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Creative Flow on the Go

Tips for Sneaking an “Art Retreat” into a Family Road Trip

Ok, the last 18 months have been crazy, with upended routines, social and economic upheaval and uncertainty, worries about health and what’s coming next. By the summer, the vaccine for COVID 19 was widely available, and hope was in the air.

My family and I were ready to see walls other than our own. Heck, I was even ready to get away from my studio, which is typically a place of refuge. These past months were definitely a juggle fest as a parent, artist, small business owner, and home fixer upper. It was a quiet year in terms of limited time with extended family and indoor socializing, too quiet. Many of us are feeling a toll on our creative spirit, on our energy and ability to focus. Wow, it’d be a great time for a long art retreat, right? But our family plan was to visit family in Arizona we hadn’t seen in two years, while also avoiding airports with our under-12. Thus the plan for our 30-day Seattle, Washington to Phoenix, Arizona road trip was launched, despite distance, the heat of August travel in the Southwest United States, and western wildfire concerns. I knew however that I didn't want to skip out on creating for a whole month, and thus the need to find a way to sneak an art retreat into a family road trip, for restoration of both my personal and creative selves, which are very much linked for me.

So, whether you’re hitting the road with 3 people and their gear stuffed into a small car (Prius), or using trains, planes, or boats, how can you sneak some art retreat into your family travels?

Get Set for Your "Mini Art Retreat":

1. Assemble Your Travel Art Kit

I really, really wanted to take my pochade box and oils, but I soon realized that traveling with wet paintings in a packed Prius was not going to work out on this trip. Plus, I wanted a getaway from my studio and my regular process, so I opted for pencils, pens, and watercolors with the goal of creating rough and loose sketches and studies that dry quickly. I also wanted some flexibility to draw or paint, with a couple different sizes, and small enough to draw on the go in the car, in my lap, poolside, or at the dining table at the grandparents' house.

My travel art kit:

· Mesh pouch

· Travel water color kit

· Pencil bag with pencils, black markers, pencil sharpener, eraser

· Small moleskin paper sketchbook

· Postcard sized watercolor pad

· Composition finder

· Sketching app for phone or tablet, such Drawing Desk for iPhone

Based on lessons from the road, I’d add a couple more items:

· A couple of paper clips for holding sketchbook paper in place when it’s windy

· Small metal nail file for cutting the glue between the sheets on the watercolor pad.

2. Leverage Small Blocks of Time

It had been a long time since I’d felt “I had the time to sketch”. Well, that’s not really true I discovered. I learned/re-learned that getting into the habit of sketching again is in recognizing those small blocks of time that often go unnoticed: The kids are playing in the sand after a long beach walk and you’re sitting on the beach blanket staring at the waves. You are on the dock waiting for the crabs to get in the crab basket. Grandpa is cooking dinner, and you are sipping a glass of wine at the dining table while everyone else is watching tv or taking a shower. Hmmm, these are all great times to sketch. Once you start looking for those little gems of time, you start noticing them more. That lull in between activities, that’s just enough time for a few lines of pencil or dabs of paint, where a little sketch can emerge.

3. Pause & Observe

I found the practice of just stopping and looking so restorative. From marveling at the mist shrouding the saguaro cactus filled Catalina foothills before the heat of the desert day to gazing at the crash of the incoming tide against the rocks on the Oregon coast, the simple act of pausing from activity and observing and enjoying what is unique and special about a location or moment in time can be profoundly relaxing. It also helps you identify interesting compositions, which then inspires you to reach for that sketchbook or canvas.