It's remarkable to feel community so deeply that the moment everyone arrived in Spain, about to embark on a journey that was just as communal as it was individual. It was as if we had been lifelong friends. Our shared passion for the art we love to explore and create became the driving force, and everything else flowed without effort. That’s what I love so much about art. We have an unspoken understanding and bond with those we share this love for creativity with.
Welcome to Andalusia
Hosting my art retreat in the picturesque region of Andalusia, Spain was nothing short of extraordinary (for many reasons) 🙃 Nestled amidst the stunning landscapes of Sierra de Grazalema Nature Reserve, our days were filled with awe-inspiring vistas of lush greenery and rugged mountains. Not to mention the random weather we were met with throughout the week.
Andalusia's architectural charm, with its white-washed villages and Moorish influences, served as a constant source of inspiration for our creative endeavors. We explored the intricate details of Moorish architecture, capturing the essence of the region's rich cultural history in our artwork.
left: Setenil de las Bodegas | right: by Elina Lukas of a dwelling in Setenil de las Bodegas
Now, this region of Spain is known for warm weather, and even in October, 70 degrees Fahrenheit (around 24 degrees Celsius) you’d think it to be the perfect balance of sunshine and comfort. It would allow for delightful outdoor adventures, whether you're exploring historic cities, strolling through charming villages, or immersing yourself in the natural beauty of places like Grazalema Nature Reserve.
However, nature is unpredictable. And the expected pleasant October climate met us with some challenges 😜 It certainly got us bonding even faster, to say the least.
On the day we arrived, it was truly the perfect temperature outside. It was warm and sunny and the view of the surrounding nature was crisp and inviting. After a few hours, it quickly began to get darker, wetter, and windier. It was so windy, in fact, that the entire estate began slamming the open windows and doors, and eventually led to a power outage. This resulted in a romantic candlelit dinner with the group 🕯️😆
If you hang out with me often, you know one of my favorite quotes is “The creative adult is the child who survived” by Ursula K. LeGuin. The objective I had for this retreat was to inspire artists to not only contemplate but to also take tangible steps beyond their familiar boundaries. By offering thought-provoking prompts, I aimed to create a nurturing environment where individuals could embrace discomfort, challenge their artistic paradigms, and engage in layered exercises that would strategically connect them with their inner artist.
This approach fostered personal growth and artistic exploration, allowing participants to tap into new dimensions of creativity and self-expression, making the retreat a transformative experience for all involved.
top left: artwork by Lindsey Roncaioli, top right: artwork by Wendy Westerduin, bottom center: artwork by Peggy Dean
The healing within creative retreats
Before hosting my first art retreat last year in the South of France, I’d always cherished the idea of embarking on a journey to a breathtaking, faraway location. A place where I could submerge myself in the harmony of nature, unleash my artistic spirit, and unite with fellow kindred souls who share my passion. This expedition would serve as a refuge from the hustle and bustle of my everyday life, offering me the precious gift of time. Time to express my creativity, to contemplate life's mysteries, to forge bonds, and to nurture my own personal evolution.
When envisioning my dream escape, I had a strong lists of wants:
- international destination
- a secluded, opulent estate
- uninterrupted, sweeping vistas
- an abundance of untamed wilderness
- a personal gourmet chef
- an intimate gathering of kindred spirits
- excursions to historic cities
- professional photo/video sessions capturing each guest's essence
- moments for profound connections, introspection, and the inception of lifelong bonds
- and, naturally, ample time for the strokes of my artistic muse
When I realized that my dream getaway checklist was quite ambitious and I couldn't find the exact match with the desired ambiance and atmosphere, I made the decision to bring this dream retreat into reality on my own terms. After doing it successfully in France, I went ahead for a second time in Spain, and I’m going to give you a peek behind the scenes into what went on while we were on our journey.
😻 Kittens 😽
We interrupt this program to highlight the real feature of this retreat: an adorable family of five cats that live outdoors at the retreat venue. We got to cuddle with Michon (the kittens’ daddy), be the first to make contact with the adorable kittens, and feed the whole bunch some scrambled eggs. When I say it was difficult to leave them, it’s an understatement. We all fell in love with these furbabies.
bottom left (center): Patricia with kittens, bottom right: Valerie with Michón
Apart from our dedicated art sessions at our private estate, we embarked on a series of day adventures. Our first excursion led us on a nature hike into El Gastor, a hidden village in the Andalusian countryside, offering a blend of natural beauty, cultural richness, and tranquility.
El Gastor with the group: Teresa, Wendy, Laura, Krista Jamie, Peggy, Diane, Elina, Valerie, Lynn, Lindsey, Lowell, Kathy, Mary
Our next stop on the journey was Ronda, a city that held a special allure. And in natural Peggy fashion, I went off script at one point because how could you not in this beautiful region?! So although the retreat was focused on painting, I couldn’t resist an impromptu urban sketching session amidst the enchanting city of Ronda. Its breathtaking views are like a living canvas, with the iconic Puente Nuevo bridge spanning the dramatic El Tajo Gorge.
top left: Puente Nuevo in Ronda, Spain, top right: Peggy Dean urban sketching demonstration, bottom: El Tajo Gorge in Ronda, Spain
Setenil de las Bodegas
Our final day trip was my favorite. It was quaint, but you could walk the entire town from one end to the other in 10 minutes. Despite its small size, this town had a rich history and an atmosphere that spoke volumes. It felt like a place where time had stood still, preserving its traditions and stories for generations.
The cliffs serve not only as natural formations but also as the foundation for the village, with houses built directly into the rock, creating a surreal and picturesque landscape that seamlessly blends nature and human architecture.
As artists, we found inspiration in every corner (even kitties), and captured the essence of this charming enclave through our creative lenses.
Setenil de las Bodegas
I wholeheartedly encourage investing in this kind of extraordinary experience for yourself. It's genuinely a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you'll cherish forever. As I wrap up this post, three weeks after our incredible time together, the ongoing interactions among the retreat members each day continue to demonstrate the unexpected and profound friendships that have formed, leaving my heart brimming with happiness.
❝ Here’s what you should know before going on an art retreat - note that the experience is unique to everyone and what I’m sharing is my own perspective.
Being with like-minded people is freeing. If, like me, you lean (much) more on the introverted side, the thought of being around a big group of people for a week straight can seem worse than torture. When I was about depart for my first retreat in 2022, I was overwhelmed by anxiety. What if I don’t get along with someone or don’t fit in? What if I don’t want to be in other people’s company 24/7? I was so worried that I would not enjoy the experience that I nearly ruined it for myself all together. But as it turns out, being around like-minded people that enjoy art and the process of creating is freeing. You don’t have to worry about finding a common topic to talk about, and will likely come out of this experience with a lifetime friend or two.
Everyone is learning. I see so many artists be intimidated by the blank page or a new sketchbook, concerned about making a mess and not living up to their own standards. The truth is, while art is an extremely therapeutic process, it is also a lonely one. So many of us create on our own and overthink the process, precisely measuring every lick of paint. Seeing others around you try new things and come out of their comfort zone can push you to do the same.
You don’t have excuses. Because the entire purpose of you being on an art retreat is to learn and make art, you cannot find excuses to not do just that. And even though a week might not seem that long, it’s long enough to develop a habit that you can take home with you and introduce into your daily life.❞
If attending such an event with me is something you desire, I will certainly keep you in the loop () regarding any future art retreats. Your artistic journey awaits, and I'd love to share it with you when the opportunity arises!
Teresa, Wendy, Laura, Krista Jamie, Peggy, Diane, Elina, Valerie, Lynn, Lindsey, Lowell, Kathy, Mary