I needed a creative recharge but I didn't know it. I'd been struggling with creative burnout for months but hadn't wanted to call it by name. Business was going well. My Anthropologie design collaboration continued to expand with new products season after season. By all counts I appeared creatively filled. I was working as an artist after all, my partner had joined me in the business full-time and we got to work together everyday, and I'd just moved into my first commercial studio space. So many aspects of my life were touched by my creative career and I felt an expectation to feel joyous about that at all times. This was what I'd wanted all along... right?
When I was invited to attend Willow Gathering: The Southern Retreat by Emily Jeffords, a painter I'd long admired, I was thrilled with the prospect of a weekend surrounded by creative women. I knew we'd learn new skills together, share our creative challenges, and do some good-for-the-soul self work. Those things all happened and the entire retreat was amazing. I needed it.
I realized on the retreat that I also needed some rest. I needed time away from my studio, away from work to really start thinking about my work again. I learned that somewhere along the way in the hustle and bustle of the "success" of my business that I'd neglected my greatest asset to my business: my creativity!
We took things slowly at the retreat. Good coffee in the morning, unrushed. Good meals with good conversation, unhurried, savored. We painted in the sun dappled fresh air of spring and melted hours away. And it wasn't easy for me. I was over-caffeinated (a now decade long habit from working in a cafe in college), I was impatient with the slow drying oil paints, I was frustrated with myself for not painting better (I initially studied painting in college) and felt angry with myself for all of the years I'd let slip by neglecting those skills. The weekend was perfect. The day, the weather, the food, the company, everything about it was perfect but I was off-center.
I was thankful to be at the retreat when I realized all of this. My frustration was like a solid immovable wall and I just had to sit with it. I couldn't distract myself with loading a kiln, making glaze, sending emails, or whatever other business busyness I usually dive into. I had to sit with the slow drying oils and see the beauty in their uncompromising state. We cut and arranged fresh flowers and the flowers changed in the hot sun, the cool evening, and the following day many were different than they'd been the day before. We painted these flowers and had to accept their unapologetic change. Some were more beautiful, some less. And that's just the way it was.
At the end of the weekend I walked away more aware of my creativity and myself. It's been a few months now and I've made a deliberate effort to take more time for my own creative practice-- highlighting that I need to have a separate practice as an artist outside of my creative business. This is a topic I've been discussing on instagram lately, especially in my live videos from my home pottery studio. I've carved out a little corner in my garage to keep my wheel and a tiny kiln and there I submit to the elements (regularly sweating it out to 100 degree temperatures, I'm in NC and it's summer and there's no AC out there) and it's been glorious. I still run at full speed in my commercial studio space and there's a kiln buzzing away over there every day to hit our production numbers. But I've also made time to let my creativity play.
If you're looking for a creative recharge I highly recommend Willow Gathering with Emily Jeffords and Julie Dodds! Learn more here about their upcoming events both stateside and in Europe! Emily summarized Willow Gathering beautifully, "Julie and I began Willow Gathering as a way to provide space, nourishment, and freedom to our guests. We're both highly creative, and creativity is a large focus of each event, but the true goal is to make space for each person to find their own beauty and meaning."
A big thank you to our retreat hosts who shared their talents with us: Emily Jeffords, Julie Dodds, Beth Ables (our talented chef for the weekend), and Jessica Barley (who taught us to naturally dye fabric)!