Returning to France as a Teaching Artist

My first visit to France was as a young Navy wife back in 1988 or 89 as a young J.O.’s wife. There were several of us going over to meet up with our husband’s submarine where it was pulling into Brest, France. In the passing years, I’ve made it back over there 4 times. But this past summer was the best experience I’ve ever had in my life. I was there for the whole month of June, teaching two back to back art workshops.

“As I turn 60 in September this year, it finally dawned on me, “oh my goodness, I DO have a lot of years of experience at this art making”…so it’s good to be able to share this knowledge that others have so generously shared with me. “

What I Teach

I teach “Traveling Light with Watercolors” and focus on watercolor sketchbook journaling. I LOVE teaching, and had several ‘proud mama moments’ with my students. I love seeing that look on their face when they realize, “Hey, I can really do this”! I teach brand new beginners, as well as those with years of experience. I teach basic skills that build on each other, with exercises to try out the techniques each day. By the end of their 10 day workshop – I had everyone painting a little portrait of Monet! And yes – they had captured that likeness!

One of the workshop groups with their Claude Monet sketches

Opportunity Knocks

So how did I come up with such a wonderful gig? I met Lisa Statkus back in 2013 at a workshop that I was taking with another artist, and she was employed by the facility in France that ran art workshops. Her goal was to leave them and start her own business doing this very thing (hosting art workshops). My goal was to teach overseas workshops. She asked me at that time, “Why are you taking this workshop? You should be teaching…and I’d like you to be one of my teachers.” I had watched her during that 10 day workshop back in 2013 and she really did EVERYTHING for them. She knew the whole business. My intuition told me she’d be good at this.

Launching the Course

I knew I had to build a following of students to bring with me. So we’ve kept in touch over the years, and last year I told her I was ready to launch. I filled my first workshop within a week, with several on a ‘wait list’. She told me she hadn’t selected the second teacher for that month, would I like to try to fill that one as well? You bet I did! I filled that one within another week!

Working with Lisa has been wonderful. She coordinates all the logistics for the attendees, and I am hired to teach the workshop. She makes it easy for me to be the ‘best me I can be’ for my students. She and I coordinated our itinerary based on what I wanted to teach, and what we wanted to see, and she advised on how to fit it together so the lessons and the sites we visited complemented each other. Ten days is the perfect amount of time for a meaningful workshop, as well as a very enjoyable journey learning about a wonderful region!

Workshop in France

Our chateau, La Riviere

We stayed in a beautiful chateau in the tiny village of Calvignac, which is in the southwest region called Lot. Our dinners were at the chateau each evening at the long farm table in our dining room. She had hired a chef to prepare our dinners based on local cuisine and local wines. He was a butcher as well as a caterer, and those meals were exquisite! We were indeed treated like royalty.

Scenic Highlights

Some of the highlights of our trip included a trip to the Pech Merle Caves, where you can actually see the ancient cave paintings of horses, and mammoths, fish, cows, and human hands on the walls surrounding you. This has fascinated me for decades. The Pech Merle caves strictly limit the number of visitors in there each day, monitor CO2 levels, and monitor the lighting in there as well. I came away in awe that these beautiful works were done tens of thousands of years ago. It’s hard to wrap your head around that!

Another favorite visit of mine was the high hill-top town of Cordessur-Ciel. A walled city built between 1280 and 1350, the architecture is wonderful — it’s ‘very painterly’. But our favorite part was visiting a particular shop where the theme was Blue…and things dyed with the pigment from the Woad plant. The gentleman who owned the business with his wife is elderly and blind, but they create some wonderful pigments made into pastels, oil paints, and watercolor paints! So not only could we purchase some garments and linens dyed in a lovely blue color, most of also chose to bring home some hand made pigments in our favorite mediums as well.

Plein air by the River Lot in the town of Cahors

Other wonderful places included Belcastel, Chateau Cenevieres, Saint- Circ Lapopie, Bouzies and one of our favorites, market day in Cahors. We spent a little time in the morning, shopping at the huge farmers market in the center of town. Each of us chose some items to share for our ‘pot-luck’ along the Lot River near the Pont Valentre. After our wonderful lunch (which actually looked like a bunch of artists), we had our afternoon ‘paint-out’ learning to paint the bridge.

Summer Solstice Surprise

During the second workshop, we had the opportunity for a wonderful little event on the Summer Solstice, a “fete de la music”. Turns out it’s an annual event every summer in France on June 21st. All over France in big cities and small villages there are events to celebrate this. We were in a tiny village, where 6 women were giving a performance of various tunes. At 8pm that evening, everyone across France would sing Ode to Joy, at the same time! Following this – we had a pot-luck supper on the lawn, and sang more tunes…and we all joined in! They had sheet music for everything, whether in French or English – what a blast! It turned out to be one of our favorite evenings.

Rewarding Experience

Both of these workshops during June were much more than 10 days of teaching painting techniques. It gathered people from across the United States (Texas, New England, Virginia, Nashville, and Washington state). We got to know and appreciate each other – forming deep friendships quickly, “fill our wells,” and leave with a renewed sense of creative purpose in our lives.

I’m joining forces with Lisa Statkus again next year in 2020. We’ll be going to Tuscany in September. If you’re interested, please consider joining us! We create lifetime memories!  


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