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art for art’s sake: a recap of TBG’s summer design retreat

ryan blair

TBG’s Inaugural Summer Design Retreat in Door County, Wisconsin wasn’t about creating art with practical expectations of deadlines or client needs. It was art for art’s sake.

Door County, Wisconsin, known for its stunning natural landscapes, charming towns, and a vibrant arts scene, provided the perfect setting for this retreat that emerged from Nicole Warns. TBG co-founder, Tom Afflerbach helped lead the art-focused itinerary. Not only does his deep knowledge of the region help, but his family cabin set in the forest, just minutes away from the waterfront, set the perfect stage for the retreat. This program merged the worlds of design and travel, inviting attendees to not only experience a new place and culture, but to immerse themselves in the creative process.

Over the course of the retreat, a series of exercises and excursions aimed to activate the right-brained thinking – the side associated with imagination, intuition, and spatial thinking. The retreat unfolded over five working days, with each day dedicated to one of TBG’s embodiments: Composer, Designer, Scientist, Artist, and Futurist. Each day was packed from 8 AM to 6 PM. It was important to create a reoccurring rhythm to the days. Mornings started with a creative discussion about the topic at hand and an exercise to get the mind going. An excursion around the peninsula followed before each attendee had a focused studio session. Attendees, including Elliot Williams, Ryan Blair, Samantha Whitney, and Lauren Patel recently talked about their creative experience in a firmwide presentation. Here are a few insights they shared with the firm.

Back to the basics: Black and white shapes only by Elliot Williams

The journey of creative exploration began with a back-to-basics approach. Each attendee was given a photograph of a local architectural work and tasked with rearranging the composition using the principles of Notan. Notan, with its stark black and white contrasts, challenged participants to uncover the simplest components of a design. By layering pieces of black and white paper, this exercise revealed the subtleties of composition, proportion, and flow in its simplest form.

Less is more: Lines in composition by Ryan Blair

As composers, lines are one of our strongest tools for communication. Whether it’s conceptual visualizations or schematic design, attendees learned to consider how lines guide the viewer’s eye through composition. Towards the end of the session, the team discovered that, in sketching, less is often more. Fewer lines, not more, led to more impactful compositions. The shift encouraged them to be confident in their strokes, making calculated decisions before they put pen to paper. Every line they drew mattered and dictated an experience.

Moment of truth: Color and scene by Samantha Whitney

 Day three was all about color and learning the basics of mixing paints.  Attendees dabbled in the basics of mixing paints to match colors, equipping themselves for their final art piece of the retreat. After a studio session on color mixing, everyone embarked on a scene-hunting adventure. It was a collective effort to select the scenes that resonated with each participant, scenes that they wanted to capture and take home with them through their painting.

Culmination of Process: Final composition by Lauren Patel

With each day building upon the last, attendees faced the ultimate challenge: creating a plein air piece in acrylic paint. The process involved toning the canvas, skillfully combining lessons from each embodiment they explored – Composer, Designer, Scientist, Artist, and Futurist.

Planned with purpose

The TBG Design Retreat was a deliberate departure from the left-brained thinking, which emphasizes math, science, linear thinking, and logic. To be truly creative one must learn to access the right side of the brain, the domain of imagination, intuition, and spatial thinking. The retreat’s goal was for each participant to take these newfound skills back to their studios, infusing their work with fresh perspective and renewed passion. By embracing their creative potential, these TBGers are better equipped to bring innovative solutions to their projects. This is one step towards the firm’s strategic plan to push design thinking to the forefront of our culture.

As the retreat progressed, attendees experienced wins every day as they learned something new, grew as artists and designers, and honed their creative instincts. This retreat wasn’t just about producing art; it was about nurturing creativity, fostering innovation, and ultimately, enriching our culture and design process.

In the heart of Door County, amidst inspiring landscapes and the camaraderie of fellow designers, the inaugural TBG Summer Design Retreat achieved its purpose – a collective journey through art, design, travel, and nature, leaving a lasting impression on all who attended. We look forward to future retreats that will continue to support our people, strengthen our culture, and drive our design thinking forward.