Brad Neal had been to Italy many times but never quite saw it the way he did last summer.
Neal joined about 30 faculty members and fellow students from Laguna College of Art + Design on a visit to the country last summer for an art education trip.
"I've never gone with an art focus," said the 69-year-old Laguna Beach resident, who retired in 2014 after working as an architect for 40 years and studies in LCAD's fine-art post-baccalaureate program. "I was either on business or I didn't really have any time to do anything but eat and take a couple pictures.
"I spent much more time looking at art museums on this trip, and I saw things that I never really looked at too carefully before, which was great. It made a big difference of how I looked at the country and what I took home with me."
On the three-week trip, which took the group to Rome, Venice, Florence and Ravenna, the students were required to sketch ideas in a notebook and encouraged to take photographs as they visited landmarks.
Museums, churches and historical sites like the Pantheon, Colosseum of Rome, Roman Forum, Sistine Chapel, Villa Borghese, and Medici Chapels at the Basilica of San Lorenzo were all on the group's itinerary. Their trip took place from late-May to mid-June.
The artists then transferred the sketchbook ideas into larger-scale paintings, photographs and drawings, which are being shown in an art show called the Splendor of Italy, at the LCAD Gallery through Feb. 20.
Since 1996, LCAD fine-arts professor Betty Shelton has taken about 400 students on trips to Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Holland and Belgium. She is planning a France trip for her students this summer.
She said the excursions give her students a different perspective on the art they are studying.
"I think it definitely expands their world-view," said Shelton, who has been teaching at the college since 1995 and also serves as the school's post-baccalaureate chair. "They see art that they've only looked at digitally or in books, and suddenly they're standing in front of a real Bernini statue. As artists, it totally opens their eyes."
Sam Mazzarella, a sophomore graphic-design student, said the trip was his first time abroad.
"It was amazing," said Mazzarella, who has digital photography of water landmarks, including the Grand Canal and Santa Maria della Salute, printed on aluminum in the show. "I had my camera with me the entire time and took thousands of photos. As a student, I had never taken any art history courses, so getting to go see everything that I would be learning in the next year was just so amazing."
Kellen Pocock, a 26-year-old LCAD senior majoring in illustration, whose contributions to the show are Italian architecture-inspired digital illustrations printed on aluminum, said going to Italy was his first experience out of the country.
He said visiting iconic buildings like St. Peter's Basilica and Uffizi Gallery was like seeing the pictures in his art history textbook come to life.
"I've never been in a place where something was stone and just thousands of years old," Pocock said. "Going into St. Peter's Basilica, I've never been anywhere that beautiful before. It was very artistically inspiring.
"There's no comparable feeling to standing in a building that has been there for 2,000 years. There's nothing like that here in America. That was just a beautiful feeling, and at the same time, it was like touching time itself."
The LCAD Gallery is at 374 Ocean Ave. in Laguna Beach. It is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. It is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. An artists reception will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Feb. 4. Admission is free.