Return from the Art Retreat

Originally published on April 22, 2017 on the beta version of my website.

Blissful. Refreshing. Tranquil? No matter how many times I try to formulate a description in my mind, I cannot find appropriate words to describe the lovely experience I had at La Muse retreat in the tiny French village of Labastide-Esparbairenque. As I reflect on it, I realize that my wonderful experience at La Muse could be due to a combination of good timing and an excellent location.

To set the stage, I shall explain the timing. I had started 2017 off strong by committing myself to the 100 Day Challenge of doing art every day, and did follow through with it for a good stretch. I gained momentum and also some confidence with my art. I loved setting up my studio in my new apartment and putting it to good use. Things were looking great! Making art every day made me feel so happy! But then, I lost some steam, and also made a life-changing decision to get married…with just four months notice. I spent the last few weeks leading up to my retreat frantically planning the wedding from overseas (not an easy feat), alongside my regular work responsibilities, which resulted in me dropping the ball with my art making. As I said, good timing for a relaxing and secluded retreat! Letting go of wedding planning, work, and constant emails in exchange for solitude was just what I needed.

Now I will try to describe the enchanting location. La Muse, an artist and writers retreat, is run by a fabulous international couple, who are writers themselves and used to work in the publishing industry. The main house is over 1,000 years old, which might surprise you, as it did me when I first heard it. However, as I explored the surrounding area of Labastide and the nearby village of Roquefere, I realized that everything there is ancient, as well as stunning and peaceful. For example, to get the freshest drinking water, you wouldn’t get it from the tap. Instead, you would carry a glass bottle on a leisurely walk to the mountain spring, along the way passing blooming gardens, breathtaking views of the mountains and valleys, a few waterfalls, and usually being trailed by the friendly village dog who enjoys being a walking companion.

There was a calmness surrounding me when I was at La Muse. I felt more peaceful and mindful of the present moment, enjoying the creative experience as well as the fresh air and beautiful scenery. My walks to the mountain spring would take twice as long as they needed to, simply because I would enjoy sitting and viewing the natural beauty that surrounded me. My usual every day worries became less vivid. I felt truly relaxed.

I did enjoy the solitude, though I wasn’t totally alone. I was staying in the house with three other women (close to my own age), who were all writers. During the days, I got alone time in the art studio, where I was the only visual artist using the space. During meal times and evenings, I enjoyed getting to know the other women, discussing our creative interests, inspirations, or travel experiences. Our talks usually took place in the library, with the wood stove glowing warm and surrounded by ancient stone walls lined with bursting bookcases, or in the kitchen where everyone seemed to congregate when they needed a break from their creative work. We just happened to be there on Easter Sunday, and enjoyed a jaunt to the only restaurant nearby, in Roquefere (the next village over). The food was excellent, but the company was even better. We shared a lot of laughs throughout the week together at La Muse.

I could tell I really needed the retreat, because I surpassed my usual apprehensive stage, and jumped right into painting. I enjoy a more loose, intuitive style of making, so I didn’t need to make many preliminary sketches or trials. I think by the end of the second day, I had about six paintings I was working on simultaneously, all spread out in the studio that was all mine for the week. At times, I worked in total silence, or with music playing in the background. Sometimes when I was doing more monotonous work, I would put on a podcast, audiobook, or even a film on Netflix. It might not sound very exciting to you, but for me, my time working in the studio was bliss.

In the end, I made 10 paintings, though I think there are a few I would consider unfinished. I will spend some time this weekend finishing them up. For now, please enjoy the new batch of photos I have added to my portfolio page. These include the finished artworks from my retreat, but also some from before the retreat that I haven’t photographed yet.

I am pleased to say that I have surpassed my goal, which was to have ten new artworks to add to my portfolio since January 1st. Currently, I have 17 paintings in my portfolio, and there are more to come. Now I need to start selling them!

For those of you interested in learning more about La Muse artist and writers retreat, you can go to their website here. John and Kerry are great hosts!