Can anything be nicer than setting up an easel under brilliant blue skies and breathing in the fresh air of the Gers? Do I need more tuition? For a week I will be painting en plein air, out-doors at the lovely Maison du Guit which means the Duck House.

A days long drive, bowling along the empty French motorways from Le Havre and we (my co-pilot and I) are the first to arrive. Claire and Martin, our amiable hosts, and their three boisterous dogs meet and greet us. Drinks, non alcoholic for me, natch, on the patio are served along with meeting the rest on the course. I don’t normally do well in social situations, hence my previous total reliance on alcohol to prop me up and give me Dutch courage. But what a lovely lot they are, as we settle into a delicious four course meal, we converse and I feel completely relaxed amongst my fellow artists.

My co-pilot, not an artist, has elected to go fishing in the foothills of the Pyrenees an hours drive away leaving me free to focus on my art. We are painting a seated figure on our first day. Our tutor, Antony Williams, encourages us to paint fast and loose and work only in one tone. I have chosen Burnt Umber. After a couple of hours of furious painting I am disappointed with my results. We all do the same thing for the next two days changing the angle of our view, reaching for another virgin canvas in an effort to do better.

By midweek we are dispatched to the grounds of a beautiful chateau to paint landscapes. There is a strange air, aura around us that day and several of us report of headaches and a sense of feeling out of touch with reality. No surprise that the following day we witness a partial eclipse of the moon. Still, my painting doesn’t improve.

The last two days and we all decamp to the long grass and are all focussed on our new muse, Hilda. In between swatting away horse flies, and working in vibrant colours, a strong picture slowly emerges. I leave my painting to dry as I pack for our return trip to England.

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