Meet Jo, our art & painting holiday host in South West France

Artist Jo is living her dream. After finding her own personal “heaven”, Jo decided to share her love of art with budding and experienced creatives at her studio and B&B in South West France.

Find out how a donkey in a swimming pool (we’re not joking) helped her dreams become a reality…

How long have you been painting and working in art?

Jo helping her painting guest paint a lake in France

Jo (right) helps a painting guest

I have been creating art all my life and it is an integral part of who I am. I have been an instructor for about 25 years.

As for the residential art courses, this is a relatively new enterprise. I have run art workshops for about 5 years now and this last summer was my first season of fully residential art courses. Thanks to the great team at GoLearnTo, I have had some amazing clients who have embraced the lifestyle here and really thrown themselves 100% into their creative artwork. To be able to teach art in my own home/studio is a dream come true.

So what brought you to where you are now?

In short, the lifestyle, culture and weather.

I have always felt a resonance with France and wanted to give our children a second language as well as a more rural and less materialistic upbringing. My husband had strong ties with Bordeaux through being with the Royal Marines, so we started looking in the Aquitaine region. We fell in love with a ‘maison de campagne’ in the Lot et Garonne which we renovated, then went on to start our B&B which was a coup de Coeur for both of us, where we have been since 2014.

Tell us about your qualifications and work experience in art.

I studied Art and Design as a degree at Leicester. I went on to study the restoration of works of art as a postgraduate degree, then I was fortunate enough to train with the society of archivists to attain a certificate in archival conservation, I became an associate member of the Institute of Conservation and gained an instructors certificate in paper repair and conservation.

After my studies, I worked as principal conservator for the Hampshire County Museums Service for 16 years and established my own restoration business, Winton Fine Art, in 1990.

I have instructed undergraduate students over the last 20 years and have acquired both teaching and people skills over the years. Since coming to France in 2008, I have run art workshops for both schools and adults in Aquitaine (in both French and English).

My husband and I also ran a B&B in Hampshire before moving to France, so I have many years of experience in the public domain.

Jo with art holiday guest painting under a tree in a field

Painting guest (left) and Jo (right)

How did you find your property for the art holidays?

Like the best things in life, it sort of dropped into our laps at the perfect moment.

My husband and I had just taken our house in Lot et Garonne off the market, having decided we loved it too much to let go of it. The day after we did, a couple came to view it and made us an offer we could not refuse so we took a leap into the unknown and without a plan B, sold our lovely house.

The following day we saw the B&B on a website. It was in the next county over and perfectly positioned nearer to Bordeaux and in the midst of the Bordeaux vines, so we arranged a viewing and made an offer immediately – only two days after selling our old house.

We had fallen in love with the property from a single photo on the internet, showing the top terrace and the view over the valley. However when my husband and I stepped through the door we both knew it had to be our house – it spoke to us, so when we did eventually step onto the terrace and saw the view for real it was mind-blowing.

The rest is history. For me, it really is a “petit coin de Paradise” (small piece of heaven)!

Was it easy to integrate with the locals?

Our animals helped us to integrate, in a somewhat unconventional way.

Art tutor Jo in the field with her two horses

Jo and her horses

The first night we moved into the house, we moved with our dogs, cats, horses, and two adorable donkeys. By midnight we had unpacked enough boxes to find duvets, pillows, wine and cognac to accommodate our lovely friends who had helped with the move. At that time there were no fences on the grounds, the pool was open with a cover that had gone somewhat green. My husband went to bed and I sat with a couple of friends for a last drink on the terrace, the garden was pitch black, then we heard an almighty splash, which could only have been a very large animal falling into the pool.

In the pitch darkness, I ran down the stone steps to see Bella (my female donkey) had fallen right through the pool cover into nearly two metres of freezing cold water (the pool has no shallow end), so without a second thought I dove in so I could hold her head above the water. Meanwhile, my husband got up, saw what was going on and phoned the local fire brigade who arrived within thirty minutes.

After an unsuccessful attempt to haul Bella out they decided to drain the pool first and phoned for a pump from the neighbouring brigade. We then got the Mayor out of bed and met him at his office where he plied us with copious amounts of vinegar to rub on Bella to keep her circulation going, then he phoned the local farmer who came up with his tractor with front forks to get Bella out of the pool.

Eventually, nearing 4am, Bella was hauled out of the pool manually by the sheer will and strength of seven young firemen and the mayor. We finished off with coffee and cognac all round.

Since that moment everyone in the village has known me as the ‘Donkey Lady’ and accepted me as that eccentric English artist :-)

Finally, what makes your holiday a unique experience?

The location and tranquillity is the first impression people get when they arrive, it really is quite uniquely magic.

The way nature is at ease around us also makes this a unique holiday. Now we have decent fences so the horses graze in their field, and love the attention of anyone with an apple or carrot …or anyone who wants to photograph them (my horse, Appaloosa, in particular, is very vain). Oliver, my pig, has his own place in the big barn and is a total character, and loves his back being scratched. My 30 white doves add an extra beauty to the garden as they soar around the valley, and they come to me when I call them. The dogs are very loving and not at all intrusive, but loyal and great with people.

Above all though, it is the people who make the holiday unique; I have a great team around me. I make sure all my guests are treated as the unique individuals that we all essentially are. I make sure your holiday not just something to remember but a foundation from which you can go forward and develop your love of art (and animals).

If blissful French countryside is just the inspiration you need for your art, as well as a glass or two of regional wine, join Jo on one of her creative holidays.

You can find out more about her painting holiday or art and wine holiday here.