Cowango Retreat 2019

It’s all about the Giant Stickies

As we move forward with our art business we find it extremely useful to get away occasionally for a couple of days to focus on our future as artists. The last time we did so was in 2017 and at that time we discovered a very nice spot to do just this kind of thing.

The deluxe cabin near a lake in Southern Illinois that we stayed in two years ago was so nice we decided to make a return trip there for the 2019 version of our Cowango retreat. Having a fire pit and hot tub on the back deck might have had something to do with it too. All work and no play…. you know.

We got to the cabin in the late afternoon and after unpacking we took a nice stroll through the woods and down to the pond. The turtles were out in force and looked to us for some snacks which were not forthcoming. They swam off disappointed at our lack of hospitality.

We got down to business the next morning. Each of us had prepared an opening gambit. Just for laughs and to break the tension I led us both in the “Failure Bow” routine where we both announce to the world our greatest failures in our lives as artists. Then we each take a grand stage bow and get a round of over-the-top applause. Seems weird I know but by the end we were both laughing off the things that seemed just earlier to be a big deal.

Stefanie had a sack full of crafty goodies and set us both to the task of making a time capsule book, to be exposed to the elements and recovered later for examination. She had tissue paper, ribbons, tree bark, an old book with great image plates, and a pile of other stuff. We cut, pasted wrapped, and folded like a couple of school kids. At the end we twisted twine around the “books” and talked about where we might hang them when we got back home.

After a few more warm-up exercises we tried something to help us expand our focus. I had read about a form of brainstorming called “ideation” where the object is not just to throw ideas around uncritically in the spirit of quantity over quality. Ideation uses a slightly different approach. Instead of just saying whatever comes to mind it tries to introduce new stimuli, challenge assumptions and work to break patterns of thinking. Ideation tries to excite your brain in new ways and create what the champions of the concept call “lateral thinking” (indirect and creative approach, not step-by-step).

First we were required to clearly state our objectives and to make them short and precise. We came up with four really good ones but the one that jumped out for both of us after we formulated it was, “To behave like an artist every day”. That may sound perfectly obvious but just making the statement and committing to follow it every day was powerful. Too often we find a way to be casual and not “all in” on that idea.

From there we moved to an exercise that created a list of linked concepts related to our art business. We were directed to come up with a concept associated with our business and then just say whatever it suggested to us, related or not. The idea was to get at a broader range of ideas and then figure out what might link the two. We cranked out about ten of these pairs and then went back and tried to discover the linking concept.

We were both amazed at the fertile ground this turned over! We were soon filling pages of the giant electric green Post-it Note pad we brought along. We both hummed at buzzed with ideas and energy. Just what we came for.

The two day retreat filled us up, re-energized us and made us more committed to what we really want to do. By the next morning we had a skein of stickies running across the the back deck, full of value statements, objectives, plans and a five-year outlook for Cowango Studios. And it gave us a new catch phrase “Say yes! Go yeah!”. There’s a story to that, ask us about it sometime.

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