This is definitely the hardest post to write about the DWYL retreat. And it has ended up as such a long post that I’m going to break it into two .
Choosing to do the painting workshop was a definite shove outside my comfort zone. I’ve wanted to paint for a long time but been either scared or unsure about how to approach it. And not sure if I could let go enough to get past the feeling of being dissatisfied with the result.
The long list of paints we had to get before hand, those tricky foam “brushes” which caused raised eyebrows in some of the Edinburgh Art Stores, none of this was terribly reassuring. But at the same time I had butterflies about the idea of it.
However, the welcome and the first evening at the retreat was so relaxing and enjoyable that my worries started to fade away a bit. All our luggage was taken away and brought to our little eco houses while we chatted with each new arrival, drank tea and ate cakes. Dinner in the tipi and more chatting followed.
By morning I was a little apprehensive but curious about how it would unfold. Flora had the perfect technique for dealing with slightly anxious would – be painters. First off a little intro in a circle so that we could see who we were sharing the class with and then outside onto the grass for a bit of stretching to loosen up. For our first marks on the canvas she put some boppy music on and had us apply paint using our hands and fingers, allowing the music to direct us, all the while keeping our eyes closed. It really got past that “white canvas” fear that many people have. And then, using the foam brushes and other implements she guided us through a whole series of ways to make marks.
After a while we had to move around the room stopping at all the other paintings and she would again direct us to make a certain mark – sometimes swirling the brush round, sometimes creating short dashes, or dots or an angry mark. It was quite interesting to note the feeling of detachment to the other paintings and that helped us to have the same approach to our own. We were advised to regularly turn our painting upside down, or round by 90 %- again to let intuition guide the painting rather than trying to force something. Flora worked on a demo painting throughout and she also regularly turned her picture upside down.
By the end of the first day I was thoroughly enjoying the process – although I didn’t like how either of my canvases were looking. I think most of the group were feeling that way. Undeterred Flora had us choose the one that we preferred and in turn we found some tiny corner of our painting that we did like. And here the marvel of acrylics comes into its own – if you don’t like something you can paint right over the top. In fact most of our paintings have at least 10 layers – possibly more. The painting below is one of mine from the first day- there was very little of that left by the next day.(I didn’t take many pictures during the retreat as I wanted to have a change of pace and not look through the viewfinder so much. All the photos I did take were Iphonography ones )
On the second day we continued to work on the two canvas in rotation – a good system as it allows one to dry while the other is being worked on. At around the time I was starting to pull my paintings towards something I liked a bit more Flora stood in the middle of the marquee , took a deep breath , and invited us to give one of our paintings away to our neighbour. For ever. There were a few gasps. But surprisingly, no uproar , as we quickly understood that this was yet another lesson in working with “what is” and trying to keep a bit of detachment. And again a reminder that anything we didn’t like could be painted over. And anything in the painting we’d given away that we liked, we could repeat.
The time whizzed by so quickly. Every now and then Flora would demonstrate another technique. Or put on some music to do another bit of stretching or dancing. Or if you really felt stuck she would make gentle suggestions about what you could try next. It was absorbing and challenging but never felt uncomfortable – and at the end of the second day most of us had completed two paintings ! For me , one felt more completed than the other but I still decided I was done with them for now -so that I could just work on my third canvas the next day.
Final installment on Thursday.
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