Expect the Unexpected at an Art Retreat

The opportunity to escape the office to spend five days creating art in a sun-filled studio next to long white beaches, with one of my favourite artists, Boston’s Liz Haywood-Sullivan, ticked every box.

What I hadn’t planned on was the unexpected surprises that unfolded along the way, turning it into a life-changing experience of fun, food and friendship.

Throwing eight strangers together in a big house is not a new idea to reality TV fans – but in our house we had a studio all to ourselves, an incredible art teacher and a retreat organiser who spoiled us and customised our stay to suit our daily whims. I found myself wondering ‘how long has this been going on?’ and ‘why didn’t I do this sooner’?

Expect to live the dream

We arrived at our art retreat to find that we had actually landed in paradise. Our studio was a vast beachside residence surrounded by swaying palms, exotic flowers and teeming with birdlife. Painting subjects were all around and we hadn’t yet made it to the beach! We descended each morning to find a fabulous breakfast table laid out with our tutor joining us to plan our day ahead – all we had to do was sit and enjoy. Pinch me!

Expect to escape the daily grind

Office politics, grocery shopping and the minutia of daily life disappeared as our group created its own rhythm - which included plenty of studio and plein air painting time punctuated by breaks for coffee, lunch, afternoon tea and the much-anticipated wine o’clock! The world didn’t stop without us.

Expect to lose track of time

There’s something about being in a beautiful environment that melts stress and increases energy. We found stamina that we would not have had at home. Losing track of time was an unexpected side effect – ‘what day is it?’ was a regular question. Absorbed in our creative pursuits, time fell away with the only clue being the lengthening of shadows outside.

Expect to enjoy good company

At home, I can’t remember when we last sat down together for a meal. At our retreat, breakfast, lunch and dinner were opportunities to gather, relax, eat and review the day’s learnings. Someone else took care of the washing up! The seaside air improved our appetites and some evenings we went out to explore the local cuisine together – adding a fresh new layer of conversation and shared experience.

Expect to see things differently

“Slow down, find your focal point, and discover what it is you’re trying to say” – sage words from our tutor that came to apply not only to our artwork, but to our lives. An art retreat is all about creating that opportunity to slow down and focus. As well, the value of seeing how an expert chooses their subject, observing their creative process and understanding what is important to them – will change the way you see things forever.

Expect to appreciate one other’s journey

We soon discovered everyone was on their own journey, worked at their own pace, and learned in their own way - and everyone encouraged everyone else. Some were there for a creative holiday, some for the camaraderie of like-minded people, and some to hone their skills. And all of it was ok.

Expect to make new creative buddies

Some people were friends from previous art retreats, some were new to the idea but by the end, everyone had friended everyone on social media, and a whole new batch of creative pals had been made.

Expect to never want it to end

If you do sign up for an art retreat, by the morning of the last day you may find yourself tempted to pen something like the following – ‘Dear family, I hope you’re enjoying your newfound independence. Please don’t expect me home any time soon, but you know where to find me should you choose to visit…’

Expect to come home changed for the better

Once you reluctantly accept that all good things must come to an end, expect to walk through your own front door with everything in perspective. The washing can wait while you finish a sketch. You set out to find the focal point of your rose garden, and your teenager’s room can build its own ecosystem while you organise your creative space. You’ve not only learned new techniques, you’ve also learned what matters.

Expect to want to do it all again

If you’re like me, you were probably unaware that a lifestyle like this existed. I stumbled across Artable Studio’s art retreats while enrolling for the inaugural Australian Pastel Expo – discovering with delight that the experience could be extended by following up by a five-day immersive workshop with an international superstar artist. Who knew!

Will I be going on another one? You bet! Does an art retreat sound like something you need in your life?

What are you waiting for? Permission granted.

Desley Stewart

Sydney Pastel Artists

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