The Mawddach Residency was my first act as an independent, recently graduated artist. I consider myself to be extremely lucky having found a job and a house in Bristol since leaving uni, and couldn’t believe it when Scarlett emailed to say my application had been successful. Two weeks living with artists in Snowdonia, with a big studio all to myself, seemed the perfect way to begin my journey; and it was. It was a fantastic pause from my life. My mum says she remembers her twenties feeling like she was being buffeted about by the wind, having to constantly land on her feet, and this is exactly how I feel. Having the time, the space, the mountains and the sea at the Mawddach residency allowed me to clarify some of my thoughts and feelings about being a young artist, which I will try and share here.
One of the main themes to emerge from my stay was the question of how to feed and protect my creative practice, against the array of hostile forces present in the world today. This notion was introduced to me by my friend, the artist Maddie Exton, who describes it as ‘shielding the flame’. Our creativity is a precious, powerful and potentially unlimited resource. Yet, we pay a high price for expressing ourselves. As the writers of the White Pube, Zarina Muhammad and Gabrielle de la Puente, point out, ‘so much money moves around and it isn’t going to artists’ (How Do I Go About Selling My Art? Should I Even Want To?, 2022). I found myself confronted by all the inhibitions I’d felt while a student, concerning the worth, both real and monetary, of my art. I concluded that these internalised pressures will (sadly) always be there, but that apart from reflecting an economy built on greed and hate, they don’t mean anything. Not only are they meaningless, but they are something you share with all other artists. Living with Scarlett and Jake for two weeks helped me to understand the importance of community, and not letting negative thought patterns keep you from accessing the wealth of solidarity and togetherness that can surround you, if only you let it.
Our artistic practises are an extension of ourselves, a microcosm of our mental state which amplifies our emotions. I used to struggle with this, finding it hard to leave my worries at home, and bringing them into the studio where they can dictate the day. I knew before I went that I would have a few wobbly days. Expecting them meant I was somewhat prepared, and able to treat myself kindly in response, a new skill I’m learning. Scarlett and Jake are incredibly, unbelievably kind and gently supportive hosts, and the ambience of the house helped immensely with this. As did events such as having to cycle a mouse caught in a trap to nearby Fairbourne beach to release it. While discussing print registration systems with Scarlett in her studio, she advised to always account for registration errors when designing a print. Something struck me about this advice as applicable to more than just printmaking. Hadn’t I accounted for errors by being prepared to have a few days of feeling rubbish and unable to do much in the two weeks I had there? I began to notice how metaphors for life are contained within creative practises.
Joining in with the online life drawing classes run by Jake as part of Draw Brighton, I noticed how easy it is to either focus on the model’s body or head. How funny that it seems unnatural to see them as part of the same thing. It’s like the artist and their work being separated through formal procedures and structures, when it’s their physical and mental being working together which actually produces the work (unless you’re Damien Hirst and comfortable with underpaying less fortunate artists to do it for you). Similarly, after having some tuition in composition from Jake, I couldn’t help but think about the parallels between the rules of composition and the rules I try to live my life by. Jake had said that it is by acknowledging the picture plane we’re working within, and to a degree through ‘thinking inside the box’, that we accomplish compositional cleverness. This idea of thinking within the box, and using viewfinders to exercise our abilities made me reminisce about the Marxist frameworks I’d learned while studying politics in London, and how they had become the ‘box’ and the ‘viewfinder’ I used for understanding the composition of the world. Tools I would be lost without.
The Mawddach Residency afforded me the opportunity to get some things straight in my head about what being an artist means. It was a joy to be welcomed into such a beautiful home and way of life by two such lovely long-haired artists, who are great hosts and cooks. To have so much time and space to make work, and also just to think, was such a privilege. An experience I cannot recommend enough to any other young artist.