Wednesday, 16 January 2013


Pastel painting, done on the spot in Cyprus

Some more thoughts about the whole business of going on a painting holiday.


Do go well prepared.  Find out what materials the tutor suggests, but do not treat any list as law.  I have been with students who have said to me “I didn’t bring x or y , because it wasn’t on your list”.  This is daft.  If you have favourite bit of kit, TAKE IT WITH YOU.  The tutor’s recommendations are just that – recommendations, based on his or her experience. 

Think about how you will get your equipment to the painting locations, if the holiday is one where you will be taken out and about.  If you have a bad back, it might be wise to have something with wheels to carry your kit for you, rather than aggravate your back. 

  If you like to sit to work, take your own painting stool, there are very lightweight ones in the art materials shops or in fishing tackle shops.  A lightweight metal easel weighs less than a wooden one, but if the weather is windy, you may need to think about how to manage that.  There is a lot to think about, I know, but the better prepared you are, the more you will overcome any kit issues.

Here is my check-list of sketching equipment.  You could use this as a starter list, but do add your own ideas:

  • Knapsack, or bag with wheels, depending on your strength
  • Sketching stool - I like one with a backrest
  • Lightweight sketching easel
  • Sketchbook PLUS bulldog clips to hold pages open.  I would also take a drawing board with paper attached by bulldog clips
  • Pencil case hold all my favourite bits of sketching kit
  • Small pocket paintbox plus travelling brush and spare water
  • Tissues
  • Wipes
  • Small can of fix if I intend to use my pastels, which are not in this picture
  • Long-handled brush or bamboo stick, for measuring
  • Viewfinder
  • sunhat
For a painting outing rather than a sketching one, I would also have a travelling box of pastels, a lightweight drawing board made of Fome Core, and a plastic bag big enough to cover the board at the end of the session, clipped on with the bulldog clips, to protect the image.  I would take a small plastic "veggies" tray, to hold the pastels I work with, which are taken out of the bigger box.  Obviously, an oil or acrylic painter will have different items and a watercolourist might want an easel which tips so that he/she can work flat. 

If you are travelling on a plane, check that your equipment is airplane-ok.  Oil paints, for instance, and some other materials are flammable, and might well be confiscated by some airlines.  Your airline should be able to advise – and your tutor/tour organiser too.


Pace yourself.  If you feel tired after lunch, don’t rush out to do more just because everyone else does.  A painting holiday is usually much more “relaxed” and less structured than a painting workshop or course, so you need to be aware of the needs of your body, and allow yourself to slow down from time to time if your body demands it.  You will have more energy during your active periods,  if you do give yourself permission to have a rest from time to time.  Your brain will still be active and sometimes, a little rest brings enlightenment!

Always carry a sketchbook.  This is invaluable not just for initial exploration of your subject, but also for notes.  In the back of your book, record your thoughts.  Write down your concerns, your ideas, your feelings, your first impressions, things you have learned along the way.

Ink and watercolour in my sketchbook  in Venice.  The pink house is where I stayed was a  "Palezzeto" - little palace,  which was old and shabby but  rather gorgeous inside.  On the bridge is one of my painting companions, sketching barges! He set his easel up and cracked on, despite standing at an angle!  

Consider the light. If you pick a spot in the morning, remember that you cannot expect to return to the same spot in the afternoon, and carry on working on the same painting, if it is a sunny day.  The shadows will alter dramatically.  A morning painting can be continued the NEXT morning, but not during the afternoon.
When seeking advice about your work, try to be specific about what is worrying you.  Saying “something isn’t right” may be less effective than “I am not sure if the colour I have used for that part is working well”.  You might even find that by analysing your own work before presenting it to the tutor for advice, you solve your own problems!   Think about:
  • 1.        When I started this piece, my idea was to show…..(whatever your first intent was.  It helps if you have written this down, but if you forgot, then remind yourself)
  • 2.       I would now like some feedback about…………….(this is the hard part…but trust your instincts.  And whenever you feel a little nagging doubt, write down that doubt, refer back to it when you have the tutor’s attention.)

You need to ignore the nagging little critter on your shoulder, putting thoughts into your head   “but I should………..”  “I really ought…………”   “I wish I could………..”  and the worst one of all :  “everyone else is doing so well, why aren’t I????!”

"Sunlit Awnings, Fish market, Venice"  painted on the spot


And I do not mean your luggage.  I mean your personal problems.  I know I have written about this before, but it bears repeating.    I have listened to so many heartbreaking stories from people who use painting holidays to escape from their problems at home.   Yet – they do not escape their problems, they bring them with, and bring them OUT at every available opportunity, seeking sympathy.  This is understandable but you must remember that  fellow holidaymakers are NOT your therapists.  You may well have a miserable partner, a divorce pending, ghastly children, a hateful job ….but you need to try to put all of that into a box and shut the lid while you are away. Enjoy each day for its novelty, and be thankful for the freedom from those burdens, if only for a short time.  It is a breath of fresh air for you.  On every painting holiday I have run,  I have noticed that those who air all their problems every day produce very little that they are happy with, they are so consumed with their problems.  Concentrating on your problems leaves you unable to concentrate on your creativity.  Allow yourself to set your spirit free, if only for a short time. 


It is a good idea to “manage your expectations” in terms of what you might bring home from your painting trip.
Some people like to show what they have done when they return home – in fact, there may be family members, and friends, positivel y champing at the bit to see what you have achieved!
The Gardens of Ninfa, Rome.   This was painted at home,
from sketches done on the spot.
 I was able to capture my memories perfectly, because
I had been sitting, sketching in the gardens, for some
considerable time.  It makes all the difference, memories from
sketching are so much stronger than from a quickly snatched photo.
However, as I have said before when talking about painting workshops – and painting holidays are not much different – we often do NOT do our best work when working in a new and unfamiliar environment.  If your output does not meet with your expectations, it can be  daunting, showing work to friends and family.  But do not beat yourself up about it…..tell them you are not ready to show them everything;  instead talk to them about what you enjoyed, perhaps show them SOME of your pieces, those which you feel have some merit.  There will inevitably be some pieces you will be proud of…usually, it is work done towards the end of the holiday, when the sights become more familiar, and when you have begun to relax more.  Even as a “professional” painter, I have learned to be patient on a painting holiday, to expect the first few days to be less than fruitful, and to hope for better results as I settle down and start to really enjoy myself.


  1. This is so full of good advice, not just for painting holidays but for daily practice in general. Lots to think about. Thank you for posting it ~Fiona

  2. my pleasure Fiona - thanks for reading it!

  3. Wow!! your painting are so awesome.. I like it

  4. i saw every paint. this is a nice paint.

    thank you
    nisi saha
    Paint Equipment Rentals

  5. What a productive holidays!
    Well done.

  6. I enjoy all of your posts. They are always very informative and interesting. I look forward to finding them in my inbox! I also admire your ability as an artist and teacher. Best wishes,


please feel free to leave me a message