June 22, 2015

Running away from home for a 10-day painting vacation in France came with a price — $9,079.80, to be exact. But it’s what I wanted to do. I had a great time. Plus, I learned the value of letting go. “Me first” is my new mantra!

Everything was new. I’d never gone on a vacation by myself before. Never went away to college either. I’m also not an outdoors-y person or a watercolor painter. Plus, my old portable easel was a piece of crap. All of these factors became critical for my June 5-15 escape.

I spent months preparing for this adventure, which boiled down to two words: RETAIL THERAPY. And I pursued my objective with tremendous enthusiasm.

And what a fantastic choice for a trip: 10 days in the Normandy region with two stops. We began with three days in Giverny, at Claude Monet’s garden:

Monet's flowers

Imagine, being in the home of the great Impressionist painter, standing in his sunlit studio and his yellow kitchen, admiring his Japanese art collection. On two evenings, after the property closed to the public, our group of about 18 painters was set loose on the property:


From here, we spent a week in Honfleur, a scenic, thousand-year-old seaside town much beloved by Monet and his crowd:


At first being on hallowed ground was intimidating. But I arrived prepared. Aw, this is me in full gear, with one of my favorite paintings from the trip:

painting800 copy

Check out the new, packable sun hat and walking shoes. That’s the new easel with tripod slung over one shoulder. The tote in my arms is a $43.34 diaper bag from Target. At least one of my brushes cost $48.

Working with small-sized paper was very convenient because of its portability:


But small came with a price too. A 5″x7″ block of 100% cold-pressed Fabriano watercolor paper runs $18 for 25 pages. I also brought larger, even more expensive paper and ended up overpacking.

Like the paper, most of what I was packing will come in handy for future watercolor experiments and for working outdoors, which is called plein air.

Here’s a run-down of my major expenses for this journey, which was sponsored by the Art Students League of New York:

  • $3,150 to register for the League’s workshop.
  • $1,253.80 for the round-trip Air France flight.
  • $1,820 for intensive watercolor lessons & workshops.
  • $919.68 for painting supplies.
  • $442.42 for the outrageous new easel.
  • $580.62 for outdoor gear, shoes, luggage packing bags.

Food expenses ($357.43) were actually quite reasonable because in Honfleur, I had my own little apartment and cooked a bit. Our group of nearly two dozen painters and assorted significant others often dined together and stuck to reasonably-priced places:

French food

Our fearless leader, Frank O’Cain, took us on museum tours, gave painting demonstrations and offered individual critiques. My most important takeaway came during a walk when he showed us how he evaluates a scene and abstracts its essence for his painting.

The goal is to simplify what you see into basic, geometric shapes. From here, identify colors that speak to you. Then keep on simplifying the colors and shapes until you get them working together. My first try at this resulted in way too much detail and confusion:

Sketch pad

By by the end of our journey, I was learning to simplify for real:


This practice feels like a meditation, a form of visual yoga. I want to keep seeing with these new eyeballs. I know they will change my writing and my relationships — for the better.

So….I return to my usual bargain-hunting lifestyle, $9,000 richer and happier. Running away from home was definitely worth it. And now I’m wondering, when and where next — for either me or you?

P.S. — A special shout-out to Phil Levine proprietor of 1WorldArt Travel, who the League hired to manage our trip and accompany us. Thanks, Phil!

Giverny flowers