A wonderful time at the January Art Retreat at Exmoor Character Cottages And we can't wait to come back next year!

02/03/2024

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DAY 1

As we drove towards Somerset full of anticipation for our luxury Art Retreat weekend hosted by Exmoor Character cottages, my friend Debbie confessed to feeling a little nervous, having not done art for years. I was able to reassure her (from having spoken to the wonderful Lucy who runs the Retreats) that it would not be at all competitive or overly ‘instructive’, but would be a relaxed, fun and freeing way to rediscover creativity and to play with colour, materials and techniques.

Debbie is planning to retire in the next year or so and is open to finding new hobbies, and I am also hoping to spend more time enjoying art, so we were hoping that the weekend would inspire us.

From the moment we walked into Pilgrim Cottage we could tell that everything was going to be taken care of and all that we needed to do was relax and enjoy ourselves. No thinking about cleaning or tidying, or washing up – very refreshing! Lucy welcomed us and brought us into the gorgeous kitchen, where tea and Victoria sponge were laid out on the large wooden table.

Did I mention that part of the Luxury Art Retreat was the services of a private chef? Annie provided cakes and delicious evening meals throughout our visit.

Pilgrim Corner cottage was full of character and beautifully furnished. We checked out our equally gorgeous rooms. I was in Peacock, a charming and cosy room with beams and shuttered windows which looked out of the front of the house. Debbie was in the bright garden room, on the ground floor, with a lovely view onto the patio and the garden.

Over cups of tea, we met the other guests also staying at Pilgrim Corner - Rita and Liz. Soon we were chatting away about where we’d travelled from and why we wanted to do art for the weekend. We then retired to our rooms to rest after the journey and unpack. A lovely and welcome surprise was a goodie bag by my bed - (lavender toiletries, jars of homemade local chutney and jam and Lucy’s book of Exmoor walks).

Freshened up, we met downstairs for a glass of fizz and then our first dinner prepared by Annie, a stunning Ottolenghi-style salad, with mounds of fragrant pasta in delicious sauce - my pasta was vegetarian while the others had theirs with slow-cooked beef. Pudding was Tiramisu.

Our art tutor for the weekend, Natasha, joined us for dinner and quickly put us all at ease explaining what we could expect - her enthusiasm was infectious. A very enjoyable and sociable evening!

 

DAY 2

I woke refreshed thanks to a deep sleep on my very comfy king size bed. My room had pictures of peacocks decorating the walls and some lovely finishing touches, yet despite all the character, the room’s en-suite bathroom was modern with a good, powerful shower. Everything that could have been thought of for our comfort had been thought of.

Downstairs we chatted again with Liz and Rita as we all enjoyed continental breakfast, tea, very good coffee and pastries. Then, at 9.15, we were taken by minibus to Townsend House (another characterful building first recorded in 1456 and rebuilt in the 1500s) to join the Art Class. There were around 15 of us in the class, in a large room flooded with light on large, sociable tables with four per table.

The first thing we did was make our own sketchbooks. This was from from large sheets of 300g paper which we were encouraged to paint on one side. Encouraged to be free with acrylic paints in many colours and with changes of implement from palette knives and brushes to twigs and toothbrushes. We folded our books (in a special way) and the next step was to make something from the abstract colours and patterns revealed on the double page spreads.

But first we used masking tape on a blank page of our sketchbooks, and created four little mini abstract pieces, in windows, to get our confidence up. Soon we were all completely absorbed, the time flew by. There was a break for tea and coffee mid morning, and then a light lunch of a choice of soups, breads and cheeses. Dietary requirements had been taken note of and fully accommodated, more of that attention to detail that Lucy excels in.

In the afternoon Natasha showed us how to print from sheets of jelly using acrylic on rollers and leaves and flowers from the garden… or anything else such as a pair of scissors. The rest of the afternoon was spent happily playing with creating abstract art in our books. Natasha provided plenty of reference materials and advice. Nobody did anything that was like anyone else’s work. We all did our own thing and we were so focused, again, that we completely lost track of time. So afternoon tea was quite late, but we kept our energy up with the lemon drizzle and carrot cake on offer. Before we knew it the minibus was back to collect us.

Back at the house there was the hot tub and our luxurious rooms to relax in before more fizz and dinner - where we were joined by some of our fellow students who lived locally. Dinner was tandoori chicken thighs, coconut Dahl, salad, spicy potatoes and poppadoms followed by salted caramel cheesecake which was outrageously delicious. Foodie paradise, enjoyable chat and laughter. Tired, happy and well fed - and totally spoilt and pampered - without having to wash a dish - we went to our beds.

 

                             

DAY 3

Sunday was just as good as Saturday. Fun playing and experimenting with painting flowers and abstract designs was broken up by tea and coffee (and cake!) breaks and a lunch of quiche and salad. Debbie and I walked down to the sea at lunchtime, to stretch our legs.

In the afternoon, Natasha showed us how to do skies in acrylic, blending in clouds. She also showed us how to enhance our designs with collage. I had a go at a small canvas - copying Natasha’s design of grasses and flowers in front of a sky.

At the end of the day we all displayed our favourite pieces in the table in the lunch room. Everybody walked round and admired the work. The variety was incredible - different designs and colour palettes. No two pieces the same. Everyone felt a sense of achievement at the amount of work we had produced.

I do art at home but there is something about doing art in a group with an experienced artist offering help and advice that makes you so much more productive - probably all the inspiration around you and the encouragement of Natasha plus no jobs or housework to distract us. This made all the difference.

Feeling happy after our second day of art, we hopped on the minibus back to Pilgrim Corner where Debbie and myself had an early evening dip in the hot tub, joined by Liz. Relaxing in the warm bubbles was the perfect prelude to our final dinner which was delicious Moroccan flatbread, lamb tagline, falafels, picked turnip, homemade hummus and a giant couscous salad followed by homemade meringue filled with lemon pistachio.

After just few days together Liz and Rita and Deb and I felt like old friends and we decided to keep in touch through a WhatsApp group.

 

DAY 4

It was a late check-out on Monday, and this was very much appreciated as we were able to have long lies and not have to rush off. In the morning after yet another delicious breakfast Debbie and I walked up the hill above the cottage to enjoy the long views over the town of Minehead and the hills beyond. We also popped in to the nearby St Michael’s Anglican church which was built in the 15th Century and features a beautiful stained glass window designed by Sir Henry Holiday.

 

We absolutely loved our Art Retreat with Exmoor Character Cottages, and have vowed to return and do it again next year!

 Dates for your diaries :Christmas Art Retreat 8th to 11th November  2024 & January 2025 Creative Art Retreat Jan 24th to 28th