A Week at Peace in the Wilderness – Olivia Leon
A long car ride, winding roads and at last we finally made it. My first time attending the DRAW Retreat was in 2018. Our campsite was nestled in the trees at the end of a dirt road. Two rows of tents led to a blazing fire, painted canvases hanging to dry as the smell of a damp forest after a rainfall filled the air. As an outdoor enthusiast, I was so excited to be visiting the Dumoine River but was unaware of how this trip would lead me to developing my skills for showcasing my artwork in a gallery setting and furthering my passion for working with NGOs.
But how did I wind up there? Growing up, my mother conveyed her love for art and nature to me. She taught me different art mediums and encouraged me to spend a lot of time in nature. When I was in my final year of high school, I had trouble deciding a career path and simply chose to do something I also grew to love. I went to the University of Ottawa with the intention of painting but as I took electives in environmental studies, I found a passion within me for the environment that I didn’t know was there. As I continued to take more environmental studies courses with eagerness, my electives turned into a minor which then led me to a major.
I had always been interested in artist retreats but often found myself stumbling upon the National Park Service web page, discouraged with the abundance of opportunities offered only in the United States. When I heard about CPAWS and their Canadian program, I knew it was for me.
Upon arrival, I couldn’t help noticing I was one of the youngest participants. Being surrounded by older artists inspired me because I was able to see what I could become as an artist as well as an advocate for nature. I learned how to better observe my surroundings and to create plein air studies which influenced my final art pieces. I was surrounded by so many amazing artists who also loved nature! It was the best of both worlds. I met many knowledgeable and accomplished people and felt so fortunate to hear their stories around the campfire, get their feedback on my artwork, and showcase my final productions next to theirs. I was inspired.
A week in the wilderness, I was secluded but also not far from others. I spent my time observing the beauty, creating studies, listening to others, and painting with water from the river. I exchanged my connection to home in return for a greater and deeper connection to the Earth itself. Living in suburbia my whole life, I sometimes find it hard to get away into the wilderness. When stepping out of my door into nature I will often still hear cars, be surrounded by hydro lines, or constantly be bumping into people on a trail. Driving out of my hometown to visit the Dumoine River gave me a sense of peace and solitude. I became more mindful and was able to tune into my own mind, body, and soul. That break from civilization allowed me to connect better with myself and my surroundings. The focus shifted to me and I was able to notice and appreciate the small things the environment had to offer. I’ll never forget wading amongst the pickerel flowers, foraging wild blueberries and cooling my feet in the powerful current of the river.
Back in Ottawa, I prepared a painting and some photographs of the flowing Dumoine River for the gallery showings in Bristol and the newly built Ottawa Art Gallery. I was excited to attend the events, see everyone again and have my artwork auctioned. The following year I attended the retreat again and it was even better. I took my pink inflatable doughnut, went cliff jumping, read my book on the sand bars and ate so much good food- oh and I also did a lot of art!
The Draw Retreat helped awaken my true passion for nature and the interdisciplinary approach to tackling environmental issues. I graduated from the University of Ottawa with a double major in Visual Arts and Environmental Studies. Today, I continue to create art in my free time, and I currently work with a small NGO. I am happy to be working in the field of conservation and making every effort to help nature where I can.
Want to take part in the 2021 DRAW Retreat? Learn more and apply by June 7th!