SAA Professional Associate SUSIE HOME talks about her experience running Painting Holidays in France during the last ten years.

When we moved to France in 2004 we weren’t sure how things would work out and whether we would succeed in setting up a new business together.

Now as we enter our tenth season running Painting Holidays here it seems like a good time to reflect on what we’ve learnt about ourselves, our business and in particular about what people enjoy and want to achieve when they come on a holiday like this.

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I went to Art College in the Sixties and then had a very successful career in the publishing industry working for many different publishers until we made the decision to move to France.

Mike my husband had worked in the IT industry since the early Seventies. We had never worked together so taking the plunge and coming here was a bit of a leap of faith and numerous friends said we were very brave (I suspect quite a few of them wanted to say Mad rather than Brave). We didn’t see it like that fortunately and naively stated that we would be up & running by the Summer of 2005 having moved over in October 2004.

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Amazingly we were ready, having spent the whole of the winter renovating the house and one of the barns as a studio and building a swimming pool. We were incredibly lucky with the builders and tradesmen that we used – a multi-national bunch including French, Polish, Australian and British. I learnt a whole new vocabulary of French building terms, materials etc and we managed to run our first trial holiday in May 2005 for friends.

We quickly realised that it was going to take a while to establish ourselves as a Painting holiday venue so the Bed & Breakfast side of our business provided much needed income during summer months before our first real paying Art holiday guests came in September 2005.

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I had never been formally trained as an Art teacher but had gained a lot of experience of teaching and training in the Publishing industry and thoroughly enjoyed sharing my knowledge and experience. I had run Art clubs for both Adults and Children and had brought groups to France so had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to achieve – I just had to work out how best to implement it.

I enjoy working in most mediums, although I will admit that Pastel has for many years been a favourite of mine, as well as drawing with charcoal and other dry mediums, so it will be no surprise to anyone that knows me that I like to start our Art weeks with drawing and sketching exercises. I have learnt that it’s a great way to get people loosened up, particularly if it’s been a while since they have done any Art. It also gives me a good opportunity to see whether they are really looking at the subject and encourage them to experiment. Typically our guests get an opportunity to try lots of different mediums during their stay including watercolour, acrylic, pastel, charcoal etc. It’s always interesting for me to see how they develop.

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People often arrive with very fixed ideas about what they want to do, which is fine by me, but often leave having tried new techniques and mediums with varying degrees of success. It is great to introduce somebody to something new, especially when they surprise themselves with their capabilities!! Their only complaint sometimes is that I’ve encouraged them to try something new and they like it so much they end up spending money on new materials!

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One of my main objectives is to help our guests produce something that they will be happy to share with friends and family when they get back home and generally I think we achieve that – it can be challenging sometimes when people are trying to find the “ultimate” view or location and I have to work out what it is they are looking for!! I also have sometimes to remind them that they are here for fun as well as to learn and they shouldn’t beat themselves up too much if what they produce isn’t perfect (whatever that may be?)!!

I always try and concentrate on positives when I am working with my students rather than negatives because I believe that it is essential to build up confidence – not everyone will be able to do everything so it is important to recognise strengths and build on them. Hopefully the number of returning visitors we get shows that we have got something right.

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During the last ten years here I have learnt a lot about myself and get a great deal of satisfaction out of teaching, but during our season don’t get that much opportunity to do much of my own Art – that has to wait until the winter when we have fewer visitors.  Then I can experiment and try new and different things outside of my own comfort zone – it is what I encourage our guests to do so have to practice what I preach!! That’s not to say that I won’t go back to my own favourite mediums and subjects when I want to. I also keep my tutorial hat on out of season by running a weekly art group for local people, thinking up new challenges for them and me.

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I’m not sure we realised how much hard work it would be when we started on this venture but also how much enjoyment we would get out of meeting such a diverse range of people from all over the world, many of whom have been here a number of times.

If you’d like to know more about me and what I do contact me through my SAA page (www.saa.co.uk/art/susiehome) or our website (www.leperchoirdespaons.com)
Mike & Susie Griffith
Le Perchoir des Paons
www.leperchoirdespaons.com
0033 (0)5 65 31 54 88