Wednesday, August 28, 2013

3. the first day

So, our routine for the week was guided meditation from 7 - 8 AM (voluntary, of course and I'll write more about that later), breakfast from 8 – 9 AM, morning meeting from 9 AM til whatever the schedule was for that day, and then independent work either at the studio, the center, or on a field trip.

The first full day of the residency, Catharine opened with basic information and talked about why we were there and what our responsibilities to ourselves and to each other were which were basically to squeeze as much out of everyone that we could by being pro-active and asking questions (something that she reiterated for the first several days), that the work that we did would be self-directed, and that the goal was to open some new possibilities towards our work. Next, we introduced ourselves, reading our artist statements that we had brought with us, and then Catharine started us off with a reading to mull over and an exercise involving a block of clay.

We weren't to make anything out of it necessarily, but just squoosh it around and take note of whatever thoughts or feelings arose.  We had an hour. I went out and sat on the little footbridge over the creek and just sat there at first, not really thrilled with the exercise and so I just watched the water flow through the creek and eventually tried to create in the clay what I was seeing...the rocks and pebbles, the algae, the flow and ripple of the water, the banks and overhanging foliage.

When the clay started to dry out I did a little sketch on my iPad.  No great words or feelings welled up and so I just thought about how a river or creek seems a simple and single thing until you look past the surface to what is happening underneath.  As it happened, this turned out to be a good analogy for much of the work I did in the studio.

After the exercise, we all reassembled around the table and shared our experience. Some totally got into it.  Others, like me, struggled with it. It was interesting, though, to see how each individual handled the exercise. Most of us just dumped the clay back into the bucket but a few of us used it to illustrate their thought processes.

Later in the afternoon we went on our first field trip to Machpelah Cemetery where we wandered around the grounds taking pictures or making sketches or doing rubbings or nothing at all. 

I found little inspiration there though I always enjoy old cemeteries and mostly spent my time trying to figure out my new camera.

Upon our return, Catharine did her thematic lecture/presentation on the 'Familiar' which I think went above some heads, mine included at times. I've never been one to be all that interested in art history and the intentions of artists and although I enjoyed seeing the pictures of the artists' work that she included, much of what they had to say about their work struck me as things people would say who went through degree programs at art universities. Very few of us there at the residency had done so.

I had woken up that morning dreaming.  It was not my typical anxiety dream and I won't bore you with the details but it was definitely about the week ahead of me with mostly total strangers and, as we talked later in the group about the 'imposter syndrome' that even accomplished artists suffer from, I realized there might have been some of that element in the dream as well.  I had been greeted upon my arrival with at least two of the participants praising my work and how glad they were to meet me and how excited they were that I was going to be a participant.

By the end of the day that first day, I had had three nights in a row of poor sleep, I was transitioning from my quiet and solitary life in the country to a loud and boisterous group in a building where the acoustics weren't that great (lots of echo) and was trying to ward off a headache so when dinner plans were being made, I declined to accompany them, preferring to stay at the Center and have leftovers from lunch for my dinner with an eye to going to bed early.

As it turned out a couple others also stayed behind as well and so it became my first opportunity to get to know a few of the participants. And I didn't get to bed early at all.

more next post


  1. Retreats like that are transformational even if the content and structure don't make a lot of sense.

    Of course you would connect with flowing water. You and the spirit of the river are very close.

    Love the ELLEN headstone! Sweet.

  2. 'imposter syndrome'. interesting. i'd certainly feel like a fish out of water.

  3. I am enjoying these, Ellen. You are taking what you learned/experienced and sharing with us. I am grateful and am thinking about all of it.

  4. Yes, all of the above comments! I am so glad that you went and that you are willing to tell about your experience. I am afraid it would have been difficult for me to dig deeply enough to make the exercise of the clay actually mean anything, but it's a fun way to play.

  5. Sounds like a great few days already. You have used each experience quite effectively I think and I also think you will have learned and added to your creativity by the end of the time.

  6. I totally have impostor syndrome - I can never figure out what people see in me (and boy Reya would have my hide if she sees this). But really - I don't get it.

    You on the other hand are fascinating & talented. I always want to know what you think about something. Which is why I read your blog I guess :)

  7. It sounds like you are definitely on a path of new experiences here! It's cool that the others took the time to become familiar with your work (or were familiar with it already) and appreciated your presence. I'm enjoying hearing about all of this!


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