Monday, 7 January 2013


Egypt - Luxor market side street.  Notice the  missing leg on the chair, which is propped up by  a box!  It is such fun when you suddenly notice little things like this.   Watercolour sketch completed on the spot.  

The excitement of new sights and recording your experiences on paper or canvas adds a new dimension to any journey.  Travellers of old knew this;  organised expeditions to distant shores often had an artist on hand to record new and interesting sights en route or at the destination – certainly in the years before the invention of the camera, this artist must have been an invaluable asset.
Statues of Memnon at Thebes - during the Inundation.
David Roberts (1796-1864)was one such painter, here is one of his amazing records. (I have visited this place - I was given 10 minutes to sketch!  SO annoying. But at least there was no "inundation" at the time!)

Photography might have taken over to an enormous extent…but nothing can replace the pleasure of actually painting what we see.  It is such an enriching occupation – we artists are so very lucky.

A painting holiday often differs slightly from a painting workshop, in that you are often given the freedom to choose your own painting site and your own painting approach.  The tutor in charge may well offer advice along the way, but you do need to be somewhat independent, and have the ability to spend time working on your own, until you meet later in the day with other students and tutor to see what everyone has been doing.

The social aspect of a painting holiday should never be underestimated.  It is a delight to be with others with shared interests.   However – a few words of caution:

Choose your painting holiday carefully.  Do some research and find out how the tutor intends to structure the holiday and see if it appeals to you.  You may find lots of help on offer from some tutors,  but very much less from others who simply allow you to watch over their shoulders as they work. It is really important to manage your expectations.

 Choose the location carefully …it can be wonderful to be seeing the world-famous sights you have longed previously to see, but artists do often return despondent from great cities, having been overwhelmed by tourist sights and crowds.

You would do well to avoid a tour, or multi-centre arrangement, particularly if it means travelling around by coach and stopping for short periods while travellers hop out, take a few photos, and jump back on the coach.  Brief encounters are NOT healthy for the artist.  A camera cannot do the same job as your eyes and your memory and cannot begin to replicate the experience of drinking in the scene as you attempt to sketch or paint it.  I visited Israel with a group of artists some years ago.  The tour operator wanted to show us everything, so we were raced from spot to spot.  We rebelled and insisted upon at least an hour at a stop, in order to do some sketching.  The tour operator was horrified – it meant we would see less….but that was HIS priority, not ours!

Off-the-beaten-track places often make for good painting locations.  Quiet villages, back streets, something as simple as a doorway  or window can be just as evocative and fascinating as a full-scale scene or distant view.

Ithaka Gate - watercolour sketch done on a Greek island painting holiday.  Dodgy perspective - but I don't care, it is in my sketchbook and takes me right back to the place where I sat and painted.  I can even remember the smell of the scented tree behind me.
Take the weather into account.  I have just booked to paint in Sri Lanka in March.  I am now worried because I have just read that the temperatures could be in the mid 30’s.  I will struggle with this and had I done my research properly, would have perhaps chosen an alternative location.  For the painter, airconditioning is super – when you get back to your room…but painting in a VERY hot street, or even just sitting to do a quick sketch –can be very uncomfortable indeed, as you sit there slowly melting!

If you travel to foreign shores, in particular the hotter countries on my side of the world,  like Egypt, India, Morocco, even Spain, Greece and Italy, do please bear in mind that
your tummy may suffer from the change of water and sometimes even the change of food.  The inconvenience of this cannot be underestimated, I have seen it happen time and time again.  The best advice I have ever been given, which worked for me and my adviser, while others crashed around us:

  • DO NOT DRINK THE WATER.  stick with bottled mineral water, Sprite or coca-cola; 
  • avoid salads at all costs;
  • eat only fruit that you can peel
  • eat the local hot food, which will have been purchased at the market in the morning and cooked freshly. 
  • Try to avoid anything which might have been pre-frozen.
  • Avoid ice, and ice-cream too. 
 I know this sounds like scare-mongering, but as a well-travelled painter, I can tell you that this advice comes from direct experience and from watching the suffering of others!!!  It is just that those of us who live in England or the USA are used to water purification treatments which are different - not better, just different, and our tummies are not geared to deal with the change.   It is usually the water that is the culprit – the suggestion to avoid salad is based on the fact that the salad will be washed in the local water!

If you plan well, you should have a wonderful experience.  There is more to add but I will keep my remaining suggestions for part two, and just leave you with an image I painted after sketching in Venice, at night, by the light of a small candle on the table!  Around me were the most amazing characters in full fancy dress - it was Carnevale time.  Now THAT was a painting holiday memory I will always treasure.  

Florian's Cafe, St Marks Square, Venice.  Pastel on paper


  1. Good advice Jackie. On a multi location tour you have a hard choice - sketch or follow the guide. On a tour of 8 cities of Italy I managed sketches at each location but did not follow the guide.

  2. Jackie, thanks for this advice. I might be doing a visit to Croatia in September. Have you ever been there?

  3. Wonderful advice, and neat Venice sketch!

  4. No I haven't, tho have been to other nearby countries. My advice re the food stands for Croatia - it is the best advice I have ever been given and has never let me down. I hope you have a great time, I am told it is beautiful.

    Yorky, quite right, I am not surprised.


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