Yesterday, Caroline Planting wrote, “I’m packing to attend a residency at the Vermont Studio Center. It’s a bit scary, thinking about what I’ll do with all the time in the world for two weeks, just painting. Even packing is hard — what to take? How will my mind be affected up there?”
Thanks, Caroline. Good questions. The effect on your mind will depend on how it’s already affected. You can take the girl out of the county, but it’s not so easy to take the county out of the girl. Stressful as it may be, most of us would welcome the opportunity for “two weeks, just painting.”
Once, when much younger, I took two weeks on a remote island. I was pretty well by myself, and I pretty well went nuts. I was stuck with an unpleasant companion — myself. After a couple of days of creative non-abundance, and mosquitoes, I chopped wood for the remainder.
Now, much older, I’ve come to terms with concentration. It happens. Left alone to just paint, I’m as happy as a cow in a stall, even while being bitten by black flies the size of Stealth bombers.
If you’re driving up there, you can pack everything. When you get to the center you may decide you’re not a painter but a filmmaker or a flyer of two-string kites. It’s amazing how Zenlike and procrastinatorily fun stunt-kiting can be. Don’t forget the kites. There’s a lot of wind in that part of Vermont.
The downside is “residency.” That implies you are the resident artist and thus must at all times let others see how driven and creative you are. That’s why you scored the residency, right? Well, I’ve got news for you. Because you’re an artist, people will tend to think you’re okay no matter what you do. So when you’re out there trying to push a brush in the bush, you can have a sign that says “Go away,” and the folks will think you’re wonderful. Eccentric, but wonderful.
Then you can show them your work when you’re ready. Preferably in the evening under poor light. If they have any good wine up there you can hobnob. Personally, I find the après-paint the most self-destructive. It’s possible to get the idea you know what you’re doing.
There is one last possibility: The people who run the residency may want to open your eyes. This is when you need to kiss the folks who brought you there. Take your camera. As Diane Arbus said, “My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.”
PS: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” (Saint Augustine)
Esoterica: You may find the first few days awkward and non-productive. When you get into the daily routine of painting, eating and sleeping, the eternal roll begins to bless you with an unexplainable grace and joy. Accept the gift. When you start to do something lousy, put it aside and start again. Tomorrow will be another day. You have all the time in the world. Life’s a residency.
Couldn’t get enough of it
by Alicia Byler, Lancaster, PA, USA
I was nervous too, the first time I drove up to the Vermont Studio Center in September 1997.
Guess what? I extended my stay for two extra weeks and attended again for a month in July 1998.
Be prepared to eat great food, meet interesting people, lose a little sleep, sleep a little extra, paint a little, paint voraciously, make great work, make work you will throw away, fall in love, breathe in deep wonderful Vermont air, go exploring, maybe a day trip to Montreal, it will be a glorious time! Who knows, you may meet someone who will become a friend for life!
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Defeated before starting
by Tiit Raid, Fall Creek, Wisconsin, USA
To me, “How will my mind be affected up there?” seems like a very naive question. How does anyone know how one’s mind is going to respond in a new situation? Instead of looking forward to the luxury of un-interrupted time to work, she frets. This type of thinking is just a set up for having a terrible and limiting time. Part of life is to experience new things. So many people I’ve met over the years defeat themselves before they start.
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by Apryl Anderson, Aix-en-Provence, France
I’m nearing the end of my 4th annual child-free month: they’re at their grandparents’, and hubby works far enough away to allow me Mon-Fri of creative solitude. I love it, and hate it, because the only dictator is me — waxing and waning between chaos and control! This video is an absolutely beautiful statement of our terrifying freedom.
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Most valuable experience
by Kris Parins, FL, USA
I spent a month as artist-in-residence at Harpers Ferry Historical Park. Partly because of the geographical location in a rock valley, and partly due to Park policy, I had no television, radio, internet, phone, or cell signal. My car was parked a mile away. I have never been so lonely, or so productive. During that month I completed 18 watercolor paintings (sold several), read 16 books, and met many wonderful people. The Park Bookstore is still selling my prints and note cards, and just ordered a calendar with the paintings I created. Would I do it again? Absolutely! The residency was one of the most valuable art experiences I have ever had.
Have a plan, then deviate
by Robin Shillcock, Groningen, Netherlands
There’s a middle way for Caroline Planting: instead of throwing yourself at painting you can take a few days to travel and, preferably, travel light: on a bike, with just a sketchbook, a few pencils and a sharpener. It’s the art of jotting down what strikes you as interesting, and it’s a quick art if you limit yourself in time. Twenty minutes top to do a sketch, or even less then back to pedaling down winding roads. It’s good to make you feel a little at home in new surroundings, and you also get to meet people, taste the air and see the sights. I have a studio in a deserted village on an island in arctic Norway; I’ve spent two and a half months entirely alone, and enjoyed every single day! Each day start out with mundane chores before breakfast: fetching water from a well in two buckets, nodding to oystercatchers on the left and perhaps an otter on my right, and then deciding which direction to hike to sketch. Pure bliss! The very first act when setting foot upon the island is to remove my watch. In summer the sun never sets and I simply follow the signals sent by stomach, intestine and brain. Most days are spent out of doors, days of inclement weather inside, unless the wind drives the smoke from the chimney into “the studio.” People (usually fishermen) arriving in a boat, are viewed with wariness, as I consider that part of the island to be mine. I have no right to lay claim but being alone (especially in winter!) evokes a sense of ownership. All of it, mine, including about a million seabirds and beasts including sheep, grey seals and beached whales. The main thing is to have a plan, and then deviate. You are the king (or queen).
Residency in Tuscany
by Colleen Obrien, Calgary, AB, Canada
I have applied for and been accepted by La Macina di San Cresci to be their Artist in Residence for November 2010! They are located in the Tuscany region of Italy. Here is an excerpt of the Residency Program: The artist residency program provides the ideal combination of living and working in a setting of truly inspirational beauty. Artist residency is a program based on a personal project proposal presented. A yearbook archive is published representative of the various experiences, and produced using photos and texts of artists and events. The artists with a special interesting project have a public event offering a venue to test ideas in a dialog with other artists, and the general public. Help will be given from La Macina di San Cresci staff to organize a local exhibition on a theme related to their Residency project.
Time and opportunity
by Brenda Hofreiter, Orlando, FL, USA
Over the years I have been granted several artist-in-residencies. As a struggling artist, there never seems to be enough money in the bank to afford to travel and paint. These residencies supplied the opportunity I needed. Never knowing what to expect, or would be expected from me, I came over prepared for both my duties as a resident artist (with power point presentations, etc.) and art supplies. I need not have been concerned. Without the usual distractions of home, the days fed one into another and a two week residency passed like lightning before my eyes as the paintings stacked up. What to do with myself was never a problem. Even though I am a full-time professional artist, at home I find that painting time seems to always be at a premium. For many reasons, just getting out of the house to paint on most days is a tall order. There are so many distractions in normal life. The needs of family, friends, home, business and errands seem to always take priority. I found the residency needs much less demanding, leaving me more time and less distractions to concentrate on painting. It was a joy! I wish there were many more residency opportunities for artists. They enable the artist to experience the joy of unstructured time and the beauty and inspiration of new vistas. Time and opportunity are two of the most precious gifts an artist can receive. Within them, there is space to breathe and to create.
Benefactor made it possible
by Brenda Behr, Goldsboro, NC, USA
Three days ago I arrived back from a painting excursion to Bethania, North Carolina, just on the outskirts of Winston-Salem. A benefactor, who believed I would love to paint this community, sponsored my trip. He was right. Additional paintings can be seen and more can be read about the trip and about the historical town of Bethania on my blog. Except for the people I met along the way, I was alone. Being single and being an artist I am quite used to being alone. Although I had my iPhone on this trip, I was otherwise without a computer. I loved it. I loved the focus it gave me. I love the fresh eyes I have when I see a place for the first time. The heat some days skyrocketed to 98 degrees, but hey, I was there to paint, and I was not about to succumb to the discomfort of heat. Shade trees are heroes to a lowly, overheated plein air painter. I love how productive the trip was and the inventory it gave me to show in an upcoming festival. As a plein air painter, the nights get long, and they do get lonely. One night I saw a free film at SE CCA, a contemporary art museum in Winston-Salem, and two other nights I went to films at a new independent theatre downtown. A shift in our routines is invigorating. I’m ready to go again.
No apologies necessary
by Susan Holland, Bellevue, WA, USA
The idea of having a dedicated time to paint can be for a half-hour lunch break or for a year or more. When you get to go to a location with a Title (like RESIDENCY) for an extended session it is just a change of venue… and not a JOB. My river tour of France (Rhone River from Arles to the Saone) was a big project, especially since I had just gotten out of a cast for my broken left ankle. Barge travel is wonderful — perfect when you have a gimpy leg. I took minimal art supplies, but all I needed to do the gouaches I had planned. I took a fisherman’s vest to carry all the little stuff in and pre-prepared supports for my painting. Traveling with minimal luggage is just a fabulous thing! When you are on a mission, you don’t need to take a lot of stuff — it will slow you down and be a distraction. Take your most important and favorite art tools, your painting clothes and one outfit for going out on the town. Don’t forget your glasses, toothbrush or vitamins. See if you can forget your laptop and your cell phone. At least leave them under the bed there for the duration. Then, empty your mind zennily and wait… the magic will begin if you are expecting it. The place will speak to you. Put your brush, or whatever, down on that support surface and let the magic begin. Let the time there move your brush in a way that is slow and deliberate and mindful of the moment.
You get to do that, and you don’t have to make apologies for not being a social butterfly, a hostess, a mother or wife, a best friend, an employee, a volunteer, or any of that. You just get to make wonderful stuff. Everyone will respect that, everyone.
oil painting 28 x 40 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Clare Aaron of San Antonio, TX, USA, who wrote, “I have trouble seeing that two weeks of nothing but painting would be anything but pure bliss. To pack: All painting supplies and camera. Then you might think about a few things like clean underwear and toothbrush.”
And also Dick Green of Bloomington, MN, USA who wrote, “Last month my wife and I were invited along with ten others to spend a week on Mallard Island on Rainy Lake, east of International Falls Minnesota. We had perfect weather, no bugs and were able to paint four watercolors each day. Other than eating blueberries and doing some canoeing, we could really concentrate on our painting. No cell phones, TV or radios allowed. One great experience! Check here for information about Mallard Island.”
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