Friday 28 October 2016

What I take from the art retreat in Scotland - and a whole lot of photos

At the beginning of this month, I had the great pleasure to spend a week at an art retreat in Scotland. What a fabulous experience it has been! A wonderful group of 8 eager students and an inspiring teacher, gathering together to share their stories and learn from each other.

My spot in the studio - wish I could have taken the light home with me - and the view...

Monday we spent visiting the Heritage Centre - listening to stories from the town's past, and taking lots of photos from the many vintage photos displayed there - and sketching outside around the harbour. On Tuesday to Friday, we got to work in the studio. And what a beautiful place it is! A spacious room with big windows on three sides, overlooking the beautiful bay. This was the view form my desk - it was hard sometimes not to get distracted by it, or rather inspired by the waves and deep colours of the sea, fluffy clouds in the sky and the chimneys on the buildings below.

That view certainly could be very distracting at times... Just look at the colour of the sea!

Gillian, our teacher, usually did drawing or painting demonstrations in the morning, and then spent the rest of the day working with each of us individually. We did portraits and landscapes in charcoal and acrylics, worked with pastels, oil bars, pencils, inks... whatever medium or subject you wanted to work in, try out, deepen your skills or challenge yourself with.

Our dedicated teacher helping one of the students - under  the watchful eyes of the studio manager...

We all had different goals, expectations, aims... I didn't really want to focus on a specific technique or subject, my aim, wish, goal was somewhat more general, less tangible. I have been writing a lot about my art making practice - or absence of it - and something that has come up again and again, was the concept of process. I had come to realise that somehow, I wasn't enjoying the process anymore, but instead was focusing too much on the result. Art making had become something to get over and done with, resulting in mostly quick sketches in my sketchbook while my paints lay untouched for ages. I somehow had ended up feeling that I always needed to produce something that I could show (to whom?), as if I needed some sort of justification for spending time creating art (again, to whom??). Few were the times that I sat down and spent a longer period of time on a drawing. Now of course there is nothing wrong with quick sketches. They are useful and valuable, and if you haven't got much time, always better than nothing. But I wanted to do more than that, but it seemed I just simply wasn't able to. Most of the weekends were spent avoiding going into the studio and ending in frustration about yet another weekend "wasted". That was what I wanted most out of this week - to learn to enjoy the process again. Process, not product.

Another view through one of the windows of the studio

Not filling the page... Leaving space... Letting go... Dare to leave it unfinished... Focusing on a specific area and leave the rest... Not focusing on creating a finished product... Being bold... Dare... Expressive, bold marks... Not too much blending... No expectations... Enjoying the process, the art materials in my hand... Creating for the joy of creating, for myself, most of all...

Here's some of the work I created during the week:

Cliffs, outdoor sketch in A4 sketchbook, pencil

Charcoal portrait on paper, ca. 40x60cm

Charcoal portrait on paper, ca. 40x60 cm

Charcoal and oilbars, drawing based on a drawing in my sketchbook done at the harbour earlier in the week, paper, ca. 40x60cm

Sea shell study in my A4 sketchbook, pencil

Portrait in pencil, in my A4 sketchbook, on a tea stained page

Acrylic monochrome portrait in my A4 sketchbook

It truly was an inspiring week. The quietness and peacefulness of the place, the friendliness of the people, the beautiful views and stunning surrounding, the company. The creativity, inspiration, art making and relaxed atmosphere in the studio.

St John's kirkyard with the remains of the church built in 1513, and the stunning view over the bay

I often went for a little walk in the morning, before class. Spending time on the beach collecting shells, watching a curlew looking for its breakfast in the shallow water, breathing in the cool, fresh air and the peacefulness of my surrounding. 

Early morning on the beach at lowtide - because of its location, it always took quite some time for the sun to reach the town
Early morning reflections
The early bird catches the fish

The nearby village of Crovie. The poles were once used to dry the fishing nets. Today, they are used for laundry.

I really enjoyed spending so much time focusing on just creating, and I worked hard on my goals for this week, trying to do many different things, feeling that whatever I would start there, I would be able to take home with me, and continue. Now I have to take it all into my little studio at home and work on establishing a regular studio routine, and simply just do the work.

So many charming and quirky corners in this little town

The end of October also marks the anniversary of my little blog. What started with learning to use my new DSLR camera and photo editing back in 2010 has led to finding and exploring a whole new, exciting world of techniques, art materials, online workshops and courses, so much different form the local painting class I had been going to for a few years, to practicing and deepening my skills, and continuing to explore and learn. Where will it lead to next? I don't know. But it's nice to have this little space, and to sometimes look back to what I did then, and how my creative journey has developed. And I guess I'll hang around here for a bit longer.

Friday 21 October 2016

An inspiring art retreat in Scotland, and a relaxing holiday in Dorset

I am back from a 2 1/2 week holiday, which included an inspiring one week art retreat in Scotland, a relaxing 10 days at the opposite end of the isle, in Dorset, and my so far worst journey ever. 

So to get the moaning out of the way, first: another unpleasant "joy of travelling by air" episode, the worst ever so far, even worse than the "June episode". After an inspiring week in Scotland, I was to fly back from Aberdeen to London on Saturday noon, and from there travel on to Dorset. I had booked my flight and my train ticket, and was looking forward to arrive in Dorchester by 8pm. At the check-in counter, I was then informed that the plane was full, and that since I hadn't checked in online earlier, there was no seat available anymore. What??? What about having booked my seat for that particular flight a good 4 months earlier, and having paid about £150 for that leg of the journey alone?? Didn't that count for something? Apparently not. Unfortunately, it seems that it is common practice for airlines to overbook flights and count on a quite substantial number of people not showing up. As it so happened, it was holiday season for many people, and pretty much every one showed up. As it turned out, the whole disaster had already started the night before. From Friday evening to Saturday afternoon, all flights were overbooked. The practice adopted by British Airways in this a case was come first serve first, and dozens of people, who, like me, hadn't been able to check in online the day before, found themselves stuck and unable to travel as planned. Long queues of people, their nerves frayed to pieces, stressed out, shaking, close to tears, their holidays ruined by this whole experience, gobsmacked that something like this could happen with what they had believed to be a "proper, decent" airline... At least I only had a train to catch in London, but there were many people with connecting flights on to the States, to Australia and other far away destinations, who didn't know if and when they were able to get to their destinations.
I was eventually booked to a much later flight than my original midday flight, spending 6 hours at Aberdeen airport. Wen I finally arrived in Heathrow, a member of staff at the bus information insisted that it was not possible to buy a combined coach and train ticket, and then, after I told him that I had indeed bought said combined ticket many times before at the central bus station in terminal 1-3, suggested I might want to go there to get one. I did not, as the central bus station is a good 5-10 minutes bus or train journey from terminal 5, where I was. Eventually I found my way to the National Express office at the very end of the terminal, where I obtained my combined bus and train ticket, pretty exactly at the time when the bus was due at 7.50. So another hour of hanging around and waiting at an airport. When I finally got on the 9pm train at Woking, it was packed with people of all ages, many of whom, it seemed, coming from a football match. It was not really a very pleasant journey after an already utterly unpleasant day of travel, and after changing coaches twice, I eventually found a seat where I felt comfortable enough for the remaining 40 minutes. I have never been gladder to arrive at Dorchester. At about 11.30pm, I finally dropped by bags ton the floor at Ns, utterly exhausted after a good 15 hours of travel. What a day.
This was my first time flying with British Airways, and most probably my last. I have absolutely no intention of every using them again, if I can help it. I am well aware that they are not the only airline that overbooks flights, but there are other ways of dealing with such a situation.
Thankfully, the other three journeys all went smooth, including my flight back from London City Airport on Tuesday evening, which was a pleasant surprise. Seriously, I cannot remember the last time my flight back from London to Zürich wasn't delayed or even cancelled, such a rare occurrence this seems to have become be these days...

But on to more pleasant things now. Apart from that one day, I spent a fantastic, inspiring holiday. The first week was an art retreat in the northeast of Scotland with Gillian Lee Smith, in the charming coastal village of Gardenstown. Surrounded by stunning views of the cliffs and the sea, and with no mobile phone signal and limited internet access, it was the perfect place to spend a week of making art. I had been a little apprehensive about spending an entire week with more or less complete strangers - and sharing a cottage with some of them - but my fears were soon gone. It was a fantastic group of women, and it was a great pleasure to spend so much time with them, learning their stories and getting to know them. We arrived on Saturday evening, and had Sunday off to explore the surrounding and rest. As happens so often when I travel, the sky was blue and the temperatures comparatively mild. Indeed, it was sun and blue sky, and not even the tiniest drop of rain, the entire week I spent there. There are some lovely walks either side of Gardenstown, one to the old St John's Kirkyard, with fantastic views over the bay, the other to the old fishing village of Crovie.

On Monday, we started working. Drawing, with charcoal and pencil, landscapes, portraits, oil bars, painting, acrylics, pastels... I had two sketchbooks I worked in, along with the bigger sheets of paper, an A5 Moleskine and an A4 Seawhite travel journal. Here's a few pages from my Moleskine, that I managed to scan so far. The A4 is too big for my scanner, and I haven't yet any good pictures of the bigger works I've done. On Monday, we went outside to he harbour for some sketching.

There was a jar full of sea shells and other treasures from nature and the sea in the studio, and I did a quick sketch of this lobster or crab claw. 

Spending a little time mixing colours. I liked those mixing palettes they had in the studio. A good mixing palette is something that's been on my to get list for ages.

I'll write some more about my week in Scotland soon, and I've got some more photos to share from my 10 days in Dorset too - we spent another fabulous day  at one of my favourite places there, Brownsea Island - but I've only been home 3 days now, and straight back to work, and I still have many photos, journal pages and thoughts to go and sort through.