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Immerse yourself in creativity – art holiday advice from Kevin Scully

Posted on Fri 12 Jan 2018

Painting holidays and courses offer an opportunity to immerse yourself in creativity in the company of like-minded people. Courses vary in duration from a few days to even a few months; some will be studio based, others will be a mixture of studio work and painting en plein air. If you are new to painting it would be wise to start with a short course.

Holiday basics

Some holidays are based at the provider’s property, which usually means most meals are taken there. You should enquire whether trips to different painting locations are included in the price – if not, will you be expected to pay extra for these. Also, en-suite bathrooms are often allocated on a first come, first served basis.

If the venue is on an estate with large grounds it may be some distance from any shops and restaurants and if you don’t have your own transport, you may feel a little isolated. If you are based in a hotel, it will usually be in a town or village, so other amenities will be accessible and you will be able to absorb more of the local culture. Meals may be taken in the hotel or possibly local restaurants. Special dietary needs won’t be a problem, provided the organisers are informed beforehand.

Most companies or hosts will use the services of a bi-lingual guide, and provide transport to and from the airport and painting locations. If you have mobility problems, make sure no long-distance walking is involved when visiting painting locations.

Airfares are not normally included in the cost, so you may have to organise this yourself; if they are, you will be expected to fly from a particular airport. You will always be asked to provide your own health and travel insurance and some destinations require a special visa, for which you should allow plenty of time for your application. Non-painting partners are usually welcome but make sure they will have enough to do while you are out painting.

If art materials are included in the price, make sure they will be suitable for your needs. If the holiday caters for those who want to paint in any medium, equip yourself with materials that you are fairly comfortable with – this is not the time to experiment with a different medium. Most tutors will be more than happy to answer any queries you have regarding the holiday. Some may send you a materials list but these are often only suggestions, so always add a few items that you are familiar with to the list.


Apart from pens, pencils and a sketchbook, the most portable medium is watercolour. For small sketches, all you will need is a kit with some basic colours in pans. If you want to paint larger pictures, small tubes of colour can be squeezed into the wells of a closable watercolour palette and rewetted for use. A plastic palette will be adequate.

This selection of watercolour brushes may be all you will need, perhaps with a smaller No. 3 or 4 brush for finer detail. Pictured here is a large sky wash brush, an even larger, square wash brush, a squirrel mop, a swordliner, a large sable and a rigger.

If you want to work in pen and watercolour wash, choose a pen with ink that won’t run when you apply a wash over it, for example Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pens; Uni-ball Signo; Sakura Pigma Micron or Pentel Technica. Pens that will bleed when wet can create a wash of different tones, such as Pilot- Hi-Tec-C, Pentel EnerGel and Pentel Slicci.

For simple sketches you can often get away with using a sketchbook with good quality cartridge paper, the heavier the paper, the less it will be likely to cockle. Alternatively, you could invest in a watercolour sketchbook. For pen and wash the smoother HP paper is ideal, otherwise go for Not paper.

Sheets of watercolour can be taped to a lightweight drawing board, or use a watercolour block where three sides of the paper are gummed, which keeps it taught when wet. When the painting is dry it can be released by running a knife around the edge between the top sheet and the ones below.

Even seemingly mundane subject matter can provide enough material for a quick sketch to remind you of the locations you visited.


When using acrylics en plein air in a warm climate you will have to adopt delaying tactics. Even a gentle, warm breeze can accelerate the drying times. The process can be slowed down with the addition of a gel extender or gel medium to your paint, as well as giving it the occasional light spray with water. Golden Open Acrylics remain workable for longer than most other acrylics, and M. Graham’s range have an extended drying time of up to one hour. Chroma’s Atelier Interactive Acrylics allow you to reactivate touch-dry paint using a fine spray of water. Use a tear-off paper palette and discard the sheet when the paint becomes unworkable, or use Daler-Rowney’s Stay Wet Palette.

If you work in acrylics, you’ll need to consider the medium’s fast drying time, especially if you are working outside in a warm climate.


Oils are not the ideal medium to use on a painting holiday, but Winsor & Newton’s Griffin Alkyd Oils are a faster drying alternative to traditional oils. All oils will need to be thinned so if you are travelling abroad make sure thinners are available, as solvents are banned from aeroplanes. Winsor & Newton have a useful web page detailing what can and what cannot be taken on board a plane ( Your oil paints can be stored in a plastic bag or box and packed in your suitcase. You could use a traditional palette or a tear-off variety paper palette. Water-soluble oils are worth considering. The drying times can be between one and three days depending upon how thickly you apply the paint.


The problem with pastels is that you can never have enough colours, so you will have to choose an appropriate selection for your location. You can work on either pastel paper or card, and if you like to paint on a larger scale, your paintings can be interlaced with glassine paper and rolled up into a tube for transportation. To protect your pastels, Jackson’s Art Supplies sell an excellent empty pastel case.

Other equipment

If travelling in the UK by car, you will be able to take as much equipment as you like. The sturdiest easel is the French easel, which folds into a box with a carrying handle and can accommodate most of your painting equipment. Mabef make an excellent version, available in two sizes.

When travelling abroad the best option is a lightweight folding easel, and if you are using watercolours you’ll want one that can tilt back at an angle. If you are painting in oils or acrylics, a pochade box works well as it will carry all the materials you need and two or three of your wet paintings. Depending on their size they can be held in your hand or rested on a table or attached to a camera tripod by fitting the box with a mounting bracket.

Canvas is not an ideal support for painting on when abroad as it’s rather bulky and fragile. It’s best to use the more rigid canvas painting boards of a size that will fit into your suitcase. Take as many brushes as you may need. To protect them, store in a brush case or holder.

Many holiday companies supply chairs and drawing boards, or you could take your own. A fold-up fisherman’s stool might be all that’s required, and a piece of 5mm plywood or MDF cut to size will be sufficient for a drawing board.

If in doubt, travel light, as there will always be someone willing to lend you something!

Adjustable viewfinder

An adjustable viewfinder is very useful as it allows you to change the proportions of your picture format. The homemade piece of card with a transparent acetate window divided into thirds is also a handy tool for positioning your focal point on the grid’s ‘hotspots’ where the lines cross.

Mabef French easel

Although rather heavy for carrying abroad, this sturdy Mabef French easel is perfect for working in all media and can accommodate most of your painting equipment. It has a drawer that slides out onto which you can rest your palette.

A pochade box

This widely available pochade box has a removable combined panel holder and palette. It is light enough to be held in the hand by means of a thumb hole in the palette section. There is a divided compartment underneath in which you can store your paints and brushes.

Alla Prima pochade box

This clever pochade by Alla Prima can accommodate a reasonably large board or canvas held in place by a system of strong sliding magnets. It folds up into a neat box, and wet panels can be stored in the lid. A variety of sizes are available and some have removable drawers for storing your paints and other equipment.

About Kevin

Kevin tutors on painting courses and holidays at home and abroad. His book Drawing and Painting on Location is published by The Crowood Press, ISBN 9781785002403, price £16.99.

This article is taken from the February 2018 issue of The Artist

Immerse yourself in creativity – art holiday advice from Kevin Scully


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