catered dinner 

Day Six Saturday October 2, 2021:

  • Morning class: finishing gilding projects, antiquing techniques

  • Catered lunch 

  • Afternoon painting workshop: finishing panels, discussion of varnishes

  • Final dinner 

Day Seven Sunday October 3, 2021:

  • 10 am Departure for Pontassieve train station