We’d had plans, the three of us, to try out each other’s styles and run workshops for each other, to learn what we could, and keep our skills sharp between semesters. But I was late arriving at the Mawddach. I came by train about midway through the two weeks. When I arrived, I was still shaking off the stress of classes, I was jittery and uncertain. The whole group greeted me at the station, Scarlett Jake Millie and Zoe, all of them ready with jokes and smiles and offers of help. I felt it there first as we strolled under the twisted barren branches chatting and laughing. It was a deep settling presence, mysterious but kind. I wanted to pull that thing into being, to draw it out and make it tangible. I can’t say I succeed during my stay at Mawddach, but I carry the idea of it with me now, along with sweet sort of longing to return to the soft moss-covered woods, and the warm welcome we found at Mawddach.
Milli, Zoe, and I braved the bitter cold of January as often as we could bear, exploring the paths and nearby Barmouth, soaking in the views and the quiet peace of the place, so different from the day to day slog back at University. We carried a concertina sketchbook and charcoal with us wherever we went, taking turns recording the world around us. In the end that little concertina was probably my favourite thing we produced. It was fascinating to see how differently we saw things, yet how cohesive our vision was all laid out in a row. Independence and connection in a rhythm as natural as breathing.
Events that I will never forget as long as I live:
Sitting for Jake’s portrait class, taking it too seriously, martialling myself into stillness. The strange feeling of looking at my face through someone else’s eyes.
Swimming in the estuary, the deep vicious life affirming cold enveloping me entirely, the bright thrill of happy childish terror at the impenetrable dark of the water in the pre-dawn.
Spotting an otter at the very last moment as we packed the car, the ecstatic race to alert everyone, to include everyone, the giddy joy over what for the otter was probably just a normal event, but for us was a peek into a part of the natural world we don’t normal have access to.
We arrived at the Mawddach Residency with the aim of working collaboratively; we ran workshops for each other, went on group walks and were in constant conversation of how our individual ways of working could be applied to each other’s practice. We are all inspired by the landscapes of Wales, which was a massive pull for us a few years back to study Fine Art at Aberystwyth. However, I also wanted to resolve some problems within my own work, by removing some of the stiffness by working more en plein air and figuring out a way to fuse drawing with painting.
Being able to wake in the morning, roll into the studio or out onto the Mawddach trail with our sketchbooks, opened a new way of creating. The instant euphoria of responding to such a wonderful landscape in such a beautifully curated and intimate space with my fellow students is something I’ll never take for granted. I think it was in our walks the most exciting drawings were made; we worked together on a concertina sketchbook in charcoal, allowing each of us to pick up where the last persons marks were hanging over the seam of the next page. We brought our sketches back into the studio overlooking the estuary and developed them into paintings, monotypes, and drawings, while being constantly inspired by the changing of weather and light outside.
Our fortnight was filled with painting, drawing, cooking, boogying, walking, sitting, some of the most engaging conversations I’ve had and to top it all off, otter spotting! We are so thankful to Scarlett and Jake for giving us this opportunity and sharing their space with us, It was an inspiring experience we will never forget.
My initial hopes going into the residency were to be reinspired in the way that I paint, with my previous explorations not quite coming together successfully. The landscape has always been central to my practice so the truly stunning scenery the Mawddach and surrounding areas had to offer quickly instilled confidence and determination to capture the landscape in my own way.
We made a habit of walking and drawing together, taking ourselves off to Barmouth, Dolgellau or along the Mawddach Trail, sketching independently and collaboratively in our concertina book, mapping the continuation of our walks together. We would then return to the studio to further develop these in our own way. Sitting in the studio window seat alone provided a wealth of inspiration, observing and recording the changing light.
I enjoyed this process of having to work quickly, loosening my approach and revealing some more interesting mark making, something I found very evident in a truly freezing plein air session following our 7AM swim!
As a result of this, I found I was really enjoying creating small ink studies to capture the momentary impression of the landscape and in hand eliminating the details to focus on form and colour. These could then inform my larger acrylic paintings which were more considered, building up layers to create the landscape. I intend to develop this body of work made in my time here into my final semester with a location study into the Mawddach Estuary through the means of paint, in preparation for our degree show. The residency has been an incredible opportunity for providing the time, space, and environment for exploring my practice.