When attempting to describe just how transformative and valuable this experience was for me, there’s not much I can say to do it justice. I wish I could spell out every meaningful interaction, profound train of thought, and enchanting work of art and poem I came across, but it’s just not possible. So instead, I broke down as much as I could into a four-part synopsis. Part One gives a bit of background context for my taking this trip. Part Two explains what I was working on during my stay. Part Three is sort of a quasi-review of the program, to give you an idea of what to expect if you might be considering applying. And lastly, Part Four is an open-ended reflection on what I learned.
I’m a homebody in every sense of the word. I treasure the people, places, and rituals that fill me with a sense of belonging. I’ve never had to let go of the stuff that represents my home: the city in which I grew up and settled down, the man I married, the family who raised me and sent me into the world (always welcoming me back), the friendships forged here, the food I prepare on weeknights, the neighborhood streets where I jog and wave to kids on scooters, the Netflix shows I binge continuously, the sunny porch where I can read and watch my dog run around. These things are so special to me, that their importance often outweighs my desire to branch out. Recognizing this fragility in myself, I felt it was time to take a journey. I applied to this residency at the Vermont Studio Center in the hopes of gaining wisdom, exposure, and the courage to grow and improve as an artist. I wasn’t prepared for how much I would long for home, and how weak that longing would make me feel at times. But I also wasn’t prepared for how much stronger I would begin to feel as an outcome.
My main goal going in to the residency was to make the most of my time, and live in the present. As one of those planner/dreamer-types, I knew this would be a challenge. But I found the best of both worlds by organizing what I wanted to work on before I left for Vermont, so once I arrived I could capitalize on the time and resources available.
With the hope of pushing my night sky paintings deeper, I thought: “Why not actually go deeper?” and immediately hopped onto the NASA database to ogle some deep space photography. That was where it first occurred to me to research globular clusters. I became obsessed with these stellar objects, which have been extensively catalogued and studied for centuries. I envisioned a gallery wall filled with hand-painted star clusters, suspended, staring you down. I liked that image, and that was enough for me to decide on what I would be painting during my residency.
Over time, the renderings of these globular clusters felt more like portraits of specific individuals. They were about the same size as a person, and could be characterized by their densities, their youth, their warmth, their mystique--like their own personality traits. The subject matter was becoming even more enchanting to me as the process continued.
So why am I painting them? It’s a question with several answers, all of which share a common thread weaving through the balance of Real and Ideal physics. I am captivated by the order and symmetry of the universe; my infatuation with painting the stars feels analogous to a school girl scribbling the portrait of her crush all over her notebook. Ironically, my obsessive interpretations of cosmic beauty will never come remotely close to capturing the actual purity and splendor and greatness of the universe. But I am compelled to attempt again and again. Simply put, I’m in love, and love makes you do crazy things.
*This section mainly applies to any readers who might be interested in enrolling at the Vermont Studio Center. Feel free to skip ahead to Part Four!
Besides studio visits, meal times, slideshows, and readings, scheduling your day is up to you. Nothing is mandatory, no one is looking over your shoulder. All of the staff members are artists or writers themselves. It took a day or two to settle in and get oriented, but eventually I found a suitable rhythm, and life in the small town of Johnson, Vermont started to progress.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included in the residency fee, which is not only cost-effective and beneficial to general health, but it’s also a huge time saver. The dining windows are brief, to accommodate the busy kitchen staff and encourage residents to enjoy a meal together. I thought the food was fantastic. As someone who avoids lots of foods to prevent migraines and other health problems, something I was worried about before coming was whether or not I’d be able to find things to eat. Thankfully, our meals frequently featured gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegetarian options, as well as a full salad bar for lunch and dinner. There’s a grocery store down the street where you can find plenty of fresh food options and snacks if you have serious dietary restrictions--in which case I would recommend calling in ahead of time to request staying in a house with a fridge/kitchen area so you can properly store the food you buy.
There are several different buildings on the campus for housing. The private bedrooms are simply furnished, and the bathrooms are communal. Everything is cleaned regularly by a maintenance crew. The houses don’t have wifi, and I was pleasantly surprised that I liked it that way. I was glad I brought some books and a journal with me.
Hot tip: Definitely pack a large water bottle or thermos. Your unavoidably dehydrated self will thank me. There is no AC on campus, so if you visit in warmer months, the sooner you can fill out a maintenance request for a fan, the better. In the winter: blankets on blankets. During my stay in June, it was often rainy and sunny in the same day, with occasional heat waves in the 90s and cold snaps in the 50s. I would encourage any future residents out there to pack clothing for every kind of climate, unless you’re going in the winter, when it’s pretty much consistently frigid and snowy. Luckily, if you forget anything, praise the Lord for Amazon.com.
Within walking distance are a laundromat, post office, hardware store, lumber yard, thrift shop, and a well-stocked art store, which is where I bought my solvents and canvas rolls. All the materials I packed in my suitcase were my oils, brushes, mediums, sketchbooks, pencils, pens, and gouache set, but several residents had specialty items that needed to be shipped separately. From my experience, shipping to and from VSC is straightforward and especially advantageous towards the end of your stay. The amount of work you end up making and sending back home is totally up to you.
The studios do have wifi, and they are spacious, well-lit, and accessible 24/7. There are designated areas for brush washing and chemical cleaning. You can close the door and work privately or keep it open and see who stops by for a chat. One of the biggest perks of this residency is the visiting artist program. Each week, one or two well-respected artists/writers will be on site to give a presentation of their work and critique the work of the residents. I will spare you the obsessive notes I took from those visits, and underline the importance of making the most of the accessibility you’ll have to these brilliant minds. I also encourage you to sign up to present your own slide talk if you’re an artist or reading if you’re a writer, and to participate in the open studio nights. The feedback you’ll get from those opportunities is pretty astounding.
If you want to check out the VSC website for more information on how to get there, what to do, and what to expect from the program, I’ve inserted a link here.
This place had everything I could ever ask for and more. But I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet!
More than anything, it was made overwhelmingly clear how important the aspect of community is at VSC. It was surprising how quickly I felt comfortable making conversation with everyone around me, especially for someone who would typically describe herself as an introvert. The group activities were my favorite moments from the trip, and looking back, I realize they impacted me much more than having a private workspace and ample resources and unlimited time in the studio. The times we were all together were the times when the really sentimental, profound, compassionate, good stuff was happening, like finding suggestions for various creative projects, hearing an emotional story from someone’s past, catching glimpses of human life that differs from your own. And the beauty of it is, no one ever seemed to think: “Who cares?” No matter your mood or personality--shy, gregarious, frustrated, joyful, inquisitive, confused, lonely, insecure, overconfident, content--the air was always peaceful, and the conversations were considerate and meaningful.
I’m grateful I had this chance to diverge from the ordinary and be immersed in a different place for a while, where I could work without distractions and imagine without limits. I temporarily left one kind of privilege to enter into a different kind of privilege, and that's why I wanted to make the most of it so badly. My eyes opened to different vantage points, my fingers scribbled down every intriguing thought no matter how ridiculous, my skin got chills from an overload of inspiration, my back ached from long days, my conscious mind searched uncharted worlds, and my heart embraced new friendships.
I am really going to miss everyone that I got to know over the course of those four weeks. I find myself mentally tracing over the imprint of this experience a lot, each time discovering new indications of what I took to heart. I can already tell it has made me more confident, more inquisitive, more daring, and more compassionate, and I have no doubts that I will continue to see progress resulting from my time at this residency for years to come.