Why You Should Join A Slow Art Retreat In Italy

Slow down and explore your creativity in Italy with designer Diva Pyari.

An artist, designer and retreat host from the Bay Area, Diva Pyari grew up with a penchant for drawing and painting. Her whimsical watercolors and dreamy destinations always transport me to sun-washed islands around the Mediterranean, and she has a gift for finding some of the most beautiful and stirring corners of the world. An advocate of slowing down and truly relishing the world around us, she hosts slow art retreats in Italy to “share all the exquisite beauty of the good life. Those everyday things that seem so simple but are actually the epitome of happiness.”

A multidisciplinary creative, Diva has worked in everything from printmaking and painting to illustration and calligraphy, jewelry and graphic design to fashion and textiles. Through her brand Linea Carta, she has even designed best-selling collaborations with brands like Martha Stewart and Anthropologie! Today, she helps travelers discover their creative side during watercolor and sketching retreats in Italy and around the Mediterranean. The goal? “To create a safe and inspiring place to connect to your own creativity, to your surroundings, and to practice, starting wherever you are,” she says.

I caught up with Diva to chat about her love for Italy, how she picks her dreamy destinations, and why she believes there’s an artist inside each of us.

Tell me about the journey to becoming an artist.

I never imagined a career in art. It wasn’t until I decided to design a collection to sell at the largest wholesale trade show in New York that I realized I’d have to get used to calling myself an artist. Now it’s so obvious to me that not only am I an artist, but that we are ALL artists — it’s just about making the time to do it. To practice, and to persist!

That’s where my passion for teaching and hosting retreats come in. I’ve had people on my retreats that said they only drew stick figures, then by the end of the week had filled up their sketchbooks with wonderful sketches and watercolors. The real gift in our practice is letting go of our critical minds and enjoying the process. Getting in the zone, where you’re completely present and paying such rapt attention to your subject that in the end you’ve seen and experienced a place/moment/object more deeply than you ever would have otherwise. And what better place to do that than Italy, where beauty is everywhere?!

What’s your connection with Italy?

I fell in love with Italian before I’d ever been to Italy. I signed up for an Italian class in college, and as soon as I heard a Roman classmate read out loud on the first day, I was instantly innamorata. There was no turning back: I was in love, head over heels! It was like she was some rare tropical songbird and I HAD to learn her language.

It took me five years to eventually move to Italy and really embrace the language. Although my home base has been in California for many years, I now spend half the year in Italy leading retreats and searching for my future home (and a home for my retreats!). My vision is crystal clear: vaulted ceilings, old-tiled floors, sparkling sea views. PS if you’re reading this and have a property in mind, please let me know. You’re invited!

How did you come up with the idea of hosting Slow Art Retreats abroad?

There were about 12 years I couldn’t get back to Italy. And when I finally did, I went to Sicily, a place I’d always been curious about. And it was paradise! Instead of waiting in long lines among throngs of tourists to see a famous statue, I wandered down cobblestone streets with caper flowers growing out of the cracks in the walls, and a grandma hanging her laundry on the balconies above. Not to mention swimming in the sea! My happy place!

I came home with thousands of photos. I had been teaching workshops for years, so I asked my email list if anyone would be interested in coming to Italy with me — and they were! The very next year, I offered my first Slow Art Retreat on the Amalfi Coast. Since then, I have led retreats in Sicily, Lisbon, Marrakech, Greece, Calabria, and this year to Tuscany, Puglia and Venice.

What can travelers expect from your experiences?

We start the day with a guided meditation and a slow art workshop, sketching and painting together. These workshops set the tone and inspiration to continue the day with sketchbook in hand. I plan a full itinerary that includes amazing meals and evening cocktails with sunset views, perhaps a private boat trip to secret swimming spots, day trips to nearby charming towns, visiting local artisans. I always leave some down time have your own adventure, whether wandering the old town with a gelato in hand, or taking a much needed nap. People make the difference and I’ve seen incredible friendships form during the retreats. Truly wonderful participants are what bring it all together to create the real magic.

I’ve invited other artists and local collaborators who inspire me on retreats. Photographer Lavinia Cernau and artist Rae Dunn have both become dear friends (and will hopefully join us again this year!). I’m so thankful for colleagues & partners, assistants, and even hotel managers — like Leslie Rosa, Marisa Escaleira, Allegra Pommilio, to name just a few. I prefer to hold retreats on the shoulder seasons, my personal favorite time to travel, avoiding the intense crowds and heat waves of summer. This year we’ll be on an island off the Tuscan coast in June, and southern Italy the beginning of October — perfetto!

And did you feel it in your heart, how it pertained to everything? And have you, too, finally figured out what beauty is for? And have you changed your life?

Mary Oliver

I love your pick of unique, beautiful destinations in the Mediterranean. How do you choose where you’ll go?

Choosing our retreat destinations can be quite an undertaking. I pick places that I dearly want to share — places I am dying to visit myself, or that I am eager return to. I want them to feel authentic, inspiring, and beautiful. Somewhere that has both nature and culture is my sweet spot, like our last retreats in Tropea: a medieval town built into the rocks above sparkling turquoise waters! I travel for a month before and after retreats doing reconnaissance, following crumbs (eating them up too, haha!).

A retreat location might be inspired by a person I want to collaborate with (like LRNCE in Marrakech), an Instagram post of a gorgeous seaside hotel with jaw-dropping architecture, or simply a suggestion from a friend. Once decided, I’ll find the best slow food (and wine and treats of course), crafts and adventures. I love tiles and ceramics, exploring the most beautiful swimming spots, shops and artisans, charming nearby towns. And I always scope out the best views, whether its rooftop views, sea views, or sweeping valley views.

How would you describe your style?

I started LINEA CARTA developing my own style of lettering: first modern calligraphy, then brush lettering. I designed custom wedding invitations and hand-lettered envelopes, then gift cards and home goods with my illustrations on linens and mugs and wallpaper, each telling a story. In the process, I would always think about how I wanted the person receiving these gifts to feel when seeing their name in my script, or holding that mug, or tucking their toddler in at night. I want them to feel loved, to feel light and playful, to feel inspired.

Looking back, my designs, artwork, workshops and retreats all have an underlying attention to detail. And in those details, you’ll find my love — playful, affectionate, pretty! Before we start to paint, I ask my sketchbooking students to look at the blank page and imagine how they want their finished work to look and feel. I want mine to be both delicate and bold, with weight and color on the page, and most of all to show off the light, with a feeling of peace and joy. Keep looking for that light, the sparkle of the sea, the shine from the sun gods!

What is a mantra you live by?

“It will be more beautiful than we could ever imagine.” — Susan O’Malley

It’s so easy to focus on what we wish were different, what we don’t like, what’s painful in our day-to-day and in the world. I want to live my life also seeing the beauty and magic around me, searching for it, finding it, sharing it! With a slight shift in perspective, I believe it’s more than possible. It’s a practice!

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