The SCBWI in Western Washington offers writers and illustrators the chance to go on a retreat every year. Location is the magical campus of IslandWood on Bainbridge Island, right in front of the doorstep of Seattle. The ferry ride itself is a great adventure with views of the Puget Sound, the islands, nature and of course the Seattle skyline.
So, Friday, November the 2nd my journey started when fellow illustrator Gretchen v. Hansen picked me up at home and we shared a ride to the island. The weather was nice and we arrived at IslandWood in time to check-in and get our welcome-package. The guest rooms are in different lodges that have names like the “mammals den” or “vertebrae inn”. I haven’t slept in a bunk bed for years, but if I have to I definitely would choose one in IslandWood! Every bed has little peek-a-boo windows and wherever you look and go you’re surrounded by nature and history (the mattress was a bit firm for me, but others like it that way!).
The retreat opened with Beth Bacons friendly and welcoming words, followed by delicious dinner and the first talk of the weekend by illustrator and author Jennifer K. Mann. With the motto of “art/work-life balance”, she told us many things about her life and her way to becoming a published author & illustrator and gave us a good list of tips to achieve our goals. I took many notes that I will have to revisit and internalize! After this, some people enjoyed their time together with drinks and talks while others felt inspired to create. I sat in front of the fireplace in my lodge and did some drawing.
What kicks off your day better than a walk through the woods to get some delicious breakfast and then listening to the second talk of the retreat?! Author Kirby Larson told us about her experiences when it comes to work-life balance and her way to create. More great information that my brain still tries to soak up! After sitting around we put on our rain boots and met with Frank, one of the nature guides of IslandWood. He reminded me of Santa or the Professor in Jurassic Park – either way, he is a great guide (and I want to hug him)! For almost 2 hours Frank walked through the woods with us, gave us time to take pictures, fed us information about trees, animals, the campus and its history, showed us the two amazing tree houses and guided us over the suspension bridge. This is truly a nature-Disneyland! Unfortunately, time was running, it kept raining and fog hang between the trees, so I had no time for making drawings on the walk, but I took a ton of pictures! After lunch (again, delicious!) I went with my fellow artists to the Learning building to meet Jennifer K. Mann and to learn many things about working with collages as an illustrator (while the writers had a workshop with Joni Sensel). She showed us her favorite books and works of other illustrators, shared her stash of crazy amazing paper scraps for making collages and guided us through the process of letting go & keep gluing. We kept creating, talking, learning and experimenting the rest of the day and suddenly it was time for dinner (again so delicious!). After dinner a big part of the group went to the “friendship circle”, a covered structure with circles of seats around a big fire pit, to get some S’mores and listen to the 5-minute-readings of the open-mic night. I went back to my desk and kept on working on my collages until the people from IslandWood made me go so they could lock the building at 10:30pm! Time surely flies when you’re working so concentrated and you’re in the “flow”. Did you know that walking through a dark forest at night, while there is wind blowing, it almost feels like being underwater and waves are crushing in the tree crowns above your head?
After breakfast, check-out and paying for the books (thanks to Eagle Harbor Bookstore for trusting us) the writers got to listen to another talk (by Beth Bacon) while the illustrators went back to work in the studio. We got some more insights on creative processes by Jennifer K. Mann and after the last meal on IslandWood, the group started to clean up and say their goodbyes as more and more people left the campus to get home. On our way home Gretchen and I came into a lovely sun-shower (that’s what they call rain showers while the sun is still shining up here) and admired a big and very colorful rainbow over the Puget Sound while we were boarding the ferry. We found some good spots in the front and enjoyed the journey over the waters. Suddenly the captain interrupted the humming sound of the ferry engine with an announcement that made many of us jump from our seats: Orcas ahead! We went outside and saw a pod of Orcas swimming and splashing around, what a “pod” of cold we had found!! Being able to observe these majestic creatures in this “in front of the door wilderness” makes me incredibly happy. To get some sprinkles on the cake a man with his pet-pig crossed our path in Pioneer Square! What a day!
Now that I am back home, slowly unpacking my art supplies, looking at my finished and unfinished collages and projects, sorting through pictures and revisiting my notes… I can’t believe how many things I have experienced during this weekend without once feeling pressured or stressed. IslandWood is a truly magical place, the scent of pine needles and the forest with its sights and sounds make it so easy to forget that there is an outside world. The work of SCBWI members and volunteers is incredible and I am so thankful for their engagement and energy that it’s hard to find words for it. I learned so many things by listening to other creative people, by talking to authors and fellow illustrators, while walking through nature and by learning from talented people and creating more art. It was worth every cent and I would go back in a heartbeat. I achieved more than I hoped for and I hope to be back next year!