Skip to main content


River of Longing 8, 24x80", oil on panel©2009 Janice Mason Steeves

I decided to have a retreat in my home last week, to have no communication with the outside world other than to listen to CBC Radio. I booked the week off. No appointments or meetings or dinners with friends. I turned off the computer and unplugged the phone. Freedom!

I spent the time meditating, reading and spending long days in my studio. The days stretched on endlessly like when I was a kid playing outside in summer holidays. I even managed to get some big housecleaning tasks accomplished. I hate housecleaning! Perhaps it kept my feet on the ground to do such nice mundane tasks. I spent a couple of hours one afternoon scrubbing ten years of paint off my big old worktable. A friend tells me that such cleaning makes room for the birth of something new.

The creative ideas started to flow maybe on the third day of the retreat. I have creative ideas at other times too, but with a long flow of time stretching itself out, the ideas had more space to form, without interruption.

Some creative people cut off contact with the outside world for periods of time to do their work. I watched the movie, “Grey Gardens", a powerful documentary about two of Jackie O’s eccentric relatives who became poverty-stricken, living in infested squalor in their East Hampton’s mansion. Drew Barrymore cut off all contact with the outside world for the three months of filming the movie. I read that when the author Susan Sontag wrote The Volcano Lover, she didn’t see her friends, didn’t answer phone calls or open mail for three years to focus her energy on her book. I attended a workshop many years ago with Katherine Liu, a California artist. She said that each month, she paints for three uninterrupted weeks and in the fourth week, she comes out of her studio to visit friends and do household tasks. After spending some time in seclusion this past week, I can understand how that isolation makes for a very creative space where ideas have time to move and grow organically. It’s finding my own balance that’s important. I felt so nourished by this retreat. A bit like going to a spa. I’m resolving to do it twice a year…ummm ….maybe once a month.


  1. I absolutely love home retreats, and I even write an article about how to make it easier. I love how you cleaned and that that physical and mundane work made space for your creativity.
    It does sound like a spa, for you and your Muse!

  2. I wish I had time to retreat like this. Instead, I have to retreat into my mind, which has its own rewards I suppose. Someday. Still, reading about your retreat lifted my spirits. I'm glad you had this time and I hope you enjoy many more blissful retreats. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Janice: "Grey Gardens" is on my shelf right now (thanks to Netflix). Sounds like you enjoyed it and that I need to watch it.

    When I needed peace and quiet for my book, I headed to the mountains for a week. It was amazing! I got so much done (easier when there is only dial-up and no high-speed!).

  4. PS: You need to change your settings to allow for non-Blogger (non-Google) users so that anyone and everyone can post. As it is now, they have to have a profile set up somewhere. This is a lesson coming up, but thought you might want to change it now.

  5. Thanks Cynthia, Dawn and Alyson. I would love to read your article Cynthia about how to make home retreats easier. I've only known one other friend who does this. I'm getting lots of good reaction from other of my friends, especially my artist friends who are now trying to find a way to have their own home retreat. I still feel a calmness from that week. I think having them at least twice a year would be a good goal to aim for.
    Appreciate your comments.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Vulnerability in Art and Life

I taught a cold wax painting workshop in abstraction this past week at St. Lawrence College in Brockville, Ontario. I've never had so many beginners in one class before. Two had never ever painted. One hadn't painted in 4 years. Three made art using other media. Only two painted regularly in landscape and abstraction. What a challenge! In our morning discussions, I gradually came to understand that the main challenge each artist had to face, was their vulnerability. Of course this is the case in every class. I suppose I was more clearly made aware of it though in this workshop. 

As an artist, you come up against yourself all the time. There's no way to hide who we really are. "I suffer as always from the fear of putting down the first line. It is amazing the terrors, the magics, the prayers, the straitening shyness that assail one." John Steinbeck

I've written many times before about vulnerabilityHere, and here. Yet it still comes back into my life, not only in…

About Place: A painting workshop on the Camino

Rebecca Crowell and I are staying in a gorgeous retreat centre on the Camino de Santiago called Flores del Camino. It's in the small stone village of Castrillo de los Polvazares with a population of 100.  Voted one of the most beautiful villages in Spain, the streets are cobblestone and each of the unique earth-coloured stone houses is joined to the next in rows that wind through the town.

There are no yellow arrows or brass shells embedded in the village road marking the way of the Camino, as there are in larger cities. It basically consists of one-street and the  Camino resumes at the edge of town.  Paying attention to the moment doesn't stop though when you come into the village because walking the uneven cobblestone streets is an exercise in mindfulness itself!

The owners of this retreat centre, Bertrand Gamrowski and Basia Goodwin are committed to supporting pilgrims who are walking the Camino, offering them a place to stay as well as offering dinners (payment by donatio…

A Case for Coming to Art Late in Life-Part 1

There are a lot of us out there who have come to art later in life. My workshops are filled with women (mostly) who are between the ages of 50 and 75 (The baby boom generation). Probably most are between 60 and 75. And what interesting people they are! They bring their life experiences with them to their art––their heartaches, joys, achievements, worries, and gratitude. And they are, for the most part, committed artists. They are embracing art like it's finally their time. It's what they've been waiting their whole lives to do. They come with their souls on fire.

"and there was a new voice 
which you slowly
recognized as your own, 
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do––
determined to save
the only life you could save." The Journey by Mary Oliver

 It doesn't matter how old you are if you have passion for life.

That passion can carry us a long way. And while recognition is important in the way…