The joy of the art retreat

Whether you call it art camp, paint-out or a retreat, there is nothing better for an artist’s soul than uninterrupted time to paint. I just returned from three days at the Samish Island Paint-out (offered through NWWS) and am amazed at what I was able to accomplish!

In addition to having time to work on your own paintings, it is invaluable to see what other artists are working on. At the beginning of Paint-out, it is a race to see who can get the first painting “on the wall.” Throughout the weekend, a gallery grows as we all put up our efforts.

Art retreats get a little competitive over who can put the most paintings up!

The other advantage of a group retreat is being able to walk around and see how others “do what they do.” While it’s important to respect artists who are in the zone, most are willing to chat about their approach, demo a technique, or even share a dollop of a favorite color.

With lots of time and plenty of space, a retreat is a great opportunity to work on larger paintings. This one I started is 11″ x 30″.

When selecting a retreat, ask artist friends for recommendations. Check out the facility’s website, and find out what comfort level the accomodations are. Lodging can range from spartan to spa-like.

Lodging can be pretty spartan, but a few comforts of home can make a space cozy!

Ask past attendees about the food, too! At the Samish Paint-out, a wonderful crew comes in and cooks for us. The food is delicious, and they’re always happy to provide alternate ingredients. Some retreats will be DIY, with attendees taking turns preparing meals.

Oh – bring plenty of art supplies! Many retreat venues are from shopping centers (that’s what makes them perfect). Now over to you: what words of wisdom (or happy stories) do you have about retreats?

Learning abstract principles

As an artist, it’s good to explore new subjects, mediums and techniques. In this case, abstract principles that can be used in future paintings.

If you’re at all familiar with my work, you know that representational art is my wheelhouse. Rendering detail is a joy to me; I find it somewhat meditative to get lost in the fine lines of a subject. That being said, a painting that is all detail can be exhausting to look at, and doesn’t invite the viewer to add their own thoughts to the story of an image. It’s much more interesting as an artist too, to create a painting that leaves people guessing a little. (And entertaining to hear what they think is happening!)

With this in mind, an ongoing goal of mine is to create more abstract moments in my paintings. Recently, I attended a 3-hour class given by Kristi Galindo Dyson, and hosted by the Mt. Si Artist Guild. Kristi’s presentation is great – I highly recommend her as an instructor. She lead us through a discussion on the elements of abstraction, including: personal mark making; intuition, experimentation, visual elements, style and design.

And then she turned us loose to paint…or scribble, or create texture, or…(click images to zoom)

Step 1: Just do something! The blank page-even a small one-is incredibly intimidating…

Kristi had samples of an art board by Arches for us to try, however she uses many different papers and boards. The watercolor board was a 4-ply thickness and had a smooth, or hot press, surface.

With a blended watercolor background, I started making marks with watercolor pencils.
At the end of 90 minutes, a board with lots of color, lots of marks, and an indication of a structure.

One of the topics Kristi touched on is how free children are when creating art-they are absolutely fearless in their expression. Before they learn rules of composition and the expectation of adults that their art “look like something,” kids will fill an entire page with color, scribbles, and surprising insights. While I didn’t get there in 90 minutes, it was good to hear that you need to allow your artistic mind some freedom once in a while!

A few final touches with a white pen help unify the piece. I liked the idea of representing a structure with the white marks, while not defining a specific building.

The finished piece reflects making marks, playing with color and texture, and looking for balance…all elements of my current practice, but expressed in a completely new way. It will serve as a great reminder to play once in a while…