At the beginning of the summer, 30 illustrators and writers from all corners of the country (and beyond), gathered together in wonderfully inspiring surroundings. They had the luxury of ample time to discuss, explore and experiment with their craft, to their hearts' content.
Add to this the fact that they were encouraged by 4 brilliant facilitators and that the food and drink were exemplary, and I think you'll appreciate why places on the Picture Book retreat are keenly sought after. This was my first visit to Holland House and it certainly will not be my last.
I remember a couple of years ago questioning what I might get from such a weekend, and in case others still share such doubt I'd like to try and convey why it was such a success for me.
I didn't come away with an hitherto unknown illustration technique, I didn't leave with a complete and presentable new PB idea. However, I did return to my studio with an unexpected new confidence with which I hope to approach my ongoing PB ideas.
The discussions with the eloquent Alexis Deacon helped re-open my eyes to the basic raw composition of a spread. How the blocks and shapes of whatever subject matter, help to establish the feel and mood and pace of the book even before any detail has been added to bring the image alive. The crystallisation of the understanding that all that is required of a spread is to convey the narrative. To show the story unfolding. Any extra detail, any laboured overworking or side issues, are usually redundant and should be avoided.
I took home with me a feel for the mark making that can be achieved with brush, pen, charcoal, pencil and paint. The joy of making the marks and the satisfaction of observation. Lynne Chapman bristles with enthusiasm and commitment to her craft and it spilled over and infused all of us.
At breakfast on Sunday morning, a couple of the writers were echoing this, saying they'd been shown by Lynne how to really look at shapes and areas of tone and to consider how they might be captured. They never realised that to look at the world through the eyes of an artist means being 'switched on' all the time. "Isn't it exhausting?" they asked.
The planned practical sessions gave us enough food for thought so that in the personal 'free' time we could sit and sketch, ponder and plan stories or simply share and discuss with others.
It was on the 3rd day that I realised it wasn't these hands-on workshops that were the most fun, it wasn't the discussions late into the night or the experimenting with new materials. It wasn't even the beautiful Holland House or the river, it was the people attending the retreat that made it so special for me.
Getting to know my fellow SCBWI members so much better was the most rewarding part. Hearing about their stories, their successes and their problems, their work in progress and grander ambitions, made this whole profession of PB creation so much more real and worthwhile.
Paul Morton lives in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, from where he runs Hot Frog Graphics illustration and design studio.