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.


  1. Wonderful! Thank you both for sharing your thoughts about your time there. Will be so interesting to see where this takes your work.

  2. Thank you both for sharing this deep and rich experience - I've been following along with Janice's blog posts. Look forward to hearing more about how your month in Lapland influences your creative process.