11 May 2010

Artists teaching in Art Tours – another creative business venture for artists

Posted by Moshe Mikanovsky

Art Tours. Artists’ Workshops Abroad. Whatever you call them, I have always wanted to take one of these exciting vacations – fly to a far foreign land, with beautiful landscapes, hundreds and thousands of years of history carved in every stone and building, and just forget about the daily routine and immerse myself in painting. But traveling with kids or with my wife, who is not an artist, makes this type of traveling, well, boring – to them. So the most I allowed myself was to take my sketch book, and sketch away here and there.

But what if I could take these tours not as a participant, but as the instructor? Hmm, nice idea, but I am not there yet, maybe in 10 or 20 years, if I start teaching art now… But I do know a couple of such artists, who have been teaching for many, many years, and have ventured in the past few years to arrange and give amazing summer vacations, packed with opportunities to sit down, relax, and paint. 

So, I decided to interview them, and share with you their experience and what it takes to become a touring art teacher.

First, I interviewed artist Gary Smith. Gary is my personal mentor and art teacher, who has seen deep into my strengths and highlighted them for me – helping me grow. Having been an art coach for many years, Gary started his Escape with Gary summer retreats and Artists’ Workshops a few years ago; going to Newfoundland in eastern Canada, where the barren landscapes, seascapes and atmosphere are unique to that part of the world. 

Artist Gary Smith

This year, Gary is launching a new escape to Brittany in France, to the seashore city of Brignogan Plage near the Côtes des Légendes. To make it even more interesting and appealing to a broader audience (even the spouse-who-is-not-so-much-into-the-arts), Gary enlisted Luc Bihan, a sculptor teacher from Toronto who is originally a native of Brittany.  Luc will give sculpting workshops, as well as Dr. Yuri Murakami Bihan, Doctor of Naturopathy, who will care for everyone’s well being and will give cooking classes. Another host will be artist Irina Schestakowich, internationally known artist famous for her creativity and intaglio.

I asked Gary, who organizes all the details for this exciting trip, to tell me some of the things that happen behind the scenes.

Me: Gary, tell me how you started the Escape with Gary tours?

Gary: I promised myself that I would never again spend another summer in Toronto. My solution, since I enjoy people and helping them grow, was to provide workshops abroad. Next year we are going to an olive grove in Sicily.  This is how an artist should live and how an older artist should share what he knows.

Me: Was it a natural path from your art teaching, or is it much different?

Gary:  hmm. It followed naturally from my teaching. My students were enjoying our ‘journey’ together and many did not want to stop for whole summers, so there was a built-in group of artists ready to join these workshops.

Me: Tell us a bit about your past experience with the tours, who do you find it is most useful for?

Gary: A good question but a tough one.  I am a firm believer that everyone is quite different so I don’t think there is a universal answer but I will share these thoughts.  The Escape with Gary workshops seem to attract adults who enjoy their art, and being together with other artists regardless of experience or level, to just escape to somewhere safe in the world as a group.  They are also very open minded and willing to try out ideas. They have a sense of adventure and don’t mind roughing it in a non-commercialized tour and hotels.

Me: What are you most excited about with the new tour to Brittany?

Gary: Oh yes! The many blues that Brittany is famous for and the good food, which goes without saying. The complete break from home routines and distractions. Painting new (very old) subjects. And I look forward to visiting the museum of the Nabis Painters (Edouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard) whom I have long admired.

Me: What advice can you give to other art teachers who would like to venture into this type of business?

Gary: Plan at least a year in advance. Do your homework about the place, accommodations, travel arrangements, and promoting the workshop. People must know very far ahead.  Find a way to not be total strangers in the location. For example, we are going to Luc’s home. He knows the best places to paint, what events are happening, speaks the language and his family is all there to assist us, if needed. That all eliminates a lot of unknowns.  In Sicily, next year, we are going to be staying in two homes owned by a new addition to the team, Daniel de Costa, who will teach photography.

Me: And to people who are not sure if such a tour is for them, what you would like to say?

Gary: The older you are the better artist you can be.  This is something for you. Be a little selfish and enjoy yourself.  Live the artist’s life for a week or two. Note that ours is not a luxury type canned package like Club Med but it is genuine and relaxing.

Next, I spoke with my friend Valerie Kent, whom I wrote about a few weeks ago, about her artist website upgrade. One of the activities Valerie is involved with in the past 4 years, are the art tours to Provence, Normandy and Tuscany. Since the launch of her new site, and the article, Valerie has seen a lot of interest from people who would like to join her on one of these voyages.  

Artist Valerie Kent

Artist Valerie Kent

I asked Valerie to also share with us some of the details on what it takes to be a successful art teacher in these settings:

Me: Valerie, can you please tell me how you started conducting the art tours?

Valerie: Doing the art tours was something I was thinking of for many years, particularly painting on cruises.  This was not actually happening and I kept writing to the cruise lines and asking them to do this.  Then one day, I noticed that some of the lines Princess and Holland were offering just such a travel product.  I had written to them over and over, and wonder if that had any influence in the development of those trip features.  But, for me personally, to get from contact with my tour operator to stepping on the plane with my first group was several years.  It is not such an easy task to get everything ready, and to have a seamless painting trip organized.  Debbie Lloyd, who does my trips, is a long time expert and is superbly experienced in the travel industry.  I feel very fortunate because she is such a stickler for detail that it makes everyone just wonderful.

Me: Was it a natural path from your art teaching, or is it much different?

Valerie: Not all artist instructors are plein air artists.  There are many more studio artists than there are those that enjoy the outdoor experience.  I have always loved to paint outside and interpret what I see and feel.  This serves me well when I travel because we paint outdoors and yes, it is a much different experience.  First of all, no one can paint everything that is out there.  It is confusing to artists at first.  There is a need to make judicious selections and remember that the world that is being created on paper or canvas is the only world we care about as we make art.  We make selections of what we see and place them where it will create a wonderful painting, even if it means moving mountains and trees and that lovely old barn into a focal point with an S-curve leading to it.

Me: Tell us a bit about your past experience with the tours. Who do you find it is most useful for?

Valerie: I believe these trips are trips of a life time.  We see and experience so much and each time it is new because the world and what we see does not remain static from year to year.  Some of the participants have been on 3 or more trips with me and they continue to return because they are amazing.   Taking such a trip is life altering in a positive way.  Making the plans, enjoying the tours, all of it, it is such a hopeful and uplifting experience for anyone who enjoys either the painting or photography or is simply interested in the history of the locales we visit.  There have been several individuals who do not paint on the trips and they, too, have had a great time.

Me: What are you most excited about the upcoming season?

Valerie: I cannot wait to go on the river cruise in Provence.  The River Royale, the ship we use, is so lovely and has such a great itinerary and the food, mamma mia, is amazing.  I also so love to visit the Luberon stone villages.  I have been there every year and can never, ever get tired of seeing them.  The wide open vistas, panoramic views are breathtaking.  This trip ends in Aix en Provence, a smaller town with its own enjoyable scenes and its main street market and fountains.  Always something to do and something to see.  

Me: What advice can you give to other art teachers who would like to venture into this type of business?

Valerie: Teachers who wish to do tours may need to connect up with tour operators who may already be doing these or are very knowledgeable about the travel industry.  I find that I personally do not have the connections to do the transfers, find the right hotels, set up the tours in other countries and cities, but Debbie Lloyd does.  She is the secret ingredient that makes my tours magical.  

Me: And to people who are not sure if such a tour is for them, what you would like to say?

Valerie: The old adage in the advertising world may apply here.  “Try it, you’ll like it.”  If you enjoy travel, meeting people, seeing new and wonderful sights and places and in addition wish to record what is seen and felt, whether you paint or photograph or not, an artist tour is just the right addition to your repertoire of experiences. 

Thank you Gary and Valerie for sharing your thoughts and insights with us. I am sure your tours will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for anyone who will join you. I wish I could! Send me some pictures, I would love to see how you and your students are doing.

Cheers,

Moshe

For more information about Gary’s Escape to Bretagne (Brittany in English), visit his site at http://www.escapewithgary.com/.

For more information about Valerie’s art tours, visit her site at www.valeriekent.com

This article was published on FineArtView blog on May 11, 2010

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One Response to “Artists teaching in Art Tours – another creative business venture for artists”

  1. Gary is an unstoppable force. Terrific interview!

     

    Glendon Mellow

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