Saturday, May 31, 2008

How to find a painting holiday website

For those new to painting holidays here are a few websites to try and find your way round the range of options on offer. I've made more detailed comments on sites which I know personally.

Please note
  • I'm not endorsing any of the websites - unless specifically indicated.
  • Lots of informative and helpful websites are not included in the sort of directories listed below. You should try plugging a lot of different combinations of key words into your browser's search facility for the sort of holiday you want and see what comes up.
  • Look carefully at what the website says - not what the domain name says. You'll see why as you begin to review sites! ;)
  • When I term a holiday expensive, it doesn't mean this is good or bad it's just a comment on what I have found over the years. 'Expensive' only means that the holiday typically costs more relative to other painting holidays. That expense could be associated with, for example - tutors of repute and a lot more support than you might find on other holidays. It might also provide the sort of financial return for the organiser which means you are dealing with a long established operation. In this context one could associate 'expensive' with 'quality' and 'reliable' - but read the literature and judge for yourself.
My general recommendation would be to read lots of literature before making a decision. You may want to consult previous posts in this series to help you make that decision.

Monterchi, Valtiberina
27cm x 35m, Coloured pencil
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

General listings

These sites provide directories of painting holidays, workshops and classes. They are not the only ones. So far as I am aware there is no quality control operating in relation to listing a website other than (I hope) exclusion of what look like very obvious scam operations.

As always, when reviewing what's on offer, please heed my recommendation to read thoroughly and carefully. Look for what is not stated as well as what is.

Directory sites include:
  • Artshow - workshops and classes - this site very helpfully organises its large database by:
    • medium,
    • theme (everything from animal art to the business side of being an artist) Note that in some categories, providers list individual workshops while others list their website. Some are properly 'on topic' while others have a looser connection.
    • location (international) - by country or USA state. Most of the offerings are based in the USA.
  • Painting Holiday Directory - this is now in its sixteenth year and is run in the UK by Anne Hedley. The service provided is a Directory delivered as a paper publication and a website - which has got better over time. It provides short descriptions, links and contact details but doesn't assess or evaluate in any way that I can see. As with Artshow, the main benefit for people who are browsing for holidays is that it organises listing according to categories (see below). One of the more useful features is that you can perform a search by continent and country which produces a map with locations identified on a map and links provided to the listed providers in that country. Note that it is overwhelming oriented towards Europe. I find the current version to be easier to use in relation to provider and tutor. I found the indexing in relation to media and subject matter to be generally weak - mainly because it seems to generate a generalised listing rather than one which is specific to the index item search. To access all the available information you have to buy the book and get a password.
Painting holiday organisers

These are corporate organisations which organise more than one painting holiday a year involving different tutors and/or provide listings of art and painting holidays or workshops. Their name is on the booking details.
  • The Artist and Leisure Painter Magazines - painting holidays.
    • Their Painters Online website for The Artist and Leisure Painter - two popular UK art magazines has a couple of sections devoted to holidays and workshops. Note these are always organised by the magazine and are not the same as the listings taken in the classified ads section of their magazines. It's slightly odd that they don't provide a direct link to the Spencer Scott website (see below) which has all the details of all current holidays on offer.
    • Independent providers of painting holidays and workshops can be found in their marketplace section. Some seem to get a premium listing while others are just listed by name and telephone number - even people who have been advertising in their pages for years and years. I'm not entirely sure why they adopt this approach - other than that their website in this format has only been running for 6 months - and this may be an area for development for them.
  • Spencer Scott Travel Services - This is a well established company with a range of operations associated with organising travel services for other organisations.
    • This is the company which has run the painting holidays sponsored by The Artist and Leisure Painter Magazines in the UK for a very long time (15+ years?). I've no idea who initiates them and I'm guessing it may be a collaboration as to which artist and which destination.
    • The Painting Abroad page lists the holidays available. The holidays are expensive - but you are getting 'name' tutors with a good reputation as artists, a guide accompanying the holiday and decent accommodation - within what is available in the location. The level of 'hands on' instruction can vary quite a bit - but this always seems to be made clear in the details advertised. I recall they have had a few holidays listed in the past for experienced painters.
    • They go to some really interesting places - these are the people I went with to Bali in 1992 - when nobody else was offering Bali as a destination for a painting holiday. The current offering is Havana in November. Based on holidays I've been on with them I'd say 'The Artist' ones tend to attract the serious amateur and a few professionals.
  • International Artist - Painting Workshop Vacations. These are the painting holidays associated with the artist's magazine International Artist.
    • I've looked long and hard at their advertisements in the past - but their holidays are expensive. Some of their tutors, like Charles Reid and Robert Wade, are artists I've wanted to take a painting holiday with some time - mainly because I see them as helpful but challenging. Shame I stopped doing watercolour!
    • This is their International Artist Painting Holiday 2008 schedule
    • Plus point - galleries of work by some of the artists. Others have websites.
    • I've always found this site to be informative - both in terms of detailed descriptions of what happens on the holidays and the statements about terms and conditions and what's included. Links to the websites of hotels used would be a nice addition. I came across some defective links which hadn't been updated.
  • The situation in the USA in relation to art magazines is odd. They generally have a lot more classified advertising - but this does not transfer to the website. I can only assume this is because they haven't yet remodelled their business model for web-based advertising and this may change in due course.
    • The Artist's Marketplace is a products and services directory associated with The Artist's magazine, Pastel Journal etc in the USA equivalent. Unlike the UK art magazines it doesn't sponsor painting holidays and it has only four independent entries on the workshops page.
    • The American Artist website has a few more workshop entries but still not very many.
  • Field Studies Council: A UK based organisation which is mainly concerned with environmental education for all age groups - which includes painting holidays and workshops. This is the link to the painting and drawing courses for adults. Accommodation can be provided in an FSC centre. The FSC gets a big tick from me for being good about saying whether a holiday is for beginners improvers or more experienced artists - and setting up differentiated courses in the first place!
Art Schools providing Summer Schools and art courses/vacations

Most Art Schools now have an imperative to make sure that their accommodation and staff can generate income streams for them out of term time. Few offer accommodation unless delivering the course overseas. The main advantage is that they offer tutors or visiting lecturers who usually teach art to foundation course students and sometimes undergraduates or postgraduates.

Here are some links to just some of the options available in London
Plus there are obviously opportunities in colleges and universities in other areas. For example
Individual companies providing painting holidays

These are people I've taken painting holidays with - and would recommend to others and have. However, please note that I'm not up to date with current arrangements. Also note that these are operations which have generated repeat business from me - and from others - they're still going after many years of operation.
  • Arts in Provence - this set-up has been delivering courses since 1990. The location in the Luberon area of Provence is brilliant for those who like being in tiny hamlets with no facilities! I'd characterise this operation as being business-like, helpful and friendly. I now only know one of the artists they use.
  • Coombe Farm Studios - This set-up celebrates 25 years of operation this year and I've known them since 1992. Courses listed are a combination of those organised by Coombe Farm Studios - which use professional practising artists - and those of artists who use the facilities and organise their own courses. Paul Riley, author of some popular books about watercolour painting is the main artist and is usually involved in overseas holidays. Tina Riley is a very amiable and friendly host - and a good cook! Between them they've generated a lot of repeat business - and a very long-running operation.
Independent accommodation
The following are mostly rental accommodations suitable for artists or writers. They have either been used by myself or recommended by trusted colleagues.
Robert Genn
I think I'm going to keep this as an open post and if people find a website which looks helpful then I'll review it and add it in under a category of reader's recommendations. (However I may have this as a separate post - depending on what I receive). You'll need to be very specific as to why you are recommending the course. Ideally you'll provide me with a link to a blog post where you have already extolled its virtues.

I hope people find this post helpful. Remember to read all the details carefully, don't make assumptions and do ask questions of your potential host about anything you feel is not clear.

I'd love to hear back from anybody if they think this series has helped them.


Friday, May 30, 2008

A warning about Paypal from Statcounter

I was very concerned yesterday to receive an e-mail from Statcounter about the quite appalling service response they are receiving from Paypal in relation to a major breakdown in the service for subscription payments made via Paypal.

You can read all about it on the Statcounter blog here Paypal - A Warning from StatCounter - here's an extract
On 15 May Paypal performed a site update - this is confirmed by Paypal here.

After this date numerous problems were reported across the globe:

  • The Paypal Handling Cart feature completely broke down - see update below
  • Cross border payments could not be made as the drop down country list did not work - see update below
  • Customers have been flooded with hundreds of duplicate subscription emails from Paypal - see update below
  • Payments from Paypal are no longer associated with the relevant subscriptions
  • Some customers have been and are being DOUBLE BILLED by Paypal
  • Merchants have not been receiving instant payment notifications or failure notifications
  • Merchants/customers are unable to cancel subscriptions - see update below

The main problem that we have with Paypal is NOT the list of issues above - we all know that errors happen - we are absolutely furious at the complete lack of acknowledgement or assistance from Paypal in relation to these matters.
Paypal - A Warning from StatCounter

One wonders how many other subscription services which rely on PayPal are also affected.....

Here's Michael Arrington's comment on the from Technorati blog on this topic PayPal: Ten Days And Counting To Fix Drop Down Menu Bug

This is the blog of Paypal Developer Community which at least acknowledges there's a problem.

It's not very professional is it?

If you use Paypal for any subscription services I strong recommend you check your account given the double billing issue.....

A checklist for painting holiday hosts

I thought I'd finish my mini-series on painting holidays with a post - from a consumer perspective - directed specifically at those who run painting holidays. In particular, the people who produce the literature which artists review when making choices about painting workshops and painting holidays.

I'll just reiterate this comes from very nearly 20 years of sifting through literature of all sorts, shapes and sizes - and content! I've also added in pointers suggested to me by other people about what they like to see and want to avoid in a painting holiday.

I've found over the years that my reasons for leaning towards one rather than another is usually decided by two things - the quality of the literature and the quality of the response to enquiries.

First - the pic for this post. In 1992 I went on a painting holiday to Bali - and one evening, just as dusk started, I sketched my room at Ananda Cottages. There's no glass in those windows (which was fine as it happened)!

Early evening, Ananda Cottages (1992)
pencil in sketchbook

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Literature - general

I like literature which looks good but I really value literature which answers all my questions. Brevity is fine so long as it it does the job and provides all the essential facts.
  • Literature from hosts who obviously haven't thought about what people might want to know gets chucked in my bin very fast - it's an indicator of how you'll run the holiday. I'm interested in whether you can demonstrate an understanding of your customers - not what you want to tell us about your conversion!
  • Convey the atmosphere of the holiday - by how you write, what you include and how you present it all. Messy, muddled or officious are all switch-offs for me.
  • Lots of bits of paper can get lost. Folders are cheap - and useful.
  • Key elements for all literature include details about:
    • the courses
    • the people I need to know about - host / artist(s) / off-site administrator / on-site organisers
    • the location and accommodation (including meal arrangements)
    • the organisation - how long have you been doing this.
    • contact arrangements - name / address / telephone number / e-mail address / website address / blog address
    • how much the holiday costs - with any extras clearly spelt out
    • the booking process
A FAQS page can be a really good idea - it's an efficient use of your time and mine in relation to frequently asked questions.

From time to time it's a really good idea to check out how people in the same business have updated their websites - and how those who have been doing it for a long time have refined their websites.

How I review a website/literature

It really doesn't matter what order you present your facts, I'll probably continue to follow my own routine for assessing your offering. I don't know about other people but my reviews of literature and websites tend to go as follows
  • initial assessment is visual and course/artist oriented
    • Does it look nice/interesting? (I'm only skimming and looking at pictures at this stage)
    • courses - what's on offer and when?
    • who teaches? Who are they, what do they specialise in and what's their art like?
  • warming to the idea - I'm checking out some important basics
    • what do the bedrooms look like?
    • what's the price - and what's included?
  • Once I'm definitely interested
    • who's organising this painting holiday - who are they and are they OK?
    • how do I get there?
    • what's around and about?
So I'm going to follow this routine with my consumer perspective.

Does it look interesting?

Show us your photographs - not ones from a stockphoto site. We want to see what the area, base and accommodation looks like in reality not what it can be made to look like. I don't think you can over do the images.

Remember that the lifeblood of any painting holiday business is repeat business and personal recommendations. Having a brochure which doesn't present an honest picture could possibly to generate comments such as "It isn't actually as nice as it looks in the pictures".

If you say you're nice and friendly show us photographs of the artist(s) and all the people involved in running the holiday looking nice and friendly! You'd be amazed at how many holidays I have rejected in the past mainly on the grounds of what the artist or organisers looked like in the photo - posers don't do it for me! Look me in the eyes and try smiling - like the people who run Arts in Provence who gave me my very first painting holiday

Try using paintings by your students to provide supplementary illustrations for your literature. People who value their students and what they've achieved very often also like to show their work on their websites, blogs and in their literature. It also tells me something about the skill levels you attract.

Tell me about the courses

People get very anxious about their skill levels and whether they'll achieve a good fit with a specific course. My personal opinion and experience is that covering different skills levels only really works with small numbers in a group.

Educational courses should start with an aim and then be designed with a view to achieving a planned outcome. It's good to hear about the specific things which will be done in different workshops/courses/holidays - and what sort of aims and objectives they will have. It's also OK to just have fun - but some people who want to do serious painting may want to limit the fun to after painting is finished for the day!

A small thing - but people who want a specific type of course want to know all the dates it's being run - so timetables for all courses can be calendar oriented but you also need something which tells you clearly the dates specific courses are run.

Tell me about the artist(s)

Telling us about the artists also involves showing us their work. That tells all prospective customers something about who they are, how they like to paint and how they see the world. In my opinion, if you don't want to show us your art or talk about your art, you really shouldn't be a tutor on a painting holiday!

The sort of facts that I'm interested in (and will look for on an artist's website or in galleries if they're not in the literature) are as follows:
  • preferred media - and why
  • background as an artist - how the work has evolved
  • an indication that they are a practising artist and the focus of their current artwork. This may be thought by some to be wholly irrelevant but I've been on holidays before now with tutors who've basically given up painting - all they ever did on a day to day basis was demos. I'm afraid this punctures credibility straight away for people like me. I want to be taught by people who like doing what they are teaching!
  • recent exhibitions / awards if relevant.
  • how long they have been providing paid instruction
  • an explanation of what approach they favour for teaching/instruction
Beware - lots of people now check out artists on the Internet and inconsistencies between claims on a painting holiday website and what's presented on the internet can undermine credibility - either theirs or yours.

My favourite 'alarm bell' is the person who presents certain galleries as if they are current when in fact they're not listed as a gallery artist on the gallery's website. Information presented for marketing purposes needs to be accurate and up to date.

Accommodation and meals

Shock horror - artists have been known to keep art gear in their bedrooms, paint in their bedrooms and put paintings and drawings on the walls of their bedroom!!!

The wall of my bedroom
on a painting holiday
in Languedoc.

Please show us photos of accommodation which don't make us feel uneasy about all those nice white coverlets and pale carpets. Floorboards and tiles are very acceptable to artists. We also absolutely love hosts who let us put work up on walls - make us feel comfortable by showing other people doing it and giving us Blu-Tac!

Endeavour to reassure the large contingent of older ladies who will come on your painting holidays that (a) they won't have awkward stairs to climb and (b) getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night is not going to mean an expedition.

Sample menus and photos can help me check that your idea of wonderful food and mine are the same. Healthy and delicious meals are generally a winner every time.


I personally much prefer all-inclusive prices with very little as added extras. Prices need to be as transparent a way as possible in terms of what they do and do not include. If you're charging more than the 'going rate' it's really helpful to provide some evidence of the benefits we get as a result.

Information about prices also need to include something about local costs and how much money people might need to bring with them. For example, it's not at all helpful to say you don't provide meals in the evening if you don't also indicate what a decent meal in that locality might cost. Similarly, it's very helpful to comment on the cost of art materials bought locally.

Tell me about your organisation

If we spend a lot of money we like to know something about the organisation. Many people are now starting blogs for their painting workshops and holidays and these can be excellent for letting us get to know you and your set-up for delivering the holiday.

If you're experienced, try sharing some numbers with us to demonstrate the difference between a full-time and an occasional operation. For example: how many holidays have you run? since when? how many students have been taught?

If you're new people will forgive you a lot if you're honest about this, remind them that there may be hiccups and give them a discount for being the beta testers! Don't forget to highlight any background which suggests you might have the skills to do this well.

I often like to ring or e-mail the people organising the painting holiday - and make a lot of judgements about how things will be by the quality of that response. This is your front-of-house person and their response needs to reflect this.

Remember that people with blogs will also be writing about you - you might want to link to or highlight any posts they write on your website and/or blog. (Look how Sally Strand PSA created a testimonial from the blog post I wrote about her 'Color of Light' workshop. Note you do need to ask permission for a long extract and provide credits)

Where are you - and how do I get there?

Location often makes a big difference to choice of a holiday. You know where you are and we don't - so tell us and show us in a personalised way.
  • Describe your area - but do try to avoid sounding like you've lifted the text out of a holiday brochure. Of course, getting feedback from your students about what they liked and did not like about the area gives you an idea about what to highlight.
  • Provide a small location map which shows where you are in relation to the nearest (a) main roads (b) train stations and (c) airports
  • Provide detailed instructions for how to find you - in a hierarchical sort of way - so that people can get the bits they need. Again Arts in Provence has an excellent page for how to get there. Get somebody else to check them for you. Be customer-oriented. Having navigated (somehow!) my way to several out of the way places on the basis of some very basic instructions, I am hugely well disposed towards people who understand that visitors might be approaching from any direction during the day or night and reflect that in the directions provided plus remember to include road numbers, road names and landmarks - and even photos - in their descriptions.
  • on your website provide a link to:
    • the precisely where you on a Google Maps.
    • the website for the local town/village/tourist board so that we can an idea about the area
  • recommendations as to reliable local taxi firms or car hire companies can be most welcome
Contact details

As indicated above, we need your names, address including post code (useful for digital maps), telephone number, e-mail address, website address and blog address if relevant.

I've been looking at a site this week which doesn't state the full name of the people who are running the painting holiday!

Booking details

OK - now you've got me to the booking form. You can still lose my booking at this stage by making this really difficult to fill in. Make it as simple as you possibly can - while maintaining credibility about all the things you need to know as a host - and make sure the student keeps or gets a record of the booking made.

That's it!


Thursday, May 29, 2008

The big gap in the painting holiday market

What's the big gap in the painting holiday market?

Well, it's debateable. I guess everybody's perspective will vary on this one - and I invite you to contribute to that debate. I do know that there are more than a couple of people delivering painting workshops/painting holidays who'd also like to know the answer to this question - so do make sure you also let them know what you think!

The drawings and paintings in this post are of fellow artists. I drew and painted all the people while on painting holidays in Spain, Greece, Prague and Bali. You can see more in my Drawing Artists gallery but you can only "admire" my simply awful watercolour technique in this post!

I'm going to suggest what I think are some possible gaps in the market before coming to what I consider is the biggest gap of all but first........

How have I arrived at my conclusions?

Like a lot of other artists I now tend to combine painting with trips to places I want to see plus I still do occasional workshops and painting holidays with tutors - generally with a view to learning something very specific.

However, I've spent over 20 years reading the advertisements for painting holidays and workshops in the back pages of magazines for artists (both UK, USA and international) and searching on the web. I've then sent off for and waited eagerly for lots and lots of literature.

Unfortunately, all too often I've been disappointed. Over the years I've seen absolutely masses of the 'same old, same old' tired, unfocused, unstructured, undemanding offerings - with lots of emphasis on the sunshine, the swimming pool and the wonderful food cooked by the wife - and not a lot of emphasis on the art!

I really don't understand why this happens - except to wonder whether providers think everybody buying painting holidays puts the holiday bit first and the art bit second! As I suggested on Tuesday, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the facilities and logistics very much need to be up to scratch but the delivery of the art instruction is also of crucial importance.

Every now and again I see and am tempted by offerings from artists with talent and an apparent gift for communication and teaching judging by their books (which is not the same as all artists who have ever written a book!) and/or articles. Which reminds me - I forgot to say on Tuesday that one of the ways of choosing a holiday is by reading art magazines and art instruction books and looking at how people present themselves and their work - I must go and add that back into the guide!

Every now and again I'm tempted by holidays with artists with terrific reputations who don't communicate about their art - but I don't tend to follow these up.

Some gaps in the market

Here are some of the gaps in the market which I've noticed over the years and as I've started to research topics for this blog.
  • painting holidays in very specific places - which seem to vary over time. At one point there was, believe it or not, a complete dearth of painting holidays in Venice and Tuscany!
  • painting holidays with a specific outcome in mind (ie developing a skill set for an artist working at a specific level -beginner/intermediate/advanced) based on working from life rather than a photograph. One of the ways you can tell if people have delivered customer-focused painting holidays for some time is if they differentiate skill levels required or suitable for a specific course/holiday and can define skills which are achievable within the available timescale.
  • painting holidays for people wanting to work purely on composition and design. I guess this one goes with the dearth of books about the same subject! Which is really odd given the response I got to that particular project. I guess all tutors would say they teach about this it - I'd argue very few seem to do it well enough for a painting holiday to be described as focused on composition and design.
  • painting holidays for people wanting to develop miniature art. I've never ever seen one and yet I know it's a very popular and collectible form of art
  • painting holidays for people wanting to develop animal art. This time it's a hugely popular art form with artists. One sees one and two day workshops - which tend to be about technique in a specific media - but very little for people who want to learn more about capturing animals from life.
  • there are very few painting holidays dedicated to figure painting and/or portraiture. Of course models cost money! However if you are trying to produce paintings with figures in you don't always need models - you need to learn a process for creating and designing a painting. Portraiture for some reason only seems to be offered as workshops of relatively short duration - and yet it's painting people day in and day out which often sees people achieve improvements.
  • painting holidays for people wanting to market/sell their art. I think I've only ever seen one which had a strong art business component - and I'm not sure it ran in the end. Which is odd considering the number of artists who want to sell their art. Maybe this is a topic which is a useful addition to other sorts of painting holidays?
So - what's the BIG GAP in the painting holiday market?

It's very simple. It's the peer group painting holiday.

What I would very much like to be able to do is go away with other artists and work in an area and have like-minded people to sit and eat meals with and review the art done during the day.

However artists who want to paint together and who don't want or need a tutor have very real difficulties in finding information about places to go which offer studio facilities alongside suitable accommodation in desirable locations. I know - I've tried it! This isn't about art colonies - which are groups of people doing art in one place who don't know one another. This is about people who do know one another and who want to take some time out to paint together - as part of a holiday or extended break. If you like it's similar to a very extended version of the Art Society plein air day trip.

What I've been very struck by since coming online as an artist is the fact that we all have so much to teach to one another. In fact, I now find I'm often reading articles in art magazines about subjects which were topical in online discussions in the last year or so. In other words we're being creative, generating the topics of interest, researching them, sharing the information and doing it all online.

So why don't we apply the same approach to painting holidays? How can we all help groups of artists who want to work together in a holiday context and also support and help one another's learning?

Paying for accommodation and studio access only would tend to greatly reduce the cost of any painting holiday - but we need to know where suitable accommodation/studios are.

On the other hand, artists who can deliver the 'host' role by providing studio, accommodation and meals, detailed knowledge of the area from an artist's perspective and maps of good plein air painting locations have a very useful role to play which can be factored into the price of any accommodation.

I've noticed that some artists who have their own accommodation set-ups have started to offer this as an option. What I'm suggesting in this post is that maybe what needs to happen now is to raise the profile of the peer group painting holiday and provide support for people wanting to try and organise one.

I'm happy to use this blog post as a way of people sharing information if that helps.

What do YOU THINK is the big gap in the painting holiday market?

So - have I got it right or not? Over to you:
  • what do you think is the big gap in the painting holiday market?
  • do you have another opinion about how the marketplace works at present?
  • what do you think about my notion that we need more information about places where artists can paint in small groups?
  • do we need to think about how best to organise group trips?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

How to make the most of a painting holiday

Yesterday I wrote about How to choose a painting holiday. Today I'm focusing on how to make the most of a painting holiday once you get there. An EXPANDED version of this blog post, together with the others in this mini-series, is available as an article from Making A Mark - Painting Holidays.

First off, you're not seeing things. This is the same view - but I decided to continue to develop the drawing!

I'm trying to decide whether to finish tweaking - but this is a favourite view and I'll probably do it again in the future. If you want to see the location check out this link to Google Maps Italy.

Monterchi from the Via Madonna del Parto
8" x 10", coloured pencil on Arches HP
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Back to the subject - how to make the most of your painting holiday.

Once you’ve booked, how can you get the most out of your painting holiday? This post provides an overview about:
  • Art materials
  • Timing
  • The best way to enjoy yourself
  • The best source of advice about future painting holidays
Art Materials

Art materials are important because:
  • If learning new techniques, you’ll want to make sure you have all you need
  • You don’t want to run out of 'stuff' you need when you’re nowhere near your favourite art shop
  • Art materials can contribute significant weight to your luggage
  • The colours you’ll use will vary with the places you visit
  • You’ll come across new materials and might want to try them out!
My tips in brief are:
  • Make sure you know what art materials are required by the tutor, which of these are absolutely essential and where the nearest art shop is.
  • Check how you can get hold of art materials which are not allowed on planes eg inflammable items like turps and fixative.
  • Get advice about colours to take if the locality is very different to your home and the colours you are used to using.
  • Weigh the art materials you're taking - and then decide what must go and what can be left behind. I personally favour art materials over clothes!
  • Do a trial pack well in advance of leaving - you'll be surprised at how many compromises are required to get everything in - and you might want some time to reflect........
  • Take all precious art materials/equipment in your hand luggage. Seriously - what are you going to do if the suitcase goes AWOL?
  • Leave room in your suitcase for all the new art materials you may want to buy (or leave an order and arrange for them to be shipped)

I always sleep really well on a painting holiday. I'm usually tired out from all the hard work and lots of socialising - plus all that concentration associated with drawing and painting.

Here are some tips about timing - some of which are aimed at the plein air painter:
  • if travelling far, don't try too much until you're over the bad jet lag day. Look around, get used to new sights and sketch.
  • Try travelling out a couple of days earlier so you can get used to a place.
  • Try getting up very early and drawing/painting before breakfast
  • Resist all attempts to remove you too soon from early evening light which can be very beautiful. Find places close to where you stay where you can paint prior to dinner.
  • Inveterate sketchers also take a sketchbook to dinner! (Well I do!)
  • Stay out late and try night painting!
  • Do remember to get enough sleep
  • Remember you can always arrange to tack some days on at the end of a holiday if travelling independently. By then you'll know all the best places to go for painting!
The best way to enjoy yourself

Unless you arrive in need of a good rest I advocate a work hard and play hard routine - with power naps at well timed intervals!

My personal opinion is that the people who get the most out of a painting holiday are those who work hard. It's enjoyable rather than hard work although it might also be a challenge. Some people work better if they have an aim in mind.

Having worked hard you deserve time off. Have a good break at both lunchtime and dinner and give yourself a well earned respite from the rigours of learning new things, trying new techniques and an awful lot of drawing and painting. Plus of course this is when you get to learn about all sorts of other things which are art-related!

The best source of advice about future painting painting holidays or tutors

If you enjoy a painting holiday, you'll doubtless want want to go on another - but where can you go to get the best information and advice?

Without a doubt, the best advice I've ever had about painting holidays and tutors has come from people who have personal experience of a particular holiday, painting holiday company or artist/tutor. You cannot beat a face to face discussion for an honest assessment. It's not so difficult to find strong recommendations about very good tutors on the internet (eg The best ever workshop - pastel painting with Sally Strand) but it's not so easy to check out those who don't enjoy the same profile.

Now that's not to suggest that you take everything people say as the literal truth. You will always need to filter information anybody provides by considering:
  • personal preferences: Some people love demos while others want good crits from their tutors. I've found personal preferences count for a lot when students assess tutors.
  • level of experience and awareness:
    • I've found that people who are new to painting and being taught are quite likely to be impressed by anybody who is more skilled than them. Their advice tends to be more helpful to other people who are new to painting.
    • People who have made progress with their painting tend to offer more valuable advice than those who continue to do what they’ve always done no matter how many tutors they’ve met!
    • More experienced artists can become quite critical about the level of competence of some tutors - in some cases, with justification. However they also tend to be better judges of what an artist/tutor is actually good at - from a more experienced artist's perspective.
Interestingly, individuals' level of experience and individual preferences are much less important when it comes to assessments made about standards of accommodation, meals and refreshments and the host's handling of the overall logistics.

Keep an eye out for blog posts and forum threads about workshops and painting holidays. The main difficulty about getting recommendations from online forums and blog posts is it doesn't enable you to filter the information provided UNLESS you know that individual very well indeed.

An expanded version of this is available as a free download from A Making A Mark Guide - Painting Holidays.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How to choose a painting holiday

This week I've got a short series of posts about painting holidays.
Monterchi Vines
8" x 10", coloured pencil on Arches HP

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Since my first painting holiday in Provence in 1989, I've been on a number of painting holidays in a wide variety of locations with various organisations and tutors. There's a vast number out there creating 'the best painting holiday ever' and there's an awful lot of options to choose from in terms of locations, organisations and tutors.

My experience over the years has taught me that there are a number of things to bear in mind when reviewing advertisements and literature. What I've tried to do is share an of outline some of the things to think about and mini checklists of questions to ask if you fancy the idea of booking a painting holiday.

In summary, good questions to to ask fall into three categories - as set out below.

Is this a business-like operation?
  • How long has the painting holiday business been operating?
  • How well qualified are they to deliver a painting holiday?
  • What does the documentation say?
Is the tutor competent and effective?
  • What sort of work does the tutor do?
  • What sort of approach is proposed?
  • How much time is given over to painting?
  • How much time is given to each student?
Do the logistics work for you?
  • Accommodation and meals: what's included?
  • Travel - what's included?
  • Insurance - how does this work?
  • Where are essential local facilities?
As this is a longer than normal(!) article I've decided to publish it as an article in pdf format on my website. It's available as a free download from A Making A Mark Guide - Painting Holidays.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Why choose a painting holiday?

A painting holiday can teach you new skills and reinvigorate your art. At the same time it can also provide you with a complete break from daily life and your normal live/work balance and enable you to meet interesting people and make some great friends.

However, it's also possible for a painting holiday to cause some people anxiety and/or grief. I've been on a lot which did the former and experienced a little of the latter.

Salute from the Accademia Bridge
11.75 x 16.5", Watercolour and Coloured Pencil

Copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I've been thinking for a long time that it would be good to share some of what I've learned over the years with those who are now in the same position I was in nearly 20 years ago - thinking about going on a painting holiday.............

So - for those thinking of going on a painting holiday - this week I'm going to be providing some overviews from my perspective. The current plan is as follows:
  • Monday - why choose a painting holiday
  • Tuesday - how to choose a painting holiday
  • Wednesday - how to make the most of a painting holiday
  • Thursday - the big gap in the painting holiday market
If you're planning a holiday and have got any queries or things you'd appreciate hearing more about just leave a comment below and I'll try to answer it in the posts which follow or by way of a 'comment' response.

Why choose a painting holiday?

Everybody is different and we all have our individual reasons for choosing to go on a painting holiday. Here are some of the reasons why I've chosen to go on painting holidays in the past - and I think a lot of people will identify with one or more of these.

In my experience, painting holidays have represented an opportunity for me to:
  • get back to doing art again after a long break
  • learn how to get better at some aspect of art
  • take a big break from work - exercising the right brain rather than the left!
  • take a 'time out' from the current work/life balance
  • visit and paint in a particular location
  • go on a painting holiday on my own
  • go on a painting holiday on my own - but with like-minded people
  • go on a painting holiday with friends I've made on previous painting holidays!
  • have fun and relax
Below you'll find a few comments expanding on each of the above.

Get back to art

This was my primary reason for seeking my very first painting holiday. I'd pursued studies in art through to an advanced level at school but had subsequently occupied myself over the next 15 years with lots of other non-art related studies for two degrees and two professional qualifications - half of which were done while also holding down a full time job! By the time I'd finished that lot I needed a big break - and of course, I wasn't needing my annual leave for studying and could actually go on holiday!

It seemed to me if I was ever going to get myself back into doing art again that I needed to immerse myself in art for a while - so I promptly booked myself a two week painting holiday in Provence. Which turned out to be one of the best decisions I've ever made - as I met a very helpful professional painter/tutor who have me great advice about what to do when I got back home again - and everything took off from there.

If you want to get back into art, it's maybe best to find a nurturing environment. However if you're somebody with art experience who's trying to get going again, you might also feel the need for a bit of a challenge - rather than spoon-feeding. I have to say I liked the fact that I was treated as somebody who was 'rusty' rather than somebody who didn't know anything. I think I might have ended up having the screaming ab-dabs if I'd had to do a complete beginners course.

Learn how to get better at some aspect of art

This is a very common reason why a lot of people take a painting holiday. Sometimes however it's a good idea to go with a general aim of advancing your art.

I started with a very clear aim of getting back into doing art and a very vague 'learn how to paint in watercolour' as my objectives. I then found I was being taught by a tutor who only worked in oils, refused to teach watercolour - and interestingly I probably learned more on that holiday than any other!

While you will undoubtedly learn new things on a painting holiday, it should be noted that unless it is geared to teach a specific set of techniques to a set of people at a specific skill level then it's very likely that most painting holidays will tend towards the generalist and will be taught in a way which can accommodate all skill levels.

If you particularly want to learn something very specific you may find a short workshop dedicated to this to be more useful.

Visit a particular location to paint

Location does make a difference - and some are more popular than others.

I've been to a number of locations to paint which I don't think I would have travelled to on my own - for the first time. There's a lot of comfort to be derived from the fact that somebody has been there before you and knows something about the place and where there are good places to paint plein air. It also tends to save time and effort and enables you to have more time for drawing and painting.

If travelling abroad I'd always advise trying to do a workshop with the tutor concerned before you go away as painting holidays in another country tend to be longer and cost more money than those in your own locality. It's good to know that you get on with and can relate to a particular tutor's approach before spending a lot of money on them! (This is, of course, where blogs can be very helpful to the process of getting to know a person and their approach to teaching).

Take a big break from work - exercising the right brain rather than the left!

If you have a job which means you exercise your left brain an awful lot, then taking a holiday which reinvigorates and exercises your right brain can be a very refreshing break. I used to stop managing finances so I could go away and manage colour harmonies instead!

Take a 'time out' from the current work/life balance

Some people use a painting holiday to take a big break or 'time out' from their current work/life balance at home. For many years I had jobs which were incredibly demanding of both my time and energy and the only way I could really focus on art for any length of time was to go on a painting holiday.

I worked very hard on the holidays too - but the complete break meant that I went back to my normal routine feeling completely refreshed.

It's interesting to hear about people's backgrounds and jobs while on holiday - and I regularly used to meet people who were doing the same thing as me in terms of taking a 'time out'.

Lots of people taking painting holidays are those who are recently retired and are now trying out various potential hobbies or can find at time at last to pursue an existing hobby in more depth.

I've also lost count of the number of times I've met ladies who are contemplating divorce in the near future or have just got divorced! Painting for some reason seems to be associated with freedom to be who you are or who you want to be! :)

Go on a painting holiday on my own

Going on a painting holiday is something I wanted to do but it meant going on holiday on my own. I've always felt confident about driving on my own - but being away painting on my own took me out of my confort zone - and painting with a group was an ideal solution.

Bottom line - I felt a lot safer the first time by going on a painting holiday as part of a group - even if I did negotiate a channel crossing, took the car on the railway and then drove right the way across France on my own on the way back!

I'd now go painting on my own quite happily - but it takes a bit of time to develop the confidence to do this.

Go on holiday on my own - but with like-minded people

This is a really excellent reason to go on a painting holiday and has been the main reason I continued to go on group painting holidays organised by other people after I got to the stage where I used to skip the demo and the tuition.

You cannot underestimate the value you get from being on holiday with like-minded people. It's so nice to be able to talk art on a face to face basis. It provides the equivalent to working in a studio set-up with other artists - or being part part of an art blogging community or art forum. Except it's even better because you get to see what people choose to do and how people work.

One of the big bonuses I also got from painting holidays was to mix with people from different age groups and backgrounds outside either a family or work context. For a long time I always used to be the youngest person on painting holidays. Those who have been on painting holidays may disagree with me but in my experience the age range usually tends to start at 40+ and any group very often has a lot of people at or near retirement age. In addition, a lot of painting holidays have lots of women (often widows and divorcees) and very few men.

Having said that, I found out from painting holidays that very many older people can be a complete hoot and some are positively intrepid!

Go on holiday with friends I've made on previous painting holidays!

This is the added bonus of going back to the same organisation for a painting holiday. I've been on a few holidays where I was on holiday with people I'd previously been on holiday with but who I didn't see at any other time because of where we lived. It's great fun - because you instantly eliminate the 'getting to know you' phase and jump straight to the 'what have you been doing since last we met'!

Have fun and relax

Naturally! I've always taken it as read that an underlying theme of any painting holiday would be that I would have fun and relax. If it's a holiday rather than a set of lessons or an instruction workshop, then you need to be able to relax as well as work at your painting - and the pace of any painting holiday which is longer than a couple of days needs to be designed to allow people to do this.

On the whole, if you want to learn a very specific technique you may be better off doing a two-day workshop which allows you to concentrate on this.

What's your perspective?

As always, I welcome comments and contributions from people - and I'll incorporate the best into articles I'll be writing as a result of this series of posts.

In order to try and achieve a well-balanced view, I'm particularly interested in any different perspectives from mine relating to:
  • the focus of today's post - why you choose to go on a painting holiday
  • tomorrow - what you think about when choosing a holiday
  • Wednesday - what you think are the most important factors influencing your decision
  • Thursday - what you would like to see painting holidays do more of - and less of....
Please note this is not an opportunity for free advertising for holiday providers, however if you've previously written about a painting holiday that you've been on and thought that it was very good you're also invited to provide a link to your blog post.

[Update: A copy of this article is now available as a FREE pdf document to download from my website - Pastels and Pencils: Making A Mark Publications]

All the images for this series of posts are going to be ones associated with painting holidays - either completed on the holiday or worked up from studies when I got back home.

This first one was produced at home based on a study from a visit to Venice in 2000. The base is watercolour worked over with coloured pencil. It's one of those ones that we all produce from time to time where I can never make my mind up whether I like it or not!

  • You can see images of sketches done on painting holidays past and present in the Travels with a Sketchbook Gallery on my website.
  • More developed work can be seen in the galleries relating to different Places.
  • This article is available to download - free - from A Making A Mark Guide - Painting Holidays

Sunday, May 25, 2008

25th May 2008 - Who's made a mark this week?

Artists creating Street Art on the walls of Tate Modern
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

This week street artists from a number of countries made huge marks on the side of Tate Modern for the Street Art exhibition which opened on Friday. Above are some of the photographs which I took on Monday afternoon while walking across the Millenium Bridge to visit the Annual Exhibition of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers. It was a bit of a surprise to see so many articulated cranes complete with crane operator, artist, artist's assistant and artist's photographer!

In the first commission to use the building's iconic river façade, and the first major public museum display of street art in London, Tate Modern presents the work of six internationally acclaimed artists whose work is intricately linked to the urban environment:

Blu from Bologna, Italy; the artist collective Faile from New York, USA; JR from Paris, France; Nunca and Os Gêmeos, both from Sao Paulo, Brazil and Sixeart from Barcelona, Spain.
Tate Modern - About Street Art (my hyperlinks to the artist's pages on the Tate Modern site)

You can see photographs of the completed artwork on the Tate Modern exhibition site. There were an awful lot of cameras taking time lapse photography of this installation. I guess I've added a few more to the record of this fairly momentous event in the history of art exhibitions in London. Channel 4's Big Art Mob site aims to put Public Street Art on the Big Art Map of the UK via the public downloading or uploading their photos of street onto the site and the map. I'll be adding mine later today! It's worth investigating - an awful lot of it is sculpture at the moment but I guess the ever-increasing phenomenon of Street Art will make itself felt in due course.

This weekend is The Long Weekend at Tate Modern with another two days of events and liver performances in The Turbine Hall and around the galleries. We've got heavy rain forecast for the next two days (falling outside my window as I write) so that provides an 'indoors' destination for yet another wet bank holiday weekend!

Art Blogs
  • Rose Welty (Rose's Art Lines) provides details about the next virtual sketch date in June in Virtual Sketch Date #3 in June. Rose is thinking about creating a separate blog specifically for the Virtual Sketch Date each month.
  • For those who saw Gerry Baptist's work on my blog this week - you may well be interested in Tradigital Printmaking blog created by Aine Scannell, who is a professional contemporary fine artist from Ireland currently living in Edinburgh. Aine has two other blogs her Artist Printmaker Online blog (which is her 'front room' and in which she also talks about other printmakers) and her Print Workshop blog - where she has recently been explaining her etching techniques. Go and say 'Hi' here - she's currently blogging from hospital!
  • Nicole Caulfield (Nicole Caulfield's Art Journal) has done an unusual self-portrait - Self-Portrait with Still-Life. Not so unusual you may think - until I tell you that the pencil shavings are part of the artwork!
  • Completely not on the plot is Maggie Stiefvater's explanation of why she's not doing so much art at the moment - as listed in Monday Morning Cup of Tea. Stay tuned - the explanations get even better - I promise!
  • Maggie may not be posting as much art these days - but she's doing a pretty good job of writing about other artists this month in her May Artist Project.
  • One of her artists last week was Wendy Sutherland. I was very impressed with the work on her website and loved the mix of media. Even nicer was the fact that when you plug in her domain name it gives you the options for the 'flash' and html versions. Big tick to Wendy for giving us a choice and getting herself funding for her website (look at 'touched') - a slideshow format for the flash version would make it even better.
  • Hemlata Pradhan is a botanical artist who lives in Kalimpong in Darjeeling in India. She has a Diploma in Botanical Illustration with distinction from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, got a Master’s Degree in Natural History Illustration and Ecological Studies from the Royal College of Art, and has won gold medals from the RHS for her paintings of Indian Jewel Orchids and the Indian Wild Orchids in habitat. A very impressive lady! Check out her sketchbooks as well as her paintings.
Bryan Poole RE - contemporary botanical aquatint etchings
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
  • You can see two other contemporary botanical artists Ann Swan SBA, who works in coloured pencil and Bryan Poole RE who creates aquatint etchings in The Art of the Garden which is my post about my visit to the Chelsea Flower Show this week. You can see Bryan with his two latest etchings on the right.
  • I don't when this was first posted but I recently came across this link to Paula Rego's studio
  • Various papers carried obituaries for Robert Rauschenberg who died on May 12th. This is the Guardian Obituary.
  • There have been a number of articles in the papers about Sue Tilley - who is the woman in Benefits Supervisor Sleeping painting by Lucian Freud which recently sold for £17.2 million recently - making it the highest price ever paid for a work by a living artist.
Art Business and Marketing
As long as too many people who know too little about art have too much money, more than they know what to do with, the applecart is OK. They buy and buy and buy and buy, bulking their "portfolios," inflating prices, buckling the demand curve, all the while hyping themselves into oblivion (with periodic assistance from their fine art providers) about the escalating values of their creative hedge. They call themselves collectors, but secretly, or perhaps not so secretly, they're really in it for the money. And all is well as long as nobody tries to sell anything................The sad truth is that the degree of decline in value of any commodity is directly proportional to the extent of speculation in that commodity once speculation stops-- and art has been heavily speculated on for too many years now-- particularly with respect to the contemporary sector. You have people who love art and you have people who love money. The people who love money will exit the art market the moment it goes south.
Alan Bamberger Art Market Trends - Art in a Weak Economy: Artists - take the Next Step
    • However Barney Davey (Art Print Issues) suggests that It's Not the Economy Stupid. He recommends that artists wanting to sell work should be savvy about marketing. This means being aware that changing consumer habits are a very real threat (eg CDs being replaced by downloads) to income streams and that artists need to make sure that new or alternative ways of getting a product to market are found or created.
  • I used a Barney Davey post as a springboard for my post on Wednesday Lessons from American Idol about creating and marketing art - written before we knew the result! Interestingly I gather that not everybody in the USA is aware that 'American Idol' is almost entirely a British production.
  • Here's something I've not seen before in relation to an online gallery displaying art for sale. Susan Romaine (Studio Romaine website) is an artist who is exhibiting and selling her sketches at the same time as the paintings that she created from them at The Peterson Gallery
  • A Book Inside E-zine - How To Write And Publish A Book does what is says - it tells you how to go about writing and publishing a book - including A Quick Guide to ISBNs for Self-Publishers
  • I received an e-mail from Ben Crawford, the Chief Marketing officer of which aims to provide a news service about art - and to charge its members although it appears to have a very small audience ( metrics). I also didn't like some of the aspects of the very small terms and conditions. I do not recommend this site - if for no other reason than that there are far too many other well-established sites providing art news for free!
  • Note to all those other commercial art sites which would like me to review them: Be aware that I do look at site metrics, I do read the small print, I do review whois entries, I never provide free links to spammers - and not all the sites I identify in these weekly posts receive compliments!
Art competitions
Art exhibitions
Art supplies
Turning the Page
4 x 4 Monotype,
Watercolor & Colored Pencil
copyright Belinda del Pesco
  • If you haven't already read it, Belinda del Pesco (Belinda del Pesco Fine Art) provided an excellent response to a question about printing presses - which I then reproduced as an interview blog post Printing press choices - an interview with Belinda del Pesco as promised last week. It's already one of the most popular posts on this blog!
  • Betsy Holster, the CPSA Product Research Director, is looking for suggestions from CPSA members about a wide variety of the UV protectant materials that colored pencil artists sometimes use over their colored pencil artwork to enhance the lightfastness.
Art - Tips and Techniques
  • Two blogs recently told us how to make our own charcoal. Marion Boddy Evans ( painting) started it with this post How Do I Make My Own Art Charcoal? But I can't find the link to the second post - which was on the blog of somebody I read - if it was you would care to comment - with a link?
Gayle Mason Portfolio page - "Out of Sight"
  • Gayle Mason (Fur in the Paint) has been creating step by step pages for her art portfolio - which you can see in Creating a Portfolio (in which she describes how she did it) and here. Gayle has also now got a video camera and has started to practice so hopefully we'll be seeing videos of the Mason technique very soon.
    • all about how she keeps sketchbooks and how they contribute to her working process in her weekly podcast - some of you may be very surprised by the techniques she uses. Click Here to Listen and click here to see her sketches StudioWaves, Drawing and Sketching
    • Tina then also explained About glazing that she employs in her maritime paintings.
Websites and Blogging
and finally.......

Vivien Blackburn
(Paintings, Prints and Stuff) introduced me this week to Paintmap - Painting the World - which is a geolocation-oriented painting sharing website. I'm going to investigate today or tomorrow and review it this week.

I'd also be interested to know what other people think. If you hurry, you can catch Vivien's paintings of Mawgan Porth in Cornwall on their splash page - matched to the locations where they started life or you can see them here