Navigating my first Artist Residency

Rural New England has been my home for the spring. Winding country roads are everywhere around here. It’s easy to get lost, and find oneself in the next state over (yes, I’ve done this). Yet I love the surprises that show up along the way. It’s an excellent metaphor for the artist residency I am currently making here, and for what I am learning about my creative process.

When I am asked to explain what exactly is an art residency, I say it is like a retreat for artists. Extra spaciousness, plenty of quiet, time away from life’s daily stressors, and the opportunity for transformation… to fully attend to one’s creative life for a concentrated period. The one I am making is fairly long, three full months – I began in early April and end in late June. Two months in, my time here is clearly unfolding into a theme.

Navigating these country roads requires me to slow way down, most are up and down twisty, curvy hills and I am not familiar with the terrain (oh and potholes… so many bumps in the road!). Navigating this residency, similarly, is nudging me to slow down my art making and allow myself to experiment in all directions. This perfectionist has for forever had a hard time loosening up and doing creative work that might not turn out well. That is all changing.

Among what my experimenting emphasis has brought up so far:

Re-learning how to work in a darkroom (which I haven’t done in ~13 years), learning the wet plate collodion process from a local photographer (talk about slow photography… more on that later), painting short watercolor sketches of antique doors, photographing antique doors all over central Massachusetts, and working on a bunch of abstract paintings of emotional experiences I’ve had. And I was finally able to properly experiment with photo transfers, a project I’ve wanted to get to for years.

I’m reading up on early 20th century Pictorialism photography, chemistry as it relates to old school photo work, watercolor techniques, and how to paint intuitively. I have been collecting and studying antique film cameras and slowly discovering how to use them, along with an 80 year old functional light meter, and vintage tripods. And I initiated a collaborative project with high school students at the boarding school where the residency takes place, showing several of them how to print photos in a darkroom.

All this could not have developed in my normal life on such a comprehensive level, amidst a day job and so many logistics to think about. This is the gift of an artist residency: to slow down and be present to your creative process. The winding roads are taking me so many wonderful places, and I am paying attention.

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