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Pressing Reset: a Summer of Feeding My Creativity at PCA


After running her graphic design business for three years, Charlene L’Aimable, who lives and works in London, decided to give herself a creative break and joined the PCA Summer program in 2015.

As a graphic design professional, there are always new creative design trends to be aware of, techniques to learn, clients to gain, clients to maintain, new tech to be aware of, finance accounts to keep in check – the list goes on…

It is essential for a design professional to stay connected with the basics of art, design and creativity, as you can get lost within the admin, technology and technical side of the business. So, I decided to immerse myself in one of the most creative and culturally diverse places. The French capital – Paris.

In the summer of 2015, I booked myself onto the Painting en Plein Air course at the prestigious Paris College of Art. Armed with an impressive faculty that run courses from all creative walks, but are still able to keep an eye on the real art and design world – I knew this was the place that could help me… Press reset.

So, what did I see and do?
Lots. Having not been in the classroom for more years than I’d like to admit, I was a tad nervous! Although very soon after arriving at registration and introductions, those nerves were replaced with eager excitement to get started.

As an ice breaker, Marie Breton, Admissions Manager for Special Programs, took the lead and was the main point of contact for all things PCA and Parisian. All summer course students were asked to introduce themselves with their names and where they lived. I was amazed at how far some students had come to attend PCA, and for me this solidified even more how sought-after PCA is! From Canada, Russia, Germany, India and throughout the USA… The list goes on. This made my train journey across the British Channel feel even shorter!

The Painting en Plein Air course was taught by Professor Munro Galloway, Artist and Lecturer at Yale University School of Art. I was thrilled to be taught by a professor who is a knowledgeable practicing artist and not just classroom based. Good choice PCA! See some of Prof. Galloway’s artworks!

The city of Paris served as inspiration, classroom, and palette for an intensive study of the materials and techniques of plein air painting. In addition, we acquired a basic knowledge of 19th and 20th century painting in France, which to me was brilliant to get a further understanding of art history. We visited sites where the impressionists worked, including the parks, canals, train stations and passageways of Paris, studied impressionist paintings on view at the Musée d’Orsay, Marmottan-Monet Museum and the Musée de l’Orangerie. Munro encouraged us to question and explore the artistic process of Cézanne, Degas, Monet, Morisot, Pissarro and Renoir and how they created paintings of the streets, squares and parks of Paris.

For me, the culminating experience that pulled together everything we had learnt was a field trip away from the much loved bustle of Paris to Monet’s house and garden in the French countryside of Giverny. We took a train from Paris and had a short cycle to Monet’s house. The views along the way were simply stunning. Here Munro shed light on Monet’s process in creating his famous Water Lily paintings. We explored and used the environment to create our own paintings with Monet’s painting techniques in mind.

Working primarily in water-based media, including watercolor and acrylic, Munro introduced us to the basics of paint application, composition and color. He focused on the colour palettes of the impressionist painters and helped us understand how colour theory can be used to create space and light.

Painting used to be my number one artistic love, but over time my Apple Mac seemed to take its place! Getting a paint brush back in hand after 10+ years was bitter sweet for me, bitter for the thought of leaving it so long, and sweet for having the opportunity to do so!

I was lucky enough to be surrounded by a wonderfully interesting group of people in my class and my time in Paris wasn’t all painting and art history. We had our evenings! My classmates and I would exchange our paint brushes for French food, bars and exploring the city. PCA also encouraged students to take advantage of social events they organised, which were brilliant! One being a boat tour down the Seine River. Luckily we had a beautiful day to enjoy it.

Was it worth it?
As the last day drew to an end, I knew I was leaving Paris and I asked myself if the time away from my business and everyday workings was worth it… Yes. Yes in every sense of the word.

I love learning new things and gaining new perspectives and this course allowed me to do just that. Having the opportunity to immerse myself in new surroundings, a fast paced learning curve with knowledgable and interesting artistic people. It’s a win, win for me.

Would I recommend a creative break for design professionals?
It’s creatively healthy!… So, one word. YES. I totally recommend you attend PCA, who wouldn’t want to attend a friendly art college spilling over with a knowledgeable faculty??!

Now I am back in London, UK. I am amazed at how I am able to apply what I learnt last summer to client work. My choice in colour palettes and use of light and dark will never be the same, and I am thrilled.

Mission accomplished. Reset button firmly pressed. Thank you PCA & Paris.

To visit Charlene L’Aimable’s website and see more of her photos, go to Black Kite Creative

Munro Galloway