10 Tips for a Family Art Retreat

Our Family Art Retreat was our winter school holiday project. Basically, we spent 1 – 1.5 hours a day (four days a week) drawing together in our sketchbooks.

I was surprised to find it all more relaxing than anticipated. Each session took longer than I had anticipated, but the fact that we were all busy together meant that no one was annoying each other, and Daniel wasn’t somewhere else in the house wreaking havoc. And, just in case you’ve haven’t tried it recently, there is something completely therapeutic about drawing.

A highly recommended experience for anyone.

In the case that you decide to try this for yourself one day, here are 10 tips based on our experience:

1. Strongly encourage all the children to participate. (Early on, Aaron turned up his nose a couple of times and muttered that it was too hard, but joined in all the same. It didn’t take long for him to get into it and enjoy it with us). I wouldn’t have forced him though – no point in turning a holiday treat/project into a source of contention.

2. A few new (inexpensive) art supplies go a long way to inspiring and motivating kids. My children each got a set of water colour pencils for this retreat. I also let them use my box of 72 Derwent artists colour pencils, which they consider quite a treat.

3. No need to visit a dedicated art supplies shop. Most of what we used is readily available in shops like Kmart, Target and Big W. (The Tombow pens came from a local newsagent). I do, however, always make a point of buying either Crayola (preferred) or Faber Castell pencils/paints and so on for the kids, rather than ‘cheaper’ brands. Crayola products give such good colour and are therefore so enjoyable to use.

4. Refer to other artists’ for inspiration – look at the illustrations in your favourite children’s books or check out some of this Pinterest boards:
Jane LaFazio’s sketches
A collection of sketches pinned by Jenny Bowker
My own pinboard of sketchbook pages by others
There are also many inspiring books available. We referred to ‘Painted Pages’ by Sarah Ahearn Bellamare during our retreat.

5. Stress that the point of a sketchbook/journal is not to create masterpieces but to record and learn. Point out that the children can expect to see progress in their drawings and pages when they look through the book down the track – don’t expect perfection from the start.

6. Hide the erasers. In my experience a child with an eraser in hand quickly becomes caught up in the notion of achieving perfection and becomes frustrated (see previous point). Better to work with mistakes, accept that there is room for improvement for next time, and move on.

7. Hide the black paint. What is it with little kids and black paint? Black paint will kill an artwork – teach the children to use brown, purple, and blue to make darker colours and shadows.

8. Set daily ‘assignments’, without being too rigid. I found the kids liked having something to focus on (e.g. drawing buttons, recording our visit to the cafe) and also enjoyed the fact that we were all working together on the same thing.

9. Make sure you (Mum or Dad) sit down and join in. Somehow, my kids find that completely inspiring, and at least some of them are more likely to try their best and try new things when Dad or Mum join in. (Not only that, but if you don’t, you’ll never know that what your two year old drew was a cat and a rabbit and a page full of tractors!)

10. Praise everyone for trying, and when they are discouraged, remind them that we are all at different levels of drawing skills and that we can all improve with practice. Praising my children for their efforts and noting what I liked about each of their drawings went such a long way to encouraging them and inspiring them to try new things.

You might like to set a theme for your art retreat. Here are some suggestions:

- nature (checking out this nature table will get you inspired)
- focus on a favourite artist / illustrator, or a different one each day (I’d love to work with Charley Harper’s style, and I think my kids would enjoy that too, one day)
- combine your art retreat with a family holiday and record each day’s events and observations
- what I really loved about our art retreat was that everyone gave the drawing a go. However, if you really can’t bring yourself to tackle drawing so intensively, try  experimenting with a different art technique each day. Susan Schwake’s Art Lab for Kids is a great reference.


7 thoughts on “10 Tips for a Family Art Retreat

  1. Prue

    When my youngest is a little old I would love to try this idea out.

    And the whole black paint thing, it’s adults too – when I taught botanical art I wouldn’t let my (adult) students use black paint. I don’t use it either. “There aren’t any real blacks in nature” is what I’d always tell them. “But what about a burnt tree?” “There are other colours reflected in the charcoal – take a look at a burnt tree sometime!”

  2. Emily Byl

    I loved following your art retreat holiday! I hope to use some of your helpful tips during the next school holidays! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Francoise

    What a treat to visit your blog today! What a wonderful idea to do in the winter holidays! Your ideas, photos etc are very inspiring …thanks for sharing. In the summer I usually do a mosaic project with our kids. And your right, it is very therapeutic…keep them out of each others hair. Kids love to see how projects develop, and then the endproduct!!! I am sure your kids will have beautiful memories to treasure from this holiday!

    1. ruthdevos Post author

      Thanks for visiting, Francoise! I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed these posts – it has been a pleasure to share them.

  4. Jane LaFazio

    I’ve so enjoyed following along on your art retreat, and huge thanks for letting me be some of your inspiration! The photos of your children engaged in art making are simply beyond precious………and something about seeing them all at the table together..warms my heart. xoxox

    1. ruthdevos Post author

      Thanks, Jane! It was such a valuable activity for us all. My four-year old hasn’t stopped drawing since – he places whatever object he can find in front of him and just draws it!

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