Making Space to be Creative

Artist-in-residency (AIR) programs can be found all over the world—each having their own focus and model of operating. Some offer studio space, housing, stipends and require artists to donate work or offer a workshop. Others are paid by the artist and are self-guided. For the last ten years, I have kept a running list of AIRs in case I needed a break or had a project I needed to focus on and the time/space to complete it. Thanks to the website, AIRs are much easier to find and apply to year-round.

Since being accepted into two artist-in-residency programs in 2017, I’ve been dreaming of the opportunity to hit the pause button on my career and life and just make art. Planning what I will make and what I will do during this time was very carefully articulated into action plans and schedules. Nearly all of that went out the window upon arrival in upstate NY.

The BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front): Ray and I are making art. We dove right in and began right away. I’ve created works I didn’t know I had in me.

It took a bit to get comfortable in the space, to our new life of transition and travel, and back into making art. The people here come and go, change and grow and we are finding that our internal selves are syncing with the external: land, structures and weather quite naturally.

We took the time to reflect on our experience since we got here. We hope you enjoy our journey. Please let us know what you want to hear more of.

Ray’s First Residency Experience

I recently had the pleasure of working with Mary Prescott,, to bring her improvisational “Alice” to life. Mary is a NYC-based pianist and composer who works in both classical and improvised styles. Mary was accompanied by Jaimie Van Dyke, also NYC based, an expert in set design, costume design, and all things related to producing all types of performances.

Jaimie, stagehand and Mary, pianist take a quick break from production.

Mary and Jaimie were visiting the Arts Letters and Numbers (ALN) artist residency in Averill, NY to shoot scenes for Mary’s project. On the first day of production, after some apprehension and then encouragement from Heather, I asked Mary if I could observe and maybe make a few photo stills for my own project, “One Hundred Strangers.” After discussing my project and my intentions Mary agreed and we set out to begin for the day.

The first hour was spent setting the stage for filming. Fabric in four different colors was cut into long streamers to be hung from above the set. Ropes were set up to give the appearance of Mary’s character floating in midair. I helped in any way I could and soon the set was ready for the first scene.

I made a few photos of the set and looked for the best position from which to make stills with out being in the way of filming. This is when I received the biggest surprise of the day. Before beginning the first scene Mary approached me with her camera and asked if I would shoot video as a second camera for the production. I explained I had no experience with video but Mary was not concerned so I agreed. Being nervous I used my knowledge as a photographer to get through the first scene. Once I realized that there was no judgment or expectations from Mary or anyone else involved I really began to enjoy the entire process.

Over the next two days we filmed so many scenes we lost count. The best part was working with the many people that were a part of the project. It was hard work but very rewarding. Mary’s vision and her ability to direct were amazing to witness. Jaimie seemed to know exactly what we needed at each step. Everyone that played a part, actors, volunteers and film crew, were all kind and caring. It was the perfect way to begin the great adventure Heather and I have embarked on.


As part of being I decided to do a photography project over the course of our adventure. I named the project “One Hundred Strangers,” neither original or as I have discovered maybe not appropriate. Everyone I have met associated with ALN while technically a stranger does not seem to be after only a few minutes of conversation. So a name change to the project may come in the future.

I have had the opportunity to photograph a few people I have met recently. Part of the residency involves gatherings at the homes of supporters of the residency. Those activities include Monday T time, T is for tequila, Tuesday ping pong and Friday movie night. Many of these gatherings are held at the home of Rob and Diane, supporters and advisory board members of ALN. Their home is a combination museum, art gallery and library. More importantly it is a warm welcoming place for friends to gather.

Immediately upon meeting Rob I knew I had to photograph him. He is physically a tall, strongly built man with a long white beard. His smile and personality along with his amazing mind is what catches your attention. Rob is a physicist by trade but left the profession to pursue things that interested him and made him happy.

On the second visit to their home I mentioned to Diane that I would like to photograph Rob. Her response was to stop by anytime as Rob would love to be photographed. I was a little hesitant but as Rob had retired to his shack I had little choice other than to just show up. The next day I arrived in the early afternoon and was greeted by Diane. Rob was out in the garage and greeted me warmly. Rob asked what I had in mind and I explained that I would like to make a photo in his favorite place in the home and a headshot if possible. We talked some about the house and then Rob decided the best course of action would be a tour of the entire house.

Along the tour we discussed many of the objects in the house: art, toaster collection, books and many other interesting items. Rob told me stories of his career as a physicist and why he left the field. How he made a choice to do the things that made him happy and were of interest and importance to him. I asked him questions about his life and family and he answered with questions of his own. He then asked me what he felt was the most important question: Do I write? Rob believes that writing is necessary to make a true connection with the things we experience in life. Not only to preserve the memories but to actually feel and understand the experiences.

In the end we chose a few places in the home to make some images. Rob was a natural in front of the camera and was at ease. We moved furniture and enjoyed a good laugh at me trying to fold a five-foot reflector I used as a background for the headshot. My hope was to portray Rob as he is, he is many things.

I am grateful to Rob for inspiring me to write. It will allow me to share my stories with you and to more fully experience and understand them for myself.

Heather’s Reflection: The first week of residency

We are invited into a new space.

Creaky doors and floorboards. White walls like canvases, waiting to be filled. The hissing of radiators as heat fills the room.

My internal landscape is reeling in anticipation of the possibilities. I feel as if I have come to the right place and while I look back over my shoulder to gauge Ray’s reaction, I know that no matter what he is feeling in the moment I have faith that we will soon be thriving in this new environment. It will take open minds, open hearts, and curiosity to discover new things.

Anatomical heart study — graphite, ink and white charcoal on kraft paper.


The day after I arrive I dive into drawing. I knew that I could spend days if not weeks rearranging the studio—getting all of my supplies in order, thinking and getting nervous and then my work would be too tight. So I just started drawing. I’ve had a piece in my mind since I left Durango nearly three years ago. I wanted it to be the bookend to our DC experience. I didn’t fully know what it would look like but I knew the process and I knew it had to be the first piece I created after leaving DC. Like all of my work, it is a process. So I sketched it out in just a few minutes and set it to the side to work on another drawing, a true challenge: an anatomical study of a heart. I quickly sketched on newsprint then drew larger on kraft paper. I knew it needed more highlights and shadows but the materials I brought with me where unfamiliar to me. I had collected these supplies over the past three years but never really put them to use. I knew that I didn’t want to experiment directly on the page. Works on paper take a slightly different approach. I needed to get to know the paper and the inks and graphite before I apply it to a piece of art. It look nearly 6 days, but I completed a 37 page book and created indexes in 3 large sketchbooks that reflected the 8 types of paper I was planning to work with and over 70 different inks, paints, graphite, charcoal and brushtypes. It was a true labor of love but well worth the investment of time and it brought structure to my days as I acclimate to this new environment.


While creating this index of mediums, I also:

  • Completed the bookend piece—which I will share if it gets accepted into a juried show where I would like it to make it’s first public appearance.
  • Started a “Bookmark in the Continuum” series—which I have been wanting to create for some time and was inspired by listening to “My Life on the Road” by Gloria Steinem in celebration of International Womens’ day.
    • Reflecting how women have been living marginalized lives, Chinese women letter writers created their own script and wrote underground friendship letters to one another. The punishment for doing so was so severe making the letters themselves were precious—oftentimes the women were buried with them. They communicated with one another by writing in slender columns down the center of the page, leaving wide margins as spaces for a correspondent to add her own words.
    • I used water-soluble graphite on pieces of paper shaped like bookmarks and used the tassels to tie them to the large pine tree outside my studio. My hope is that the rain and snow will help partially “dissolve” the messages both I and my new-found artist family have written on them.
  • Have been practicing Flow and studying the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi including:
    • Setting up a system to practice his “Experience Sampling Method” to capture qualitative data and wearing a Spire to capture the quantitative data. The objective is not only get better at making art and living in a flow state, but to:
      • Cross-walk the data against other models like Panarchy
      • Consider the possibility of team, organizational and cultural transformational opportunities
      • Utilize it in my coaching practice
      • Incorporate it into my genre
  • Captured the significant words in my residency proposal to keep me focused and inspired.
  • Pulled out the Holga and started shooting the last of my B&W instant film (which is no longer being produced anymore).
  • Created two small wall-hanging books that reflect The Mill—a great source of inspiration for all artists here.
  • Started reading Twyla Tharp, “The Creative Habit.”
  • Bake bread and write nearly everyday.


Next week I hope to focus less on technical processes and more on the conceptual. I plan on putting a lot more graphite and ink on paper.

For more real time updates, please check out our Instagram accounts. There are more photos there than shared on this site.




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