A Look Inside Artist’s Residency VCCA

September 21, 2011

One of the tips I often give to clients as a blog coach is to make your blog about more than you. Your posts should be infused with your personality, but on the whole they should be about relatable topics your readers are interested in, not just you.

So as I sit here in my studio on my last day at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, reflecting on my two-week residency, I'm pondering how I can make this post about more than me. Why should any of you care about my experience here?

Because it's a window into the life of a writer and what it's like at an artist's colony, I decide.

Playing with pastels at VCCA

I'm going to miss the quiet of this place, of full days without traffic or drama or even music. I think differently when the world around me is silent. I think more full, more deep. I think about things that matter.

Even as quiet as it is here, it's not nearly as quiet as Hambidge. I'm realizing now that your first writer's colony is like your first love; you will forever compare all those that come later to your first, at least until you find another that trumps even the virgin experience. After two visits to Hambidge during the last two years – a total of seven weeks there – that's my frame of reference. Maybe it's yours, too, if you've read this blog that long.

But back to the quiet. VCCA has two or three times as many artists as Hambidge, about 20 at any given time, and that much more opportunities for interaction. At Hambidge, fellows eat just one meal a day together, dinner, and it can be a drawn-out affair, your only chance to talk to someone other than the cat that stops by your studio. At VCCA, you've got three chances for conversation: breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Breakfast is served until 9 a.m. in the dining hall, and about half the artists get up in time for that first meal. I like to run or walk beforehand to breathe in the crisp air before the day turns hot. Lunch is served in the (renovated) barn, where all the studios are located; I usually grab a sandwich and take it back to my work space.

Dinner is the most social meal, when we all sit together in the dining hall and talk about our projects or the world of publishing or something totally unrelated to what we're working on. The food here isn't fabulous, but the luxury is not in the taste but that it's made for you, which gives you all that much more time to focus on your work.

Other than meals, the day is entirely without distraction. It might include a walk and maybe a nap (there's a bed in my studio), but there's no dog to walk or errands to run or boss to please. After dinner, a few of us might do yoga or play poker or make an ice-cream run (Dairy Queen is rather shocking compared to the constant stillness here). But plenty of artists return to their studios at night to keep plugging away, and no one tells them they work too much.

Which is, perhaps, the greatest gift of being here: the lack of pressure to be social. It's OK to just opt out. Total respect for you and your time and your work. Particularly if you only have two weeks. That may seem like a lifetime for the day-job crowd, but it's barely minutes in colony time, since most artists stay for a month or more. It's understood here that if you only have two weeks, you put your nose to the grindstone.

Which is how I managed to complete my latest guide, How to Take a Career Break to Travel. After starting it a year ago at Hambidge, it's now in the hands of my editor, the cover design is in progress and the launch date is on the calendar (and now yours): Oct. 17.

Artist's colonies tend to bring out the creator in me, the little girl who loved to cut and paste and bead necklaces and sew quilts with her mother. During this visit, that's manifested in drawing with pastels, materials I picked up at a local arts store during a run there with some of the other fellows, the artwork (if you can call it that) you see within this post.

Tomorrow I leave this place, back to…

Which makes it about time to start applying for colonies for next year. Recommendations?

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    One Reply to “A Look Inside Artist’s Residency VCCA”

    • This is exactly what I’m looking forward to on our year-long road trip through South America (which is starting in about a week!!!).

      I’m calling it “a break from civil expectations.” Mortgages. The 9-to-5. Social interaction. Certain unspoken rules. Movies and TV and news and magazines and all the other “extra stuff” that’s just part of living in an organized society.

      Traveling will be a chance to see what happens when all of that is cleared out of the way. What will I think about then? What will I want to do with my time? Will my goals change? I’m so excited!

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