To Be an Artist at a Tiny Scale

A work table in sunlight

Four weeks have gone by.
Four weeks since we left Montreal to be in a remote region of Quebec. Fortunate to have spent all this time by the water, in open spaces, without seeing road advertisements or litter on the streets. No renovation work, loud noises, garbage trucks roaring daily. No people, or hardly any.

I had the joy of spending afternoons in a beautiful space, a small wooden table, excellent lighting, a handy paint-stained sink. Looking at beautiful museum art books, reading Haikus.

I drew and painted at least two hours daily, sometimes more, sometimes I would go on into the evening on the iPad.

I only brought my Acryla gouache and a watercolour set, three sketchbooks, a large a medium one and a tiny one Conté pencil and a couple of calligraphy pens.

The owner of the house, a colleague of my husband’s, is also an artist. She paints large canvases in acrylic, I believe. She told him I was allowed to rummage in the studio and use whatever I found. I just grabbed a stack of printer paper; though she had a beautiful set of soft pastels, I didn’t feel comfortable using them.

What happened with that stack of printer paper was that something completely unleashed. I already felt freer in my work; I had already completed a series of larger drawings in which I thought I had finally “liberated” something inside. But the printer paper pushed this further.

I had help from a Haiku book. Images starting to pour out from my brushes. Some days it was only watercolour; other days, I murdered my lovely Princeton brushes with the acryla gouache. I was everything but careful.

I squeezed out paint without being afraid of running out and let it dry if I didn’t feel like going on. I used the Zorn palette again and realized that it’s my best friend for portraits. I painted in circles instead of strokes using dry-brush techniques, and practiced figure drawing and landscapes and then put them together.

I tore images and put them back together then I practiced negative painting.

In short, I gave myself total and utter freedom to explore WITH LIMITED MATERIALS and on good old printer paper.

I believe this has changed my practice profoundly.

Routine

We settled into a routine of sorts. We woke up early and worked for a couple of hours; then we would take a hike in the forest or in the tiny village in front of the ocean. In the afternoons, sometimes we napped and then I would go downstairs to the studio. By five, I would emerge and have a snack or a drink on the weekend. Light a fire, watch a movie or doodle on the iPad. For the first two weeks, though, I binge-watched Schitt’s Creek.

I wanted to write every day, but I felt like I was avoiding something that I didn’t want to face.

I would sit with my composition book and look at the blank page with all the thoughts rushing to my head, but I would grab the phone instead and scroll. Or open the news and indulge in outrage at the world, knowing I could simply shut down everything and keep looking out at the ocean, feeling safe and protected from the madness.

I had a job interview while I was here. It didn’t pan out, but I was frantic and anxious in the days leading to this interview. I also applied to a University program that has nothing to do with art. My resistance is still tripping me up even though I was admitted. I’m still not sure I will do it.

Day-dreaming again.

For a while, I stopped myself from dreaming. Mostly last year, I felt guilty even wanting the simplest things. How could I “want” anything when there was so much pain? This doesn’t make me noble but sensitive, highly so.

The experience of stepping out of the city lit a spark of a dream and I realized how much my conditioning sabotages even the pleasures of this human activity

As I sat in the downstairs studio that has a door to the garden, I imagined how it would be if we lived in a small town and I could offer workshops. I could also have a small boutique to sell hand-made art supplies by fellow artists and artisans.

I thought how beautiful it would be to come back to earth from the years of hiding online. How lovely it would be to be an artist at a tiny scale, to be part of a community and focus on the most beneficial aspects of art-making: joy, introspection, healing, creation, inventiveness, collaboration instead of selling, chasing audiences, striving, and demanding so much of our art and ourselves.

Who knows if this would ever happen, but allowing the dream to float in my mind made me happy.

I also felt inspired to offer the In Flow Online Residency again, I crave the company of other creative people, and I’m so happy to know that already some artists have signed up. I love learning about the variety of approaches and paths each of them brings.

I’m dreading going back to the city. It’s almost visceral though I miss my studio, gel plate, pastels, and wall. I also miss my sweaters. I brought a stupid amount of clothes, and I’m tired of wearing the same ugly hoodie.

So goodbye, lovely house in this fantastic region of Quebec. Time to go back to where things seem unnecessarily frantic, crowded and accelerated. Hopefully, we will find a way to make the dream happen in whatever version it can.

If you are curious about the InFlow Online Residency, you can read about it here. It’s the last one of the year. It will come back in 2022. Each time is a little different, each time, I believe, it gets better.

Now, I might order some gouache online as a reminder that there are advantages to living in a city.

Visit my artist website to see my portfolio of final drawings. Somethings gotta come out all of this right?

By Luisa Fernanda

Artist, Illustrator, Cruelty-Free Advocate. Notion Geek.