An Arty Way To Holiday

Take the most inspiring creative vacation to learn a new skill with designer Geetika Agrawal’s Vacation With An Artist (VAWAA) programme

Austria-based Katja Kramberger is a restless creative soul. Her idea of a perfect retreat is in learning a new artistic skill while she likes to take a short break from her monotonous routine. To an extent, she would even fly to some distant locale for a creative rendezvous. This time, she mulled over a soap-making studio session with designer Anja Tomazic in the earthly paradise of Slovenia in Central Europe. A seasoned and adventure enthusiast, for Katja, this was one of her best leisure trips where she aimed to learn a new skill with her choice of artist. Both Anja and Katja hit off to learn each other’s skills in the right combination. While Anja shared how to make handmade salt soaps, Katja showed her how to crochet little soap bags. Katja quoted her experience as rather 'unforgettably wonderful'. Since then she has been spending more time with her grandma to perfect her crochet skills. All thanks to designer Geetika Agrawal who created Vacation With An Artist (VAWAA), a platform that finds artists with whom seasoned travellers can learn a new skill through the programme. “VAWAA helps remind travellers to enjoy the creative journey, experience the unexpected rather than seeing it as a destination. It is a way for travellers to spend their vacation in artist studios around the world, learning a new skill,” says Agrawal who is working as a creative director with R/GA New York.

Agrawal, whose background is in experience design, created VAWAA while on a 12-month sabbatical away from the agency. She has spent a month in each of 12 different countries, and using the time, in part, to find artists with whom travellers can learn a skill through the VAWAA programme. Agrawal has been personally curating the artists with whom travellers can book studio sessions through the website. Unlike a workshop or course, the idea is to spend one-on-one time with the artist in their studio to learn the skill, participate in everyday creative process and collaborate on a project, usually lasting anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks. So you can vacation with a photographer in Slovenia, clothing designer in Vietnam, music producer in Uruguay, calligrapher in Japan, tango dancer in Argentina, cook in Malaysia, and leather shoemaker in Prague to bamboo bicycle maker in India.

"It all started a few years ago. I discovered my love for learning and travel during early architecture college days, when I spent summers working with local artisans in small towns of Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu in India. As I travelled around the world, I found it really hard to find such creative opportunities so I selfishly decided to create them by starting VAWAA. I noticed that there is a growing breed of travellers like me - those looking for experiences vs. things - and those interested in travelling slow vs. checking things of the list. This platform is for people like us," she says.

So far Agrawal has travelled to more than 35 countries for the past one year, since the time VAWAA has been launched. “I love creating human experiences - anything that expands our minds and makes our hearts feel. When I lived in Los Angeles, I used to produce events that combined art, music, architecture and science with a group of super passionate and talented people. It was a great way to get deep into the culture of a place and tap into inner creativity by making things with hands. My routine looks quite different now. I travel every month to a new country, meet artists in the morning, work from a cafe/co-working space, go scuba diving in the afternoon, work on the website in the evening, hang out with locals at night. The creative rush during this sabbatical has been unexpected and exciting,” elaborates Agrawal. We asked Agrawal more about the origin of the programme and how it works:

Tell us about the studio sessions with artists?
A studio session is the time you spend together with the artist in their workspace that can be their atelier, home or outdoors. This can vary from 10 hours to 100 hours spread over a couple of days with periodic interaction. We limit the experience to 1-2 guests at a given time to allow the artist-cum-traveller to create a unique experience.

How do you choose your artists?
We travel to each country and look for artists who have deep knowledge of their art, have something unique to share. We understand their work and discuss what their studio session experience could look like.

Tell us about the specifications in the itinerary?
Each artist has a unique creative process and personality so the experience varies based on their art and the studio set up. For example, ceramic artist Katja Spiler has a home studio with view of the Julian Alps in a small town in Slovenia. Her work reflects the beauty of her pristine surroundings and is contemporary, functional and playful. Whereas, ceramic artist Junpei Omori in Kyoto, Japan is inspired by J’mon pottery (one of Japan's oldest pottery style), and Kintsugi tea cups (the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery). We recently traveled to Spain and India to curate new artist vacations to launch new artist vacations in the next few weeks. These include ceramics, shibori, neon signs, weaving, Goan food, photography, printmaking, jewelry, illustration, sculpture and more.

What is the takeaway for the artists?
We've had a few artists go on this vacation either to expand their own skill set or to improve a skill they already had. For example, Michela DuPasquier from France plans to open her home décor store. She liked Vu Thao's natural dyeing approach and spent five days with her in Cao Bang (north-east Vietnam) learning how to make natural dyes and introduce these techniques in her new designs.

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