Art Retreat in Asheville

by Vivian Liebenson
If you spend any time on the internet, especially if you own or are starting a small business, you can’t spit without reading plenty of advice about making your dreams come true. There are articles and courses and academies (oh my!) and they all want us to make our BIG dreams come true. (What about the small ones?)
I felt bad for a long time because I didn’t really have any dreams. Not any concrete ones, anyway. I felt sure if I had some I could make them come true, but since I didn’t I would be stuck in a life of drudgery and boredom, dream-free, tethered to the earth, unable to fly.
Until a couple of years ago.
I became obsessed with the idea that I needed to go to an art retreat. Instead, I went to Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching training. Best creative decision I’d made in 20 years. It was like gaining the tools to make every day feel like an art retreat.
But still, the last two summers I kept saying I wanted to go to an art retreat. I knew this was outside our budget if we were going to take a family vacation…ever. We’d had a tough couple of years and our family really needed to get away – there was no way I could justify spending the money for an art retreat on just myself. We needed a real family vacation – not a weekend with relatives, not a trip away for a family emergency or funeral, not time off for a Jewish holiday.
So I put in for time off work for a couple of weeks this summer. And did nothing else about it until the beginning of July. We suddenly realized our vacation was quickly approaching and we had no plans or reservations. We needed to go somewhere within a days’ drive, and since we had talked about visiting Colonial Williamsburg, I started researching hotels there. But I hate hotels. I hate the smell, the stale air, the noisy air conditioning…and don’t even get me started on the possibility of bedbugs (yeech!). I was becoming increasingly more miserable and distressed trying to plan this vacation. Stomach aches, trouble sleeping, sense of dread all day long. Not fun at all.
In the midst of this vacation planning slog, I created the journal page at the top of this post. I scribbled my aggravation all over the page, covered most of it with gesso so I didn’t have to read the negativity again and pasted (seemingly) random images on top. And, of course, asked the small question, “How can I make planning a vacation more fun?”
When I finished, I realized I had created the exact feeling I wanted to have while on vacation: woodsy, cottagy, soothing, calm, effortless floating through greenery. Also, my gut was telling me I was unlikely to find that feeling in Colonial Williamsburg in the middle of July.
I had always wanted to visit Asheville, North Carolina – specifically to go to an art retreat, since it seemed to be the art retreat capital of the East Coast – so I started researching reservations there. I was still dithering and still had no reservation, when I learned about Airbnb. If you aren’t familiar, it is a way for people who need places to stay to find people with rooms or whole apartments to rent out.
Lo and behold, the first listing I found was a beautiful apartment in a couple’s house and one of the hosts was an artist – who offered art retreats with a discount for their Airbnb guests!

It seemed like the perfect solution – such synchronicity! It turned out Lynn, the artist, taught encaustic workshops with a discount for people staying at their Airbnb. Encaustic, a method of painting with hot beeswax mixed with resin and pigment, was not a technique I was familiar with or had ever even considered learning about. But it just seemed like the universe was giving me a shove in the direction of a new adventure, so I went with it.

The apartment ended up being exactly what I was looking for (my family was happy too, but they aren’t as picky or invested in these things and pretty much are happy just going away somewhere). These pictures from our trip feel very similar to my journal page to me and here are some pictures that look even more like it.

Blue Ridge Mountains

View from the porch

And the encaustic workshop was amazing! It was 5 hours alone with a professional artist in her studio, working on 2 12×12 boards. It turned out encaustic was the medium I was searching for all my life and just didn’t know it.

The ability to layer and scratch and embed other objects allowed me to do some things I had been trying to do for the past year in my paintings.
I’m usually very scared of any dangerous supplies or processes – like the blowtorch used to melt and seal each layer – but it didn’t take very long to not only get used to using it, but feel a certain sense of power blowing fire around (very carefully, of course).

The whole experience was transformational. I wish I could say I went home and started working with encaustic, but between trying to create adequate ventilation and affording a whole new set of supplies, it just wasn’t something I could afford. However, I definitely began carrying some of what I learned over into my painting style. Even if I hadn’t, just the experience in the studio for the day – having another artist to talk to, having that much time to make art at one time, learning a new technique – it was worth every penny.

Encaustic experiment #1 – 12×12

Encaustic experiment #2 – 12×12

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