Creative Retreat

Ocean study; watercolor

Recently I created an Art Immersion experience for myself. Immersion in a creative practice facilitates personal growth and artistic exploration, allows for the flow of ideas in unplanned directions, and provides time for making a body of work. My goal was to create plenty of time to paint without limitations on subject matter, style, or medium. I wanted to reconnect with the joy of creating. To have time where painting and art were my primary activity, but with enough other things to explore to keep my mind fresh and active. A time with limited outside pressures.

Tide coming in, June; Watercolor

For four and a half weeks I lived by the ocean in southern California. Distractions were limited, other than those I chose for myself, and there was an abundance of inspiration.

Rocks at the jetty, July; Watercolor

I am an “ocean” person. Ocean time is always treasured. It is where I center myself, and find peace. It inspires my creative soul. As a result it was a perfect place for me to focus on my art practice.

In the field, portable supplies

While planning my stay I thought a lot about what supplies to bring. I wanted only the essentials, but enough to provide flexibility. I brought art supplies allowing me to work in watercolor, oil, or acrylic, depending on which media resonated. A few books on art, other inspirational materials, and a list of museums, galleries, and possible places of inspiration were gathered. I researched art styles in the area, located design and architectural places of interest, as well as nearby Botanical gardens.

I expected to work mostly in oil and cold wax, in an abstract style. Surprisingly, I did very little of that. Sketching, primarily in watercolor, and overwhelmingly focused on realism resonated with my location and mindset. Watercolor’s portable nature was perfect at the beach or on a hike overlooking the ocean. 

Painting on site

There is an immediacy about painting on site that provides impressed memories and visual nuances about the subject. Sights, sounds, temperature, and smells create a palpable impact. Watercolor is forgiving, and comes fairly naturally to me. It allowed me to concentrate on learning about the ocean as subject matter, and express the “Water-ness” of the subject with a liquid medium. It is a “quick” medium so I was able to create a new painting each day.

South End Strands Beach, June; Watercolor

Upon arrival I began a practice of painting the ocean or beach every day. In the beginning I focused on what it is about the water that makes it look and “read” like the ocean. I walked, observed, and painted at various times of day, in different types of weather, lighting, tidal levels, and currents. I watched the tide pools and rock formations influence the flow of water. Waves have shape, light, colors, values, and motion. The more I looked, the more I saw; the more I painted, the better I was able to interpret what I see onto paper. 

Kelp, Oil and cold wax

Initially the exercise of simply understanding the look of the ocean was consuming. Over the weeks I found myself increasingly thinking about more abstract concepts, such as: the visual movement of light and form, the description of “mood”, and how to express how I feel about the ocean. Some of this was developed in a few small, abstract oil studies.

Study, Receding fog bank, July; Watercolor

Over the weeks the ocean and atmosphere changed. When I arrived it was the middle of “June gloom”. A delight. The overcast, cool, foggy mornings and cloudy days were respite from the heat and sun I left in Tucson. However, it was challenging to paint such different lighting, and islands that disappeared while I was working. In July the mornings began as cool and lightly overcast, then became sunny. The tone and look of my paintings changed in response. 

Wave study, July; Watercolor

This retreat was a time for focused artistic exploration of subject, concept, and expression. Ideas changed and developed. I looked at a lot of art in museums and galleries. I reconnected with my past as an artist, returning to my original medium: Watercolor. I hope that this renewed energy and connection to a creative practice guides me as I explore future work. I am inspired, observing more, and feel connected to my identity as a creative person. 

Sunny Morning, Salt Creek beach, Watercolor

For anyone considering a similar artistic retreat I recommend the experience. Consider your goals, research and choose a destination that resonates with you personally. Once on the retreat, allow for change and flexibility, and open yourself to what the experience has to offer. 

7 thoughts on “Creative Retreat

  1. Thank you for sharing this with me. There was something deeply personal about it. In my own creative pursuits, I have never really thought about my process – such as it is. I thought you did a wonderful job or showing the movement of the water and the splashing against the rocks. Well done.


  2. Thank you for sharing your retreat experience. What an interesting approach of structuring in a full immersion experience. And that it turned out in unexpected ways. It’s great that you just went with it. Your watercolors of the ocean are absolutely amazing, breath taking, actually. Your deep connection to the water shines through. It’ll be interesting to see where this 5 week journey takes you next in your art!


  3. This is a great post. It’s wonderful – and inspiring – that you found time to devote to immersing yourself in a place where you could focus on art and allow that to expand and develop through time. We sometimes don’t give ourselves enough time to just “wander” and see where we end up. Glad you had this experience. And happy that you shared your thoughts about it.


  4. Helen, I very much enjoyed reading this! I am always in awe of your watercolors. Beautiful work. Have a new favorite!


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