Exploring the world through artist residencies: a personal journey

Abstract painting, 'Mexico on My Mind' by artist Claire Desjardins.

Embarking on an artist residency can be likened to a painter standing before a blank canvas. It's a beginning, filled with potential and promise, a chance to immerse oneself in an environment that nurtures creativity and growth. As someone who has traversed this path several times, I've found these experiences to be invaluable, not just in honing my skills as an abstract painter, but in broadening my horizons, both personally and artistically.

What is an artist residency/what is its purpose?

An artist residency is a designated period where artists live and work in a supportive environment conducive to creativity and exploration. It's akin to a sanctuary where artists can fully immerse themselves in their craft, free from the distractions of everyday life. The purpose is to provide a space where artists can focus solely on their art, allowing for deep introspection, experimentation, and growth.

How is it different from an artist retreat?

While both artist residencies and retreats offer artists the opportunity to focus on their craft away from everyday distractions, they differ in structure and intent. Depending on the setup, artist residencies sometimes provide a more structured environment with designated studio space and communal facilities, fostering a sense of community and collaboration among artists. In contrast, artist retreats often offer a more relaxed and self-directed experience, allowing artists to set their own pace and agenda (think: art holiday). Retreats may focus more on personal reflection and rejuvenation, while residencies emphasize artistic development and exploration within a supportive community.

Artist residencies I have attended

Vermont Studio Center: a haven of natural beauty

Abstract artist, Claire Desjardins, in her painting studio at Vermont Studio Center.

My journey took me first to the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont. This experience, graced twice by the support of a grant, was nothing short of enriching. The Center, nestled in a quaint New England town, cradled by a river bend and close to the university, provided an ideal setting for deep reflection and creativity. Here, each artist is allotted a private studio, accessible around the clock, and a personal room for rest. The community aspect is strong, with around 50 artists sharing meals in an open dining area, fostering an environment of camaraderie and exchange. This idyllic setting, away from the hustle of daily life, truly serves as a catalyst for artistic exploration.

Da Wang artist residency: a cultural immersion

The artist studio of abstract artist, Claire Desjardins, in Shenzhen, China.

The Da Wang Artist Residency in Shenzhen, China, offered a different but equally enriching experience. Residing at the foot of the Wutong Mountain chain, this residency provided me with a private room and studio, in a setting that felt like a lush, tranquil oasis amidst the vibrant energy of mainland China. The diversity of the artists in residence, coming from Europe, the USA, Australia, and other parts of the world, created a melting pot of ideas and cultures. This residency was not just about creating art, but also about building connections and understanding different artistic perspectives. The daily communal meals and the opportunity to visit Hong Kong added layers to my experience, making it a deeply memorable chapter in my artistic journey. 

 Artist Claire Desjardins, painting in her China artist residency studio

San Miguel de Allende: a self-directed exploration

Abstract artist, Claire Desjardins' painting studio, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

In contrast to structured programs, I also embraced the concept of a self-directed residency in San Miguel de Allende. Here, I charted my own course, renting an apartment and a studio space within the old Instituto Allende. This self-guided experience allowed me to set my own rhythm, walking daily to the studio, surrounded by the vibrant colors of bougainvillea and the cheerful buzz of hummingbirds. On Sundays, the journey to the studio through the hand-crafted market was an experience in itself, filled with the lively sights and sounds of local vendors. This personal retreat provided a unique opportunity to delve into my practice, free from external structure, yet rich in spontaneous inspiration.

How do you find the right artist residency for you?

Finding the right artist residency involves considering various factors such as location, duration, facilities, and the type of community you wish to immerse yourself in. Researching online directories (such as ResArtis.org or ArtistCommunities.org), attending artist residencies fairs, and networking with fellow artists can help you discover residencies that align with your artistic goals and personal preferences. It's essential to read testimonials from past residents, inquire about the application process, and consider the financial aspects, including any available grants or scholarships. Ultimately, trust your instincts and choose a residency that resonates with your vision and aspirations.

Is an artist residency worth it?

Abstract painting in progress, by artist / painter Claire Desjardins.

Reflecting on these diverse experiences, I believe artist residencies offer immense value. They provide a space to focus solely on your art, away from everyday distractions. Each residency, whether in the heart of nature, amidst a bustling city, or a journey self-directed, brings its own unique set of inspirations and challenges. They are more than just a physical space; they are a journey into the depths of your creative soul, an opportunity to connect with fellow artists, and a chance to see the world through a different lens.

For fellow artists contemplating whether to embark on this journey, my advice is to consider what you seek in your artistic and personal growth. Each residency has its own flavor and offerings, and what resonates with one may differ for another. But one thing is certain: the experience is bound to leave an indelible mark on your artistic journey, enriching your practice in ways that often extend far beyond the canvas.

Abstract artist, Claire Desjardins, at her artist residency in Vermont: the Vermont Studio Center.

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1 comment

Dear Claire,
Wow… As always, such an inspiration…
The paintings you created in your artist residencies are amazing…. love them. I have wished to do an artist res. for many years now, I need to put some more serious effort into making it happen.
Thank you for taking the time to write this blog post.
X Margie Joy Goodluck. Australia

Margie Joy

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