Making Art

Bringing Art Making Into Your Life

Take an Art Retreat – my tips for making it worthwhile.

Sometimes I turn making art into a real big deal. My thoughts go round and round in my head, and I forget that it’s possible to keep it simple. A couple of weeks ago when my internet connection was giving me curry [causing trouble], I was having trouble finishing a big post so I did a simple little post about drawing with colour pencils.



Above: ‘Watch, Peg, Ribbon’ and  ‘Glass, Shell’, another couple of drawings from my drawing session.

The thing is I really enjoyed it, I hadn’t really had a nice little drawing session for a while. Maybe when you are a practising artist [ whatever that means], you do want to be constantly improving, on your art making. But when I do this I can begin to think the art needs to be bigger and bigger or more and more full on or shocking, or amazing.

But its important to remember that it’s when you are working through your own ideas that will get you the best results, rather than trying to impress other people with grandiose plans. I’m not saying don’t make anything huge or shocking, but make what YOU want to make. Make what you need to make to suit the idea.

Now to further confuse myself I am aware that I do need to sit down, as I occasionally do, and have a really good old think about what I want to make next.  Because I can get stuck in a rut, or making little aimless bits and pieces, that are not going where I want them to go.  Also the writing of a post every week has come to be part of my creative output in a way, and so sometimes what I am making is about this blog and would not necessarily exist if I wasn’t trying to let you all in on something I think is important or interesting.

I have written a few posts about bringing art making into a busy life; My top 6 tips for making art part of your life. and Top six ways to avoid making art and this My top tips for getting into a creative headspace.

But sometimes we need to go a step further, and take an art retreat. For me, my domestic life and all the little bits that entails means I often have trouble seeing the bigger picture of my own creative life. I need to sit down with my ideas notebook and my phone/ laptop with all the pictures I snap and see where I want to take it next. But the problem is I feel like this isn’t going to happen very well in my usual environment. I have just had my little one home on school holidays and my husband went away for a week or so and I  have spent way to much time in my own wee inner-city house. And I need some room to THINK and to BREATHE. So its time to go away for a couple of days, just to think and plan. Somewhere where there are few distractions and certainly not a dish to do or anything to tidy up!

If I had my choice I would go and stay in the desert somewhere in a tent or a tee pee and sit and stare at an open fire… yes its a very romantic notion and very unlikely. I find the desert to be  very creatively inspiring, maybe because of its apparently void-like nature that in reality hides so much life. I am from South Australia which is home to more than its fair share of desert so there is something very comforting to me about it. Going somewhere with no people, no tv, no internet! is inspiring, and you get to just be. Where I live now, [in Sydney] its pretty hard to ever get a little bit of outside space to yourself.


Above: I wish I could stay in this beautiful tee pee. The hours would stretch out without the time wasting TV or interwebs, and my restless mind would get a chance to focus.

But realistically my chances of getting desert or an open fire is pretty small so I will probably end up staying in a basic hotel hopefully in the country…..If it was hot I would go stay at a beach house and swim a lot. Really anywhere without too many distractions will work. And yes distractions includes shopping, drinking, spa treatments….. and of course people. Yes I do understand that it can be very difficult for many of you to get away from families. Especially if you have little kids or responsibilities as carers. It may require planning[begging?] a fair bit in advance. If you can’t get away for long then even an overnighter away from everything will do. And since we don’t get to go on an art retreat very often I have a few tips to help you get the most out of it.

Before you go:

  1. Make sure you have been writing down your ideas in a notebook [or on scraps of paper ]. No matter how simple or tiny your idea is, jot it down. If you want to read more about this see this section in the full MAKING ART website.
  2. Carry your phone/camera with you everywhere and start taking photos every time you see something that can be an idea trigger. They don’t have to be a beautiful photos, the shots are about triggering ideas.

What to take:

  1. Your now full of ideas, notebook.
  2. Camera and your images to refer to.
  3. A blank book or paper for writing down your re-focused ideas.

So what to do on retreat.

  1. I need a nice long session with just me and my notebook thinking about what I really want to put my energies into next. I am going to read through all the ideas, and look through the inspirational shots of taken. Look out for common themes and what I am drawn to at the moment.
  2. Next I am going to think about what I have been making recently and why.  What led me to make that and that? and were they successful? Do I want to cover those ideas again or am I done? Jot down any I still want to work on.
  3. Next I am going to think about what kind of art I want to make, meaningful? humorous? beautiful? What am I trying to do with my art. For me its about depth, the art I have been making lately is very ‘light’, just touching on ideas, but when I riffle though my ideas notebook I see deeper themes, consistent interests. Again jotting down any more ideas that occur.
  4. Then looking again at the ideas I have collected plus any I have jotted down I start to narrow in on a few ideas. Choosing ones that go with what I have decided is the type of art I want to make and that excite me.
  5. Using this short-list of ideas I consider briefly how I would make these ideas into reality, whether it’s a possibility for something to make soon. This tends to be the end of the process for me on retreat.  I will now go home and think about it all more, hopefully with a bit of clarity.

This is what I call a sifting and choosing process which you can read more about here. None of this means you HAVE to make these ideas. The whole process is to help you focus on what you want to get out of your art making, As I said before, I tend to just get on a roll and go from piece to piece and this can be fun until suddenly I realise that I am making shit. That’s the signal for me to re-focus. Some practising artists would never consciously be thinking about their ideas this much. Their work would flow on from one work to another , but for those of us who are busy trying to squeeze art into our lives it can be a useful thing to try. If you think it sounds very prescriptive, just use it as a guide.

You will notice that I haven’t actually ‘made’ any art on this imaginary retreat. I might do if  am going for more than a couple of days, because it can be quite tricky to just jump in and make art in a new location. For me the main purpose is to revitalize and refocus. To just live and breathe my art ideas for a couple of days, so that when I am home again, I know what I am going to make and can avoid the dreaded ‘I don’t know what to make’ sensation.

Time to go and find that open fire, and do some staring I think, and after that…. well make something of course.

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This entry was posted on May 3, 2013 by in creativity, Ideas and tagged , .
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