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These Outdoorsy Artist Retreats Combine Creativity With Social Distancing

It’s one of the most famous tropes about artists that they often do their best work in isolation, decamping to remote hideaways to work on their masterpieces. Far from society, sitting in a cabin in the woods or a shack by the sea, surrounded by nature, there are zero distractions to hinder their creative process. 

But it’s not just a trope; who among us wouldn’t love a chance to spend weeks or months at a time in a beautiful place far from the hustle and bustle of society, with all the provisions and amenities we need, where we can focus on that long-neglected manuscript or start songwriting again? And while some artists thrive in urban environments, others retreat to remote corners of the world, where nature in its many forms — from forests and mountains to snowy tundra and open sea — serves as their inspiration for books, paintings, music, films, and other forms of artistic expression. That’s where artistic residencies come in. Around the world, residencies and retreats offer secluded, distraction-free spaces for artists to practice and hone their craft. Plus, with the pandemic still ongoing, retreating into nature for some quality alone time away from other people sounds like just the ticket. We all said that we were finally gonna write that novel or start painting when the stay-at-home orders happened, but trying to mentally and physically survive a pandemic does not exactly a relaxing environment in which to create art make. So if you’re looking to truly get away from it all to focus on your art, the scenic natural surroundings of these outdoorsy artist retreats around the world are sure to get those creative juices flowing.

Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Banff, Canada

Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity
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Located within the confines of Canada’s first national park and within walking distance of the mountain resort town of Banff, the Banff Centre of Arts and Creativity is a world-renowned nexus of arts and culture, hosting workshops, programs, performances, screenings, galleries, and more at its state-of-the-art campus, as well as promoting mountain and outdoor culture and adventure around the globe through the Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival. As a center dedicated to artistic learning and development, there are various programs and retreats available, including an Artist in Residence program for visual artists, writers retreats, and a songwriting residency. The crème de la crème, however, would be to score a residency at the Leighton Artist Studios: Nine woodland cabins where artists of all disciplines can work on self-directed projects. With the spectacular Canadian Rockies all around, forests thick with wildlife, and endless opportunities to get out into nature, it’ll be hard not to get inspired. 

Iceland Writers Retreat, Iceland

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Iceland is one of the most bookish countries on Earth; it stands to reason when one in ten people on this small island will publish a book in their lifetime. And with Iceland’s jaw-dropping natural landscapes, from dramatic mountains and waterfalls to stark lunarscapes and black beaches, it’s no wonder writers and artists find inspiration here. Founded in 2014 and held in the capital city of Reykjavik, the Iceland Writers Retreat has sought to share the literary heritage and nature of Iceland with writers from around the world, hosting a weeklong retreat where attendees learn from a rotating faculty of authors and teachers and collaborate with others to grow their own craft. The weeklong retreat includes outings to explore parts of the island for inspiration and education, small-group craft workshops, readings, and more. The retreat attracts many greats from the world of literature and journalism to serve as instructors, including Pulitzer Prize winners, nominees for the Man Booker and National Book Award prizes, and bestsellers. Generally taking place in April, this year’s retreat has been pushed back to October. 

Fogo Island Arts Residency, Newfoundland, Canada

Fogo Island Arts Residency
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Hanging off the edge of the northeast coast of Newfoundland province in Canada, the rugged, off-the-grid island of Fogo has reinvented itself over the past decade from a wind-lashed backwater to an international destination for artistic innovation and creativity thanks to the Fogo Island Arts venue and the renowned Fogo Island Inn, where the Arts program hosts galleries. This contemporary art organization attracts a range of creators, from musicians and writers to designers and curators, from all the world, who stay in austere, Nordic-inspired modern studios for periods of between one to three months to work on their projects. The residencies culminate in performances and presentations to share their work. The organization believes that the remote location, resilient and resourceful island spirit, and unique regional culture fosters the perfect environment for artistic expression and collaboration; indeed, it’s hard to not be inspired when you look out your window and see an iceberg float by down Iceberg Alley. 

Fordypningsrommet, the Arctic Circle, Norway

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This retreat, located within the Arctic Circle in the extreme north of Norway, will help you find your true north, quite literally; it’s the northernmost artistic retreat in the world. Comprised of a series of stark, modernist cabins that look out over the Arctic landscape, the Fordypningsrommet retreat is located on the grounds of the Arctic Hideaway, an exclusive luxury property that can be rented out to large groups. In addition to the cabins, there is a studio, sauna (naturally), kitchen house, bathhouse, and a “tower for big thoughts” which overlooks its surroundings from an elevated vantage point. The artist-in-residence program was created by musician Håvard Lund to give artists access to this beautiful, ultra-remote place they may otherwise not be able to afford to visit. The residencies last a week, and there is often a different theme for the artists that are hosted; this past year, it was artists working on projects related to the environment. 

Antarctic Artists & Writers Program, Antarctica

south georgia island
Andy Rouse/Getty Images / Andy Rouse/Getty Images

In contrast, now turn your eyes southward to the southernmost artist residency in the world. Unless you’re a scientist or support staff at the White Continent’s many research stations, it’s nearly impossible for civilians and travelers to visit or stay here for longer than a day or so. Unless you get into the Antarctic Artists & Writers program. Hosted by the National Science Foundation which oversees the United States’ presence in Antarctica, this program allows artists to live on Antarctica at various bases for several months or longer, creating books, paintings, photos, films, sculptures, and other works of art that will “increase understanding of the Antarctic and help document America’s Antarctic heritage.” Usually carried out during the austral summer when there are more people and activities on the continent, there is the possibility to winter-over, with makes for an environment of extreme isolation and profound contemplation that fosters artistic creation. 

Villa Lena, Tuscany, Italy

Villa Lena
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If extremely remote, polar landscapes don’t do it for you, how about an artistic retreat in an Italian villa in the bosom of the romantic Tuscan countryside? Now we’re talking! Villa Lena is a picturesque villa-turned-hotel in Tuscany, surrounded by lush forests and rolling hills, but they also host artist residencies from April to October. Lasting six weeks, resident artists are provided accommodations, studio space, and some meals, and are free to spend their days painting, drawing, writing, playing music, dancing. or practicing whatever their discipline is (the residency is open to a wide range). Workshops and lectures are also offered to encourage collaboration and interaction. At the end of the residency, in thanks, artists are asked to donate a piece of their work to the Villa. And in between spending full, sunny days creating art, you can take idyllic walks around the property and enjoy Italian food and wine. Not too shabby. 

Container Artist Residency, International Waters

Container Artist Residency
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When you consider all the ways our large world stays connected, you’re more likely to think of planes, cars, and trains than container ships. But these steel behemoths, piled high with stacks of colorful containers holding everything from cars to books, are one of the most essential links in global commerce and trade; all sorts of goods you use on a daily basis are delivered via container ship. And they spend weeks to months at sea, in lonely, isolated peregrinations around the globe. Sounds like a perfect place to ruminate and then turn those thoughts into a cutting-edge work of art, right? Others thought so, too, and in 2015 the Container Artist Residency was launched. One of the most unique artist-in-residence programs out there, the residency hosts visual artists onboard commercial cargo ships for ocean voyages, during which they work on projects that are exhibited at international shows. News about the next round of residencies and how to apply has been delayed due to the pandemic, but you can follow their Facebook and Instagram pages for more news. 

Outlandia, Scotland

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Misty moors, enchanted forests, craggy mountains, and rolling hills; the evocative and timeless landscapes of Scotland provide the perfect backdrop for your artistic journey, especially when seen from the deck of the Outlandia cottage. This remote treehouse studio, located in Glen Nevis, is hidden in a forest overlooking the glen and is accessible via an elevated wooden walkway. The cabin is off-grid with no facilities, so the artist-in-residence needs to arrange accommodation in the nearby town, but during the day they can head to the treehouse for peace and quiet to complete their work. The residency is open to all manner of artists but generally attracts visual artists like painters and illustrators and writers, as it’s hard not to be inspired by the views outside the window. 

Getaway, USA

Getaway, USA
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Sometimes you don’t need to go to the ends of the earth for inspiration; sometimes you just need a little Getaway. Launched in 2015 in locations around the United States, Getaway is a network of chic black cabins located in forested outposts within driving distance of many major U.S. cities, like New York and Portland. With no Wi-Fi and plenty of modern amenities, the cabins have quickly found a cult following among city-dwellers looking for a wilderness escape. But what many people don’t know is that Getaway also offers Artist Fellowships. The fellowship lasts two days and one night, so it’s perfect for a quick weekend to recharge the artistic batteries. Since there’s no internet there are no distractions, and the cabins have everything you need to be able to focus, from a bathroom with a hot water shower to a fully equipped kitchenette. Everything that is generally included in a stay is included in the fellowship, and everyone from photographers to cartoonists to musicians is welcome to apply. 

US National Parks Artist-in-Residence Program, USA

olympic national park
Danita Delimont/Getty Images

From towering mountains to plunging canyons and every type of landscape in between, the national parks of the United States are truly unparalleled places to go and appreciate nature. Who wouldn’t want to wake up every morning to the sheer granite cliffs of Yosemite and then get to turn around and create beautiful art inspired by that vista? Or live surrounded by bears and moose in the heart of Alaska’s Denali National Park, channeling the adventurous spirit of past explorers and artists? Or wander through the desert and commune with the universe in the mystical Joshua Tree? Luckily you can; over 50 national parks around the U.S. offer artist-in-residence programs. The requirements and terms vary depending on which national park you want to stay in. For example, in Denali, the program welcomes composers, writers, and other artists for a ten-day residency in a remote but accessible cabin, which terminates with a public outreach project. Surrounded by the most spectacular wildernesses our country has to offer, your song, novel, or painting will come to life. 

La Wayaka Current, Nomadic Roaming, Various Locations

La Wayaka Current
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This unique residency and research program throws out the traditional book by offering a variety of different locations to go to, encouraging artistic expression through cultivating a deep, personal connection to the landscape and building partnerships with local indigenous communities. There are three different general areas where you can apply for a residency: the Atacama Desert in Chile, the tropical forests of Panama, or the Arctic in the Sapmi region of northern Europe. The residencies are more hands-on than some others, requiring going out to explore and discover landscapes and thus creating a more tangible, educational experience. Participants are also encouraged to pursue their projects outside, although studio space is available. If you’re looking for something a bit more avant-garde, this is a great fit. 

Zoe Baillargeon
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Zoe Baillargeon is an award-winning travel writer and freelance journalist based in the Pacific Northwest. She covers travel…
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