Painting in France -
Krystal Brown’s painting at one of the cousin’s homes in Keremma

Ellen Howard takes us behind the scenes on a recent painting trip to France with eleven artists. Enjoy a photo recap, and learn her advice for painting abroad.

by Ellen Howard (

I just returned from an incredible plein air painting group trip to Brittany, France. It was an experience of a lifetime. The artists I traveled with were Richard Lindenberg, Vered Pasternak, Cynthia Rosen, Paul & Tia Kratter, Peggy & Steve Immel, Lori McNee, Krystal Brown, Jan Norsetter and Nancy Takaichi.

We were blessed to stay in Pierre-Yann Guidetti’s house in a very private area in Keremma, where the entire community were all family relatives. The first house in Keremma was established in 1855, and that property and the subsequent adjoining properties have grown to over 200 homes. We were able to walk to the beach from the house, paint the incredible coastline, watch the tide go in and out, and see the local fisherman fish, visit the neighborhood church, and walk the gorgeous headlands. We had sunlight till 10:30 each night, so painting the sunsets was a wonderful experience for us. We shared each meal together, and along with our painting time, the atmosphere created wonderful camaraderie and friendships.

Painting in France -
Our group time together
Painting in France -
Peggy Immel’s Cottage Door Painting

We had a wonderful time painting around Keremma, but we also had many opportunities to visit other beautiful local towns. One day we went to Roscoff. It was one of the prettiest towns we visited, with lots of beautiful cafés right on the harbor to paint. We were also able to take a ferry over to a small island called Île-de-Batz. As soon as I disembarked from the ferry, I saw the scene I wanted to paint. I was attracted to the moody atmospheric light hitting the back trees and the beautiful warm pink glow just off the horizon line.

Plein Air in France -
Ellen Howard’s painting from Île-de-Batz

Another special painting experience was when we all were asked to paint a local lighthouse in Mogueriec and donate our painting to help raise funds to save the lighthouse. We were a bit surprised when the lighthouse was much smaller than expected, but we were greeted with such enthusiasm that we all rallied and had a great time! We were graced with beautiful golden light hitting the beach and the side of the lighthouse, and colorful reflections from the boats in the water.

The mayor of the town came out to meet us, and we were photographed and ended up having a story written about us in the local newspaper. At the end of the night, we were hosted by the local restaurant and given a gift. These events make me realize how interrelated we are and how just doing this small gesture made our time with them very memorable. The generosity and the town’s gratitude for our donations were overwhelming!

Lighthouse in France -


Lighthouse in France -
Tia Kratter’s Lighthouse painting

We also enjoyed painting at one of the local beaches and dining at Roc’h Ar Mor. We went in the late afternoon to paint. I was in my element standing in the sand and painting the light that glimmered off the water in the late afternoon. I loved seeing the children in the water and as their figures were silhouetted by the sun. Fellow painters were nearby, and Richard brought his tunes, so we were dancing and painting on the beach. We were treated with the best seafood dinner at night! I had a plate of the sweetest mussels, langoustines, and shrimp I’ve ever tasted. Such pure pleasure and delight.

Plein air in France -

Even though these events and times were wonderful, the best part of the trip was the coming together of the group. It was really a collaborative circle, something that I have been fascinated by and drawn to for a while. Each of us brought our own experiences as artists and people and gave to the collective whole to make something greater than ourselves. I know each of us learned a great deal about art and about our life journeys. I am very grateful for this experience, and I know it has made me a better artist and person.

My Advice for Painting Abroad

Some important tips I learned about traveling overseas to paint is to pack lightly. I really pared down and was able to get all my equipment into a small backpack. I purchased the Deuter Trail 28 SL at REI and was able to fit all my gear including:

• the Edge sketchbook easel (which I purchased for this trip and loved!)
• 2 side trays
• 10 brushes
• 8 small tubes of paint
• my tripod
• turpentine container
• collapsible trash container and
• a roll of paper towels

There was a side holder for my water bottle and a top zippered pouch to hold a sketch book, pencils, palette knife, and scraper tool. I was really thrilled to just throw it on my back and walk anywhere I wanted to paint. The one thing I was missing was a weight for my easel, and I did lose my easel once to a big gust of wind.

Wearing a hat and having a lightweight packable down jacket is a must too.

I feel another important component to painting overseas is your attitude. You need to be flexible and not have a preconceived idea of how your day or painting experience should go. Most likely you’ll be painting new scenes, so everything will change a bit. When traveling with a group, you need to be flexible with other people’s schedules and be willing to adapt and be open to learning new things — stay curious and have a positive attitude.

Plein air in France -
Richard Lindenberg’s dusk painting

“There was an unconscious collaboration between artists. Whether you agreed or disagreed was of no consequence . . . What does happen when artists meet is that we are able to see more clearly the unfolding of character as time goes on.” (William Baziotes)

Plein air in France -
Scenes from Brittany
View Ellen Howard’s work in an upcoming exhibition at the Peninsula Museum of Art in Burlingham, California, September 5 through October 20 (Opening reception September 15).

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