How I did my first residency

I got back from my residency just over a week ago. I now understand the importance of time away to develop one’s practice, there were no distractions (no tv, very little internet), it was also valuable for me to be with other artists – to get to understand their process too. What it revealed for me was that we all struggle with getting started, and the only way to overcome that is to start something – anything!

What I wanted from the residency was time to develop my ideas, and also to be bolder in my approach, not worrying about the outcome but to just do things – experiment and enjoying the process more. I am an MA Drawing student in my first year (part time). I make life sized drawings which take a long time to complete, a lot of that time is spent over thinking, questioning and doubting my ideas. I was hoping that going away  on this residency and being out of my comfort zone would help me become more productive.

My first issue was what to pack? My practice is drawing but I also wanted to try other things.

The residency itself was in a small town called Atina, about 3 hours from Rome, up in the mountains. It was a themed residency – based on astronomy. All artists had to submit a 500 word proposal along with images of our work. There were 27 of us selected for the program, international artists from around Europe, America, Canada, Brazil, and the UK.

My first day in the shared studio felt very uncomfortable – I was obsessing about the fact that I hadn’t brought my black Windsor and Newton Gouache with me – I went to the local art shop and bought a tube of gouache but it wasn’t the right shade of black. I noticed the two more experienced artists I was sharing a studio with were also regretting things that they had left behind. I decided to let go and work with what I had. We all did.

We had a packed itinerary, trips to various observatories, plus time to explore and get inspiration for our work. The town we stayed in also hosted quite a few festivals while we were there and – most importantly of all we observed the Perseids meteor shower. We also had a workshop on how to make our own books, I also learned Cyanotype printing and ended up making a life sized body print.

My drawing has taken a new direction too – I am working on a panoramic piece which will include a landscape (something I have never done). The residency lasted just over two weeks, we had an exhibition towards the end and we will have another one in November which will give us time to develop our work further.

What I got from the residency is:

Don’t worry about the work, go with the flow. If you are accepted on a group residency then you will make something because you will be inspired by other artists. For some people their ideas don’t fully develop until after the residency, so be open – if you get stuck try something new, the act of trying something different will help bring something fresh and perhaps unexpected.

Work with what you have. Apart from obsessing about my lack of Windsor and Newton black Gouache, I also had to use paper that I wasn’t used to. I use Fabriano roll paper, 200gsm. I knew I couldn’t start another life sized drawing so I bought a large sheet of paper from the local art shop. The drawing I had in mind only worked when I turned the paper to a landscape format instead of portrait – the drawing grew into a panorama when I decided it needed a second piece of paper added to it. This would never have happened if I were working with materials that I was used to.

Use the residency to disconnect from your normal day to day life – so leave social media etc behind, unless you are updating your blog / instagram etc. The more you can immerse yourself in your residency the better.

Keep a diary (or at least make lots of notes) – I did this mainly because I need to add to my online folio for my MA. I think it is a very useful thing to do anyway because it was very insightful and taught me things about my process that I wasn’t aware of.

Applying for residencies:

There are two types of residencies you can apply for, paid and unpaid.

With paid residencies you will usually get a fee for your time and usually extra money for materials. The added extras will vary – some paid residencies won’t include costs for flight / transportation so you will have to fund that yourself or find funding. Others will fund everything including your food.

Unpaid residencies – like mine, require you to pay for the flight, accommodation and materials. You can apply for funding but it is hard to come by, particularly post Brexit. If you are applying for an unpaid residency do check the organisers credentials and examine what exactly you will be paying for. Mine was extremely good value, and the residency itself has a good reputation.

Do apply for a residency that is related to your practice and will help you develop further. If you are applying for something that is completely unrelated you will have demonstrate how this will enhance your current practice.

Some additional resource:

Artquest Residencies

Artnet Article on Residencies