The grounds at Blueberry View Artist Retreat are wildly creative and down right magical.

Artists and co-hosts Mark Toncray and Janet Sullivan. The people who created the magic at Blueberry View Artist Retreat

This past summer I was fortunate enough to spend part of my summer vacation in Benton Harbor Michigan at the Blueberry View Artist Retreat.

Blueberry View sits on three acres located just a few minutes from the shores of Lake Michigan. The grounds are host to several eclectic gardens, miscellaneous collections and sculpture and provided me the perfect balance of inspiration and solitude. The bounty of the neighboring blueberry farm was an added treat.

Jan Sullivan and Mark Toncray were my hosts during my stay. Both are accomplished artists in their own right, and it was evident in the studio space set up and accommodations.


All details were well thought out and the workspace included:

  • A large open space, white walls that could be nailed into
  • Two large modular work tables
  • A closet filled of tools including an old fashioned wall mounted pencil sharpener
  • Large canvas for the floors
  • Plenty of good sunlight

I also had a comfy living space and lots of inspiration from art left behind from previous participants. \ Was the only resident artist so there was plenty of time to focus on my work, and Mark and Janet were often on hand if I needed to talk art. It was absolutely perfect and I couldn’t have asked for more.

I decided in advance that to put some parameters around the work I would do during my stay. I chose to use a limited palette and to work on heavy watercolor paper to make travel to and from Europe manageable.

The goals I set for myself during the residency was to push myself into working in a larger format of 18” x 24”, the largest size that could fit into a suitcase.

After the first day of setting up and getting situation, I began a series of 5 pieces. I’ve learned from other artists to work in a series because it allows me to have a more open approach. It’s easier to experiment when one piece is not completely precious and it allows me to keep moving if I feel a bit stuck on one piece.

I had a lot of fun going crazy with collage, broad strokes of paint, graphite stick mark making, using unorthodox brushes like credit card edges and sponges. It was such a fun and freeing experience. All of my work goes through several layers and processes. Here are a few shots of the studio and works in progress.

I continued with layer upon layer of paint paper and mark making and at the end of my stay I had completed my goal. At one point I wasn’t sure if I would ever find myself in the process or finish any of the work. About 2 1/2 weeks into my three-week stay there seemed to be a shift. I woke up one morning and just starting painting and making some bolder moves with the pieces. I just kept moving from one piece to the next and back. Around 10 pm I stopped painting and could see all five pieces had arrived. It was quite a surprise, as I didn’t even recall specifically what I did or how I got there. All I know is that something rather magical happened during my stay at Blueberry View – something had shifted in my work, and it and me was a memory I will not forget.

Here is some of the work I finished at Blueberry View

Here are just a few of the images I captured during my residency at Blueberry View

Janet Jaffke  -  Jaffke Studio

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