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  • Writer's pictureSue Bulmer

Planning a solo art retreat

As some of you may know I’m planning my very first solo art retreat to Cornwall in April. I’m going to devote a whole week to my own creative exploration, no other commitments, no dogs to walk or places to be, just me and my sketchbook and camera. I’ve never done it before and I am so excited I could burst!! I came up with the idea after the actual art retreat I wanted to go on sold out. I wondered how I could do it myself. So I started to think about where I would like to go and started to think more seriously about the possibility of a week of solo creativity. I usually take my art stuff when I go on holiday but never really tend to get much time to make anything as we are always off exploring and having adventures. Having a week with no distractions sounds like a real investment in myself and my creative practice and while I do still feel a bit frivolous at the thought of a week of 'me', many people have said to me what an amazing opportunity it is and that I deserve it! So I'm taking note and I'm starting to plan my trip.

I chatted to another artist Christine Evans on IG live the other day about her experiences of her recent art retreat to Wales and I felt so inspired after our conversation (you can find it in my feed if you want to listen to what we had to say). The biggest takeaway for me from our chat (and many words of wisdom were shared) was the fact that I need to banish all thoughts of productivity, outcomes or results and I need to embrace curiosity. I need to try not to think about what I want to ACHIEVE from the week away (I can almost feel the panic rising when I think that way, pressure is the killer of creativity for me ) but maybe to think of my week as a week of space to BE with my art materials and to SEE, to embrace the moment rather than worrying about the hands on the clock, to trust that I will find what I need.

It’s so difficult when you’re motivated by lists and tasks to think in this more open ended way (constant and present struggle for me) but I think I need to keep an open mind so as not to kill off the possibilities and potential while balancing this with a soft focus on my line of inquiry. I need some direction but not laser focus, like a floating attention, as we say in the therapeutic world. Having no ideas at all about the week will lead me to overwhelm and paralysis (because of ALL the possibilities) so I think I need to spend some time journaling and thinking about why this idea even popped into my head in the first place…

  • What do I want to experience?

  • What do I want to think about?

  • Which materials should I take?

  • Should I have an overarching word for the week?

  • What do I want to learn?

  • How do I find balance between remaining open but having a plan?

It seems like a conundrum at the moment. I wonder whether anyone else has come across this before when organising their own retreat? Did you have specific goals, ideas, aims or did you leave it wide open? How did that work?

I had a coaching call this morning with the lovely Helen Conway who I have been working with for a few months now. I had said prior to our session that I would like to use the time to think about my retreat. She really got me thinking by asking me some challenging questions about what was behind this idea of a retreat, what I want to take with me, what I want to leave behind, what I want to bring back...

Throughout the course of the call I came to the conclusion I want to this time to feel unhurried, reflective and unpressured but I need to balance this with a flexible framework to base the week around. I don't want to go all of that way to float around without purpose but I don't want my creative thoughts to be stifled by the pressure to perform, produce and make something specific. It feels like finding a balance. I'm still working through all of these questions in my own mind and I will share what I come up with nearer the time. For now it's me and my journal and a lot of writing....

I'd love to hear from anyone else who has done this. Please feel free to leave a comment and let me know what worked, what didn't and how it all turned out for y

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