What are the benefits of learning art through a retreat? I wondered this as I wound my way along the A30, Cornwall bound to teach on a winter retreat hosted by The Stitchery. I was immediately greeted by Nicki and her Mum, Glynis, with a hug and a cup of tea (excellent start!) and then shown to a beautiful little barn which was to be my home for the week.
Here I found a selection of breakfast bits and a lovely goodie bag full of chocolate, stationary and pampering treats! 'Is this normal for a retreat?', I asked Nicki, at dinner that evening, 'not really', she said 'but I really like to spoil everyone!'. We had gathered for the most delicious 'welcoming feast' prepared by Susan and gifts, hugs and news was shared by those who knew one another.
I was, at this stage, beginning to realise that many of these ladies were here as a creative break from the riggers of home, family and work and really enjoyed the gentle and very kind company of those with the same hobbies and passions.
Day one and I'm teaching! Up early, I gathered all my materials and set up in the large shared barn space in the central courtyard. Susan was busy preparing the days food and I wondered how a group of women who loved sewing would take to the drawing and paper craft activities I had planned for them. Tentatively, I introduced them to the materials and few techniques, reassuring them that any mistakes can be rebalanced and, if needs be, repurposed! Throughout the day, the whole room grew in confidence, firstly producing smaller, slightly more nervous paper gingerbread biscuits which grew into the most ornate and highly decorative buildings!
Day 2 and the mornings are delightfully slow around here! With no family and household tasks to worry about (and a day off teaching) I decide to venture off to Tintangel, a place that I have always wanted to visit. I like the easy and relaxed feel about the retreat life in that you can join in with the day's activities, bring your own projects to work on or take yourself off for a bit of a wander (knowing that Susan will feed you something lovely when you get back!)
From the car park, I walked down from the town towards the beach which is home to Merlin's cave and a gorgeous waterfall clattering onto the huge slate pebble slabs below. The dramatic entrance to the castle on the island is across the most magnificent bridge which takes you to the remains of the 13th century castle. The fractured walls offered me ragged and ruined 'frames' where windows once were and teasing the viewer with slices of the dramatic headland. This is a meditative and spiritual place, you can almost hear the whispering voices of long ago.
I wandered up and along the cliff path until I came to the haunting, bronze sculpture of Arthur who represents the coming together of the areas history and legend. I loved sitting and watching how people reacted to the sculpture which has sections missing and stands a good 3-4ft taller than the average adult. I sat and sketched there for a bit until I got told off for crushing the grass in the conservation area! There was, without doubt, a large, bum sized dip in the foliage ...I hope that all plants and wildlife in the area will swiftly recover from their trauma.
As we continued on throughout the retreat with both Nicki and I teaching various festive projects in thread and paint, I was slowing coming around to retreat life. I loved it that you could get your PJ's on in the evening and sit, craft, sew, chat, watch TV or go to bed and read your book. There was always company for those who wanted it. Strictly Come Dancing was a must on Saturday and Sunday Night, of course, even though Nicki and I confessed to having never watched it! **shocked glances/disbelief/'what...never????!!** It's TRUE! I sat and drew Julie, Lisa and Susan embroidering and crocheting one evening which was great fun...they didn't move too much which was a bonus!
So yes! retreat is definitely a fantastic way to get away from it all for a break to meet new people, to have a different kind of holiday... the sort that is restorative, inspiring, creative and relaxing! Thanks for having me, Nicki!