umbria update

September 13th, 2014 | Uncategorized

I’m nearing the end of my artist residency in Umbria. I’ve been doing lots of fun projects, and here’s one of them. A big scroll on which I made sort of diary drawings. I ordered this big roll of paper, 1.5 meters by 10 meters.


My plan was to make a drawing every day, keeping the scroll intact and unrolling it a little bit each day. I kept to the daily schedule for a while but then it got more erratic.


I liked the challenge of drawing spontaneously with ink at this large scale on a continuous piece of paper. It was like walking a tightrope.


It got a little less spontaneous as I went along, because a story started to emerge. Living in this castle, I felt like I was turning into one of the medieval characters in this drawing on the cover of our orientation handbook.





I had to physically wrestle with the giant swath of paper every day, rolling up the drawn part and exposing a fresh blank area, which I’d pin to a cork board.


Every week we went out on a field trip to see ancient hill towns and Piero della Francesca frescoes. This is a mash-up of his Madonna del parto, a pregnant madonna, and his Resurrection.



Medieval life has its tedious aspects. There’s no washing machine here.


The character kind of fell away as I got absorbed with another project—drawing myself in different yoga poses with charcoal at life-size scale.



On a field trip to Assisi, we saw more Piero frescoes. Actually I guess there’s some dispute about whether he actually did the frescoes in the Basilica there. But there’s an awesome one of St. Francis and some other monk casting the demons out of the city. Here I am casting the demons out of my head.


This was after our trip to Arezzo, where it seemed like one of the Piero figures could just be walking down the street.IMG_1013

And all too soon I reached the end of the roll.


The other thing I like about the scroll is its unwieldiness. I could never see the whole thing at once. Until one night a bunch of the other fellows helped me, and I rolled it out in the hallway and into the next room.


43 Responses to “umbria update”

  1. Kaymarion Raymond says:

    Very cool ! The big paper looks really freeing ! Are you refreshed?

  2. julie says:

    So you saved yoga for your drawing-paper-strip 🙂 good things combined 😀
    but did you never try their lovely red wine?
    Due to being quite close (by that I refer to your stay in europe) a trip to Vienna would be recommendable!!! Here’s a lot to see, taste, smell, experience aswell!! Jump on a train and head over!

  3. kaitlyn m. says:

    Very inspiring idea. I love your drawing style.

  4. Alex K says:

    No pentimenti that I recognise. Straight at it with the brush, no sketches beforehand, working only from photographs as necessary? Brava!

  5. Jan Cree says:

    Hi Alison. I love this! I would love to see the whole roll. Sounds like an amazing experience. Brava. Good to see this post.

  6. Jessica Ware says:

    How wonderful! My twin, Syrus Marcus Ware, a trans activist in Toronto was at an artist residency this summer and also worked on a giant scroll—I think its a wonderful result! Brava, as Mara said above!

  7. BrooklynPhil says:

    Stupenda! Meravigliosa! Brilliante! Mille Grazie!

  8. Jack Sky says:

    Great work!

  9. Erika says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us!

  10. kswhipple says:


  11. MichelleJD says:

    Amazing work!

  12. Rachel says:

    I am so happy that you get to be there and share it with us. I feel inspired.

  13. j.b.t. says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! Yay!

  14. Lara Odell says:

    Lord have mercy! That is amazing. Thank you for showing us. I wish I knew you 🙁

  15. nic h wales says:

    ”This was after our trip to Arezzo, where it seemed like one of the Piero figures could just be walking down the street.”

    that will be a scene in the next adventure of Dr Who…

  16. nic h wales says:

    any chance these will be reproduced in pamphlet format to buy?

  17. Tony Brooklyn says:

    Thank you for documenting your personal Torah for this journey. I enjoyed your artwork; but that’s always been true. Given you were in Umbria, are any of these drawings brown? Less red than Sienna. We felt that way about the streets of Assisi; the Middle Ages are live all around you. Would you be interested in a 5th floor painting in exchange for a drawing of Holly’s courtyard or porch? 🙂

  18. I LOVE this! Monumental cartooning, large scale sequential art… Brilliant synergy of form & content. Magical whimsical wonderful.

  19. Wow! So inspiring to see your work evolve over the decades. And happy belated birthday too.

  20. cybercita says:

    There is a lovely folk tradition known as a crankie:

    All you need now is a turning crank and a song.

  21. Duncan says:

    Wonderful! Thanks.

  22. Kate L says:

    My favorite drawing is of A.B. in monk’s robes in the tower. She’s either praying, singing or using a big screen smart phone.

    Hey, nic h wales (#17) did I ever tell you about my idea for a Dr. Who episode back in the 70’s? The fourth Doctor and K-9 discover a plot by the cybermen to build a giant transdimensional portal along the Thames River in London. The cybermen disguise it as a giant ferris wheel, and the episode would have been called The Great Eye of London. Needless to say, I never mailed the script off to the BBC. I mean, a giant ferris wheel in the middle of London? I mean, come on! 🙂

  23. Glenn I says:

    Wow. Would love to be able to see it live, but thanks for unrolling the scroll for your blog readers.

  24. Kate L says:

    A tightrope, indeed… little margin for error or revision. I think that the entire scroll should be transferred to a hologram, so we can all experience it as if we were there! I think they did something like that with Star Trek: Voyager in a holographic display in Vegas, but tragically I never got to see it.

    The television machine says that Cheech and Chong will appear at the Kansas Expocenter in Topeka later this month. Their opening act is War. Sounds like another typical weekend in Emerald City, to me.

  25. ina says:

    Sigh. You’re so talented. I love this.

  26. indigo says:

    OMG GENIUS!!!!!!!!!
    People, the MacArthur Foundation has recognized what we all knew all along… Alison Bechdel is a genius!
    I am so very pleased. (Understatement!)

  27. Marie says:

    Congrats on the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship – so well deserved!

  28. Greta says:

    The MacArthur folks have recognized what your devotees already knew!!! It is thrilling to read of your recognition; many congratulations!! Can Umbria get any better?

  29. hairball_of_hope says:

    I can hardly believe my ears. It is 5:30AM and I am at work preparing for a staff meeting. The radio in the background is on NPR Morning Edition, and the announcer is rattling off the names of this year’s MacArthur grant winners. “… Alison Bechdel, author of ‘Fun Home’ …”

    Mazel Tov! Well-deserved, and overdue.

    The radio followed up with a story about how poet Amy Clampett spent her MacArthur on a house in Lenox Massachusetts, which now hosts poet retreats.

    So the burning question is, “How will AB spend her MacArthur?”. I am fairly certain the answer will not be, “I’m going to Disneyland!”

    (… goes back to her desk wondering if there is an antonym for the German word ‘schadenfreude’… perhaps the Yiddish word ‘nachas’? …)

  30. Sarah says:

    Just saw the news on your MacArthur – Congratulations!!!! What a wondeful award for such an inspiring artist (and genius)!!!

  31. Tea says:

    OMG. Congratulations!!!! I am so incredibly thrilled that you got the MacArthur. Good things happen in the world! I can’t wait to see what you do next!

  32. So great to have a gigantic scroll. Both quotidian and hugely impractical. Jack Kerouac meets an anonymous monk toiling away. Kind of perfect.

  33. Susan Robinson says:

    That scroll is incredible! I hope those of us living in Vermont will get a chance to see it some day!

  34. M.E. says:

    Glorious!!! That’s what we expect from you, you know….

  35. Maite says:

    Congratulations for the MacArthur.
    Great the drawings from Italy!
    I was near where you were, in Firenze a a matter of fact, more or less at the same time.
    So, so much art everywhere around, it must be very inspiring for an artist like you!

  36. […] prima. Ecco, non vi linko il post in questione perché non è particolarmente interessante, bensì quest’altro dove l’autrice del meraviglioso Dykes To Watch Out For (e di altre cose che mi sono piaciute […]

  37. Ale says:

    Hi! Sorry for this “comment” here above (Sept. 22): it is some kind of automatized comment from WordPress (I think it’s called pingback or trackback). Anyway, I loved this post and am glad you had such an inspiring stay in Umbria. And congratulations for the MacArthur Fellowship! You deserved it.

  38. […] Alison Bechdel – now even more awesome […]

  39. Johnny Cake says:

    Please tell me this will be exhibited somewhere completely unrolled around the walls of a room or somewhere where we can all look at it. If you so desire. I want to see it close up!

  40. Marni says:

    That scroll is rad. It’s like a Torah scroll of your time in Italy. I love the pic of you as St Francis and the scroll coming down like a pathway.