How to Make the Most Out of an Artist Residency

artist residency tips
“I think it was the right time in my career to have an experience of this kind abroad in my capacity as an emerging artist. My main objective was to develop a coherent body of work to see embodied in one or more series of paintings. Also, it was important for me to take criticism about my work; to know different realities, critics and artists from other countries. Finally, to live with people who appreciate and value artwork, was one of my greatest expectations certainly fulfilled.” – Carlos Yañez Ramos, February 2013
artist residency tips
“I wanted to figure out and clarify my directions with both my drawings and drawing objects. I’d been trying to streamline the two processes since I was exploring the space between making works that 1) functioned purely within formalism and 2) referenced my cultural identity. I also needed to finish work planned for three solo exhibitions. During my time in residence, I also wanted to see two of my favorite artists exhibiting in NYC, make new contacts with other artists, and share my work.” – Alexandra Charmaine Ortiz, January 2014 (seen here with Grace Knowlton, L)

Painter Garin Baker, when “talking shop” with LINEA, suggested that “the ability to remove the cerebral assumptions of what you think you know and just respond honestly can be key to developing authentic work.” This is an important encouragement to keep close—not just when you’re knee-deep in your standard studio practice, but also when you’re embarking on new territory. Reconciling the dream of your residency with your reality is like any creative imagining: Expectations can be a strength if you’ve made them into a smart goal, or they may become a hindrance if you do not allow for some flexibility.

First-time artists-in-residence may unconsciously load all their eggs into one basket, expecting their experience will be The Solution needed Right Now (also assuming it to be Once-In-A-Lifetime). However, that kind of thinking strangles the creativity anticipated to blossom. Give yourself the tools—resilience, commitment, honesty—to be aware of your environment, inside and out, and to adjust when things develop in a way you haven’t expected.

Flexibility isn’t just limited to your studio, it also is necessary when you are confronted with unexpected weather or accommodations. I find that more information about something helps me to be prepared. Reading a residency’s handbook beforehand will give you more information than you anticipated asking about, thereby allowing you to get a better picture of what you’re getting into.

How should an artist plan his/her experience and set goals?

When deciding what you’d like to accomplish while you’re in residence, set a SMART goal: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Be realistic. It is more empowering to achieve than to regret. While this is easy to say, many folks I know find goal-setting challenging (including me). Writing your goals on your wall is like having a personal cheering squad in the corner of your studio. A smartly-stated goal will give you a built-in support system as well as a reliable focus point.

How should an artist manage his/her day?

Let me just say that “day” is a relative term: I’ve known artists who woke up at sunset, worked through the night, and went to bed at sunrise. They made some stellar work. Whatever your most productive time may be, here are some suggestions for the practicalities which frequently surround a smart goal:

• Research the area where your facility is located so you don’t waste time figuring out how to get here or there, or where to get this or that.

• On the day you arrive, get into your studio and start something right away.  Pin it up on the wall: a sketch, a motivational icon, your reference material.

• Post a daily diary, quietly making yourself accountable to progress. (Be sure to include your preparations, travel, post-residency results—and invite your followers & friends along on your social media).

• If you’re traveling internationally, take your jet-lag seriously to make the most of your time in a healthy way instead of carrying bricks of exhaustion on your back each day.

• Know how you’re going to ship your artwork home so you don’t have that question pestering you as you’re praying for paint to dry.

• Breathe and break so you don’t burn out. Don’t push yourself so hard (even though you might have the freedom to) that you need an entire day to recover.

• Eat well* and invite your fellow residents frequently to share a drink and a chat. This builds a friendly camaraderie with your newly expanded network.

artist residency tips
“I was at a point in my life and career where I really needed to work through some major ideas. Learning from past experiences, I had clear plans and objectives of what I wanted to accomplish, including a large painting project that I’d never attempted before on this scale. I was able to complete it and am very pleased with the results! My plans for the residency were a bit ambitious, and though I did not complete all the artwork I wanted, it was ideal to explore projects I couldn’t complete in my home studio.” – Adrienne Tarver, September-October 2014 (photo courtesy of the artist)
artist residency tips
I needed a residency to re-invigorate my studio practice and to create an opportunity to re-evaluate the focus of my work from a more distanced perspective, dislocated in time and space from the normal comfort of my usual environment. My major expectation (fulfilled) was to experience a sustained period of reflection and isolation in a beautiful environment. I also hoped to meet and communicate with other artists from diverse backgrounds. – Mike Tracy, March 2015

What happens when a goal changes midway?

When the best laid plans sprout curious shoots, should you mow them down or cultivate them? Because the nature of a residency environment tends to be risk-friendly, it might be worthwhile to go out on a limb with new thoughts as they branch out. So many residents I’ve seen were seeking breakthroughs while they were in residence; they looked forward to something evolving in their work. Each resident also learns from his or her new colleagues, picking up various viewpoints to enhance his or her own practice.

If you are anticipating an exploratory epiphany, be aware of what materials or “fuel” you may need so that you can burst out when the spark is lit. (Cf. resident Joan Ryan’s quote about material preparedness shared in my previous article.) Others, as I’ve highlighted here through the quotes and photos of Vyt alums, have employed their residency to get specific things done. In any case, residencies are rare exceptions in the art world where genuine support saturates the atmosphere. The positive fellowship shared at residencies is invigorating. That encouragement might just be your safety harness—so climb away!

Should an artist create a plan or specific project to maximize time?

artist residency tips
“I wanted to make something site-specific because I tend to plan out my work to the point of killing it; I wanted the fear of the unknown and the joy of the unexpected. I’d been working in a strict atmosphere with so many opinions and critiques about my work I didn’t know if I was coming or going. I just wanted to be able to make exactly what I wanted to make with no expectations, no endless explanations and no over-intellectualization or accountability. It was liberating and daunting. I wanted to be able to find my own identity. I just wanted to work.”

While I just shared my encouragement to make goal(s) for your time in residence, I have also seen folks come in with what appeared to be no particular goal in mind. Actually, they did have a goal: to create without pre-conceptions or explore without fences. Vyt alumna Caroline Allen (January 2013) vibrantly explained her intentions for her first residency in the inset, at right.

This works for some, especially if one comes from a particularly structured studio regimen. However, this “invisi-goal” was in itself an achievement to which one aspired. If your goal is limit-less, the important thing to keep in mind is self-discipline. But before you venture into uncharted waters, identify some of the common hazards that have previously sunk you into murky non-productivity. Set a schedule, or a daily ritual to float yourself on what you value. Everyone’s goal should be aligned to his or her desired destination whether it be finishing touches for an exhibition, clearing one’s head, building a body of work, adding skills, completing a commission, exploring an idea, or compiling resource material.

artist residency tips
“Having experienced a previous stay, I understood the importance of succumbing to the roller coaster that is a residency. My main goal was to push my work to a place that I could not get to myself. The time to be with one’s work unhindered by the everyday commitments of life and get professional comments and also have conversations with other creative types really helped me break new ground that I will take with me into my new work.” – Kristine Ballard, June 2011, 2013
artist residency tips
“I didn’t initially have much planned when I first arrived: I was awarded a one-month residency and had a 30-foot roll of paper.  (I wanted to do something on the Japanese earthquake and tsunami but didn’t anticipate the painting to be larger than 7-8 feet.)  Being with a supportive group, with sympathetic staff, encouraged me to “think bigger.” As the idea (and the painting) grew, I needed to add other residencies to complete the project – I ended up finishing the gigantic scroll in the encouraging environment where it began”. – Jave Yoshimoto, May-June 2011, March 2012

 

What kind of residency would fit me best?

As artists tend to be grouped into similar categories (“painter,” “sculptor,” “installation,” “new media” etc.) on an application page, each artist is unique in his or her outlook. So also residencies can be grouped into categories (size, discipline, history, philosophy), and every residency program’s culture is individual to its values. When you apply to any program, take the time to learn about your residency’s mission and envision yourself through that lens to examine whether it may enhance or perhaps challenge your practice.

As a quick self-selection, ask yourself a few questions to set the parameters in which your studio practice thrives. Just because the residency might be, say, a certain Gallic Impressionist’s lily-filled garden, a bustling art world centerpoint, or an historic legend, doesn’t mean that it will automatically be a good fit. ResArtis also has great search selection tools to help narrow down the many, many residency options available to you.

• How much time do I want?

• Do I need to work alone or with collaborators?

• What kind of support do I want (financial, material, logistical, skillfull)?

• Does the residency program have requirements I must fulfill?

• Which physical environments prompt me to work?

• Am I comfortable in the language/culture?

• Are there any external criteria I need to complete (e.g. visas, faculty points, grant requirements, presentations)?

artist residency tips
“I had the intention to complete a very specific project but ended up using the time to pursue a more exploratory and open-ended path. The residency enabled me to explore ideas in early stages. The change in space, time, schedule and people was restorative and allowed me to approach the studio with a more experimental spirit. I did not come home with very much finished work but I did come home with a lot of exciting beginnings and new directions.” – Natasha Gusta, June 2015 (seen here with Naomi Campbell and Ramiro Davaro-Comas, L)
artist residency tips
“I came into the residency with not a totally clear picture of what I was going to make. I knew I wanted to push my drawings further that I had started in my studio back home, and I was hoping to make a lot of new work. I wanted to use the month to truly explore my process and the possibilities of it translating into sculpture and video. I also wanted to allow myself a good amount of time to explore NYC and its ever-changing art scene, while giving myself the space and time to explore and think and move.” – Benjamin McVey, May 2014

 

Each residency you do (I hope it’s more than one!) will broaden your worldview and the way you see your art. Residencies are expanding to support almost every artistic need and style. In fact, residency programs holding membership in the Alliance of Artist Communities alone have increased over 1,500% in the last 25 years.† This field in the art world is growing by leaps and bounds, but these things remain constant in both resident and residence: the aspiration to support that which is beneficial, the desire to create something meaningful, and to nourish culture.

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*Kale chips, shakshuka, okonomiyaki, fried pizzette, stovies, salade niçoise, sriracha, and avocado-on-anything: these are some of my favorite comfort foods that have been shared by residents.

Thanks to Flannery Patton, Director of Member Services at the Alliance of Artists Communities, for this data. The League Residency at Vyt is a proud member of the Alliance of Artists Communities and ResArtis. Special thanks to LINEA Editor Stephanie Cassidy for her questions about doing a residency.

Charis J. Carmichael Braun is an artist and arts administrator in the Hudson Valley.

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