Previously, we introduced Rebecca Duckett, and how she alluded her career influences, accomplishments and future plans. And to follow up on that, today, we shall explore how she did all that, in an art retreat that she developed and mediates. I have always been intrigued by her artistic visions and manifestation of colours. What better way to pick her artistic brain’s right hemisphere than to sign up for it?
Rebecca’s Artistic Workshop Retreat
Tiger Rock on Pangkor Island is Rebecca’s home and serves as the host to our creativity. Cleverly architectured to nestle into the forest reserve hill, it comprises a series of complexes – the Main House, Pool House, Hill House, Pool House Chalet and The Studio.
We were a group of six ladies at Rebecca’s Art Retreat (The Retreat). All with artistic inclinations and training, except for me! Admittedly I was overwhelmed, intimidated even! Lyndsey Mercer and Kim Ritchie are art teachers at international schools in Kuala Lumpur. Joanna Line is a self-taught artist with a few art courses under her belt while Zöe Ha was once a primary teacher who’s just artsy (her words, not mine!). Loo Jia Wen is in the business of jewellery making with crystals.
Rebecca said she has geared this artistic retreat and workshop to beginners and artists who want to have a go at, or wish to revive their practice of observing and drawing the small natural things that are in Malaysia’s wonderful jungle.
I felt slightly less apprehensive.
Introducing The Idea Of ‘Kaizen‘ At The Retreat
The first session was held at the kitchen in the Main House. We were each given an art pack and subsequently briefed on the techniques and materials that we would adopt at The Retreat. First off, Rebecca introduced us to the idea of ‘Kaizen‘, the intention to develop a little routine.
Practice, practice, practice. Making art in itself is meditative because it involves focus. I always use little drawing cards. Just two minutes a day, everyday, really makes a difference!rebecca Duckett
Day One – My First Hand At Drawing At The Retreat
I reached out for a drawing card, pen in hand and eyes roaming the perimeters for ideas, I must have held that glazed look for over a minute! Clearly Rebecca understood my apprehension when she remarked, “No one is here to judge!”
After two minutes, we then moved on to a slightly larger card. I drew the same thatched roof, this time using a twig and dipping it in ink, as instructed. I hesitated. In all likelihood, I would be creating irregular lines, or worse, smudging it!
According to Rebecca, it is an exercise designed to ‘disrupt’ your hand, forcing you to change how you work. Admittedly I found this somewhat liberating. By virtue of the limited control of ink, my ‘mistakes’ were not obvious. I accepted the perceived imperfections, working my way around whatever marks that I had unintentionally made.
End Of Day One At The Retreat
As dusk descended, we gathered at the Pool House with our final instruction for the day. It was to be a drawing in oil pastel on watercolour paper. I contemplated and again took awhile to make my mark, more so a paralysing response above all else! Drawing within a stipulated time takes getting used to. I settled for the frangipani, as it seemed to be an easy interpretation. I found myself trying to capture the big picture, an entire scene that is in effect more challenging.
Day Two – A New Experience
We spent the morning at the island’s fishing villages, Sungai Pinang Kecil and Sungai Pinang Besar, sourcing ideas for our future work. Inspired, invigorated although somewhat wilted by the morning’s wanderings, we looked forward to afternoon shade at Tiger Rock.
We returned to the oil pastel piece of the previous evening, working on creating another layer to the drawing by using poster paint. This would result in a shine to the initial drawing. It seemed I had not pressed down firmly when working the oil pastel and the resulting effect appeared muted. Nonetheless, I had not counted on the difference it had made to the initial work I had put into it. Without question these enlightening discoveries at The Retreat had encouraged me to be more adventurous.
Next up was my first experience with charcoal! I liked the feel of it on paper and the freedom that it provides. Tiger Rock was indeed an inspirational location as we worked around the different spaces in the Main House. With the jungle vegetation offering a wealth of ideas, most of us only had to look outside the window for inspiration.
Day Three – The “Big Project”
Sunday was our last full day at The Retreat. Our morning began with a little introduction on our task for the day. As with all projects, a plan is the essential base. We were then briefed on the various options to printing patterns. One way was to create a template by cutting out our own stencil. We could also use other materials to print – the favourite potato, okra, the stem of a lotus root, leaves, or just about anything you might like to use for good effect.
Left to our own devices, the ideas flowed from out previous days’ exposures and experiences. Encouraged to create layers in our work, we enabled the emergence of textures and depth.
I also found the best of motivators in my new-found friends. Often coming around, they encouraged and offered suggestions on colours, options on printing and how best to fine-tune my work. By then I had gained a measured amount of confidence although not enough to work on a bigger piece of art paper like theirs!
The Frangipani, My Inspiration
I decided to focus on the frangipani that was in abundance by the pool. Flowers in general have always been my obsession and these were easier to ‘tackle’ as opposed to the hibiscus, for example. I drew up a draft of how I might like my art to look like but left out much of the medium and colours used. I’d prefer to go with the flow!
Rather pleased with my effort, I was particularly proud of the sponge effect finish. By creating layers, a different image had emerged. We were encouraged to continue working on our piece after leaving Tiger Rock. I was against it for fear of botching it up. Which was the very thought Rebecca had wanted to banish from my mind! I was not about to gamble on the possibility that it could, in fact look better!
You hold yourself back because I feel you keep telling yourself ‘I’m not good at art’. This means nothing! Art is about doing and your head and hand work differently from anyone else. You need to just do and not be afraid to mess up. You need to make mistakes, you need to just relax and play with the paint or whatever medium you want to use.rebecca Duckett
I loved Rebecca’s Art Retreat and wouldn’t mind having another go at it! I found it to be a revelation of sorts. Certainly it had bolstered my confidence in art. What resonated with me was the need to discover the smaller things that make up the big picture. Nuances that hold their own beauty to make the image a whole. Art imitates life!
Rebecca’s schedule limits the frequency of facilitating artistic workshop retreats like this. Twice a year at best, although admittedly it is an essential exercise to improve as an artist, she says.
I find it extremely beneficial to be working with lots of different people in close quarters. Satisfaction comes from all that discussion, experimentation and exchange of ideas. The beauty of the retreats is that in teaching, I always, always find more ideas for my own practice. It’s also brilliant when I manage to push other people out of their own art and creative ‘comfort zones’. It’s satisfying for everyone.Rebecca Duckett
Where Do We Go From Here
Interested in participating in a retreat? Or perhaps keen to consult Rebecca on some of her works, or even yours? Rebecca is very accessible and responsive to queries and information. Also, do follow our next episode to discover how she created her collection, ‘100 Patterns in 100 days‘ whilst she was in Italy during the COVID-19 lockdown.