Friday, May 30, 2008

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!



  1. You are so right about all you said. I went on my first one a year ago and had I seen your post first, their sloppy, cheaply printed, vague flyer would have gone in the trash and my money would have been better spent elsewhere.

    The haughty owner of the traveling workshop company was poorly organized and the class not at all as described. Instead of watercolor plein air painting around Puerto Vallarta we were supposed to sit inside a classroom from 9 a.m. to 3 with no break for lunch and only cookies and coffee provided.

    Dinners had to be eaten with the group and we were taken to a Morrocan themed restaurant and a Japanese "chop and grill it at the table" type places (in MEXICO!) that were ill-prepared for 20+ people arriving at the same time.

    Most of the participants were wealthy workshop junkies who seem to travel from one to another around the world, rather than serious artists. It was horrible from arrival to departure.

    I hope your post will save others the wasted time, money and frustration!

  2. Jana - that is really horrendous! Sounds to me very much like somebody who was trying to do it on the cheap and who had really not done their homework properly.

    Aren't we polite not to name names! People who behave like that really do not deserve to get any more business.

    I hope anybody reading this who is thinking about delivering workshops or holidays will realise that while dissatisfied customers might not name names in public on the internet, such restraint is frequently not observed between friends - and horror stories about venues/organisers/tutors have a habit of being repeated - orally or via e-mail!

    The answer of course is to do the reverse and to provide a really excellent experience which people are proud to boast about to all their friends - and people they meet on painting holidays.

    Holiday hosts who deliver a good deal and a good time get named and recommended in various places on the Internet - as well as orally at arty get-togethers and on subsequent painting holidays where such matters are a frequent topic of conversation.

    Jana - I hope that my next post in this series - how to find a painting holiday website is of some help to you and you find some possible future options for future holidays

  3. Dear Katherine,

    I wish I had read your post before I booked to go on a weeks painting course in lagrasse, South France this year.

    I couldn't find any negative reviews before I booked and I was totally taken in by their website. Nothing had been planned on my arrival, the house was filthy, they were heavy smokers and never opened a window, even the guest room sheets stank. I was told the art course would conducted inside, when all I wanted to do was to escape the squalid environment they lived in.

    How do I make sure that no falls into the same trap, couple such as Henry and Sheila Blackmore should not be allowed to advertise or be registered.


  4. I should maybe update my advice to also say never ever book a holiday with people who have absolutely no comments on their Facebook Page. Looks like you were not alone in your views!

    I'm certainly very firmly of the view that you should never book a painting holiday with a tutor who doesn't show any of his work on the website advertising the holiday. No work = no good.


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