our french retreat - june 2024

Watercolour sketch of Rocamadour, France

June means my annual trip to southern France to guide a painting holiday. 10 days where I share my love of painting outdoors with a small group of people giving them the skills to capture their memories in their sketchbooks.

It's hard to imagine a better location to create those memories worth recording. This year we had beautiful weather, we did excursions on 6 days to different locations to paint en plein air and had 2 long studio days to focus on skills and theory. 

Of course, it's not all about sketching. There's also delicious food and wine, shared meals and shared stories, and plenty of laughter.

Day 1 - poppies

Painting a poppy field in France

What a gorgeous morning, splashing red and green across our pages. Day 1, so I encouraged students to loosen up and fill a page quickly.  A perfect spot to talk about how to set up your equipment for sketching outdoors, how to chat to passersby and of course, the theory of aerial perspective.

Day 2 - Beynac Castle

Pen & watercolour sketch of Beynac Castle

A full day out to indulge in sketching a castle out of Disney - Beynac Castle. Over 900 years old, the home of Richard the Lionheart and beautifully maintained, we started the morning with exploring the castle itself. Then we found a wonderful shady lookout point to sketch the castle.

A little wander down through the magical village and along the river, to find Harrison and Pascal had set up picnic tables right on a beach where we had the yummiest picnic with a view of the castle above the river beyond. Such an idyllic spot, the team chose to sit right there after lunch and finish our castle paintings from the morning. Glass of wine in hand, of course.

Day 3 - Sarlat market & the water gardens

Another full day out. The morning was spent exploring the market and winding alleyways of beautiful Sarlat-la-Caneda. This is always one of my highlights of the week. The farmers market is extensive with flowers, fruits, cheeses, cured meats and other local delicacies. The streets full of artisan shops.

In the afternoon we visited the water gardens in Carsac for a very Monet type painting experience. It’s a tranquil paradise of ponds filled with water lilies, koi and frogs. Our focus for our sketches there was the reflections in the water and the lily pads. Looking carefully to see all the colours of the water and how the lily pads change shape as they recede into the distance.

Day 4 - historic watermill

An historic watermill, Perigord, France

Set in peaceful paradise near Perigord Retreats is a very old watermill, once run by monks to make flour for nearby Rocamadour. The tour guide is charming and enthusiastic and gave us a fascinating insight into how the mill works and how the monks once lived. We got to see the flour being made as the mill sill functions.

I gave my 10 minute lesson (with my handy tool) for sketching buildings accurately when you know nothing about linear perspective (the theory lesson comes later in the week). Then we sat on the banks of the river and sketched the mill itself, and everyone did wonderful pencil drawings.

Another wonderful picnic a beach beside the river, before completing our pencil sketches and heading home to paint our pencil drawings in the comfort of the studio.

Day 5 - Sant-Cirq-Lapopie

Like walking into a fairytale, I’ve been hearing about this magical village, but finally got to visit it this year. So wonderfully quaint, there’s enough to sketch here for many weeks. Day 5, so a few folks in the group were happy to head off on their own to find a subject that suited them, but for the rest of us I chose a cute little shop with pretty clothing hanging outside, a big grape vine and red shutters. We may, or may not, have also indulged in purchasing a few pretty things as well.

Day 6 - Studio Day

Student sketches of Beynac Castle

We started the day with a theory lesson on linear perspective. This is always one of my favourite lessons to teach and students go home with a completed worksheet to refer to later. 

Then we had a day with everyone working at their own pace on paintings of their own choice. Considering it was Day 6, this was a full day, with nearly everyone working from 9am until 6.30pm, only stopping when the call for evening drinks sounded. Cheers!

Day 7 - Studio Day

This was the day on the retreat when I encouraged everyone to leave their sketchbooks behind and paint a full painting. We started with some thoughts on what distinguishes a sketch from a painting and the way I approach sketches and paintings differently. 

We talked about story telling, tonal values, subject matter, and tonal value sketches. Then we chose a photo together to paint for the day. 

Just a few meters from Perigord Retreats was an old barn with a rambling rose crossing its aging door. Karen had taken a beautiful photo when the shadows cast by the rose across the door were super lovely. It was a romantic scene to paint and a good one to get everyone out of their sketchbooks and out of their comfort zones.

Day 8 - Rocamadour & mini exhibition

Rocamadour, France

What can I say about Rocamadour, except that this was my third visit and it still blows me away. A castle on top of cliff, a cathedral carved into the cliff and a charming town running along the valley below. 

Most of the team spent the morning exploring and taking photos, before we met for our final picnic. But 3 of us did sketch and it was such fun.

The afternoon was spent doing final touches on our paintings and sketches. Then we dressed in something pretty and joined everyone down in the studio for a glass of bubbly. It was so incredible to see all the paintings and to page through everyone’s sketchbooks from the week. We have memories that are recorded forever.

The final send off was a 7 course dinner and shared stories. We started as strangers, we left as friends. I hate goodbyes, so I hope we’ll be meeting again somewhere to paint together once more.

Thank you!

Thank you to the 11 wonderful people who journeyed from far and wide to paint with me. You were truly an enthusiastic and fun group. Thank you for the good times we shared together.

Thanks to our wonderful hosts who make this a truly memorable experience each year - to Katel and Noa for the endless delicious meals (the food is out of this world), to Harrison for organising all the big and little details, the stories and for taking us wonderful places, and for Pascal who drove us everywhere, set up picnics and patiently watched paint dry.

These retreats at Perigord Retreats are some my best days each year and I can’t imagine a June now without this happening.

A bientôt! Until next year.

Join me next year


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