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Artists' retreat with Fiona Nicholls

02-Jul-2013

Our inaugural artists’ retreat with Fiona Nicholls was a bit like five episodes of Hell’s Kitchen. Not that Fiona is like Gordon Ramsay, well not much, but because our guests (aka students) needed an open mind and thick skin to progress. And progress they did - the ones who survived.

The attrition rate was highest on the first day. Local island artist, Ginny Retmock (of Ginny’s Shed) left after lunch, and a few Pinetrees guests went for a session, but suddenly found an interesting book to re-read. People respond differently to Fiona’s methods. Islander, Ed Rourke, who is known as “twenty minute Ed” because he never spends longer than 20 minutes on any one activity (other than golf), attended all of Fiona’s sessions – we think through fear and intimidation. Lord Howe’s best-known artist, Noelle Hoffman, whose beautiful watercolour landscapes are hung in homes from Mosman to Yarralumla, almost came unhinged on the third day, but survived and excelled. At one stage, when I dropped in to check on progress, Noelle was battling with the idea of exploring colours and patterns – or “loosening up” as Fiona said. It’s hard to break habits from forty years of stylised landscape painting.

Before you take this the wrong way, you need to understand that Fiona Nicholls is an exceptional artist and an experienced fine art teacher. She knows that good art is more the result of hard work, than talent and inspiration. As such, Fiona’s teaching persona is part high school teacher and part high performance coach – the ratio changes depending on how you respond. It’s all about tough love. Over five days, each student developed artworks that far exceeded their expectations. In fact, it was a revelation to watch Fiona nurture their creativity and encourage them to explore the areas where they were most talented. By the end of the week, you could relate their work to the styles of great artists (obviously, they weren’t as good, but you could see the direction they were heading). Ed’s eye for tonal contrast and perspective gave his charcoal sketches depth and structure (think Cezanne), and Julie’s painting, which Fiona limited to a blue palette, was flowing, emotive and haunting (think van Gogh). The Friday exhibition, complete with champagne, was a real exhibition.

I would thoroughly recommend Fiona’s workshops to anyone who wants to learn how to produce polished artworks that harness their innate artistic ability. If you have any genetic predisposition to artistic creativity, then Fiona will find it and develop it in a short time.

Fiona is also a yoga teacher, so next year we’re going to practice an hour of yoga each morning to clear the mind, restore self-esteem and harness creativity. The yoga sessions will add a bit of yin and subtract a bit of yang to improve the overall balance of the week. In combination with beautiful meals, good wine, a cosy open fire and one of Australia’s most beautiful landscapes, you’ll return to the mainland feeling relaxed and inspired.

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