Last week, we met up with Jo (electronically, of course), who runs some of our painting and art holidays in France.
She is a celebrated artist who is based in an intimate farmhouse in South West France that she renovated with her family over five years ago.
She’s incredibly friendly and always happy to share her wisdom – so we picked her brains a little to discover more about her story, and how she’s coping with lockdown.
So Jo, how did you get into running art experiences?
I think I have made marks on paper (walls, floors, furniture, you name it) from the first day I could hold an implement that made marks. So it was no surprise to my parents or anyone who knew me that I would take a degree in Art and Art History, then go on to study restoration of Works of Art and bookbinding.
I have been fortunate enough to carve a career from the thing I love doing most in the world (although being a vet comes a pretty close second).
I was bought up in the foothills of the Lake District with three brothers, crazy parents and a house full of dogs, a kitchen often invaded by our Muscovy Ducks and Turkeys and a garden full of apple trees, lupins and rose bushes.
What brought you to France?
After more than 25 years as a picture restorer in the South of England, my husband and I decided to make the move to South West France along with our two children, and in 2010 we bought a beautiful Maison de Campagne in Lot et Garonne which we renovated.
Amidst the vines of South West France, I was able to refine my skills as a watercolour painter, exhibiting regularly throughout the region and winning several prizes for my quirky pen and ink sketches.
In 2014, I moved to the Bordeaux wine region of La Gironde and created my intimate and unique Centre des Arts – ‘Le Peyrail’.
What’s special about your work?
From the moment I stepped through the door at Le Peyrail, we knew it was a very special place, and I knew I had to share this place with other special like-minded people.
The first year here was spent setting up the studios, redecorating the house and fencing the animals into our garden.
As a small set up I can offer courses which are tailored to each individual and welcome my guests as part of the family – which often includes spending time with my eclectic circle of friends, of all nationalities.
We visit the local town and eat at our favourite restaurant and on Saturdays, a walk around the celebrated Sainte Foy La Grande farmers market is colourful and inspirational. We usually end up having drinks with our friends at the Bar du Sport.
The local area is rich in history and natural beauty, not to mention the Bordeaux vines and great wine tasting opportunities. Closer to home we can take kayaks up the river which is teaming with interesting wildlife and is a great way to recharge and cool down.
What are you doing with yourself at the moment?
This lockdown period has meant that I can develop my two new exciting courses, Paper Making and Astro Art. I am also developing a unique new board game called Eclipsed, it is fun and informative and the perfect addition to the Astro Art course.
I am also working on a project for schools, once they reopen, about recycling and the dangers of plastic in the sea. We are creating a coral reef and ocean scene from plastic bottles. There will be a touring exhibition at the end of this in which children from all over the county can participate.
Finally, the lockdown period has given me the time to really look at the beauty of the surrounding countryside and enjoy the company of my animals and the lovely people living with me.
Do you have any top tips for coping with isolation?
Everyone has their own way of coping in this strange time. I am truly thankful for the internet which has allowed us all to be in contact with the people that matter.
But if I was to offer any advice about keeping busy, I would suggest trying out something creative. YouTube is a great source of help and guidance for any project you might dream up. There are a lot of great people out there who are willing to take the time and share their expertise.
There is so much you can do with the things around you and now the weather is improving, getting into nature, or even your back yard is so good! I miss not being able to meet up with my friends in the local bar/restaurant, and I’m looking forward to picking up where we left off when this is all over!