Elena’s painting retreat was a journey to new places for everyone. The journey to Fiji was just the beginning. It turned out to be a voyage of both artistic growth and self discovery.
The landscapes and seascapes that the group painted were explorations of new vistas, experiments with new techniques and exercises in viewing the world with a new perspective. Elena teaches a highly realistic style in which you see the glitter of sand beneath the waves and feel the leaves on the trees. She instructs the group both collectively and individually, showing everyone the objective for the workshop and then moving from person to person to guide a brushstroke, suggest a colour highlight, correct perspective and give constructive feedback.
On the first two days the group went to paint at Harman’s raintree near the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort 5 km down the road. It’s a well known landmark in Savusavu: a huge spreading raintree planted many years ago by Hector Harman, one of the early coconut plantation owners in Savusavu. His children are now grown up and living overseas with kids of their own, but they still have houses on the hill above. The raintree has direct access to the beach, and Elena’s class set up their easels on the sand. As the tide went out they took chairs and placed them in the water to get a better view around the curves of the headland. This really put an end to the speed painting mindset. When painting “en plein air” (on location), the objective is to capture the essence of the landscape as quickly as possible as nature does not stand still to pose. Shadows move, the tide goes out, clouds appear and disappear, boats move in and out of view. Painting on location is all about observing the landscape and interpreting it as quickly as possible. But the process of sitting in the water to paint changed the experience from one of simple observation to personally interacting with the environment. It brought a great sense of calm and peacefulness to the whole group so the speed of their painting slowed down. That’s when the group really acclimatized to “island time”. But that was not a problem as they had the opportunity to return to the raintree the following day to repeat the experience and complete their painting.
Later in the week the group visited the market and took in the scene; another day they went to the harbour to capture the boats. On a rainy day everyone set up their easels on the deck of Elena’s villa at Daku and painted under cover – and enjoyed easy access to coffee and cakes!
At the end, one workshop was dedicated to completing all the paintings from the week that were slightly unfinished. It was also an opportunity to cover the topic of how to paint a figure into those scenes. The students appreciated going home with fully completed paintings rather than lots that were slightly unfinished.
As for the self discovery – that is surely half the point of a retreat – to get away and find out about your relationship with painting and in the process, your relationship with yourself. By chance, several members of this group were re-assessing large chunks of their own lives. The remoteness and tranquility of Daku and the gentle, supportive nature of the group, made this a comfortable process. This was more than just a painting holiday – it was an opportunity to make peace with life.