The Choice of an Instructed Workshop or Uninstructed Retreat?

Instructed Workshop or Uninstructed Retreat – what’s the difference and what’s the correct choice? Since I have done both I thought I would share my insight. I first attended one of Workshops in France’s Art Retreat in 2014 and had very little idea of what to expect. Would I feel intimidated by the other artists? Would they be open to me, a non-painting artist?

As a stained-glass artist, I had very little experience with plein-air painting, and what experience I had was in watercolors, many, many, years ago.

Lesson: Every unsuccessful painting is a lesson learned

That first year was very new to me but I learned so much! I learned that most artists are open and generous with their ideas, and although we were all on different levels and used different media we were all united in the quest for improving our art.

I learned that painting alongside other artists isn’t a competition. No-one was awarded a prize at the end of the day, so there were no winners and no losers. I also learned that even if I spent several hours trying to paint something and it ended up being a disappointment, that was OK too. Every unsuccessful painting is a lesson learned. I just needed to see why it didn’t work. Often, it’s the simple things…like no true focal point, poor composition or inadequate value studies. I am slowly learning.

Now I know which type to recommend..

I have returned to France every year and continue to learn on both the instructed and uninstructed workshops and retreats. Every time has been wonderful, full of joy-filled moments and the camaraderie that connects like-minded creatives.

Having seen both, I now know which type of workshop to recommend to people depending on what their needs and wants are.

Painting in St. Remy-de-Provence

 What’s your focus?

If you want the freedom to explore your own style at your own pace, then the uninstructed retreat is for you. You can paint pretty much when you want and where you want, or not! On excursions you can chose to set up your easel or sketch at a café or give up all pretense entirely and go shopping or café hopping to your heart’s desire!

However, if you prefer a bit more structure, and feel you want to learn from some of the world’s best working artists, then the instructed workshops are a dream come true. You will be watching demonstrations, painting under instruction and learning not only from the instructor but also your fellow students!

What’s your adventure?

Of course, no matter which type of adventure you choose, it will all be taking place in one of the most beautiful areas of the world. Southern France is stunning, with medieval villages, winding cobbled streets, ancient architecture and fantastic views. There are potential paintings around every corner and you will find yourself referring back to your photographs long after you have returned home. The friendships you will develop will last for years and will continue to be a source of joy and inspiration. And then there’s the food, and the wine and the weather…


If you are still unsure which to do, this might help:

Uninstructed Retreat

Reasons to attend an uninstructed workshop:

  • Freedom to explore your own ideas of creativity
  • Relaxed atmosphere
  • Painting at whatever pace you wish and whenever you wish
  • Open to artists in all media

Instructed Workshop

Reasons to attend a workshop with an instructor:

  • Learning from the best
  • Receive direct tutoring
  • More structured itinerary, yet still informal
  • Working alongside your idols

Blogger: Shirley Hambrick

Shirley Hambrick is an award-winning stained-glass artist and painter. She has lived in Scotland, Spain and the USA. Shirley has been part of the Workshops in France team over the last few years and attended over 10 of these trips. Being Scottish, she was trained at Edinburgh College of Art and Design. Shirley teaches in the West Virginia area and you can some of her beautiful work here.

Shirley Hambrick artist

Check out more blogs about art workshops, tips and hacks for artists traveling in France and Scotland.

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