Saturday, January 19, 2019     Volume: 19, Issue: 46

Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on April 5th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 5 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 5

Santa Ynez Valley business offers art retreats for all skill levels


At a farmhouse in March, a group of people gathered to spend the weekend together. Some of them were friends but many were strangers. They would spend the next three days sipping wine, eating freshly prepared meals, strolling through the quiet town of Ballard, and getting to know each other. They came from different backgrounds, different careers, and different families. But there was one thing that united them throughout the long weekend.


The artists gathered at Bellissima Art Retreats’ March 24 through 26 session at a farmhouse in Ballard were a mix of amateur enthusiasts and novices. Chelsea Ward, pictured standing, said anyone can draw or paint, it’s just a matter of having the patience to stick with it.

The women and men at the Ballard farmhouse that weekend were not expert artists, nor were they critics coming to discuss other works. They were students, participating in an artists’ retreat with Bellissima Art Retreats. The business is co-owned by Chelsea Ward and Christi Schaeffer Belle.

Belle, who also owns Gypsy Studios, said the company offers art retreats in the summer to Italy, which attract a lot of customers. Some of them approached Belle and Ward expressing interest in doing something local, so they set up a retreat in the Santa Ynez Valley. Belle said the retreat starts with a social mixer and also incorporates several creative sessions that include yoga or other forms of activities for stress and anxiety reduction.

“We want people to get out of logic brain and into their creative brain,” Belle said. “We want to help get rid of their fears. Creating is a vulnerable experience. Performing in front of people can be intimidating. So that’s important to get that out.”

Participants are treated to a demonstration of watercolor and acrylic painting techniques, after which they have the option to stay with Belle and do hands-on acrylic painting or take a walk with Ward around town for some watercolor painting.

During the three-day retreat, participants in Bellissima Art Retreats’ farmhouse weekend were treated to wine and homemade meals, with art classes such as charcoal figure sketching interspersed with stress-relieving activities.

Sessions at the retreat also include charcoal figure drawing with a live model. Ward, owner of Sketchy Notions in Ballard, said the people who participated in the retreat had varying levels of artistic skill and confidence. Ward said the most rewarding aspect of the retreat is the fun of watching someone who has never drawn or painted before have an “a-ha” moment, when they finally pick up on it. When people tell her they can’t sketch or draw well, she said she works to build their confidence.

“They can sketch,” Ward said. “Anybody can draw, it’s just whether or not they have the patience.”

Belle said the retreat helps people who are hesitant or shy about their perceived artistic failings. She said any successful artist would agree there is always a stage when they think their piece is a failure and want to scrap it.

“You kind of have to cross over that and push through,” she said. “I like to explain that to people at the very beginning, it’s going to happen. You’re going to want to throw in the towel. The best thing about art and creating in general is the process. You lose yourself. That’s good for your soul.”

Retreat and create
For more information, or to book a retreat with Bellissima Art Retreats, visit

Bellissima is currently planning to hold quarterly retreats in the area in addition to their summer art retreat in Italy. Ward said they may also consider states outside of California.

Arts and Lifestyle writer Rebecca Rose would like to drink wine and paint in a farmhouse all day. Contact her at

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