Planning a Creative Retreat

As you may know, at Little Yellow Couch we typically host a party to reflect whichever theme we've been exploring for the month.  Since our current theme is "On The Waterfront," we thought hosting a retreat at a beach house would be an unexpected but exciting event to stand in for a party.  We've imaged two different kinds of retreats to share this week.  The first one is a creative retreat.  

We love this book!  Get more info  here.   There's a "buy it" button at the end of this post.  

We love this book!  Get more info here.  There's a "buy it" button at the end of this post.  

If you need some time away to get out of a creative rut, (or if being creatively uninhibited amidst colored pencils, journals, glue, paint, scissors and canvases sounds like a great way to spend a weekend) mobilize a few friends and host your own creative retreat.  Sure there are fancy ones already out there that we'd highly recommend, but in the spirit of DIY everything, you could have just as much fun and be equally productive with one custom tailored for you, BY you.  

To put together a creative retreat, we have been terrifically inspired by Danielle Krysa's new book, "Creative Block: Get Unstuck, Discover New Ideas.  Advice and Projects From 50 Successful Artists."   Danielle is an artist in her own right and she also writes the blog "The Jealous Curator," where she shares the art of people she admires.    

Mustache Master, embroidery and collage, by  Danielle Krysa

Mustache Master, embroidery and collage, by Danielle Krysa

Along with gorgeous photos of each artist's work, Danielle gets everyone to talk about the balance between their sense of self-worth and making art for public consumption.  She also asks them how they deal with criticism, both from within and from others, and what they do when they've hit a wall.  While the book isn't intended to be a guide for hosting a creative retreat, we couldn't help but want to use the artists' exercises as a template for mini workshops!  Before we get to some of the exercises, we've turned the tables on Danielle and put her in the hot seat by asking her some of her own questions, as well as talking about how she'd go about planning a creative retreat.  

Growth, No. 1, collage by  Danielle Krysa

Growth, No. 1, collage by Danielle Krysa

Little Yellow Couch:  Along with writing the blog, "The Jealous Curator," about other artists and their pursuits, you are also an artist yourself.  Do you embrace or battle your inner critic?

Danielle Krysa:  Oh, it's a battle! My inner critic doesn't usually have anything nice to say, so embracing it really isn't an option. I am learning to ignore it though! I have finally started to realize that it doesn't deserve the power I've given it over the last decade or two. Time for him to shut up for awhile.

LYC:  What about outside criticism?  How do you separate constructive criticism from unhelpful critiques?  

DK:  That's hard too. In my book, a lot of the artists say that you have to think about where the criticism is coming from. If it's delivered in a kind way from someone you trust/respect then you should listen, but if it's just mean and coming from someone that you don't know or trust then it should be ignored. Easier said then done, but knowing that every other artist in the world has to face this too makes me realize I'm not alone in this situation. One of my favorite quotes is from Jessica Bell. She says "Unkind judgement is really just a distraction. I can usually eat some potato chips and sleep it off." HA! I love that so much. Maybe because I love potato chips ;)

LYC:  We love this question you pose to other artists: "Do you ever equate your self worth with your success?" because it really gets to the heart of what it means to live with yourself as an artist on a daily basis.  

DK:  Yes, I asked all of the artists in my book this question... I didn't realize until right now how hard that is to answer! I suppose it depends what kind of "success" we're talking about. The answer is YES if we're talking about art, design, curating etc. I work hard and I want to succeed. Being Type A is definitely part of my DNA, and when things don't go the way I want them to, yes, my self worth takes a hit. However, if I get really deep for a minute and think about this a bit more, the answer is probably NO. As soon as I became a mother, outside validation became pretty meaningless to me. What mattered most was being a good mom, and a well-rounded person for my son. Professional success takes a back seat to that every time.

LYC:  So what do you do when you're feeling blocked?

DK:  I used to just quit. And be realllllly grouchy. As the interviews and unblocking exercises started rolling in from the artists though, I tried them immediately (long before the book was actually on shelves). One of my favorite things to do is grab a fancy coffee and pop into a thrift shop. Old books seem to be a great place for me to get started. I also have been using an unblocking project from Kate Pugsley (p.175) and am loving it! You paint blocks of your favorite colors on to sheets of paper, let them dry, cut them up into random shapes, and then assemble the pieces into some kind of composition. It's so fun, and most importantly, freeing! I played a lot, recycled a whole bunch of them, but I actually have two new finished pieces that I really love. Who knew!? ;)

LYC:  The exercises offered by the artists in your book feel to us like they could be the basis for workshops held during a creative retreat.  Have you thought about offering one?  

DK:  I did do a series of workshops called GIRL CRUSH, from San Francisco to Philly.  This was pre-book mind you, so yes, I'd love to do another workshop/retreat that is more closely tied to CREATIVE BLOCK. We'll see!

Blossom Princess, mixed media by  Danielle Krysa

Blossom Princess, mixed media by Danielle Krysa

LYC:  What do you think would be the best way to approach a weekend away with nothing to do but work on your art?

DK:  Oh, that sounds so nice! I think the first step would be removing technology. No distractions from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc. I'd also head into it with a bit of a plan... maybe a few unblocking projects ready to go, with all of the necessary supplies at your finger tips. I think heading off to a quiet weekend with just a blank notebook, or blank canvas would be way too intimidating. Sometimes when the possibilities are endless, you just never get started.

LYC:  What would be your ideal retreat, woods, farm, seashore?  

DK:  Hmmm. I think it would be a tie between woods and seashore. Maybe seashore. I love looking out over the ocean, and the smell of salt water. I find that very calming.

LYC:  If you were to create a retreat for yourself and a few friends, what do you imagine would be the ideal schedule for the weekend?  

DK:  I think it would be a morning of walks, coffee, talking, and a few creative exercises that we could do together >> Delicious lunch >> Then an afternoon on my own to work on whatever got stirred up that morning >> Dinner would be something small and light that I could eat in my studio, because once I get going, usually around 4:30pm, I can't stop! >> Maybe drinks and dessert around 10pm so that we could all recap our day. Repeat.

LYC:  Do you have a creative un-blocking exercise to offer like the ones you share in your book?  

DK:  I actually always do exactly what UK collage artist Anthony Zinonos suggested for my book. I go to a thrift shop and buy one book. Only one, and it can't cost more than $2. I bring it home and try to make six collages using only that book. It's really fun, and usually has pretty good results.  In fact, both the stacked plants and the stacked Queen E images you're using for this post were created using that technique!  

50 Shades Of Earl Gray, collage by    Danielle Krysa

50 Shades Of Earl Gray, collage by Danielle Krysa

As mentioned above, in Danielle's book, she asks each artist she's interviewed to come up with an exercise that will help you get out of your creative block.  Here are a few of our favorites that we think would be perfectly suited to do as part of your creative retreat.  Just make sure you've gathered all the necessary supplies for each participant ahead of time.  

Writing Exercise 

Buy five old photographs at an antiques shop (for the retreat host, you'd want to do this ahead of time).  Put a timer on for 30 minutes and write a one paragraph story for each photo.  (Based on the exercise by Sidney Pink on page 103 of the book "Creative Block," by Danielle Krysa).

Photography Exercises

Walk around the retreat space inside or out and take close ups of parts of objects that you wouldn't notice at first glance.  Share your photos with the group and see if they can guess what they are.  (Based on the exercise by Matthias Heiderich on page 59 of the book "Creative Block," by Danielle Krysa). 

Take a half hour and try to photograph 10 "faces in places," where you look for a "face" inside an object or group of objects such as the windows and doors of a building, a group of dishes, a vase, whatever.  (Based on the exercise by Jennifer Davis on page 235 of the book "Creative Block," by Danielle Krysa).  

Drawing and Painting Exercises

Find a quote that speaks to you (for the retreat host, you could bring along a few "famous quotes" books).  Write it out, using fanciful handwriting, drawing embellishments amongst the letters.  You could do several of these in a notebook that you dedicate for this exercise, continuing to do one per day after you leave the retreat.  (Based on the exercise by Mary Kate McDevitt on page 41 of the book "Creative Block," by Danielle Krysa).

Catalogue the contents of a medicine cabinet, refrigerator, kitchen cupboards, etc.  Draw or paint each item separately.  Make a book out of the images.  (Based on an exercise by Kate Bingaman-Burt from the book "Creative Block," by Danielle Krysa).  

Collage Exercise

Take a stack of papers and start painting broad swaths of different colors across each one.  Once they're dry, cut out shapes from each paper, either random shapes or recognizable silhouettes.  Rearrange the shapes ontop of a new sheet of paper and start gluing or taping them down as you start to see compositions that please you.  (Based on  the exercise by Kate Pugsley on page 175 of the book "Creative Block," by Danielle Krysa). 

Group Exercise

Put a bunch of random objects on a table.  Let each person take a turn arranging the items however they like.  After each new arrangement is made, everyone writes down an art title or news headline that describes the assemblege.  Share with the group.   (Based on an exercise by Camilla Engman on page 219 of the book "Creative Block," by Danielle Krysa).  

Later this week, we'll talk about some other ideas for hosting a retreat, including how to make your guests feel welcome.  Stay tuned!

xoxo Zandra