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



  1. Hi Janice, Your retreat sounds absolutely delicious! I'm taking a little time off of work and plan to do the same. I like that you have set boundaries for yourself. I've not done that and found it very easy to get stuck in the vortex of the internet or other busyness. Thinking I will do some tweaking and set boundaries as well. Timely post! Have a wonderful week!

  2. thanks for describing the parameters of your retreat. lovely. of course, meditators who go off to retreats in little cabins or even the ones with groups engage in a lot of these things. letting go of electronic communications etc (though I note you had a few movies--my feeling is giving up even that--and i watch movies almost every night, Netflix--might open up more space. Hmm, here i am, it is evening the time we socialize and/or watch movies and i will not fill this space with distraction but just sit and see what ocmes up for me. Kinda thing.)