If ever there were a place to become inspired, it is in France. Artists, poets, and writers have all flocked to Paris for centuries in search of inspiration. And while Paris certainly conjures up a multitude of inspiration inducing thoughts, there is a small city in the Loire Valley along the banks of the Vienne River where Kings held court and where Joan of Arc convinced the future King Charles VII to send her to the siege of Orléans. It is also where a group of six women from around the world gathered this April to learn and gather seeds of inspiration, now planted and growing in ways we could not have imagined before.
Longtime favorites, the exceptionally talented writer, Jamie Schler and the brilliant photographer, Ilva Beretta, both of Plated Stories led their first workshop of the year in Chinon at the charming Hotel Diderot, which Jamie now co-owns with her husband, Jean-Pierre.
Back in January when Jamie first posted about holding the workshop in Chinon, I googled the city and the hotel and immediately said out loud, “I am going to this!”. The winter dragged on endlessly, I got sick with strep throat, work was very busy, my blog was neglected and there was no inspiration in sight. But I just knew, once I was in France, all that would change.
The hotel itself provided a picture perfect backdrop for this insightful and inspiration filled weekend. Housed in an enchanting historical 15th-century limestone mansion, the hotel maintains many of its original features such as stone walls and exposed beams but it also has recently upgraded guestrooms.
There was a lovely garden with beautiful blooming purple wisteria, spurge euphorbia, clematis Montana and other flowers surrounding the cozy terrace- a spot where I spent quite a bit of time just relaxing and breathing in the lightly scented floral air.
Throughout its history, the hotel has become famous for its spectacular breakfasts; offering a large selection of homemade jams served with delicious French bread, brioche and croissants. Now, Jamie is taking over the time honored tradition of jam-making and the flavor combinations are incredible! My personal favorites were the tropical, bright and lively Passion Fruit Tutti Fruitti, the not too sweet Bananas with Vanilla and Ginger and the tart-sweet Strawberry Rhubarb. There was also a velvety Blueberry jam and a Summery Peach jam that when spread on brioche, would make your head dizzy with delight! There were too many jams to choose from, but half the fun was trying a bit of each one every day during my stay. Not to leave out the wonderful locally produced fresh goat cheese, yogurts, and honey too that Jamie picks up from the weekly market in the town square. But the jam was the shining star of the show.
One of the best ways to improve yourself is by observing the habits of those you find to be inspirational and talented and learning what makes them successful and applying what you learn to your own creative process. What I gleaned from both Jamie and Ilva during this workshop is invaluable and I have already begun using the kernels of wisdom they imparted to us in my own workflow.
Of course, we all work differently, but one thing I learned from Jamie was to accept and embrace certain aspects of my own creative process. What I felt was a hindrance before is actually just part of how I work. I have also learned since, it is actually how a lot of people work- even those I think are so gifted and talented that it must be easy for them. It helps knowing I am not the only one who works this way and there is hope for me yet!
For instance, I tend to do a lot of research before I write about a subject. Sometimes, I think this research is just “busy work” that I create for myself and I should just get on with the writing part. In actuality, it is part of my process- I like being very informed about a subject before I write about it. Partly because if anyone asks me something, I will be educated on the subject, and partly because it is what gets me the best end result. The “busy work” is just my way of becoming familiar with the topic so I can write about it well and earnestly.
One of my favorite parts of the photo session lessons were the critiques- rather than say “it’s a nice photo” as so many do in critique sessions, there were actual useful tips, such as how to light the set, ways to adjust the composition to give a photo more appeal and where to crop the pictures. The hardest lesson was learning how to, painfully, cut back to just one or two images. With the advent of digital images, it’s easy to snap eighty shots of a set but it’s very hard to choose just a few of the best shots!
Over the course of the weekend, we were given several assignments that both challenged and excited us. They were designed to inspire and stimulate our creativity. I was left in awe of the work the women around me created; beautiful language and stunning imagery. I was deeply inspired by each and every one of them.
Over the next few days, I will share more of these assignments; what we did, plus what we ate and where we went.