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Painting from the Wild Heart Workshop Example
Chris Zydel Interview : Page 2 of 5

Creative Juices Arts goddess Chris Zydel

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Q: What makes your workshops and retreats unique? Could you give us a little information about each different retreat you've got on the books, as well as scheduling and price breakdowns for each one?

A: What makes my retreats unique is that I draw on all of my experience and background as a bodyworker, psychotherapist, group leader, astrologer, expressive arts facilitator and artist when I am designing and running my workshops and retreats. Also, Painting from the Wild Heart is a deep creative process that invites people to open into places in their soul and psyche that need healing. And even though there are times when this process can evoke some very intense and difficult feelings, there is always a wonderful sense of fun, playfulness and lots of laughter at my retreats. A friend of mine says that attending one of my workshops is like "joyfully surfboarding through the underworld." And that, I think, is unique.

I have a pretty active retreat schedule in any given year and this coming year is more active than usual! I have what I call "non-residential" retreats here at my painting studio in the San Francisco Bay area in the city of Oakland, CA. These are weekend workshops that begin on Friday evening at 6 PM and end on Sunday evening at 5 PM. I call them non-residential because I don't have much in the way of sleeping accommodations available at the studio itself. The majority of people who attend these workshops are locals, but I am getting more and more people from out of town.

My studio is in a beautiful urban area, right across the street from Lake Merritt, the oldest bird sanctuary in the US, and there are lots of places to stay that are within a mile or two of my place. And if you don't mind less than luxury accommodations, (i.e. a futon on the floor) I can always put a couple people up at the studio for a nominal fee.

I like to hold my residential retreats in beautiful and inspirational natural environments that are off the beaten path and have a strong spiritual energy about them. These retreats are generally a week long beginning on Saturday evening and ending the following Saturday morning. I have two of those scheduled for this year.

The first is being held at The Burren Holistic Centre in County Clare, Ireland, which is located on the west coast of Ireland, northwest of the Shannon River, in the starkly beautiful, windswept Burren National Park. That dates for that workshop are May 24-31, 2008, and the cost is $1500 which includes meals, double occupancy lodging (you can get a private room for an increased fee) and all painting supplies.

I am excited about having a retreat there because the energy of Ireland is so deeply creative. At one time it was the spiritual center of the world, and it still carries that mystical sense of mystery and magic.

Every September for the past 8 years I have held a week long retreat at the Ghost Ranch Conference center in Abiquiu, New Mexico which is about 60 miles Northeast of Santa Fe. This year the dates are September 13-20, 2008, and the fee is $1075 which includes meals, double occupancy lodging (private rooms available for an increased fee) and all painting supplies.

Ghost Ranch is located on 23,000 acres of the most incredible, jaw dropping, red rock desert imaginable. Abiquiu is the town that Georgia O'Keeffe lived and painted in the last 20 or so years of her life and there is a reason that she chose it. The whole area is a non-stop exercise in beauty and the sense of the sacredness of that land is palpable. You walk out of your Casita in the morning and are surrounded on all sides with gorgeous, endless vistas and wild, otherworldly landscapes . Whenever I am there I am in a constant state of wonder and gratitude. I experience Ghost Ranch itself as a prayer. And the energy of the place is intense. Being there is like putting spiritual rocket fuel in the engine of your creative process.

Q: What type of legwork goes into organizing and planning these fun and fantastic retreats? Any dos and don'ts you'd like to pass on to our readers?

A: Organizing one of these workshops is quite a task. First you need to find a retreat center where you can create a painting studio. That means that it needs to be at least 600 square feet, have a sink and a non-carpeted floor and good natural light. It also helps to have the enthusiasm and support of the people who run the retreat centers. Painting is by its nature messy, and you can do certain things to protect walls and floors, but retreat managers need to be willing to be somewhat forgiving of things like paint spills! You'll need to purchase a wide variety of supplies which include paints, high quality paper, brushes, smocks, palettes, push pins, rubber bands, paper towels, tape, etc.

You will need to create upright easels for your students. I build mine out of large sheets of double ply cardboard. I create a few freestanding tripod easels out of cardboard and duct tape and a few easels that can be propped up against the surrounding walls. There will always be existing lighting in whatever room you are using, but it is never enough. I supplement the lights with cheap clip-on lights that can be found at any hardware store. You will also need a number of extension cords and surge protectors where you attach the lights.

Then there is the question of how do you get the supplies to the retreat site? Sometimes Ii ship things like paint and I will often buy certain supplies when I get there. Brushes are very expensive, so I always bring all of my brushes with me to each retreat and then take them home with me again. I tend to use the same retreat centers over and over again — partly because I like to have established relationships with my site managers, but also because I can often store certain things like paint, cardboard, lights and paper on or near the site so that I only have to transport things once. Once you get all the logistical details worked out you need to market the workshops, but that is a whole other discussion!

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