“Maybe I’ll sketch; maybe I won’t.”

Attending an artist retreat for the first time.
by Wendy Hollands

Creativity can be a lonely adventure, yet here I am on an artist retreat, where the room is filled with banter over a hearty meal. So how does a typical artist retreat work? The Sketch Trips team had invited me to see for myself. As a self-confessed expert at wonky stick figures, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Sketch Trips organise everything from the destination to the accommodation, collecting us from Split airport and taking us directly to our villa. The poolside terrace overlooks a quiet rural valley, where a donkey braying drowns out the dulcet moos from a herd of three cows. Our itinerary is varied, with visits to beach towns, nature areas and even a local village market peppered between group tutorials. Guests are free to balance their time between artistic activities and tourism during each visit, with enough time for a swim before dinner.

Our tutor for the week is Sonia Hawes, who makes contact with new students before they arrive to find out more about their creative style, abilities and interests. She also provides a list of materials to bring, which often includes new products to experiment with.

I ask her where she would start with someone like me — a complete beginner. “Drawing is easy,” she says, “but looking is difficult.” After providing some tips, Sonia picks a sprig of rosemary from the garden for me to draw. The results aren’t great, yet Sonia’s feedback leaves me motivated to try again. She explains that style and interpretation are unique to each person, and her role is to nurture those talents: “If we were to leave here at the end of the week and everyone had created the same painting, I’d be very disappointed”.

As the week progresses, so do the results. “Students spend more time being creative in one week than they normally would in a year, so they see greater improvements,” Sonia explains. “And having a mixed group helps people learn based on seeing each other’s work.” Having never visited Croatia, I succumb to spending more time as a tourist, but my sprig of rosemary does improve by the end of the week.

The organisers behind Sketch Trips are keen artists themselves. With more than 16 years’ of experience in the hospitality industry, they also understand what guests want. The team takes care of cooking and transportation, so students can focus on what they came here to explore — being artistic. One of the hosting team sums it up nicely: “Like skiers and snowboarders who would talk about their kit at our chalet, artists on a retreat talk about their techniques and share their work.”

The week finishes far too quickly, and the Sketch Trips team drops us back at the airport with our sketchbooks full of exciting scenes (and a scent of rosemary). On this artist retreat, creativity was far from a lonely adventure, and I’d happily go again.

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