Make Your Next Painting Trip Pay for Itself

Stephen Quiller shares 12 tips for planning an extended painting trip then hosting an exhibition that pays for the adventure.

“View of Wells, the Old Strawberry Line by Cheddar”
England, 2002, gouache and watercolor, 19 1/2 x 28 in.
Tips for Planning an Extended Painting Trip

By Stephen Quiller

When I conduct a workshop out of the country, I often bring my family and extend our stay from one to four months. Following each trip, I hold an exhibition of the paintings I made during my stay that often pays for the entire adventure. Here are a few tips I’ve gathered from my experiences that can help the serious plein air traveler. 

1. Before leaving home, learn a few phrases in the languages of the countries where you’ll be painting. Even if they speak some English, locals are appreciative if you can engage with them even a little bit in their language. 

2. Do your research to find small, inexpensive lodgings or gîtes (small furnished vacation houses in France, typically in the countryside) in the various regions where you want to paint. I typically rent a spot for 10 days before moving on, and leave a gap of eight days or so before going to the next rental, which gives me the freedom to explore. 

“Cathar Monastery, Lagrasse”
France, 2002, watercolor and gouache, 19 x 27 in.

3. Rent a car. If you’re staying three or four months, many car companies have a lease with an option to buy. These extended rentals often have reasonable rates. 

4. When you arrive at a location, take the rest of the day to explore the area to make notes and sketches of the places you’re excited about painting. Locals can also be helpful in locating places to paint. I keep a list of suggestions in my sketchbook and refer to it when planning each day. 

5. Check the next day’s weather every evening. If it’s going to be raining where you’re staying, look for places nearby that you want to paint where the weather is more promising.

“Autumn, Loch Morar, View From Bracorina”
Scotland, 2007, watercolor, 21 1/2 x 28 3/4 in.

6. Let people come up to you and chat while you’re painting and try to bring that energy into the work. Keep in mind that although everyone has a grandmother who’s a painter, they aren’t art critics from the New York Times. 

7. After you finish a batch of paintings (say 20 to 25), ship them home. I leave about 10 percent of each piece unfinished and don’t sign the work so way there’s little value to declare, and they won’t be held up in customs. Fortunately, most larger cities around the world have UPS stores. 

8. Keep in touch with your framer so they know what’s coming and can get a start on building the frames and have them ready when you return. 

“Polperro, A Soft Day”
England, 2017, watercolor, 19 x 19 in.

9. Remember, traveling for an extended period is 95 percent pure joy. The remaining 5 percent, however, can be uncertain and even scary: getting lost, having trouble finding lodging, getting into fender benders. 

10. When you return, finish and sign each painting and give them to your framer to assemble. I’ve loved finishing a painting from the south of France while it’s snowing outside my studio. It brings back great memories. 

11. Plan your exhibition opening for maximum attendance. I schedule mine for the three-day Presidents’ Day weekend in February. This gives my art patrons a more relaxed time to travel. It’s also Valentine’s Day weekend so that can make it extra special. 

“The Persimmon Tree, Church at Quintole”
Italy, 2004, watercolor, 19 x 29 in.

12. Announce the exhibition opening online and send out invitations far in advance so that collectors and art patrons from considerable distances can make plans. At my openings we play music from the region and hang a flag out front representing the featured country. To encourage people to say a couple of nights (thus giving a boost to our town’s economy during a normally slow time of year), I work with other local business to make it a real event.

Paint along with watermedia artists Stephen Quiller, Russell Jewell, Richard Sneary, Barbara Tapp, Stewart White, Iain Stewart, Dan Mondloch, Jerry Smith, Richie Vios, Harsh Agrawal, Fen Rascoe, and Amit Kapoor at the Plein Air Convention & Expo in the Smoky Mountains, in May, 2024!


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