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Artists Teaching in Art Tours

by Moshe Mikanovsky on 5/11/2010 8:20:49 AM

This article is by Moshe Mikanovsky, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews.  You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

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

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. 

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.  

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.



For more information about Gary’s Escape to Bretagne (Brittany in English), visit his site at

For more information about Valerie’s art tours, visit her site at


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Loading comments...

helen horn musser
Moshe, This is such a wonderful post; bringing up dreams of Europe and other foreign ports. What more could you ask for than a ship to take you wherever the scenes of interest are; the companionship of likeminded artists and a pro to guide us. I hope one day to be able to do this Thank you for sharing with us.

Carl Purcell
I first offered a painting tour to Devon England about 12 years ago. The first time was a bit scary, having never done anything like this before. But I did it so that while there we could visit my wife's family who had moved there from Scotland. I had never met them.

We contacted a lodge nearby and arranged a group rate with them. Then we arranged for a 15 passenger bus which I could drive without a special permit. And then we went over four days early to scout out painting spots.

We ended up doing this every year for a dozen years. Doing the driving (on the left side) gave me some exciting experiences, but the trips have provided me with some fantastic material for painting, and a chance to share unique painting experiences with fellow artists.

Michael Cardosa

Thanks for the interesting piece. I plan to pass it on to a friend who has been an instructor for years and is now starting into the workshop arena. Maybe it will convince him to take his act on the road!


Debra Russell
I have always wanted to be able to take one of these workshops. How exciting it would be to just live an artists life for a few weeks without any distractions. My daughter just graduated from High School so it's just about time to start doing this.Thanks for these 2 contacts that do workshops abroad...and Carl if you ever decide to do them again I would love to join you in England!

Carol Schmauder
These workshops sound wonderful. It is certainly something for me to think about in the future-as a student, not a teacher. Thanks for sharing Moshe.

Sheryl Knight
Great article and interviews Moshe. I loved it because I too have wanted to take one of these painting tours. I am thinking of teaching workshops as I have taken many and believe I could do it. I love teaching and have taught teenagers art, so why not adults. It ws encouraging to read the comments.

Poppy Balser

Wow, these sound like great tours and very interesting to read interviews with the instructors. A trip like those you write about would truly be a trip of a lifetime. I dream of paintings foreign locales and then I stop, take a deep breath and look around me. I live in such a beautiful part of the world and there is so much here that I have not painted yet! For now it would be frivolous to run away to paint far away locations, beautiful thoughthey are.

However, tomorrow I am planning my own mini painting vacation, driving an hour and half down the Bay of Fundy coast to an area where I have never been, simply to paint! It will be a treat!


helen horn musser
Sounds great Poppy, hope it is a wonderful daytrip

Sheryl Knight
Good thoughts Poppy. I too feel I live in a beautiful place (the Central Coast of California) and have not began to explore the many lovely sites here, though I have painted outdoors for years. Where do you live and where is the Bay of Fundy? However, I would still love to go abroad and paint with a group for a few weeks sometime! Next year! I'll keep that one in my tomorrow dreams.

max hulse
This is a unique and innovative thought.
It obviously requires a lot of planning
and thought, but would enable a teacher
to see the world, make new friends, and
get paid for doing it.


Max Hulse

Betty Ann Morris
So enjoyed this article on painting abroad. I have often wondered if there was enough research done prior to everyone arriving on foreign soil wondering what and where to go next.
Gary and Valeria seem to do everything right.
Maybe one of these days I will have the pleasure of going abroad to paint.

Moshe Mikanovsky
Thank you everyone for the great comments!
If you have done it before, or know of someone who did, or if you know of anyone who also in the art tour business, I would love to hear from you/them.


Michael Cardosa

You have those great tides in the Bay of Fundy where the boats are sitting on mud at low tide. Great maritime coastal painting scenes. I'm actually working on a painting of Peggy's Cove right now if you care to, you can see the first stages on my site in the "on the easel" tab. Good luck, have fun.


Carol Richardson
Here is a different approach to artist retreat that we offer.Our concept is to encourage and provide artists with a comfortable working atmosphere,and more importantly, experience the real Anguilla, to be among and with us and contribute to our rich and growing art community and have some creative fun!
Experience the true beauty of this island paradise and live, work and play with us. A warm welcome to Miss Jimmy's, an artist retreat on the beautiful Caribbean island of Anguilla, British West Indies.
Situated on a hill overlooking the historic lower valley, Miss Jimmy's is surrounded by 2 acres of land at the end of a quiet road, within easy walking distance of Crocus Bay beach.
Recently renovated and lovingly restored, there is 1000 square feet of living space and is fully furnished for comfortable living.
The studio space has lots of natural light and an adjoining outside patio porch and is equipped with easels and tables for your use.
What you can't see is what makes this house so special. It has a history, a heart and soul. It is a quiet, restful place and hopefully, very inspiring!
This retreat is available for rent on a monthly or bi-monthly basis, please contact at

Poppy Balser

I live in Digby, Nova Scotia, Canada. The Bay of Fundy is the large bay of water that separate New Brunswick (Neighbour to Maine) and Nova Scotia. The exciting thing about the Bay of Fundy is that it is the home of the world's highest tides. As Michael said, it offers all sorts of painting opportunities as the water level goes up and down. (the vertical drop can be as much as 30 feet.) On my way to paint now... gotta love wireless!


Poppy Balser
Thanks for directing me to your easel. Your painting is looking great! The fishing shacks of our coast are fascinating, with their patina of age and weathering from the sea air.

Michael Cardosa

Thanks! That painting has a long long way to go yet, but I'm hoping I get there. Have fun today.


Debra Russell
Carol...this is an interesting way to do a "retreat". I'm thinking of getting a group of accomplished artists together and spend a few weeks just painting, critiquing and learning from each other! This would be an ideal location. I'll spread the word!

Sheryl Knight
Wow Poppy, that sounds beautiful. You are blessed to be in such a beautiful place. Happy painting!! Sheryl

Diane Tasselmyer
This is a successful thing to do in Michigan because I know people who have done it for years.

You do have to plan, plan, plan.

On the other hand, it could be 4-5 artists only

Sheryl Knight
Carol and Debra, You have me thinking about doing something similar, not really a workshop but a painting retreat, where you just paint together and critique and have a great time. Sheryl

Durinda Cheek
Nice to hear about other artists' workshops. I will be leading a plein air workshop in October in Tuscany. It is designed for those who are new to plein air with an emphasis on using watercolor sketchbooks (which I make for us). I have been fortunate to travel to Italy and Tuscany in particular many times and have also led workshops in France. Last year I took students with me through Il Chiostro, a travel company who does all the major bookings and transportation, etc. It was a wonderful experience, filled with great food and beautiful scenery to sketch, paint, and photograph. I hope that everyone who is interested in painting abroad will carefully check out not only the instructor, but the service provider as well. The instructor should be a regular workshop leader and teacher and not just someone who is interested in going abroad for themselves and using the workshop to finance it. The sponsoring company needs to be reliable and experienced too. Things are handled differently abroad and being in more remote areas where services can be limited can be a problem unless you have a host with local connections. All in all, it is an unforgettable experience for an artist to travel with other artists who appreciate the same things. Please check out their site: if you are interested in more information.

Great article, I've noticed more and more crusises are offering this option, however I find that the amount of time you actually have on a cruise to paint just insn't enough to get enough time to really learn and unless I was going alone (which just wouldn't happen) there are to many other "fun" things to do aboard a cruise.

Laara WilliamSen
Thank you so much for this articles. I have also been thinking of this for the past ten years at least and found the pointers very helpful!


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