Watercolour moments: Painting holidays

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Will Tate Britain's new exhibition inspire you to pick up a paintbrush on your next holiday? Rhiannon Batten sketches out the creative options

We say

There are few things more restful than an artistic break. Whether you're learning to capture a landscape in watercolours, seeing a new destination from behind a lens or getting tangled up on a willow-weaving course, allowing yourself time to focus on a new skill is an enormously liberating way of disengaging from the anxieties of daily life. You might even discover a new talent. Creative holidays compel you to consider your surroundings, rather than just pass through, and will help you engage with your location. Just don't forget your paintbrush.

They say

"Before the advent of photography, watercolour was used primarily for recording eye-witness accounts. Artists used watercolour because it was so versatile and portable." - Tate Britain

"I'll paint what I see – what the flower is to me – but I'll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking the time to look at it. I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers." - Georgia O'Keefe

"Painting is just another way of keeping a diary." - Pablo Picasso

Painting for the petrified

Frui's aptly named five-day breaks do just what the company promises: they take nervous beginners and give them the confidence to return home firm friends with a paintbrush or pencil.

Based in Abruzzo, the so-called "garden of Italy", the holidays offer plenty of local inspiration, including the Majella National Park, Lake Bomba and the Adriatic coast. The ethos here is one of relaxed education. While participants spend time brushing up on a variety of painting, drawing and mixed-media techniques, there's also a chance to tuck into local delicacies, hit the shops or go for a swim.

Trips cost from £899 per person, including transfers, accommodation, tuition, guiding and meals. Flights are not included (020 7241 5006; www.frui.co.uk).

An urban photography safari

Gone are the days when photography holidays meant seeking out Athena poster images of palm-draped beaches or fluorescent cocktails backlit by a golden sunset. On Creative Escapes' five-day photography tours of Istanbul, you're not going to end up with hackneyed shots of the Blue Mosque or the Hagia Sophia. Instead, the company's ultra-contemporary trips focus on giving a thorough understanding of cameras and creative techniques by homing in on some of the city's coolest spots.

Trips cost from £875 per person, including tuition, materials, four nights' boutique hotel accommodation, breakfasts, lunches and transfers. Flights are not included (020 7111 1293; www.creative-escapes.co.uk).

Meet a maker

It can be easy to dismiss craft as lying in the realm of macramé plant pots or patchwork pin cushions. However, as jeweller Gilly Langton proves, high-end contemporary craft can be extraordinary. Known for her architectural, nautically-inspired pieces, Gilly runs weekend courses for would-be jewellery-makers of all levels in Plockton, on the north-west coast of Scotland.

Participants pay £98 for two days of tuition with materials and lunch included; for those who want to create something special, silver can be bought on demand (01599 544755; www.gillylangton.co.uk). For accommodation, try the family-run Plockton Inn, with a renowned seafood restaurant (01599 544222; www.plocktoninn.co.uk). Doubles start at £78, including breakfast.

Cottages for creatives

As the artists' colonies of St Ives and Newlyn prove, the quality of light has been drawing creative people to Cornwall for generations. If you're hoping inspiration might strike while you're there, make sure you stay at Hale Cottages, a series of three self-catering properties at St Kew on the north Cornwall coast. Their owner, Jon Whitten, is an artist and potter, and between November and April guests can take advantage of complimentary life drawing, still-life painting or pottery lessons in Jon's purpose-built barn studio. Rates for Pottery Cottage, which sleeps four, start at £271 for three nights (01326 555 555; www.classic.co.uk).

Trigger-happy France

With Allen Ginsberg and The Beatles among his subjects, Andrew Whittuck knows his stuff when it comes to portrait photography. Equally experienced at shooting landscapes, he now runs small-group photography courses from his house in the Corbières mountains of Languedoc-Rousillon. With days spent learning technique at all manner of Languedoc locations from Carcassonne to canals, the evenings involve sitting down to relaxed home-cooked meals and wines from local vineyards. Four-day trips cost from £525 per person, including accommodation, tuition and most meals; flights are not included (00 33 468 272 112; www.photoholidaysfrance.co.uk).

Food and fine art

Starting in March, GoLearnTo's new "Food of Art" food illustration courses are based in a stylish guesthouse in Andalucia. Aimed at artistic gourmets, the courses make the most of the guesthouse's peaceful farmland setting, and include trips to local markets. Students learn how to cut and display food to maximise the creative potential of their form and how to plan a design strategy for either watercolour or photography. Colour, composition and technique are all covered.

The price of £658 per person for five nights includes all accommodation, meals, wine, daily tuition and materials but not flights (0844 502 0445; golearnto.com).

What Google will tell you

"All our tutors are professional painters, working in a range of media. This year we welcome several new artists to our team [including] David Paskett – president of the Royal Watercolour Society. For David the act of looking and seeing is more important than the accumulation of painters' tricks. David believes it is never too late to start painting and drawing and encourages people to have a go: 'When you create, you have to risk being bad.'" www.authenticadventures.co.uk

What Google won't tell you... until now

"Painting holidays are not only about painting, but about being transported into a world of different people, new adventures and alternative ways of looking at what is in front of you, be that a landscape or a coffee pot. It is about being in a wonderful bubble of seeing life through other people's eyes and about being stretched creatively," says painter Hazel Campbell.

Hazel runs painting holidays in south-west Scotland ( www.hazelcampbell.com) and also participates in May's Spring Fling ( www.spring-fling.co.uk) open studio event in Scotland.

Watercolours opens at Tate Britain today ( www.tate.org.uk).

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