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Into the Woods

My Spring Artist Residency

It’s long been a dream of mine to attend an artist residency. To take time out of my regularly irregular daily routine (especially after the pandemic) to get away, and be on my own someplace in nature, with time open to just create, think, journal, observe. I started applying a few years ago, so I was elated when I learned that'd I'd been awarded the opportunity to take a week at Holly House, with Hypatia in the Woods.

Holly House is located outside of Shelton, Washington, overlooking Hammersly Inlet in between the trees on a steep embankment above the water. The cozy little cabin was surrounded by conifers, deciduous trees, ferns, and a host of spring plants and flowers. There was a forest road residents could use to access the inlet and river nearby. I was met by a volunteer who guided me to the location just outside of town; and one of the board members even brought me soup as I had a cold early in the week. It was truly a verdant and nurturing retreat.

Friends have asked me what it was like, what does a residency include? It varies; some residencies are social or collaborative, some have workshops, chefs, or visiting lecturers while others are solo and remote. This one was in the latter category, a “self-sufficient solo residency”. This was quite perfect for my goals: time in nature to heal and to be inspired, time to journal and reflect on what I wanted to create and where I was heading with my art practice, time to sketch and paint and recapture sense of adventure and play in creating. I packed my plein air kit and a “mini-studio in a box” (ok 2 boxes and an art folio), said bye to the family, and drove south. As a mother, having time away from parenting and household duties for a whole week was a creative blessing right there… I love my family even more after a few days off, what can I say.

This April just happened to be the third coldest April in the last 45 years! This made outdoor painting pretty unpredictable… Rain and wind storms, a brief power outage, sleet, fog, mist, dripping moss, glowing moss with sunshine, mountains hidden by clouds or basking in the fleeting sun, the week had a little bit of everything. However, being spring, it also offered new bright yellow-green buds on the tips of branches and shrubs, lots of healthy ferns well fed by the wet season, and rapids, rivers and streams swollen with early melt and rain, rain, rain… The ever-changing weather offered lots of options to paint, and the rain actually helped with some of that reflecting and journaling time I’d sought. Perhaps the weather was a blessing in disguise?

For an artist, solid sunshine isn’t always what we’re going for. The soft golden hour of dusk or dawn, a mix of sun and fluffy clouds, moody mists and fog, these all offer great atmosphere and interest to a landscape. So as long as I could be reasonably warm and dry, I was pretty much game for all weather – each type offered different inspirations. But, as sometimes it switched between pouring rain and brilliant sun hourly, I did paint inside more than I’d planned. Luckily the cabin had amazing views of spring buds, hanging mosses, trees, or water from every window!

Being adaptable is a good trait for an artist. I filled a sketchbook with drawings and paintings, notes and doodles. I created pastel and watercolor sketches, chasing after my watercolor palette when the wind carried it off. I set up outside in the sun, only to be drenched by a surprise sleet storm a few minutes later. I scrambled to pack up, take a few photos of the amazing, subdued colors that were emerging, and continued painting back at the cabin with hot tea. Not a bad way to work at all! I did create more in watercolor than in oils that week, so I could complete small studies more quickly in between changing weather. I opted to set up one afternoon in front of the cabin, and enjoyed painting the ferns and hot pink flowers right outside my door, and close to shelter should the fickle weather gods opt to rain on me again. This enabled me to zoom into a smaller scene; I've never painted ferns before! I spent a lot of time observing nature and recording thoughts in both my journal and in my sketchbook. I jotted down both written and drawn notes for my future self to ponder further after this woodsy week.

It was such a gift, that week on my own, surrounded by nature, in the cozy cabin-studio. I returned tp Seattle more determined than ever to evolving and deepening my artistic voice, to celebrating trees and nature in my work, and to protecting and conserving our natural resources.

(Click on image above to see full slider gallery.)

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