We chatted with Robyn Lawton from Artisan Escapes:
Tell us about Artisan Escapes
Artisan Escapes was created to celebrate relaxation and connection, to share stories and to appreciate the art of making. The idea for Artisan Escapes has grown very organically over the years through my connections with amazing artists, my own teachings and witnessing how art’s practice and making, fosters feelings of well – being and connection and sometimes life-changing experiences.
My dream was to create memorable and worthwhile getaways that inspire, teach, entertain and delight through unique and authentic artisan experiences, amazing food, beautiful surroundings underpinned by a focus on health and well being, especially for those people who may never have experienced making with their own hands.
It is also driven by my desire to see the Arts, Culture and the Creative Industries valued more highly in Australia. I wanted to create a platform to showcase some of our amazing artists and to elevate people’s perceptions of the arts and to the value of the accompanying benefits. There are also a lot of people out there who don’t realise the hours and hours of time that go into making something by hand. We need to celebrate these artisan practices so that skills aren’t lost. Image what the fabric of our world would look like if that were to happen.
What do you think makes a good retreat?
It’s all about balance, a perfect combination of must-haves. Firstly an amazing location, we all benefit from spending time in beautiful surroundings that get the feel-good endorphins going and create the right atmosphere for the magic to happen.
Secondly fabulous food, not just good food. The kind of meals that create conversation and get the senses buzzing. Next up is creative activities; the art of curating an immersive workshop experience that leaves you feeling accomplished, confident and inspired even if you have no prior experience, doesn’t just happen by chance.
And lastly some form of yoga or movement or physical activity. I believe that starting the day with a fabulous yoga session calms the mind, in perfect readiness for the full benefits of the art’s experiences and day to come. Ideally building in some activity that provides some take-home nutrition tips, even if it’s just one small thing that will provide a positive lifestyle change is a great bonus to top off the perfect retreat experience.
What is the most common reason guests visit your retreat? How can you help them?
I think the most common reason is the very basic human need to escape the everyday and recharge the batteries. We all need to get out of the 9-5 ruts that are somehow inevitable in our daily lives. We become so focused on our duties to provide for our families and get ahead in our careers that we forget to take time out for ourselves. Sometimes stepping outside of our regular routine has massive benefits for how equipped we are to deal with these stresses of daily life. But very often people don’t know how beneficial this can be, all they know is that they are extremely stressed and thought of organising something like this is just is too hard.
It has been proven that just 2 hours of arts engagement every week can improve mental health. Involvement in arts can reduce medication needs, increase tolerance of symptoms or treatment and reduce stress and anxiety
This is where I can help! An Artisan Escapes retreat offers an all-inclusive package where every last detail is arranged so all the guest/s have to do is turn up. I take pride in tailor-making a perfect escape that is designed especially for the needs of the client. I love to ask the guest what they would like to get out of the experience and then curate a bespoke escape like no other. I love this part of the process. Each client is different. I have always loved spoiling people, so I find it very natural and easy to effectively listen and come up with suggestions.
Where do you hold the retreats?
At present, I am focusing on the hinterlands and beach areas in South East Queensland down to Northern New South Wales, with destinations like Noosa, Byron Bay, and inland to the Scenic Rim region. I have plans to then venture into beautiful areas such as Tasmania and regional and outback Queensland—you never know where an opportunity will present itself!
Tell us about your upcoming retreat to Byron Bay?
This all-inclusive Byron Breakaway Retreat is a perfect chance to recharge the batteries after winter and is being held at the historic Jasmin House on the 13 -15 September 2019. A beautiful 100-year-old Federation brick that has been lovingly renovated. We chose central Byron Bay as we thought it would be a perfect location for a quick 2 night getaway for a girls breakaway, a short 5-minute walk will take you into the heart of town so is close to shops and cafes and the beach. We have created this retreat to take advantage of what the location has to offer.
The food is a major focus with my friend and Chef Rosa (from The Pink Pot and Harvest restaurant) delighting us with her culinary skills. A beautiful Italian girl, Rosa makes THE best tiramisu and Ravioli and will share with us her recipes as she guides us through a cooking class designed especially for this group.
The local Artist that is sharing her talents this weekend is Karin Hall from Blu Byron, a great advocate for sustainability and slow fashion and a very talented and prolific maker who has fallen in love with the Indigo plant and the art of shibori.
This retreat is a collaboration with friend Maria Rampa from Evvoke. I met Maria at her book launch of the Travel Pro a few years ago. I loved what Maria was doing and her work with ACT for Kids was inspiring. We became friends so when Maria mentioned collaborating, I jumped at it. I have always been an avid advocate for collaborations witnessing how beneficial they were in my experience with Community projects in my Regional Arts Fund role. I was also drawn to Maria’s love of life and her experiences.
How do you select your workshop trainers and chefs?
I loved that you asked this question. I am really particular in who I choose to work with and I don’t mean that is any disrespectful way to artists or chefs but for example not all artists like teaching. To run a really inspiring and successful workshop with a productive outcome is an art form in itself. I really like to get to know the kind of people that I work with. It might seem like it goes without saying but I look for a really warm engaging personality and if they have a great story to tell all the better. It can make all the difference to the overall experience.
Think about how often, when engaging in a travel experience, that it is sometimes just as much the characters that you meet as much as the sights you are seeing, that can have the most impact. It is often these interactions, with the folks you meet on your journeys, that we are still talking about months after the trip has finished. It can make or break it.
I love working with Chefs that love to showcase local artisan produce. I think it’s really important to focus on local providers and producers. I like to think we are doing our bit for sustainability and being ethically responsible in the choices that I make as a business owner. I am a big believer in sourcing whatever I can locally and working in with local businesses such as my neighbourhood chocolate maker, 31 Degrees that makes beautiful chocolates on site which I have branded with my logo for my guests.
What’s a typical day look like on one of your retreats?
Ok so let’s imagine driving up to a fairytale location in the late afternoon and being greeted by your host like old friends. You have time to unpack and perhaps find a little treat waiting for you in your beautiful room. You explore the accommodation venue and grounds and then meet the rest of the group for welcome drinks and a fabulous gourmet dinner prepared by your own private chef for the weekend.
Depending on whether you have organised a tailormade escape or are joining in on a set date retreat with others you will awake in the morning wake either to a barista-made coffee and a fabulous breakfast set up waiting for you or perhaps your breakfast supplies for your group are all there waiting for you to set out and enjoy.
After a leisurely breakfast, your retreat may include a private Yoga session around the pool or on the beach, a hike or some other activity to set your mind in readiness for new art or creative experience
You will then be introduced to our Artist who will run a workshop that has been specifically designed just for you. It may be trying your hand at clay building or experiencing calmness while working with nature and fabrics in an eco-dying workshop or learning to paint or draw. Either way experiencing the joy that comes from making something with your own two hands. After the workshop has finished it is now time to have the opportunity to get to know the artist while they share some of their stories in a sit down long table lunch.
Depending on the itinerary after lunch may be the time to completely relax and read a book, have a massage, or whatever you normally feel may feel guilty taking time out for yourself to do.
And we can’t forget time for tea – A lovingly prepared homemade delight and a nice cuppa
Our chef may share with you one of her family secret recipes while she incorporates a cooking class into the evening’s meal preparation. Perhaps the best ever ravioli or a Tiramisu that’s to die for.
The evening is where I have personally seen the magic happen, especially if it is a group of individuals getting together that haven’t met before. By this second meal, everyone has had a bit of a chance to get to know each other and the days activities have conjured up the right appetite for some beautiful food and fabulous conversation.
If it is your own tailor-made retreat for your family or friends, the evening may take on many forms depending on your requests, especially if the escape has been organised for a special occasion. There is always the opportunity to have a sommelier on hand to talk about and serve wines from the region with each course of the meal or perhaps an artist to come along and entertain during and after dinner. There are so many exciting options!
Are you an artist?
Even though I have taught for 12 years running my own hand stamping workshops and craft retreats and working in the arts industry advising artists on Arts Grants and supporting Local Arts Councils across Qld, the term Artist is one I use hesitantly. It is more natural to call myself a ‘Maker’ and an Arts-worker. There is a lot of discussion as to whether craft and arts are two different things or actually the same. At a recent discussion at Artisan in Bowen Hills for the exhibition opening of the Tamworth Textile Triennial, the constant argument still seems to be is craft really art?. The highly skilled makers who spend hours upon hours on their craft would argue ‘yes’ but someone who has studied ‘Fine Arts’ may argue ‘no’. It’s a fine line.
I like the term ‘Artisan’, the definition for which is – A worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand. This term cuts through this fine line and puts everything into perspective. I thought about this a lot when I chose the name for my business. When I thought about it I actually came from a family who have always made fine things by hand. I loved the whole movement back to celebrating this in food as well so the choice was natural.
Who or what inspires you?
My parents are passionate about repurposing everything and take great pride in what they do. I love to see my 80-year-old dad still working in his sheds, making fine things with woods and metals on his lathes and even distilling his own spirits. It gives him purpose. I think if you don’t have a purpose you don’t have anything. My mum is amazing too, she is 77 and still able to make a pattern for a garment and a whizz on the sewing machine. She taught herself to sew, making her own wedding dress and has designed some of the most amazing outfits and costumes in her time working at the Queensland Theatre Company and for my crazy little stick figure drawings that I would come to her with.
How has your past contributed to and shaped this new business?
I had completely left the arts industry after my role at Artslink (which had previously been Queensland Arts Council) had been made redundant in early 2016 as the whole organisation had very sadly gone into liquidation after a 52 year legacy in QLD. I had also ended a long term relationship, was living back with my parents, was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer, undergone surgery to remove my right thyroid gland and had a car accident which had set my issues with my neck pain back significantly. 2016 hadn’t been a great year and after a 12month, contract with a corporate organisation that had left me very unsatisfied ended in mid-2017, I was a little lost.
I remember attending a Creative Mornings event early in 2018 and hearing Sarah Hamilton from Ditto Music speak about Imposter Syndrome. I really identified with that Term. That moment of revelation when someone had actually put into words how I had felt Managing a Regional Arts Fund and supporting 50 Local Arts Councils in my role at Artslink Queensland when I didn’t have an ‘Arts Degree’. It wasn’t until, shortly after that, my new partner and I did a road trip through central Australia, I was still receiving letters of encouragement and thanks from artists and arts workers. Amazing, inspiring people that I had helped through the application process with Arts grants and with all aspects of planning their Community projects and budgeting and connecting them to the right places.
I started to reflect on my 12 years teaching workshops and leading a team through my stamping business and the benefits that I had witnessed through this and my experience in my amazing 7-year role at Artslink, which was to this day the most challenging but the most rewarding role in my life. I gained strength from it. I thought maybe I do have something worthwhile to contribute and somehow make a difference. There were long hours spent on the road but this provided the much needed time for the seed to grow. Artisan Escapes was born on this trip.
Do you have any predictions for the industry?
Definitely, Destination Experiences will continue to increase in the Tourism Industry. 1 in 2 international visitors undertook a cultural and heritage activity during their stay in Australia.
I am very interested to see what Arts Queensland’s 10-Year Roadmap for the arts, cultural and creative sector will look like.
I know the benefits are huge if this drives investment. Not just for our health system but also for our global economy. Creativity unlocks ideas and drives new thinking contributing to innovation. The creative sector plays a very important role in delivering a culture of creativity to our communities and, importantly, within business and industry. Cultural and creative Industries contributes $86 Billion annually to the Australian Economy. So while Governments at all levels allocate around $6 billion a year to arts and culture in Australia, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, this is a still a low figure compared to the budget outlays of other wealthy nations.
And there has been a sharp drop in public support for government funding of the arts, new research shows. According to a national survey from the Australia Council, the federal government’s major arts funding and advisory body, twenty per cent fewer Australians support public arts funding than eight years ago.
What’s next for you?
At present, I am focusing on making my business one that is sustainable and developing a presentation to educate corporate businesses on how arts can positively help in business. In the future, I would like to take Artisan Escapes to an international market as I think we have some really extraordinary artists and so many great things in Australia to share.
How can people find out more about the Artisan Escapes?
I am very excited to now have a beautiful promotional video to show off which is a 45-second snapshot which captures the flavour of the business. I would love people to visit my website and let me know what they think. https://artisanescapes.com.au/.
I also have my social media accounts and I have just started posting my own travels and meetups with Artists and sharing their stories in a personal Instagram page https://www.instagram.com/robynlawton_/
I have a separate business page so to avoid confusion about what the business is all about. https://www.instagram.com/artisan_escapes_australia/