Art retreat in France

Welcome to the next instalment of my travel stories. If you haven’t already you might to read these posts: Busking in Oslo, Hello, the magical land of Nærbo, and Learning to speak Norwegian even though I’m Deaf.

By the time I left Denmark and flew to Paris, I was happy in my soul, and exhausted from all the new experiences, new language, new ideas and inspiration… I was glad I’d decided to take a cyberbreak. It has become clear to me how much time I spend at home consuming stuff online – reading Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram etc. But on this trip I wasn’t been able to do that at all. My heart, mind and soul were so full there isn’t room for anything else. Cyberland just didn’t appeal. I needed all my spare brain-space just to process everything! I haven’t missed my computer at all.

In Paris there was more! I met my dear friend Jenine, co-illustrator of Grimstone books, and art buddy. We’ve taken several online courses together, and although she lives in the Middle East and I live in Australia, we still skype most weeks to show each other our progress on the art front. It keeps us honest and accountable. Very good.

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We trawled through flea markets, gathering mountains of inspiration, and not too many trinkets (the prices had me gasping). One of the best things though was discovering that Parisiens use these sweet little balsa-wood boxes for their cheese and fruit, and they chuck them out afterwards. Jenine and I couldn’t resist a bit of scavenging. Luckily she brought a biggish, mostly empty suitcase with her, and we packed it with empty cheese boxes before heading to the South of France.

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In Lagrasse, we hunkered down for ten days, where I did a lot of sleeping, knitting and crochet, in an effort to restore my poor, overstimulated brain to a somewhat normal state. And in between, we worked on art projects.

We had a papier mache / installation station, where I used an old cheese box to make an installation that held all the treasures and memories from my trip.

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We had a knitting, sewing and crochet station, complete with a massage chair thoughtfully provided by our AirBnB hosts! Man, I miss that massage chair, I tell you!

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In the centre was a nice big dining table, which was our painting and journaling hub.

 

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While we each worked on our own projects, Jenine and I usually managed to sync up so that we’d both be in the same station at the same time, feeding off each other, asking questions, getting feedback, teasing, and generally enjoying each others’ making-making-making vibe. It was so astonishing to me to watch Jenine potter between making miniature papier mache shoes for a doll, weaving a lobster pot out of string she made from a flax plant, whipping up a fabric doll without so much as a pattern (just winging it), and churning out papier mache mouse after mouse because she felt compelled to use up any rubbish tissue paper lying around. This is all the sort of thing I like to do. But it struck me, how rarely I get to see others do it. And how very much I enjoyed being in her company, influenced by that gorgeous creative energy.

 

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Jenine also pushed me to try new things, such as once night when we sat down to draw 8 cats. We had the clock on, 1 minute and 15 seconds per cat. While none of mine was fabulous, I did find some ideas I will definitely try to develop, maybe for rubber stamp characters. Cool.

 

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As well as making my installation, the main focus of my creative time in Lagrasse was to try out new ideas… new colour combinations, new birds, new styles of painting. These things take a lot of focus, and sometimes at home when I’m working from commission to commission, I don’t have the time or energy to play around so much. I painted over 15 colour experiments, and a handful of them I really loved and will definitely use again. I found some new compositions to use in future pieces too. And I’ve got a handful of rubber stamp characters ready to go.

It’s a good time to fill up on new ideas, because I’m going to use the next several months to do lots of little paintings for Christmas. Last year, I did no less than 70 original paintings for Christmas, and because I lacked confidence that anyone would want to buy my stuff, I didn’t paint anything in advance! It nearly killed me. This year I’m going to start early, and it’s so good to be brimming with inspiration and new things to try.

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