Saturday, June 6, 2015

Notes from Lappland

Over a year ago, we were invited to Ricklundgarden, in Saxnas, Sweden, an artist residency in Southern Lapland, to teach a painting workshop and to stay on for another three weeks to do our own creative work. While we were aware that Southern Lapland could well have snow in early May when we arrived, we weren't prepared for the extent of it; the snowbanks were 3 feet deep around our cottages. Snow has been a big part of our experience here and we have watched it recede each day to reveal the rocks and plants of the ground cover.

Even more important has been the extent and quality of light. We are at a latitude of nearly 65 degrees, just one degree south of the Arctic Circle. The days right now are 20 hours long with 4 hours of twilight, so it's never really dark.

In the solitude and silence of this place, we have been able to go deeply into our own creative processes. We both work very intuitively--and are still so inside of this experience--that it's too soon to summarize, or predict what being here means for our work. But as we come to the end of our time here, we thought we'd talk about what parts of this experience each of us found important.

Janice: There is a quality to the light that is difficult to capture in words or painting. One day I painted a sheet of samples of the colours that I saw in the landscape at that moment on that day. By the time I had finished, the colours had shifted, the sun had come out, the expansive lake had changed from silver to a dark grey-blue, the mosses were a brighter yellow- green, the birch bark had more pink in it. The light changes so quickly. I hope to collect some of this ephemeral light and some of these colours and take them home with me to continue my Gathering Light series.

Rebecca:  Yes, this is a very luminous place. The surfaces of the landscape--the snow and ice, and Kultsjon Lake reflect the endless daylight. There is a stark and pristine quality to the landscape, enhanced by the strong contrasts of dark rocks and mountainsides against all of the white of snow and the silvery water.  We've both taken dozens of photos trying to capture the quality of light and the drama of the landscape. But the experience is so expansive and dynamic, with constant shifts and changes in color and intensity, that even the best of our photos fall short. If I take away one thing from here that feeds my future work, I hope it will be this luminosity, which at times feels almost dreamlike.

Janice:  That otherworldly feeling for me is also about the length of the days. The sun is already well up in the sky by the time I get up at 6am. It is never dark. There's a disorienting feeling to it. I don't seem able to determine the time of day like I can at home, so the days have the quality of childhood summers, when time didn't matter and the days seemed endless. Even though I am doing a lot of painting and working on a book I am writing, I have moved into slow time, sitting outdoors when I can, lazily watching the shadows of clouds move across the mountains.

Rebecca: I've loved our walks too, and riding the bikes that are available for our use. Exploring the woods and lake shore in a rambling, open ended way brings that same childlike feeling to me. I too have gotten plenty of work done but appreciate the unstructured aspect to the days.

We've both tuned in to the changes in nature as spring makes its slow appearance. Texture, always important in my work, seemed a bit lacking when everything was soft with snow a month ago. Now I love seeing the rich textures of the lichen-encrusted boulders and the mossy ground cover.

Janice: Our response though hasn't been all about the surface of the place, beautiful as it is. Though we thoroughly enjoy one another's company, we have also given ourselves the space for reflection and solitude working alone each day and sharing dinner together.

I feel that the land, the light, the solitude and silence are also my companions here; we are part of one another. They are living presences. Because I am in a land so different than rural Ontario, I find I look more closely, with more awareness. I also turn inward here to reflect on my life and work. The explorations in my painting seem to be trying to reconcile those inner and outer responses: the breathtaking beauty of the landscape, my deep response to it and the life reflections it has brought up in me.

My reflections here are also tied in with the book I am writing about the creative process and coming to art later in life. During this residency, I have been writing my own story and collecting stories of others who have had a similar journey to connect with their creative spirits. It was art that brought me to this remote and powerful place. I've been considering the courage it has taken to follow this path, and the rewards.

Rebecca: I agree, being here is a complex experience of more than visual beauty only. In general, I describe my work as coming from an emotional response to landscape, so the inner experience is as vital as looking outward. In the solitude here, I've been mourning my mother, who died in January. Perhaps as a result, the dramatic dark and light aspects of this place have impacted my work. There are also a number of my smaller paintings that reflect this landscape's luminosity, and offer a feeling of transcendence. These have begun with layers of darker colors, and patches of ink, overlaid with layers of white gouache and acrylic. Each one involves a process of bringing light over darkness.

Below is one of these paintings (5"x7", mixed media on paper.) 

We plan to continue our thoughts about our time here in our next post, after we've had time to reflect and develop new work at home. We cannot predict what influence  this residency in Southern Lapland will have on our work, but we are leaving here filled with rich memories and experiences.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Workshop in Sweden

We are very excited to announce a unique workshop experience in Northern Sweden, which runs from May 12-18, 2015. In the stunningly beautiful and remote sub-Arctic environment of Lapland, we will be co-teaching a workshop on the use of cold wax medium and oils in abstract painting.(Click here for full details of the workshop--including accommodations, pricing, and travel tips, and how to register.) 

A little over a year ago, Swedish artist and writer Asa Bostrom approached us with the idea of teaching together in Sweden. Following our enthusiastic "yes!" she was able to find us a perfect location--Ricklundgarden--an artist's residency in a rugged mountainous region one hour south of the Arctic Circle.

How exciting it has been to see this idea come to reality! We've had many email and phone discussions about the details and logistics, as well as discussions for how best the two of us can provide participants with a rich and meaningful experience. We decided early on to divide the week in half, with each of us taking a turn as primary instructor. Janice will begin with a focus on spontaneous and intuitive exploration of shape, composition, texture, and value, along with an introduction to the basics of the medium. Rebecca will finish the week with a wide range of the techniques and approaches she has developed. Throughout the week there will be an emphasis on interaction with the environment, keeping a visual journal, and sharing of insights and thoughts. 

Photo courtesy of Åsa Boström

REBECCA: One thing we both feel strongly about is that everyone has plenty of time to be outside to experience the surroundings at Ricklundgarden. With nearly 18 hours of daylight in May there should be some lovely opportunities for walking and photographing after class hours.  

JANICE  We've also decided that it would make a more leisurely day if we have a 2 hour break at lunchtime. Participants can hike or sketch or even have time for a nap. Spending time outdoors is important to get a sense of place and to let it inspire your work. 

Photo courtesy of Åsa Boström

REBECCA: What are some things you've done on your artist residencies and other travels to connect with particular places? 

JANICE: I always do a lot of photography, and as well as collect stones as a tangible memory of the place. Most often I keep a journal or diary for making small drawings or word sketches or for recording ideas that percolate when you visit a new place, away from everyday life. The British author, Robert Macfarlane, in his forward to the book, A Wilder Vein, suggests that "cognition is site-specific: that we think differently in different landscapes.  And therefore, more radically, that certain thought might only be possible in certain places."

Photo courtesy of Åsa Boström
 REBECCA: I love that quote. Interesting to think that the workshop at Ricklundgarden may open up ideas that would not be possible at home, or in an ordinary studio environment. Shall we talk about some of the other aspects of the week that will make it a unique experience? I'm excited about the international mix of participants--so far, there are people registered from Sweden, Germany, Finland, and Canada. When I'm with a group of artists from other countries, I'm always struck by the way our common interest transcends cultural and geographic differences. At the same time, those differences add so much to a rich mix of ideas and fun social interactions.

JANICE:  Yes, that's been true in my experience as well. Our workshop is limited to 9 participants so there will be a good opportunity for artists to get to know each other and share their stories inside and outside of the workshop. The workshop is only a short walk from the accommodation so enthusiastic participants can work on into the long evening light. 
photo courtesy of Åsa Boström

REBECCA: I'm also looking forward to the shared aspect of our teaching. While we have taught concurrent sessions before, in North Carolina, this is the first time we have truly collaborated on a teaching project. We have divided the week with each of taking the lead for three days, but we'll both be present off and on, and interacting with the group as a whole. We anticipate a certain synergy to result from our combined experience and knowledge of the medium. We're longtime friends--and close friends--but we don't always see things the same way of course! Which I hope results in a broader perspective in our instruction and comments. 

JANICE: We have planned several evening sessions lasting an hour or so. In addition to a welcoming gathering on the first night, there will be one in which the participants introduce their work to each other, two others for Rebecca and I to present slide shows of our own work, and one more for a Q&A activity. 

REBECCA: The day between our sessions is set aside for an optional field trip. We haven't worked out the details of that but I don't see how we can go wrong in this spectacular location. We hope that by the end of the week, everyone will feel they have truly appreciated and experienced the area. 

JANICE: Just one last comment about the idea of travel from a wonderful essay by the writer Pico Iyer. He says, "For me the first great joy of traveling is simply the luxury of leaving all my beliefs and certainties at home, and seeing everything I thought I knew in a different light, and from a crooked angle." A good enough reason itself to travel to Lapland.