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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.