Preparing for the DRAW camp earlier this month, I had anticipated being able to start a new piece of fibre art each (or most) days and being "immersed" in making art all week. This was partly based on my plan to focus only small 6x6 samplers, not large pieces, as I would be doing all the stitching by hand, I had even prepared by cutting up many fabric pieces as I would not know what colours I would need until I was at camp.

The reality was quite different from what I expected.

Most days included an organized outing or sometimes just 2 or 3 of us: a hike up a mountain, a talk by a local canoeist and expert on the area's history (Wally Schaber, author of The Last of the Wild Rivers), the Grand Chutes area, the historic trail along the river, bogs and ponds, a canoe day. The idea behind these was to learn about the area, see the scenes, experience local nature, learn of the history and measures to protect this as a wilderness area and, of course, to be inspired in our artmaking.

Several of the artists had been on this retreat in previous years. They appeared to have a good idea what they wanted to focus on, spots they wanted to visit again, scenes they wanted to capture in paint or on camera.

For those of us who were attending this retreat for the first time, we needed to see all that was on offer, and to then be able to decide what to work on. I found for the first 5 days I wasn't focused on creating. Rather I wanted to be immersed in my surroundings as I walked and explored the spectacular views, the magic of the trail, the colourful mushrooms, the discarded and rusted metal implements, even the frog and spider webs at the beach.

I came across a quote by Julia Cameron recently (best known as author of The Artist Way) in her book, The Vein of Gold:

"We speak of "food for thought" but seldom realize that as artists we need thought for food. Walking, with its constant inflow of new images, gives us new thoughts that nourish us. It replenishes our overtapped creative well and gives us a sense of ... well, wellness." 

Very true, I think, and especially important on this trip.

And of course spending time with the other artists and the CPAWS staff talking, getting to know each other, learning about each other's art, bonding were an important part of our process. Meal times, doing dishes, power naps, cooling off in the lake were also a big part of our day, as well as time around the campfire to catch up and share, before retiring to our tents for much needed sleep in preparation for the following day.

While I did get 3 art pieces started, my focus was on capturing (over 350) photos on my camera and making thumbnail sketches and notes about my impressions, materials I could use, colours and textures, even an embellishment technique or two. All this has helped me sort out what I want my focus to be as a result of this experience.

I've now identified 15 or 16 possible pictures to make. The 3 pieces started at the camp are now finished. And I have begun the step in the creative process of gathering materials for a the next 2 or 3.

If I do go back to this retreat next year - and right now I think I'd like to - I'll have a clearer focus of what to work on. And I may be able to pare down my creative process while I'm there. 

As a final note, there were 2 books several of us found to be of great benefit in helping us identify many of the plant life in the area: Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada and Mushrooms of Ontario and Eastern Canada. I already had one, and now own both.

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