Art Retreat Magic: 3 Artists Step Away from Their Computers and Get Creative

Mar 7, 2024 | Illustration, The Highlights Foundation Experience

Emma Virjan, Jan Hoffman, and Nancy Bittner have joined us for multiple years at our spring art retreat Working (Playing) Retreat: Artistic Play and Exploration (formerly known as Color, Light, Line and Texture.) We asked the three alums to share just why this retreat is special enough to keep them coming back.

Emma’s Experience

    Emma is a full-time children’s book author-illustrator and full-time artist from Austin, TX. She discovered the retreat when she was a featured speaker, along with Denise Fleming, at the San Antonio Book Festival. She says she signed up right away and “fell in love:”

    “The most valuable part of the course is being around other artists and creating as a group. As an artist, I create alone for the most part, so it’s a big stretch for me to be with others. Highlights provides a safe, fun, environment in which to create. Yes, we work on our individual work, but being all together is a phenomenal feeling. Equally as valuable to me is that everything is hands-on, no computers. Sure, we may use them to go look something up, but everything is about making art with our hands. I’m at the computer so much, it’s so very nice to step away from it…and get a little dirty.”

    She also appreciates the self-care element of the retreat: “I always leave inspired. Seeing the work of others is inspirational, as is watching new techniques. It’s also such a treat to have meals prepared for us. I leave feeling pampered!”

    For more about Emma:
    On Twitter: @emmavirjan
    On Instagram: emmavirjan
    Emma’s books:


    Jan’s Experience

    Jan is a writer and artist. She says, “Soon this will take center stage. I’m retiring after 25 years of teaching (and 10 years of other art and marketing jobs). Teaching is too physically and emotionally taxing, and it’s time to pay attention to my words and art. It’s been hard to grow both on the side for 20 years.”

    About the retreat, she says “I like the fact that it’s open ended and there’s time to try something new and be able to grow/share what you’re working on. ”

    “It’s just so nice to be with other artists! As an art teacher, I need this kind of time with other artists and writers, to grow my art heart. My job can be a bit too solitary and awfully demanding. This has been the most fun and encouraging workshop I’ve taken. “

    She keeps returning because it’s so fun to “try different kinds of art without worry. I carry that mindset back to the classroom. It’s easy to forget and hard to remember when back in the trenches. I need to give myself time like this, learning, exploring side by side with others. Why? It’s the first thing to go when time gets tight at school.”

    For more about Jan:
    On Instagram: @janhoffmanstudio

    Nancy’s Experience

    Nancy is an artist and a kindergarten teacher! She was first interested in coming to the retreat because Ashley Wolff was one of the leaders. She says, “The biggest draw for me was that this was a workshop for illustrators who also wrote books. Now the draw is for the friends I have made. I come to make art, have great food, and eat cheese. “

    “The biggest thing I got out of the first class I attended was my fascination with Ashley and Denise’s techniques and they were talking about their own craft. They talked about their works that they had published and the process of making that art and that was really fascinating for me to see that background.”

    “Some of the best outcomes for me from the retreats have been the professional interaction I have with other illustrators, which I don’t get in my current life. The friendships I have developed have been very important to me because I admire them so much. I love that I have creative friends who live all over. Though I mostly interact with them on Facebook. I still get to see their work and activities. They inspire me to keep working at my craft.”

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