“I stretched my limits”: Senior Reflects on Spoleto Study Abroad

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“I stretched my limits”: Senior Reflects on Spoleto Study Abroad
Grace McDaniel ’24

Grace McDaniel ’24 shares what she learned from the two weeks she spent exploring Italian culture while improving her drawing skills with fellow art students from around the world.


On July 14, I got on a plane and flew over 4,500 miles across the Atlantic to Italy to participate in the Visual Arts Intensive at the Spoleto Study Abroad program. I spent two weeks learning about Italian culture while improving my drawing skills with fellow art students from around the world. My peers and I were instructed in urban sketching and self-portraiture by Raúl Miyar, a professor at an art school in the Dominican Republic. 

I heard about this opportunity through my art teacher at Ravenscroft, Mrs. Stelling, who knew it would be a great way for me to develop my artistic skills in a new environment. When I was accepted into the program, I greatly looked forward to not only doing art but also exploring Spoleto to learn more about Italian history and way of life. 

On the right is an urban sketch of the Duomo di Spoleto (Spoleto Cathedral), compared to a picture I took in the space. This was my first urban sketch! I used a sanguine pencil so that I had the ability to erase; traditionally, urban sketches are completed in pen to allow artists to quickly create lines.

A typical day in the Visual Arts Intensive consisted of a morning session, free lunch period,  afternoon session and family-style dinner at a local restaurant. During each day’s morning session, we walked to a new area of Spoleto and sat down to observe our surroundings and capture the space through a drawing method called urban sketching. Through each short urban sketch (about 45 minutes each), I learned to create gestural marks to capture the essence of the space instead of worrying about drawing every little detail. Urban sketching allowed me to experience different areas of Spoleto while working on improving my artistic skills. 

One morning we sketched in Piazza del Mercato, a popular square with a pizzeria, a gelateria and a beautiful public fountain. Another morning we took the escalators underground to the pedestrian tunnels to practice perspective. I loved that we were doing art while also getting to explore new areas of Spoleto that we could go back to during our free lunch period. During the afternoon, we went to a local school to work on self-portraiture. Each of us had a mirror that we used to observe ourselves and draw our shoulders and face. Mr. Miyar taught us to perceive our features as shapes and values in order to distance ourselves from drawing what we thought our features looked like. After that, we walked to a restaurant to eat a delicious dinner, normally consisting of pasta, meat and dessert. During dinner, we unwound from the day while reflecting on what we learned. 

Top left: This is an urban sketch of mausoleums at the Cimitero Monumentale cemetery in Spoleto. I learned to use hatching and cross-hatching, as can be seen in the sides of the mausoleums, to create different levels of shadows.

Bottom left: In this sketch, I was working on perspective, and my teacher challenged me to start using pen. 

Right: This sketch is the view out of the windows of La Rocca, a castle that is the highest point in Spoleto. I learned to vary the types of lines I was drawing in order to create texture and distinguish the objects in the sketch.

We even got to travel to the nearby cities of Assisi and Spello guided by Lorenzo Muti, a founder of Spoleto Study Abroad. We went to the duomos (churches) and learned about the mosaics and frescoes that adorn the walls and ceilings. We then got free time to explore and get souvenirs for our friends and family.

Of course I loved the environment, food and people in Spoleto, but looking back on the experience four months later, I can truly see how much personal growth I experienced. Not only did my artistic skills improve, but I stretched my limits to travel abroad and immerse myself in a new culture. I was able to gain new perspectives on my own life and how it differs from my peers in the program from around the world as well as the people of Italy that I encountered. 

In the future, I hope to study abroad in college in order to experience another new culture and form relationships like those I made in Spoleto that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Left: My self-portrait, 29.5 in x 19.5 in, charcoal and white charcoal on craft paper. I learned to utilize values and shapes to create the forms I saw in my face. I learned to create contrast by pushing the highlights lighter and shadows darker.

Top right: This is a photo of me seated next to my self-portrait. It looks mirrored because I created it by looking at myself in a mirror.

Bottom right: This is a photo of me (at bottom right) urban sketching at La Rocca with two of my friends in the program.