Adventures with Basil: Artist Retreat, Part 2

I have always wanted to go on an artist’s retreat… but could never find one that I really wanted to attend. And then I realized that what I really wanted was simply an opportunity to be alone for a couple of days with my art projects.

Thankfully, I have a partner who was looking for the same thing… well, kind of, he wanted time to work on some writing projects. And so the the idea was formed: we would look for a location where we would be able to split the week, each of us would have a couple of days alone and we would spend time together in the middle. A perfect arrangement… now, to just find the perfect place…

I honestly think we spent more time looking for this location than we did on our summer vacation at Harvey’s Lake last month! First off, we wanted someplace quiet, semi-secluded, with a screened-in porch and WIFI. After some debate, we chose to stay in Hanover, NH in a chalet next to Pierce’s Inn with views of Vermont:

©2019, Jenn White, View of Hanover Chalet, Hanover, NH. Photograph

My partner headed north on the 17th, loaded us up on supplies for the week and settled into his part of the retreat.

The only real disappointment at the chalet was that the WIFI was not functioning properly. It was down when my partner arrived at the chalet and it remained down for our entire stay, so everything that we had planned to do involving WIFI was pretty much tossed out the window. Not the end of the world as there was plenty of other things we had both planned on doing, but it would have been nice to have it.

I left work early on Tuesday afternoon and headed up to join him. The plan was that he would return to work on Thursday morning and I would begin my part of the retreat.

So, of course, our one full day together, Wednesday, pretty much rained all day.

And then it was my turn!!

Day One: Bright and early Thursday morning I set up a work area on a table on the screened-in porch with everything I will need for the next couple of days: my laptop for notes, the six Pismo Series pictures that I started while at Harvey’s Lake last month, my art supplies, my current book: “de Kooning: An American Master” and, of course, BASIL!

©2019, Jenn White, Basil on the screened-in porch, Hanover Chalet, NH. Photograph

I spent a little time coming up with an outline of a couple of things that I planned to try to set in motion as a result of this retreat:

  • Write Artist Pages… regularly: pretty much EVERY SINGLE word I have read about living a creative/artistic life recommends some kind of writing to spark creativity and inspiration.
  • Find and connect with my own tribe: I need to connect more with other artists.
  • Start entering shows again.  
  • Check for local art fairs and markets and start researching them.
  • Try to attend at least two art shows per month.
  • Work in the studio more. Take more chances. Push boundaries.

Then I got settled in for the day, alternating between working on Pismo 23 (W) & Pismo 2 (B) and reading de Kooning.

©2019, Jenn White, Basil with Pismo 23 (W), Hanover Chalet, NH. Photograph

I think that I have finally come up with a solution for the B & W that I like: because both of the letters take of so much real estate, I think by relaxing my restrictions about not filling in the letters a bit more than I did with previous pictures, it will (hopefully) give the illusion that the design is wrapping itself around the letter.

©2019, Jenn White, Basil with Pismo 2 (B), Hanover Chalet, NH. Photograph

Day Two: I am going to be honest, I am not a huge fan of Willem de Kooning’s work, but I am interested in what made him the artist that he evolved into and since he was a huge part of the New York School world that I can’t seem to get away from lately, it just seemed natural to read his biography now and I have just come across a very profound passage and now I can’t stop thinking about it:

From “de Kooning: An American Master” by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, Chapter 19. Darkness Radiant:

“No outsider can follow the winding, internal path that leads a man like de Kooning from despair to discovery, abandon old commitments, embrace new ideas, and, finally confront what must be said or acknowledged. De Kooning, when there seemed nothing left to lose, was helped by a profane, “damn the consequences” overlook in the art world of the time that encouraged doing whatever it took to make important art. An attitude best described – this being a period in American history that could still recoil in shock – as f*** it.

This just hit me. Hard. Total epiphany. This is essentially what my partner has been telling me for years: just f***ing play.

I think that most artists tend to get to some point in their work in which they overthink the next line or color placement and eventually finds themselves stuck. Kind of like where I am now with my work. Inspiration and creativity comes and goes… I get what seems like selective blocks of intense work, where everything seems to be going perfectly… and then when I try to recreate that feeling at a later studio session… I can’t. I become frustrated… and depressed… and worry about the time that I a “wasting” and then I end up sitting in my studio, looking at the pictures and am completely unable to continue the work.

It is time to LET GO and just f*** it.

Once this sunk in, I found that I was able to complete so much more. I also concluded that restricting myself to working on just one or two pictures and being determined to finish them only caused undue stress, so I pulled out ALL of my work in progress and spent the rest of the day working on one picture for a little while and then moving on to the next and so on. By not forcing the creativity to happen and by being more flexible, I was able to accomplish more that I could have anticipated:

©2019, Jenn White, View of Pismo Series: #2 (B), #6 (F), #20 (T) & #23 (W). Photograph

A good portion of the T and some of the F had been worked on prior to the retreat, but I like the direction that it is going in and I was able to incorporate come of the ideas I came up with on Day Two.

At one point, I spread out all of the pictures I have for the Pismo Series and I realized that I have completed more than I had thought. The only picture that I have in progress that I was not able to get to is the I.


©2019, Jenn White, Overview of Pismo Series in progress:  #1 (A), #3 (C), #18 (R), #22 (V), #2 (B), #6 (F), #20 (T) & #23 (W). Photograph

While you do not have to go to the extreme of going on a solo art retreat, as I did (it is not for everyone), I do highly recommend spending some time alone with your art, whatever you pursue. There is a sense of liberation while you are on retreat, away from daily responsibilities and you are able to re-focus and re-dedicate yourself to your work.

I honestly had a hard time coming home Saturday afternoon: I had a wonderful (and long overdue) epiphany, completed a lot of work, and let go of a TON of stress. I can see us doing this regularly going forward as I believe that we each got what we needed out of our time alone and I am looking forward to the next one 🙂


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