Thursday, June 30, 2011

Planning an Artist's Retreat at Home

Wine with Everything 24x24"  oil/cold wax on panel  ©Janice Mason Steeves 2011 

Each year for the past two years, I've organized a home retreat for myself. Alyson Stanfield of, interviewed me a couple of weeks ago, for her online group called The Artist's Conspiracy about my home retreats.  She was interested in how I go about planning them, and what I get out of them.

Even though I live in the country, I still get caught up in the busyness of life; spending too much time on the computer; doing the business part of my art; keeping up with friends; spending time with family; doing volunteer jobs, appointments. The regular demands of life. I used to have a cottage that had no hydro, and no phone, where I'd spend a week or two at a time by myself painting and writing poetry.  I found this to be an extremely creative time. 

I decided to create that same retreat space at home.  I prepare for it as though I am going on a vacation.  I book the week in my calendar and make sure I don't organize any activities or appointments or meetings for that week.  It's a week to be alone; painting, reading, writing, walking.  A retreat.

My rules for the week are these:

No computer use.
No answering the phone.  I check messages in the evening just to make sure that there are no emergencies.
No driving.  I buy in all my groceries, rent a few movies, buy all the art supplies I'll need.
No seeing any family or friends.  I let them know what I'm doing in advance.
No newspapers or TV.

Other than these rules, I don't structure my time or work.  I just let that happen organically if it's going to.  But I do work in my studio for long hours each day. And I love that. It would be painful to cut out studio time.  Besides painting, I had time to nap, read, and go for long walks.  Time stretches out like the endless summer days when we were ten years old.

I have a couple of good books to read:  "Joan Mitchell, Lady Painter" by Patricia Albers, recommended by Alyson Stanfield for her Twitter/Facebook Club.  "And Life is a Verb, 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful, and Live Intentionally" by Patti Digh.

Alyson asked how artists could do this kind of a retreat if they have to plan it around their husbands/wives and children.  I suggested that they could house-sit for a friend, or studio-sit. Plan this for when your kids are at camp and your husband/wife is away.  Go alone to your cottage if you have one or ask a friend to stay at theirs.  Perhaps you could do a mini-retreat, where you work in your studio space without internet or TV or contact with friends each day from 9-5. Just plan it.  It's a fabulous gift to yourself.

I felt a little lonely the first day with the withdrawal from contact, but after that I wasn't lonely for a second and after the 7th day, I didn't want the retreat to end.  I wrote in my journal each day, and as I reread these journal notes for Alyson's interview, I noticed that during the retreat, I seemed to become more joyful, more refreshed and relaxed as each day passed. It's like taking an internal shower, or going on a juice fast or lying mindlessly on an air mattress on a sunny day bobbing on the gentle waves.

I begin my next home retreat in two days.  Can't wait.

"Inside myself is a place where I live all alone, and that's where I renew my springs that never dry up."  ~Pearl Buck