Weekend Shortcut: Drawing Inspiration From An Artist Retreat In Kent
Written by Jaillan Yehia
The last time I wrote about going on a retreat, I started by talking about crying in a yoga class on a beach in Mexico.
At the risk of making it seem like all retreats – be they yoga or artist retreats – involve crying, I’m going to start this review of a UK artist retreat in Kent by telling you about the tears.
But only because in this case there’s a powerful lesson you can learn from somebody else’s eyes leaking.
It’s a chilly Friday evening and a small group of strangers have arrived on a picture-perfect farm set amid 12,000 acres of ancient woodland in rural Kent for a weekend artist retreat.
We’ve all had a chance to check into our accommodation – a higgledy-piggledy bunch of beautiful bedrooms with original beams and old fashioned fixtures spread across both the main house and the beautifully renovated outbuildings, and now we’re ready to unleash our inner artist.
We are seated at large wooden desks in an echoey modern barn, heads bent in concentration. We have a selection of natural objects spread out in front of us which we are encouraged to sketch by Catherine Farr, who will be our artistic mentor for the next few days.
Most of us don’t have any kind of background in art. In fact, in a flurry of typical Britishness we all loudly proclaim just how bad we are at drawing before we’ve even introduced ourselves, and we compete valiantly for the title of Least Capable Artist as if it comes with a cash prize.
I feel sure that being a mostly female group has something to do with the self-effacing atmosphere, but then I realise the guys are at it too – it’s clear we’re actively attempting to lower Catherine’s expectations so that when we do draw something crap, she can’t say she wasn’t warned.
What we’re not prepared for is Catherine’s complete lack of pretension and her straight talking nature, or her ability to turn your preconceptions about art – and indeed artist retreats – around.
A couple of people on the retreat turn out to be fairly practiced artists (the weekend is a Christmas gift from their partner or an excuse to get together with another arty friend) and at first it creates a bit of a ‘them’ and ‘us’ vibe, as we begin our first proper drawing exercises.
This is when the tears of frustration come in. One of the girls in the ‘we can’t really draw’ gang, of which I consider myself a key member, has a bit of a moment.
She’s trying to sketch a shell, or a pine cone, or some other deceptively simple everyday item whose lines are in fact harder to nail down than a slab of jelly in the wind, and she feels like she just can’t do it.
It’s all over in a flash, I hear a few of Catherine’s words of encouragement, a general tone of comfort, and an overriding message:
Each and every one of us has our own unique artistic style, not to be measured or compared against anyone else’s and beautiful in its own way.
It is this message which turns out to be the key take-home of the entire weekend for me. This and an A5 sheet of paper with a charcoal seashell in a style that I will describe charitably as ‘art naive’ – but of which I am immensely proud nonetheless.
After Friday’s initial session we have 3 further art classes on the Saturday and Sunday, each around 2 hours long and punctuated by organic vegan meals, walks, morning yoga, petting the farm’s dogs – and sheep, and optional spa sessions.
During those hours spent in the studio I discover that I do indeed have my own style, and I watch others’ styles develop. It might sound trite but the variation of what different humans can produce when confronted with exactly the same view and some pencils is remarkable, and endlessly inspiring.
I feel the atmosphere change ever so slowly as we morph from a shy group of somewhat stiff strangers, most of whom are convinced of their artistic shortcomings, to a more bonded group of mutually appreciative budding painters and sketchers.
The sensation of time passing in this atmosphere of relaxed concentration is quite unique, almost like a meditation. Your troubles, worries and the events of any life outside of the object on which you’re focused all simply melt away.
It turns out to be inspiring and inclusive to have different styles and abilities in the room – even the interlopers who are borderline professional and have talents which scared us at the start – as we all begin to tackle different mediums like watercolour and oil pastels.
We settle into the rhythm of really looking at things, then silently working, glancing up constantly at our sources, with Catherine guiding our artistic choices in a down-to-earth yet delicate manner.
We wrap up our weekend artist retreat with a show and tell session, enthusiastically discussing what we have learned and commenting on each other’s pieces, all bolstered by positive feedback and a sense of genuine accomplishment.
Everyone’s work, from the teary new artist, to the keen amateurs and the practiced painters is spread out around the room in a mini exhibition – and every piece gives the group equal amounts of joy.
More Info On This Artist Retreat At Kent’s Green Farm
Green Farm is located in Shadoxhurst, a 10 minute drive from Ashford International Station, which is on a fast train route (37 minutes) to London St. Pancras.
There are regular weekend artist retreats all led by Catherine Farr.
For more information on the various artist retreats and classes click here.
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