A Picturesque Watercolor Retreat in the South of France - Here's the Recap!
I've always dreamt of going away to a panoramic landscape in an exotic setting to surround myself with nature, art, and people who love and want the same. An adventure that allowed me to check out from the stresses and chaos in my every day life. Designated time that empowered me to do nothing but create, reflect, connect, and grow.
When I used to think about my ultimate getaway, it consisted of a hefty checklist:
✔️ an exclusive luxury property
✔️ with panoramic views
✔️ with an abundance of nature
✔️ a private chef with all meals provided
✔️ with all dietary needs observed
✔️ an intimate group of likeminded folk
✔️ field trips to old cities and lush gardens
✔️ professional photography sessions for each guest
✔️ time for connection, reflection, and what I know is the start of lifelong friendships
✔️ and, of course, plenty of time to paint
That list is a big ask, but when I couldn’t discover exactly what I wanted with the right vibe and feel that I was seeking, I decided to make this dream retreat come to life myself.
I’m sitting on a plane as I write this, reflecting on what has truly been a memorable week that served each of us in a way grander than the highest expectations and our closing dinner brought out all the feels and tears and laughter, and it solidified the deep connection we feel within our creative community.
Beyond knowing one or two people, everyone at the retreat was brand new to each other. The minute everyone arrived, it was like we’ve all known each other for years. The passion we speak through the art we love to explore and create immediately took over and the rest followed organically (a word I fear I’ll overuse as I tell you about our adventure, but every part about our magical week was so very organic)!
The Private Estate
The easiest place to start is by sharing about the gorgeous Domaine d’En Naudet that we stayed at. Approaching this property, it feels as though you’re staring at a moving cover of the most elegant travel or lifestyle magazine, but there aren’t pages to flip through or corners left unexplored, because it was our creative playground.
Domaine d’En Naudet
There wasn’t a single detail left without thorough consideration. The owners of the property are a lovely French couple called Sophie & Nicolas who made it clear that their team was there to make us feel pampered, and should we want or need anything, they’d make it happen. The kindness they showed us made us feel enveloped in warmth and by the end of the week, we told them that we were all moving in. Seriously though, I can’t even with the screaming vibrancy of each day’s sunrise and sunset. They’re simply magnifique!
Glorious sunrise at Domaine d’En Naudet featuring Gloria & Teresa B!
Our daily workshops varied in topics, prompts, and even styles. I planned the exercises to intentionally challenge different areas of attendees’ creativity, including
- breaking away from the usual go-to ideas
- experimenting with the second, third, and fourth ideas instead of focusing on the first
- trying a variety of styles for the same topics, including
- loose paint strokes and detailed strokes
- using different types of highlights, depth, and shadows
- adding line work & using minimal detail call-outs
- color palettes, using different wet-on-wet stages
Top left: Jessica Mack, Bottom left: Workshop at Domaine d’En Naudet, Right: Peggy Dean
Everyone was guided through sessions with expressive florals on a mini scale and a grand scale, including
- selecting intentional colors for painting floral compositions
- compositions that express more movement
- bite-sized style variations in floral taxonomies
- abstract nature in watercolor
- timed challenges and prompts
- loose florals that maintain definition
- and more
Artwork top to bottom, left to right: Jessica Mack, Lori Christensen, Peggy Dean, Peggy Dean, Lindsey Roncaioli, Peggy Dean
Each day after breakfast (filled with all the croissants and breads your heart could desire), we’d gather in one of the property’s outdoor spaces to soak in the sun, breathe the fresh air, and listen to what Jessica Mack calls “the perfect Disney songbirds” (she joked that back and home, the birds are all squawkers). I agree, too, their songs were delicate and brought a sense of peacefulness as we explored our creative vulnerability.
There’s something very special about sitting amongst others who are learning, practicing, exploring, discovering, mastering, and playing in their art practice. We never realize how impactful it can be to work alongside fellow creatives who try new things, show off the tricks they have up their sleeves, who mess up too, who make the most unexpected comments that make everyone cry laughing (looking at you, Gloria & Laura), even if we do expect to benefit from immersing ourselves into a collective creative environment, we never truly know what to expect until we’re in it. Our souls are in our own hands and we are our own guides. We’re forced to listen to our inner voice from our head and our heart. We’re challenged and rewarded, and best of all, empowered from within.
Left: Workshop overlooking the countryside, Right: Lori, Krista, Kami, and Teresa observing each others' work
“I was excited about Peggy's Expressive Watercolor Retreat but I couldn't have imagined how truly amazing it would actually turn out to be. Life-long friendships were made, we painted overlooking the rolling hills in the south of France, ate delicious food prepared just for us, and went on fun outings to nearby attractions. What I'll remember most was the laughter, the connections made, and the quiet moments of reflection watching the sun rise over the valley each day.” - Jess M.
The Field Trips
In addition to our time at our beautiful private estate, we also went on some fun adventures. Our first stop was the beautiful Jardins Des Martels, one of the highest-ranked French botanical gardens of all types, including an exotic and aquatic glasshouse, a panoramic viewpoint, a banana plantation, and a mini-farm, with the whole area sheltering more than 2,500 different varieties of plants!
The second trip we took during our retreat was to the medieval town called Albi on the Tarn River, northeast of Toulouse. A fascinating city with a rich medieval and Renaissance past, Albi “la rouge” takes its nickname from its red brick houses and monuments which give it a special charm and a warm atmosphere. This was one of our only rainy days, yet something about traveling in the rain can add even more adventure to our memories upon reflection.
Fun fact: Albi founded on the trade in pastel dye. Original pastel ink is actually made from the pastel plant called woad, or Isatis tinctoria, which produces beautiful shades of blue. The color contains the same chemical elements as indigo but in smaller concentrations. It was extremely valuable as one of the three primary dyes in Europe in the Middle Ages. We saw the top of the building that the pastel plants would be processed in before moving to the larger nearby city of Toulouse. We all snagged some of the dried seeds from the plant, of course. I’ll be adding my collection to a jar in my curio cabinet and I can’t help but wonder if anyone from our group plans on processing theirs… 🤔
And if you’re curious…
Cultivating the plants and making the dye was a labor-intensive cycle that took a whole year. Plants were seeded, harvested, washed, and dried. The leaves were pounded into a pulp, which was dried for 6 months. During that time, fermentation occurred and the pulp was formed into balls, which were then dried. After the balls were dried, they were crushed and wetted to go through a second fermentation, which produced a grainy black paste called agranat. Finally, blue dye was obtained after a green fluid was extracted from the agranat and oxidized. CAN YOU EVEN? I don’t even have the patience to spend more than 3 hours on a painting! 🤣
We also visited the Toulouse Lautrec Museum, dedicated mainly to the work of the painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec who was born in Albi. My favorite piece by far is Study for Woman Putting on her Stocking, sketched with oil on cardboard in 1894.
For lunch, 17 of us piled into the patio outside at a restaurant called Les Jardins de L’Archevéché, half of us under a dripping canopy and the other half under a spread of large umbrella. It was the only day that it rained for us, but we didn't have a single complaint. It actually gave me an excuse to order not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 hot chocolates during that lunch.
Next up was Château Lastours for a guided tour of the wine cellar. My team and I sat this one out for a meeting, but from what I hear, it was a good time. I will say that it was just lovely having a meeting IRL with Elina (many of you have probably spoken with her before—she’s the unicorn who makes sure that The Pigeon Letters runs smoooooothly). It was everything and more to finally get to spend time with this amazing human.
And then there were all the random shenanigans to be had by 17 almost-strangers who share a deep love for the same things. This community… we are our people, ya know?
Which leads me to feeling obligated to share some hilarious moments that may or may not translate through a blog post..
This first one didn’t start as a joke but it did quickly turn into one. Our group quickly realized that Krista is THE estate sale genius shopper (I would do just about anything to spend a week with her shopping alllll the estate sales). She brought the most gorgeous, unique tools, but the one that stole the show (as in the WHOLE WEEK) was her perfect condition size 40 (SIZE FORTY YOU GUYS!!!) round brush. During the retreat, she named it Gene to honor the artist it belonged to before. Let’s just say it showed up in a lot of photos and videos…
Top left: This brush (Gene) looks photoshopped in 😂, Bottom left: Kami posing with Gene for her.. profile, Right: Krista demonstrating proper form.
Next up might be my favorite. Amongst the picturesque storybook rolling hills and stunning architecture, you could find Gloria on the pole. 🤣 Ok this was an isolated event but my goshhhh, this woman! I had the honor of meeting and getting to know the QUEEN that is Gloria and she’s one of the quickest when it comes to wit and perfection on her timing. And here she is in all of her glory demonstrating a tasteful pole dance on the umbrella pole. The quote of the day was “Gloria, get back on the pole!”
Let me just say this: The balance of calming beauty that surrounded us mixed with the fun, hilarious energy was perfection.
Left: Workshop in the canopy of trees, Right: Gloria sharing her hidden talent
To say the least, I can't recommend investing in this type of experience for yourself. It's truly a once in a lifetime, unforgettable adventure. As I finish this post three weeks post our time together, seeing this group continue to interact through each and every day is a testament to the very unexpected, lifelong friendships that evolved, and my heart is so full.
If this is something you'd like to attend with me, I will certainly let you all know* if/when we host another art retreat in the future (*via our email list)!
“Peggy's watercolor retreat in France was magical! It was a week full of experiences, connections, beauty, and fun. Over-the-top lodging and food. Art workshops that taught me new techniques and ways of looking at the world. I felt encouraged and supported by all the other artists, even though I'm a watercolor beginner. The best part was making new connections and new friends in a supportive and creative environment. This was truly a life changing experience for me that I will cherish forever (and I'm eager to see where the next one takes us.)” - Patty L.
“I chose to go to Peggy's painting retreat because I've loved every class with her that I've taken, and who doesn't want to be in France? I expected it to be a fun relaxing week, but little did I know how profound this week would be. Not only did I learn to trust myself as a painter in more ways than I ever imagined with Peggy's help, I also met an insanely talented and thoughtful group of women who are forever in my life now. This retreat was one of the best things I've ever done in my life, and if another was offered, I would jump at the chance to go again.” - Christina D.
“I loved everything about our retreat. It was so well organized. The workshops were fun and creatively challenging. The venue itself was beautiful and located in the picturesque southern countryside. The venue owners/hosts went out of their way to cater to our every need, including several dietary restrictions from our group. And the gourmet meals were outstanding. The owners even accompanied us on our day trips to translate and keep everything seamless for us. I would highly recommend this experience and can't wait to do something similar again.” - Valerie R.
This retreat was by far the craziest thing I have ever done for myself, but also clearly the best! Traveling to another country alone is already nerve-racking enough without also feeling like a watercolor newb (which I did). However, the entire group was supper supportive and open to share their feedback and supplies. Peggy was amazing at explaining each activity as we started painting, and the hosts at the Domaine d’en Naudet were amazing! Having someone else provide the hospitality helps you relax and enjoy the reason you’re there (the watercoloring) even more! This experience is something that I will truly treasure all my life, and that I would go again in a heartbeat.