6 Tips for Making the Most of Your Artist Residency

Suzy Kopf | August 22, 2023

Artist Anna Elise Johnson working on one of her Earthwork paintings in the Mojave Desert.

Accepted into an artist residency?

Get ready to make the most of your creative retreat with these essential tips.

After months of hard work in and out of the studio your application to an artist residency has been accepted and you’re booked at one of the thousands of communities in the US or abroad.

Before you set out on your artistic adventure, here are some tips for what to expect and how to effectively use your gift of time and space.

1. Make a realistic supply plan based on what you want to make during your art residency.

Perhaps the most obvious part of an artist residency is the opportunity to begin, work on or complete a project.

Artists attend residencies at all stages of the artistic process and, depending on the community you’ve been accepted to, perhaps you already proposed how you will focus your time on one idea or subject.

Still, it’s unlikely, with application word counts being so limited, that you got as specific as to mention details like the amount or size of the paintings in the series you proposed.

Before you leave for your residency is a good time to figure out what is packable for you as well as what you can realistically accomplish in the time given.

Look back at your Artwork Archive account for other work you’ve made recently and consider the time put in—did your recent series of six paintings take you four weeks to complete?

Unless you’re going to have a lot more work time (which may be the case!) don’t bring supplies to make 20 paintings in four weeks if your regular output for a month is six paintings.

2. Plan for how you’ll transport work after the residency.

Perhaps you’re able to drive yourself to and from the residency—this is ideal for most artists because they can overpack and bring materials they aren’t 100% sure they will end up using.

Equally as possible, you may be flying or taking public transportation to arrive at the residency and will either need to make work that fits into your bags or that can be packaged and mailed home to yourself. Set yourself up for success and avoid the frustration or heartbreak of needing to crush work into suitcases later by working smaller if necessary or switching up materials to make them more transportable.


3. Frontload your entertainment and research materials.

Many artist communities are in rural areas and pride themselves on being remote.

Residency websites often proudly tout the lack of internet access and thus the now rare freedom to focus away from distraction.

This can indeed be liberating, but it can also be an obstacle if part of what you plan to work on is original research—or if part of your studio life is the regular consumption of culture such as TV shows, podcasts, or audiobooks.

Download as much as you can ahead of time, and make a list of what materials you might want to access while in residence—so it’s as simple as getting yourself to a strong Wi-Fi signal and retrieving the next book in the series you’re reading. Planning for this hurdle helps save you frustration and wasted time while you’re trying to work.

Mockup for Desert Rotated, Anna Elise Johnson. Digital mockup for a concrete, rock, and paint sculpture

4. Devise a new routine for the time at your residency.

In your life at home, you likely have a routine that takes you through your day: some of which is self-selected, and some of which is dictated by the patterns of work (and school, if you have kids).

Residencies typically have fewer dedicated routines, and instead, it will be up to you to structure your hours.

Perhaps dinner or lunch is served at certain hours on certain days, so after you hold space for required mealtimes, consider if you want to read or exercise in the morning and spend afternoons and evenings in the studio.

Maybe you can’t work after the sun goes down, so that will be the time you go for a run or socialize with other residents. While you don’t have to have the same schedule every day, finding a routine and sticking with it can be a way to simplify your life and assure that you work towards all your residency goals because you’ve scheduled time for them.

You can do this by creating a sample schedule for yourself. Establishing a new schedule while participating in an artist residency holds immense significance as it helps artists optimize their time and creative energy. A structured routine ensures that artists can balance their artistic endeavors, research, and personal well-being effectively.

An example of a well-organized daily regimen during an artist residency is as follows:

  • 7:30 - 8:30 AM: Start the day by waking up and preparing breakfast, followed by chores like cleaning and laundry.

  • 8:30 - 11 AM: This period is dedicated to multi-tasking: batch-cooking meals for the week while conducting research on the computer. If weekly cooking is completed,  spend time researching at the library.

  • 11 AM - 1 PM: Transitioning to the studio, this time is dedicated to working on projects and planning the subsequent studio activities for the day.

  • 1 - 1:30 PM: A lunch break provides a brief interlude for relaxation and connection with other residents.

  • 1:30 - 5:45 PM: Returning to the studio, this is a period of intentional focus on creative endeavors, continuing to develop concepts and work on projects.

  • 6 - 7:15 PM: This time is set aside for mandatory communal time, sharing dinner with the residency cohort and participating in post-dinner cleanup.

  • 7:15 - 8:15 PM: Studio time recommences for an additional focused period for creative work.

  • 8:15 - 9:30 PM: An hour is set dedicated physical activity or exploration of the residency grounds. Perhaps biking around the residency property and engaging in exercise.

  • 9:30 PM - 11 PM: The evening culminates in winding down; taking a shower, followed by a period of reflection, reading and documentation.  


5. Document the work you make at the residency.

Amidst the whirlwind of creativity and exploration during your artist residency, it's crucial to devote time to documenting the works that you create while at your residency.

Capture the experience and how it has impacted your artistic process by regularly photographing your creations, jotting down insights, and chronicling the challenges you overcome. Tracking your progress offers not only a tangible record of your growth but also a means to reflect upon your conceptual breakthroughs.

With a tool like Artwork Archive, you can easily document artworks that you create during your residency, along with any notes you may have about each of the works. This helps track the inspiration, changes, and of course, the critical details like the image, size, price, and medium. You may think that you will always remember the inspiration that you had while away, but documenting the new thoughts and processes alongside the vital information can help inspire you in the future when you revisit the works. 

This documentation not only serves as a personal archive but also enriches your portfolio and grants your audience a deeper understanding of your creative voyage. Just as an artist residency provides a dedicated space for artistic exploration, documenting your experiences provides a dedicated space for introspective reflection.

What's more, Artwork Archive's artist-centric features make enriching your portfolio a breeze by seamlessly integrating your documented journey into an online profile and even onto your own website. This not only preserves your personal artistic story but also creates a thoughtfully curated portfolio—making it easy to make connections with collectors while you are away.


6. Arrive prepared with some unconventional (but incredibly handy) items to pack 

Arriving to your residency prepared means that you can spend more time in the studio and not walking around the aisles of the local hardware store in search of an extension cord. 

Here are some items you may not already have on your list, but will make your stay a whole lot easier. 

  • A chef’s knife and cover: No matter how well-appointed the communal kitchen may be, knives take a beating, and having your own is a simple way to make cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen better. When driving, it can also be useful to bring along a lightweight cutting board, some favorite spices and Tupperware, if you know you will have access to a fridge. There is never enough Tupperware at residencies, we will never know why.
  • A creature comfort: These are different for everyone. It could be a candle or two to light while you are reading in bed, or a personalized pillow that reminds you of home. 
  • Packing materials (packing tape, painter’s tape, cardboard and box cutter/scissors): In all likelihood, if you’re a visual artist, while you’re in residence you’re going to end up making something that is somewhat larger or more fragile that the materials you arrived at your residency with. For this reason, and in case you want to mail anything else home ahead of time, consider bringing your own packing supplies rather than having to source them the day before you leave. If you can drive to your location, bring flattened boxes to put in your larger work, or in case you find a great second-hand bookstore, or want to gather other materials to bring home.  or find a whole bunch of walnuts I want to take home and make ink from. Packing materials are so handy, and if you don’t need them, someone else in your group will likely accept them gladly.
  • Cash: While most people have Venmo or CashApp on their phones, neither works great in the rural areas where many artist colonies are located. To make buying a coffee at the farmer’s market or splitting a meal tab eight ways easier with a cohort, add cash to your packing list. If you can, bring smaller bills as well as larger ones.
  • Extensions cords, power strips, and multi-plugsSince many spaces that now house artist residencies were originally intended for something else— be they mills, warehouses, barns or the like—they typically don’t have enough outlets to charge multiple electrical devices at once. Bring a variety of cords and power strips so you can make sure your cord runs all the way over to your workspace (or bed). 
  • A hat, bug spray, a swimsuit—and if you can fit them—sturdy, waterproof shoes: Unless you are bound for a completely urban experience, there is a high likelihood that while at a residency, someone will propose a group visit to a swimming hole, a hike, or a walk somewhere with water. Pack what you’ll need to be comfortable having an outdoor adventure, and don’t let the reason you didn’t see the waterfall with the rest of your group be that you didn’t have a swimsuit!
  • A work in progress or the beginnings of a series you abandoned: You might be looking to start a whole new series or explore different techniques while away, but consider bringing something you have already started or may have gotten stuck on at home. This might not be practical for every artist’s practice (certainly it is hard to transport a large sculpture to keep working on!) but for someone who works on paper or other more portable mediums, having something you have already started thinking about is a nice variation from the sometimes daunting fresh start a residency provides. Plus, the context of a new place and the deadline of time you have in residence may open up doors to new solutions or spark new techniques that you weren't trying while at home. 


Don't forget to factor fun into your time at your artist residency.

While the schedule above is one example of how you could spend your time at a residency, it’s also a good idea to leave some room for fun and opportunities to network with other people at the residency.

Try to do some investigating before you head out to your location. What are some opportunities that you might not normally have at home?

Maybe you’ll be close to a national park or an exciting hiking trail. Maybe there is a meteor shower or a museum you can visit.

Don’t schedule yourself so tight that you miss the opportunity to see a private collection, have a studio visit with another member of your cohort, or drive into a neighboring town to get ice cream.

In addition to being places for work, residencies are also places for restorative rest. Give yourself the weekends off to have some fun, whatever that means to you.

Ready to find your next artist residency? Sign up for Artwork Archive's free weekly newsletter, where we send you the best opportunities for artists to your inbox. 

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