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Late last year, I did something I have been wanting to do for YEARS.

I’m not sure what took me so long… I had been craving an expanse of creative solitude for years. Something about the idea of being alone with my own thoughts and emotions, only needing to tend to my own needs, felt so incredibly delicious. But wanting this gave me a huge pang of mum-guilt. Every time I thought about it, it always felt too difficult to get away.

I talked with my partner about my feelings surrounding this, and he convinced me to just go and do it. They will have a ‘boys week’, he said. Everything will be fine. So eventually, I managed to arrange a suitable time and place to take myself away for a creative holiday. Bliss!! My son and partner even drove me there and joined me for a couple of days at the end of the week, so we could have a bit of a family holiday too. Perfect.

I booked the shack for early December, the last week of school before my son went on Christmas holidays. The shack is really more of a house. It had everything I needed, and was so well appointed and comfortable, with Aldinga beach at one end of the street, and Aldinga Scrub Conservation Park at the other.

My purpose for this trip was to:

  1. Establish a consistent routine of meditation, journaling, exercise and creative time.
  2. Break some habits that tend to jeopardise my studio time.
  3. Practice some different techniques to my usual abstract work (I tend to have a lot of creative ideas, and I’ve found that if I find the time to indulge them, I am more able to find the focus for what really I need to do.)
  4. My big goal was to start a series of five abstract pieces in preparation for an exhibition that is coming up in late February.

On the first day, when my partner and son drove away after dinner, the cabin felt huge and very quiet, so I went for a sunset walk, and had an early night. The next day after breakfast, I put some watercolours in a bag, and headed out for a walk in the Aldinga Scrub Conservation Park. I’m fairly certain I was the only person in the entire park, but the kangaroos kept me company.

I sat down on a log, and painted the landscape plein air – enjoying the fresh air, noticing the shapes of the local flora, and the changing light around me. The best materials I have to take outdoors are my watercolours. It’s a technique I enjoy, but am not well versed at.

As an artist, even though I paint abstract, I feel it’s important for me to keep sketching and painting what I see in front of me as well. Personally, I find the practice comforting and meditative, as well as challenging. Most of my sketchbooks are full of drawings you’ll probably never see on my canvas. I really am all over the place with my work, but each aspect demands to be created, so I do when I have the time.

After painting for a couple of hours, I returned via the beach and watched the changing colours of the sand on the windswept beach with the coast in the distance. Back at the shack, I set up my painting tables and dropsheets on the porch after lunch, and experimented with a gelli plate for a while before dinner, and another walk to watch the sunset.Sunsetting over the water at Aldinga beach. The sky and clouds are orange.

Annoyingly, I had forgotten to pack my five canvases, which were sitting very patiently in their box at home. My partner brought them to me the next day. I think I owe him one!

Each day followed a fairly similar routine: wake up, meditate, coffee, journalling, breakfast, walk, paint, lunch, paint, and dinner.

At the end of each day, I spent the evenings creating little videos of the day’s adventures, and have popped them up on my newly created YouTube channel so I can share them with you. Hope you enjoy them! Please go ahead and subscribe and like my channel, so you can see my videos in the future.

A few times, I went for a walk through the sand dunes after dinner to sit on the beach, and watch the amazing sunsets light up the sky in front of me – and I was never disappointed. Aldinga and Silver Sands Beach is a stunning part of the world.

At about the end of day two, I dropped the scissors on my toe, which landed point down on the nail… OW! I felt a bit sorry for myself, and decided to take a hiatus on the walks. After a couple of rest days, I was up to taking some longer walks again. Lucky, really. The point did go through the nail, but the damage was minor; a little blood, but mostly just bruising. Fortunately, I had plenty of band-aids stashed in my bag that saw me through the rest of the week. Also fortunately – I can still paint with a sore foot 🙂

A few words of advice to anyone considering a solo art retreat:

  1. Remember your canvasses and art materials.
  2. Invest in a quality travel kit so you can paint the landscape (I’d love a gouache set for next time).
  3. Bring a first aid kit with plenty of bandaids.
  4. Mosquito repellent and sunscreen are a must (I didn’t forget these, but they’re worthy of mention, especially in South Australia).


At the end of Day 4, the nearby Silver Sands Beach Club was open, so I ventured over for a little afternoon gin & tonic. Delicious!

So, have I continued the routine since I returned home?

Well… not really.

After I got home, I actually took a break from painting for two weeks in order to get ready for Christmas. We were hosting Christmas dinner for the family this year, and my art studio needed to turn into an entertaining space for the big day, complete with Christmas tree and decorations.

Thankfully, having that concentrated creative time on the retreat really helped me to be able to focus on getting ready for Christmas without feeling I was missing out on my art time. I felt much more settled and able to be present than in previous years.

After Christmas, it took a little while to pack up the tree and decorations. Now the studio is set up again, I am back into it.

My routine isn’t quite like it was on the retreat. It’s the real life version, with family and friends to spend time with, cooking, and other responsibilities. It is worth remembering that in the end, all the things that take me away from my art are also an integral part of a full life that I enjoy living. The trick is perspective and balance, and this is what the solo art retreat helped me to see.

Most importantly, I notice that I am feeling less guilty about working on my own projects, which is a nice change.

In fact, I notice that if I attend to my creative interests first, then there is usually enough time for my household tasks afterwards when the paint or varnish is drying. If I do my chores first – I will always find another to do, and another, and another, until there is no more time for my creative work.

The first scenario is definitely one that keeps both my family and I happy, and it is one I will keep practising.

Recent musings

Woman with colourful top looks out over the coast whilst sitting at a cafe table.


Check out past & present exhibitions of my work. Make sure you say hello when you visit!


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'Poolside' is an original abstract painting by Kathryn Gruber