Sunday, July 17, 2011

Artist's Home Retreat

"Go instead where there is no path"  50x50" oil /cold wax medium ©Janice Mason Steeves 2011
"Language has created the word 'loneliness' to express the pain of being alone.  And it has created the word 'solitude' to express the glory of being alone"  Paul Tillich

My week-long home retreat was a much-needed refreshing break.  It ended on July 8th, which also happens to be my birthday. Friends came over to help me celebrate. A lovely way to close off the week.    I managed to follow all the guidelines I'd set up for myself: see my last blog post for the rules of engagement. I made the 'rules' to set the parameters of the retreat, to encourage myself to unplug as though I were on a small remote island for a week.

I didn't use the computer at all but kept daily notes in my journal of my experience and ideas and thoughts. The occasional twinge of loneliness in the first day or two didn't last long.  The creative juices were flowing in abundance in my studio. My focus was on being aware of an attitude of play.  As soon as I noticed that my mind became involved, the work tightened up and I became indecisive and tense.  I put the work aside, grabbed another painting and let the play continue.

Amazing to me, I also did a lot of cleaning jobs in my house and my studio.  I did that in my last retreat and it surprised me both times because those are normally jobs that I can postpone indefinitely.  On my hands and knees in a particularly grimy area of my laundry room, I actually thought I could hear my deceased mother-who loved housecleaning-talking to me over my shoulder, telling me how good I was to be doing all these cleaning jobs!  Thanks Mum. Maybe I was just spending too much time alone.  Anyway, I got some soap and water into many slightly disgusting corners of the house.  I have to think that because the retreat feels like such a nurturing time, that cleaning the house and studio have some connection with that.  I am cleaning out those corners that need work and making room for new things in my life.  I kept telling myself that.

The retreat truly did feel nurturing.  Not quite like going to a spa, but caring for myself in another way.  I was giving myself the gift of time, of space that expanded, away from daily responsibilities; meetings, appointments, emails and phone calls.  I continued to look after myself by going for long walks in the woods, making lovely meals for myself, including homemade chicken soup, which lasted me for the week and zucchini bread.  I painted for long hours each day and revelled in the freedom of ideas that seemed to flow.  Most evenings, I sat outdoors in my screened-in porch, reading or writing.

Feeling that my creativity seems to greatly increase during these retreats, it was so interesting that during this week, I heard an interview on CBC radio with David Strayer  a Professor of Psychology from the University of Utah.  He studies the effect of multi-tasking on the brain.  He talked about going on a week-long wilderness trip with several colleagues.  They decided to leave their computers and cell phones at home.  Strayer gave his colleagues a Remote Associates Task, a word association creativity test before they left.  After three days on the trip he gave the task again.  Their creativity scores increased by 45%.
After three days back at work, their results on the creativity test dropped back.  Strayer claims that we have better clarity of thought when we get away from technology and into nature on a regular basis.  Even walking in a park for 45 min/day has measurable benefits.

 As well as being in nature and unplugging, solitude is also a significant part of the creative process. It was glory to be alone.


  1. This is beautiful . . as is your more representational work! I'm an admirer.

  2. love this work too, the title and concept. and your description of your retreat. beautiful. for me, life is often a retreat, as i live alone and currently in somewhat isolated circumstances. but when this alone time is a given, one maybe appreciates it less.