It all started as a fun weekend for two like-minded friends to leave work and families behind, escape to a lakeside cottage and share their mutual passion for creating. For one, it was paint and linoleum block printing. For the other, it was a combination of mixed media and craft.
The weekend was such fun, they decided to do it again another year. There was more of the same and sometimes the media changed as a new skill was learned. But the message was clear.
This wasn’t just a weekend. It was art camp. And it was fun!
My friend Kate and I have been “doing” art camp for probably close to ten years now. I’ve lost count. That weekend expanded to several days, even a week, and this past month, eleven days. Eleven days of long talks, walks, swims, visits into town, wonderful dinners using all the best from the local farmer’s market, time to read, a nightly viewing of a Miss Fisher Mystery on Netflix and most of all, time to create.
We choose a time each summer when we can head to my Northern Michigan cottage, the car packed full of art supplies, swimsuits, necessities and a rather vocal black-and-white cat. We arrive two-and-a-half hours later, quickly unpack and settle in and then whip out the projects.
On occasion a lesson will be involved. Several years ago Kate showed me how to carve linoleum blocks for printing. Another year I shared a technique for making journals I learned at a workshop.
Sometimes we do the same thing. How the kitchen survived two women doing gelli printing and creating volumes of brilliantly colored deli papers I’ll never know.
But most of the time we do our own thing, sitting at opposite ends of a table on the screened-in porch. In recent years, Kate has focused her time on the bird calendar she makes and sells each December.
The images may be done in watercolor or gouache or perhaps she’ll design and carve a block to be printed later. I confess, I love to turn to my annual calendar and see one of the creations that evolved at art camp!
Several years ago I decided to channel most of my visual art energies into photography and painting and art camp is my painting intensive. Working with a more experienced painter is fun and useful too. When I get into a jam on color mixing, I know that there’s someone who can provide some sound advice and more than once that’s saved me from a big mess!
For me, and I think Kate would agree, art camp is the perfect escape.
There are no appointments to tend to, no social obligations or requirements. While we work together and dine together, we are free to operate on our own schedules. Kate will be up and walking by 7:30. I’ll sleep later and walk later — or opt for an extended swim instead. If creative overload saps one of us but not the other, we feel free to take a book-break and read or get a snack. We talk often and about every topic under the sun, but we don’t feel compelled to have conversation for conversation’s sake. There is simply no pressure.
Weather doesn’t matter. We’ve experienced a rainstorm that overtook our work area in a matter of seconds and killed the power, sending us to town to buy battery operated reading lights. One year, we went in late September — a particularly cold September. We brought the work table in from the porch and set up in the living room, keeping the fireplace glowing and space heaters on high.
It’s not easy for me to spend extended time with anyone. I’m an introvert by nature, the only child who grew up learning to occupy herself happily. By and large, I am far more content independently than with others, and when my time “runs out” I long to escape a conversation, a place, a person or activity and just breathe. There are probably only two or three people I could do extended art camp with, without one of us grinding on the others’ nerves and making me want to escape.
But art camp is the escape. There has never been a time when I’ve wanted to run from a single moment. But there have been more than a few moments at other times, in other places, where I’ve wanted to run and run fast to art camp.
In determining which colors to use in a visual art piece, artists often work with a color wheel, which displays all the colors, showing how they blend into the next on the wheel, complement one another or are totally in opposition. The color wheel reveals tension and harmony and when used correctly can help the artist find balance in the piece at hand.
To me, art camp is the perfect physical rendition of the color wheel. The days move harmoniously, one into another, blending and evolving into something quite different, yet with the tones of the day before.
The reds of a steamy hot day into the oranges of sunset and the golden yellow glow of dawn. The greens of the woodland walks blend into the blue of the cloudless sky and sparkling lake. Those blues evolve into rich purples and violets, another sunset.
We all have our own “art camps.” It may be a spa or a yoga retreat. It might be a week at a writer’s colony or a cooking weekend. The media doesn’t matter. It’s the message. Relaxation. Joy. Peace. Restoration. Creation.
And it’s all good.
PS – Join me tomorrow and I’ll be sharing tips for creating your own artist camp.
About the Author: Jeanie Croope
After a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.