Amy Clay at Palapa studio at Ondarte Residency Mexico. Photo by Amy Clay.
Artist Amy Clay has been an explorer and traveler for most of her life.
That’s why artist residencies are the holy grail for this Boulder, Colorado-based painter.
Art residencies provide the opportunity to combine art and travel. That’s why she jumps at every chance to immerse herself in other landscapes and cultures.
Since 2009, Amy has attended 20 residencies in 14 different countries and counting—from Iceland to New Zealand, India and Turkey, and cities such as London, Berlin, and New Delhi.
We were able to catch up with Artwork Archive artist Amy Clay to hear more about her extensive experience applying and attending artist residencies. If you have ever wondered about artist residencies, here are some answers for you!
Why should artists embark on a residency? What have you gained from experiences in artist residencies?
First of all, for those that don’t know, artist residencies are dedicated places around the world that offer time and space away from your usual distractions. It’s really a place to nurture your process and discover new ways of working.
But residencies aren’t just about traveling to new places to make artwork, they are also about responding to new environments with fresh eyes.
My paintings have changed in so many ways because of my exposure to so many different worlds. Artist residencies offer the chance to connect with other artists from around the world in different disciplines—I love that I feel part of a huge global network of artists!
How should artists go about finding and researching the right opportunity for them?
You can do a broad internet search for artist residencies, but you will likely go down the rabbit hole of research which can take a considerable amount of time! I often use Resartis to see what is available and find the upcoming deadlines so I don’t miss anything. There are so many options out there and so many different ways they operate that it can be overwhelming.
(One quick way to filter and find your perfect residency is on Artwork Archive’s Call-for-Entry page)
Most importantly, decide why you want to do a residency, how much time and money you have to spend, what your project will be, and where you want to go.
You will want to define and craft your application, and that saves precious time and money down the road. There are so many various steps to get ready for an artist residency. From, researching, applying, preparing for a residency, as well as what to expect once you arrive, there is a lot to know.
Cill Rialaig Artist Residency, Ireland. Photo by Amy Clay.
Many residencies cost money or take significant time away from a career and “regular life”. How can an artist make sure that the opportunity is worth it for their career?
Generally, the best residencies are run by foundations. Art residencies run by foundations are often free and sometimes will even give you a stipend. However, these are very competitive!
Many of the other residencies are artist-run, have some kind of fee, and are highly variable in terms of accommodations and studios.
I’ve had the full gamut of experiences—from being the only artist in rural New Zealand to living and working in cave dwellings in central Turkey and suffering above a rowdy Biergarten in East Berlin. I’ve had to avoid a huge scorpion nest “installation” in my studio in Slovenia and have been fully pampered and fed at a residency in a small village in southern Spain. No two artist residencies are alike!
Every time you travel there is some risk involved, but once you’ve decided on where you want to apply, make sure to research it to find out if there are any bad reviews.
Since there isn’t a TripAdvisor for all artist residencies, you can find out about other artist experiences by looking for artists like Amy who have written about their experiences on their blog.
What are some tips that you have for preparing a stellar application? How do you prepare for your applications?
First, decide why you want to do a residency. This will help you define your project and will narrow down your search. For example, if you want to paint landscapes in the US, you might apply to the National Parks system. If you are an installation artist inspired by street culture, maybe only apply to cities that have a contemporary urban edge.
The other thing is to craft a compelling project proposal that is authentic to you and make it relevant to the place in with you are applying. Each residency has different criteria, so make sure you read the application carefully—sometimes they want emerging or established artists, or have environmental or socially conscious themes.
Don’t waste time or money on irrelevant applications.
I go over the ins and outs of the application process in my course and have downloadable worksheets to help create your proposal, organize deadlines and all the variables that need to be considered before applying.
Studio in Residency in Provence—4 winds Atelier. Photo by Amy Clay.
What should artists do before their residency to make sure they get the most out of the experience.
First of all, prepare as well as you can before you go.
Most residencies are one month long (some more, some less) so weather can change a lot during that time. Bring casual, simple layers of clothing for a range of weather conditions. And make sure you either bring your art supplies with you or can buy them when you arrive.
Some very small villages don’t have art stores; so keep that in mind. Then, get creative once you are there—I worked a lot with cardboard because it was always available and cheap, too!
How can artists mentally prepare to get ready and have a productive residency?
Hopefully, you will be able to leave most of your life behind temporarily while you are at a residency. So, try to take care of most things before you leave.
Once you are at the residency, try to be as flexible, tolerant, and open as possible. This is a unique gift—to have the time and space to focus on your artwork—but things don’t always go as planned. Try and think of this as part of the adventure! Go with it!
Also, keep in mind that sometimes your best work will happen after your return when you have digested all that you experienced.
How can artists leverage their experience after the residency has ended?
That’s always the question. How do you stay disciplined when back in your home life with all of its distractions?
It’s easy to stay connected with your fellow artists after the residency is over, via email etc. Maybe you could hold each other accountable in completing projects or create some kind of exhibition as well. The creativity doesn’t stop with the painting—it’s even more interesting to create ways of showing your work!
But otherwise, it’s down to each artist to follow through with the work they started at the residency and to build on it further.
How important is it for you to record and document the work that you produced at the residency?
Very important! When I started doing residencies in 2009, I didn’t document it as well as I wish I had and the video quality isn't what it is now.
I now take more videos and photos as well as blogging regularly about my studio practice and residencies in which I’ve taken part. I wish that I had done more writing about my experiences back then, but I’m making up for it now!
Sharing is an important part of this whole experience.
What do you do in the face of rejection? What advice do you have for those that have applied and didn’t get their dream residency?
Unless you are at the top of your field, everyone gets rejections. Just keep applying.
Most residencies have an application fee, which so it can add up, so make sure you understand the criteria for each residency. Don’t waste your time and money if you are not eligible.
The residencies that have a fee are generally less competitive, so maybe apply to those first and as you grow your resume, then apply to the A-list foundations like MacDowell and Bogliasco. Through your research, you get to know the heavy hitters and understand their guidelines before you begin to apply.
Are there any other common questions you get about artists looking to apply for art residencies?
I often get asked which residencies I recommend, but given that each residency is so different, it’s hard to narrow it down. There are so many variables, and each group of artists will impact so much the experience you will have, that it can make or break the overall experience.
Again, in my course, Artist Residencies: Everything You Need to Know to Research, Apply and Attend One I cover pretty much all of the bases!
I go over the ins and outs of the application process and have downloadable worksheets to help create your proposal, organize deadlines and all the variables that need to be considered before applying.
My final word on residencies is that if you are an artist and love to travel, it is a creative adventure that should not be missed!