In my last post I spoke about how plein air (outdoor) painting influenced me as both an artist and slow traveler. But what are the practicalities for those just getting started? There are a few things to consider if you hope to get the most out of a painting trip. When international travel is involved a bit of planning is necessary. Here are a few tips that you may find helpful:

First, scale back your expectations. I’ve seen many painters frustrate themselves because they’re too intent on making something great. My advice is to take a humble approach – in scale (size), in subject matter, and in your expectations.

Work small; something you can reasonably complete in a couple of hours. Many painters tend to work too large and include way too much information, selecting overly complex subjects. Instead of painting the entire Grand Canal, how about focussing in on a small corner, or perhaps some architectural detail – a vignette instead of a masterpiece. A painting doesn’t need to be large or complicated to be good.

And if your painting doesn’t turn out as you’d hoped, so what? Not every diary entry needs to win a Pulitzer, and not every plein air painting is headed to the Metropolitan Museum. Learn to live with your limitations! You’ll be much happier, and maybe produce better work without the self-imposed pressure. I love when I make a good painting, but when I don’t it’s still an honest record of what I saw and experienced and there’s value in that alone.

Everything I need fits into a small daypack. I stuff the milk jug with socks and underwear – takes up no room in the suitcase

Be sure to use your supplies outdoors at home several times before you consider traveling or attending a painting workshop, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience. I’ve been  leading plein air groups for well over thirty years, in Italy since 1994. I can say with certainty that the least experienced artists usually bring the most stuff. They usually end up dragging around a lot of supplies they don’t need and never use.

Here’s the entire kit. You can see my folding travel palette and the small box that holds all my supplies

Go through your painting kit ruthlessly. There are many colors that I would call “convenience colors” – colors that can be readily mixed from others. Bring only the essentials, and use smaller tubes than you might otherwise use in the studio. Same with brushes. I bring only three brushes with me when I travel.

Forget heavy wood French easels. There are much better alternatives these days. Judson’s has a good supply of proven options for travel easels and palettes.

Barb drawing in front of the Spoleto Duomo

I use a collapsible ultra-lightweight camera tripod with a crosspiece I adapted from an old Stanright painting easel. It weighs nothing and is perfect for holding a small watercolor block securely. I use a cut down gallon milk jug as my water container and tie it to the tripod with a small cord which nicely weights the easel.

My wife, Barbara, who’s an excellent artist, keeps it even simpler. She brings a folding campstool and holds her block in her lap. You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to do good work. You can see a few of her beautiful drawings below:

There are many helpful tricks I’ve learned over the years that make plein air painting more convenient. My point is – you’ll need to discover what works best for you and that comes through experience. I hope you’ll be tempted to give it a try.

Matthew Daub is a professional artist and university professor with works in major public and private collections throughout the United States and Europe. He has been leading plein air painting workshops in Italy since 1994. In 1999, Matthew and his wife Barbara formed Arts Sojourn as “a vacation for artists and their friends.” The program is designed to appeal to artists of all levels as well as non-artists who enjoy the company of creative people in a slow travel format.

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.

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Lascaux II v. Lascaux 4!

What an interesting scenario this is! We’ve always been awe-struck by Lascaux II as have our visitors. Created over 40 years ago, it is just amazing how accurate it is without the use of modern computer surveying technology. Plus, the paintings were produced the same way our ancestors did – both in terms of materials and techniques.

Fast forward to 2016 (just – Lascaux 4 opened on the 15th December last year, so it just scraped in after 30 months of construction and various delays due to supply problems, financial problems, weather problems – the usual thing for a major project and, of course, there were teething problems. The more technology involved, the higher the certainty of that occurring – and there is lots of technology at Lascaux 4.

Lascaux 4

A glass lift takes you to roof level to start your visit to Lascaux 4

What is it like to visit Lascaux 4? The experience starts with a ride up in a glass sided lift troof level where one of the Lascaux guides sets the scene with an introductory talk. You then make your way down into the facsimile cave area – initially pausing to allow your eyes to adjust to the reduced light levels. Then it’s into the ‘cave’ itself.

At Lascaux II shows 90% of the paintings in a reduced area – the Hall of the Bulls and the Axial Diverticule. However, it was not possible with the technology available then to reproduce any of the 1500 engravings. At Lascaux 4, it’s a different story, a massive 98% of all the art has been reproduced in a way that closely echoes the original layout – and thanks to laser scanning techniques, for the first time, the multi-layered engravings can be seen. The first part of your visit is being guided through this labyrinth, finally to emerge and in an exhibition area – The Workshop – which comprises numerous suspended panels all decorated to the same amazingly high standard by extremely talented modern day artists. Every bit of art whether in the facsimile caves or the exhibition area, is as faithfully reproduced as in Lascaux II. It is an amazing achievement and well worth a visit just to marvel at the modern day artists’ work – but then do a reality check and think “but they are only ‘imitating’ what was done 19,000 years ago. It is our ancestors we should marvel at – how advanced they were! When Picasso visited in 1952 he commented “we can teach them nothing”. Cubism, twisted perspective, three dimensional representation, animation – it’s all there

You get really close up to the art in the Workshop – and you can take photos!

For this year and we are told, next year, it is still possible to visit Lascaux II. So what is that like now? Amazing, is the answer! The future of this gem is uncertain – it is believed it is to become an educational resource – lucky students! Meanwhile, it is still open to the public during 2017 and 2018 – after that, who knows?

Lascaux 2, Lascaux 4,. Lascaux

One of the marvels seen both and Lascaux 2 and Lascaux 4 – and in The Workshop

The two sites have really become rivals – Lascaux II has to earn its keep, so they had to come up with something to attract visitors. And they have produced the goods! A visit now is not only longer and groups smaller – so much better to absorb what is in front of your eyes – but the guide extinguishes the electric lights and lights a flame lamp which flickers. This is as close as we are ever going to get to appreciating and experiencing just how it was for our ancestors – and even that doesn’t really get close. We know the electric lights will go back on and there is a back up emergency plan if anything goes wrong – our ancestors didn’t. They might have been deep in the cave when their lamps went out – or something came out of the shadows (be assured this is not a modern day hazard!). Visiting Lascaux II, we can get an idea of how it was – but try to imagine, how it really was……. you have to be there to experience it!

Lascaux II

Steve with a group in June at Lascaux II

So what have our guests this year thought? Without exception, everyone has said that it is well worth visiting both sites – each has their own strengths and weaknesses which partly depend on individual preferences, a major one being one’s attitude and feeling about technology biased visits. Visitors are ‘guided’ around the The Workshop area using the site’s digital tablets which everyone is issued with at the beginning of their tour. These are triggered by sensors on approach to an exhibit. It doesn’t work for everyone! But, this is where you really score if you join us on a Caves & Castles Tour – the exhibition area is the perfect place for Steve to fill you in on background information which it is not possible to include on the official tour and, of course, answer all those burning questions you are bound to have. Even some of the newer official guides ‘pick’ Steve’s brain by asking him questions!

Lascaux 4 The Workshop

The Workshop at Lascaux 4 is a great place for Steve to explain more and answer your questions.

Lascaux II, Lascaux 4 and the other sites we visit such as Font de Gaume and Grotte de Rouffignac (the cave of the Hundred Mammoths) obviously leave a lasting impression on our visitors. It is gratifying to received messages such as this:

“We continue to have long conversations, both with our fellow travelers and with
our friends, about our wonderful week with you. And we continue to feel the
impact of the caves and their art – ‘deep exploration’ indeed.”

In our opinion, it will be a sad day when Lascaux II is no long available – but this year and next you can get the best of both worlds, so come and join us and experience it for yourself, it may be your last chance! – and we’d love to know your views.

Steve and Judie Burman live in the beautiful Vezere Valley in the Dordogne region of South-West France. Together they run Caves and Castles, specialising in prehistoric Cave Art and medieval Castles Tours. You can join a small group (up to 6) 4 night/5 day Tour based 2 nights each in the medieval towns of Sarlat and Montignac-sur-Vezere or book a custom Tour for a day or more.

Professional archaeologist, Steve loves to share his passion for the ‘Cradle of Humanity.’ World famous sites such as Lascaux, the ‘Sistine Chapel of Prehistory’ and Font de Gaume are close by. Coupled with gastronomic meals and superb wines, your Caves & Castles Tour is really special.

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.



Posted in Dordogne, European Travel, France, Holidays in Europe, Photography, Southwest France, Steve and Judie Burman, Uncategorized | Leave a comment


‘Relax!’ is a command to me as a tour organiser and to you as a traveller. There’s no way you can see everything, so we may as well leave time to rest, absorb and enjoy. My favourite way to wind down is to go to a village festival, called a sagra. It’s impossible not to relax, while at the same time soaking in the local culture.

The village of Cascio is top of my list for an experience without deadlines. I’ve already written about its wood-fired oven sagra in spring ( At the end of July and early August the village puts on its equally relaxing Sagra delle Crisciolette. See below for a note about the criscioletta. Right now, we’re going to the sagra.

No stress about arriving in time. Any time from 7 pm onwards is fine. There’s lots of parking and heaps of food.

First buy your ticket

Queuing to buy your ticket could be boring…

Kids dance at Cascio

…but the youngsters of Cascio are on hand to entertain you while you wait.

Dinner is a tour of the picturesque mediaeval village.

Aperol spritzer

First stop the aperitivo bar to get your spritzer and a tempting taste of the criscioletta

Relax on the terrace…

View of Barga from Cascio

…and admire the view over the Serchio Valley

When you’re ready, we move on for the next course. You might want to stop as you pass the virtuosi crisciolette makers, either to admire their skill or to get one for your primo (first course).

Crisciolette on stage!

Settle down at a table and one of the volunteers from the village will whisk your order off to the kitchen and return with your meal.

Food is on the way. What’s on the menu for dogs?

There’s lots for the kids to do while you enjoy your meal.

The bouncy castle is always a hit.

Painted like a cat

The face-painter transforms you into a cat.

At the top of the village against the round tower, that other Garfagnana delicacy the neccio is being peeled off the cotte.

The sweet chestnut-flour pancake is the perfect wrap for ricotta.

Sit awhile and enjoy your neccio under the plane trees at the round tour.

Relax. Don’t rush away.

There are three bands distributed in the village with music for every age and taste. One for those who enjoy ballroom dancing…

…another to accompany the after-dinner digestivo.

Stay until all your tension has evaporated and you’re ready for a good night’s sleep. Whatever you do, don’t worry about tomorrow. When you’re with me, I’ve already planned it for you. Just relax.


*The criscioletta is a sort of tortilla, made with wheat flour, cornmeal, salt and water. It’s one of a range of flat breads from the Garfagnana (Lucca, Tuscany) that are cooked between cotte, also called testi, two flat discs of iron attached to long handles. They streamline the production of flat bread. No need to press your dough between your hands or in a tortilla press to get a thin round circle. Just mix up your batter, heat your well-greased cotte on a gas burner or BBQ, plop a ladleful on the bottom disk, cover with the top one and press in the middle with a stout wooden stick (or empty wine bottle).

A short sturdy pole is essential equipment for a criscioletta maker.

Garnishes are three strips of pancetta slipped between the cotte after squashing the batter,

Criscioletta with pancetta

or wrapping soft cow’s milk cheese in the criscioletta as soon as it’s cooked.

Criscioletta with cheese

Erica Jarman invites you on inspiring culinary tours of life behind the scenes that you won’t find in any guidebook — get to know the food artisans and craftspeople of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Piedmont and Liguria. Come join me and my Italian friends and dip into a lifestyle where lunch is more important than business. Find out more at Sapori e Saperi Adventures and follow Erica’s own adventures on her blog.

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.


Posted in Erica Jarman, Events, Food, Italy, Lucca, Slow Travel Benefits, Tuscany | 2 Comments