Moments on tour

Painting with Glenn Ball in the Villa Borghese Gardens

“What is it about Italy?” muses painter, sculptor, and multidisciplinary maker-of-things Glenn Ball. “It’s art. It’s everywhere. I love it all.” That said, it’s one thing to see all the art Italy has to offer, but it’s quite another to make it yourself. The “making” is what Glenn enables for students on EF tours passing through Rome. In partnership with his wife, Stefania, he hosts a watercolor painting class in the Villa Borghese gardens, a serene green space smack in the middle of the bustling, ancient-meets-modern city.

We caught up with Glenn at his hilltop home overlooking the countryside between Rome and Assisi to hear his take on art, Italy, and living in the moment.


How do you self-identify as an artist?

In my lifelong experience, I never really considered myself an artist. I just fell into it, making things. My grandfather, my father, they were always making stuff—carpentry-wise, fixing things. That fascinated me. And I said to myself, at a certain early age, I would like to make things, too.

My first sculpture, I found a piece of slate in our garden. My chisel was a screwdriver. It turned out pretty good for a novice. And then, that was it. I had to do more. Whatever I could find as a material, whether it be wood that was cut down, I would find some way to get a wood-carving tool. If I could find a piece of stone, I would find a way to get a stone-carving tool. And so it went. I just got the fever. I wanted to make things. And up to this day, I continue to make things.

Artist Glenn Ball and his wife, Stefania, sit on a park bench in the Villa Borghese Gardens in Rome

You’re originally from New York. Tell us what brought you to Italy.

It [started with] the man who introduced me to my wife, Stefania, who’s from Rome, close to 50 years ago. He was my inspiration. He was a sculptor, and I used to work in his studio.

She was on vacation, visiting her parents. There was this beautiful Italian woman with long, chestnut hair and a micro-miniskirt. I was a very impressionable 17-year-old. And I fell in love.

Back and forth for years and years, we communicated with each other. She would come to visit New York for a couple of weeks; I’d come to visit her. I promised her when we were married that, when I was finished with the States, I would come back to her country and spend the other half of our life together here in Italy.

Italy is a cultural downpour.
It’s on you all the time.

What made you choose watercolor painting for your EF class?

It’s a medium that is very instant, very gratifying—and everybody can do a watercolor. If you had no experience, you can take a stab at it, and you’ll come up with something and be happy at the end.

Two images from the Villa Borghese gardens; one features Glenn instructing students during a watercolor painting class, and another features a small temple by a lake

How did you choose where to hold the class, and how does it run?

The Villa Borghese Gardens have many spots you can choose from. Eventually, I found this laghetto, which is not far from Via Veneto. It’s beautiful. There’s a lake, there’s a Neo-Greco temple. Lots of trees, flowers. Lots of subject matter you can choose from for a watercolor.

In the beginning, I give a presentation about the materials, what they’re going to be doing, some technique. I show them examples of paintings I’ve done at the lake with the temple, so they can get some kind of idea where to go.

At the end, I tell them to remember that, what they did today, they could apply to anything in their life. All that it really required of them was to be present and to be living in the now, because that’s where everything happens. Not in the future, not in the past. In the present. Stay focused. This is the beginning of consciousness, and that is the gateway to creativity.


Why is it so important for students to see, and make, art firsthand in Italy?

In the sense of a cultural tour, of going to the Uffizi or the Sistine Chapel or looking at Michelangelo’s David, the idea is that they should be absorbing the artistic culture and history of Italy. Being there in person to absorb something that they otherwise would not see.

Italy is a cultural downpour. It’s on you all the time. Everywhere you go: architecture, sculpture, paintings, frescoes. It’s everywhere. That’s what [students] are exposed to in the hope that it would, in some way, expand their cultural understanding of the world that surrounds them.

Students pose in the Villa Borghese Gardens with their finished artwork and artist Glenn Ball

Does teaching inform your work in any way?

It says, ‘Keep on working, Glenn. You want them to work? You keep on working.’ Some of them are really good. It surprises me. It inspires me to go home and continue working. I could be working on a painting that I started, haven’t finished yet. I might come home, I haven’t touched it for two months, and I’ll go, ‘I have to finish that painting. This is ridiculous.’ So I come home and finish the painting.

I tell them to remember that, what they did today, they could apply to anything in their life. All that it really required of them was to be present.

Why do you think students should travel?

Imagine walking into the Sistine Chapel or into the Colosseum. When you see it in person, when you actually experience it, you can feel the artist’s soul in it. That changes the whole quality of the experience. It’s not going to art history class or art appreciation class. You’re actually there where these great artists worked, who’ve inspired artists beyond them for centuries and still do to this day.

Close-up from a painting class in Rome's Villa Borgehese Gardens featuring a hand holding a paintbrush and a watercolor palette

Interested in hearing more about experiences like this one?

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Heather McHugh

Heather is a writer and associate creative director at EF. She drinks an excessive amount of seltzer, she’s happiest when she’s at the beach, and, if she wasn’t a writer, she’d probably be a professional organizer. Her favorite place to visit is Italy.