In preparation for my upcoming residency at The Ucross Foundation, I found myself looking around the web for blogs by artists about their experiences on residency. Maybe its too personal, and the process too internal to share, but I thought I’d try setting up this space for a blog, in case this felt like a good way to chronicle my experiences.
Preparing for Ucross
As I get ready to head out to Wyoming for a month long residency at Ucross, I find myself making lists. To-do lists, packing lists, lists of audio books to download from the library for the drive. And I find myself wanting to connect to the experiences of other artists doing similar things. From my past meditation-retreat experience I do know that this journey may be significantly more expansive internally than externally, and I may not want to share it in this way, let alone risk letting thoughts of “how will I blog about this?” influence my choices.
On the other hand, it sure would be useful to be able to read “Things I wish I had brought with me on my first artist residency,” or “stuff I thought I’d need but weren’t worth the hassle of packing,” as I put together the piles.
We’ll see if this turns out to be a good project or not. If not, I’ll delete it. In the mean time, feel free to drop me a line if this writing turns into something of interest or utility for you.
It’s Sunday night, at the end of my first week at Ucross; which is in a way the end of two weeks in that the week I spent driving here was very much an integral part of the experience of the residency for me.
At one week in I’m having a funny time-dilation experience that often happens to me with dramatic shifts of contexts. At first, while walking around trying to learn all the new where-is-everything-and-how-does-it-work bits a day seems like a remarkable passage. At the end of Tuesday I had no concept of having only just arrived here the day before. It seemed impossible. But then, next thing I knew, it was Saturday and in meeting some artists from Jentel Residencies, down the road toward Sheriden, we exchanged â€œI just got hereâ€s but then I realized, that no, actually I’d been here a week. How did that happen?!
So I’m grateful for a couple decisions I made. First having the opportunity to drive here really was great, and any time I’m doing a residency in the future, I’ll try to arrange for that option. I’m better with slower transitions in some ways, and I spent the drive here slowly shifting the ways I was thinking about the issues in my work. My work involves a relationship between the urban and the rural, so making a slow passage, alone, in and out of cities, farmlands, small towns, prairies, cities, mountains has helped me think about these issues more viscerally and in different contexts than I had before.
Secondly, I passed up an offer for a bike ride into the countryside with another resident on my first day. I wanted to set myself in a flow and pattern of working, and as much as I’d delight in daily rides and hikes and trips, I’m currently extremely pleased with the progress of my work so far. And I’m still getting excellent conversations, hikes, bike rides, and other connections in the evenings with my colleagues here- including a night out on the town in Buffalo at the Occidental Hotel and Saloon Bluegrass and Western Jam Session- but my days are focused on work in a way I had hoped they would be.
On my first day here, not sure how to proceed I followed my own rule for students: “Start from where you are,”,or sometimes “Start with what you know.” So with everything around me completely new, I sat down with my sketchbook and sketched. The first sketch wasn’t particularly good, but that doesn’t matter. I started. Then I did a second, and added a journaling component to help sort the swirling thinking and to begin to gel some of the ideas from the drive. Then I promptly fell asleep in the sun.
On the second day the routine began. I started my morning by cutting some fresh chard from the garden and cooking it up with tomatoes previously picked, and some local eggs. Yum! Then down to studio where I did two paintings on my first day. The second day I did a third and the pace has continued. I’m sketching, journaling, and painting, not necessarily all three on any given day, but in ways such that I’ve begun to shift the way I’m approaching my painting in response to some of the sketching and journaling. Which is to say, that at least in the this first week, I feel like I’m very much getting out of this what I came here looking for (even if I was not entirely sure what I was looking for when I left home).
Tomorrow starts week two and I plan to spend it exploring this new approach I experimented with today. This will require a trip in to town for some new supplies, but I hope to be able to do that in a way that’s not too disruptive of my work flow. Already I feel like time is flying by and there’s so much more I want to do!
Week Two: Community and Connections
Sometimes it’s a little difficult to close the door to the Depot building, it just sticks a little. But we haven’t worried about it much; one of the great things about being here is being able to leave bikes outdoors and doors unlocked. It feels like the physical security here gives us a little more room to take artistic risks.
So imagine the shock when tonight over dinner, _______ mentions, “Oh, by the way”(many of his sentences start this way); about the door at the Depot building: Today there was a snake in my studio. Most of us here are “city folk”in one way or another, and none of us are from rattlesnake country so we’re most worried about this snake’s species. Still, even after the reassurance that it was just a water-snake, K., S., and I especially (since we are the others with bedrooms on the second floor of that building), want to know if a snake can go up stairs. I opine (since I have no real knowledge) that probably? the could, but they probably wouldn’t. This opinion doesn’t keep me from stopping in my doorway and turning on the lights before proceeding tonight. I have not checked, and do not intend to check under the bed. Life is just different here than home in Somerville. The rhythms and pacing, the opportunities- and, yes, the worries, too.
Here at the end of my second week, I’ve made deeper connections with the community- sharing a long afternoon conversation with the owner of the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo- and deeper explorations into my work. I’m thrilled with the direction my painting is going, and have now finished one of the two cut-silhouette pieces for which I prepared supports before I left. I understand better now what I’ve been working on all along, exploring interconnectivity and interdependence of rural and urban America. There’s so much tension between these two social sphere, and we both have so much to learn from each other. I’m curious how differently I’ll see the road-trip back toward the East Coast, from how I experienced my journey into the West.
It feels a bit premature to be planning out the end of my stay here and my trip home already, but the truth of the matter is that I have this week, in which Iâ€™d like to finish the second cut-silhouette piece, and a few days into the following week to try a few experiments in paint-sketching Iâ€™ve been thinking about, then Iâ€™ll need to package up all my new work, and pack the car. But Iâ€™m trying not to think too much about that. Iâ€™m enjoying my time here too much and gaining such great benefit. Later this week, some of us intend to make a social call over to Jentel to see the space there. We met some of their artists at an opening in our gallery here, and spent some time with them in Buffalo last Thursday. Thursday night is our big outing night around here, as we all tend to work all through the weekends.
Another opportunity I have to connect to the community and to my work this week, is my upcoming visit to the Wyoming Girls’ School (“a therapeutic and educational facility for the treatment of court-ordered delinquent girls”). I’ll share my sketchbook in a class on womens’ journals, for that day’s lesson on “visual journals.” My sketchbook/journal has become a very important part of my time here, and sharing it will help me understand it better, and hopefully be of some utility and interest to these girls and young women. I’m fascinated to hear what kind of questions they might have about my work and to see what they do in their journals (if they choose to share).
With all this visiting and so forth planned, I need to be careful to not overextend myself. Tomorrow’s another day in studio; hurray!
Back in Somerville, and back to my work here. Friends and colleagues ask “Did you get what you were looking for out of your residency” and I answer truthfully and enthusiastically, “Yes. And so much more.”
I painted almost daily. In addition to sketch-paintings and landscape studies, I finished the two cut-silhouettes I had prepared in Somerville with the intention of using them to explore the relationship between these locations. And, of course, I sketched in my sketchbook. The sketchbook became a more integral part of my thinking and processes there and continuing forward than I had expectedâ€”and this coming from a drawing teacher who has always emphasized the importance of a sketchbook to her students.
I also met wonderful people, some of whom I’ve maintained strong ties with, and others of whom I’m inspired by from a distance. I got to connect with the Sheridan, WY community in unexpected, exciting ways which fortified my work.
How do we decide for ourselves when to set strict limitations and work within established parameters, and when to be open to serendipity? For me it’s an on-going balance throughout my life and my work: an interplay of intention, discovery, and design. And during my time at Ucross I found I was especially happy with how these forces played out. More of my work there turned out to be about the ideas behind the paintings than I had expected. I guess this is why, for now at least, I’m most interested in artist residencies that do not expect the artist to do one specific project or meet specific benchmarks while there. It’s like the old saying about traveling: “What’s the point in going if you already know what you’re going to see?”
From the perspective of my original intention, of this little journal being something useful for a first-time artist-in-residence to stumble upon, I did learn something on return I’d like to share. I’d like to work on this better for my own next residency. For all the preparation I did, and all the work I did on residency, I didn’t really anticipate that I might have needed to plan a little for how to re-establish a work rhythm when I got back home. It was one thing to get into the flow of working when I was there, in the rarefied work environment without distractions and with a balance of clear goals and flexibility. The residency is valuable to a great degree for how it differs from the usual home environment. And I knew I had to focus on establishing a work pattern as soon as I arrived, so I wouldn’t drift too much. But it wasn’t until later, after the residency, when I had a chance to spend a weekend catching up with one of the new friends I made at Ucross, that I realized that I wasn’t alone in having struggles getting my flow going once I got back.
In retrospect it makes perfect sense. I left to go focus on work., When I got back I had to struggle to focus here, and it took a little while to get my feet back under me. Right. Next time I’ll prepare a little more for my return, to make that smoother, too. I have no complaints, though, it’s all part of my learning process, and I’m looking forward to my next residency already. And here at home, projects are starting to move forward, and shows and events and and so forth, now all with a new layer of perspective.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my little Ucross Journal. If you happen to have a journal or blog or writing of some sort about your own residency experiences, please drop me a line. I’d be interested to read it.