I’ve been here at the Vermont Studio Center for about a week now. This is apparently one of the biggest artist residencies in North America and I believe it. This is the 29th year it’s been going. They use a complex of buildings sprinkled throughout a tiny village called Johnson. It seems like maybe half or a third of the town’s buildings are used by the VSC. The main one is the Red Mill building, which houses the dining hall and a gallery on the ground floor, offices upstairs, and the tv/game/computer room/library/man cave in the basement. Half of the building is a private residence, where the founders live with their dog.
There’s maybe 5 buildings that have been converted into artist studios and a sculpture barn with machines. My studio building, Barbara White studio, used to be a teacher’s school. Then there’s 5 or 6 houses used as residences. My house, Mason House, also happens to have a library of books and a common area where the writers have their meetings.
All these houses and studios are for the 50 artists that descend on the town of Johnson every month. This group is not as international as I’d like, with maybe only 8 people from outside the U.S. It’s also not very diverse in terms of race or gender (I think it’s 90% female), but artists who have been here before assure me this is not normally the case. Everyone here is of course very interesting, and it’s great getting the opportunity to meet so many writers, painters, sculptors and printmakers, though the amount of artists does make for a pretty socially intense few days.
The VSC functions by allowing artists to pay to attend, as well as awarding a limited number of ‘fellowships’ to cover the full costs for some deemed worthy. Those who don’t get the full fellowship can lower their fees in exchange for working in the kitchen or the office about two hours a week. This means that some of the artists hop up from dinner, put on an apron and start washing dishes. This system ensures that’s there’s a nice mix of artists from different levels in their careers, or economic situations.
Within the VSC complex there is a yoga studio with classes offered almost every day, and there is life drawing available every morning as well. I hadn’t done life drawing since I was 19, but I’ve done it a few times here and have realized how I can make it work to benefit my practice as an animator: like drawing a figure quickly but getting the basic posture correct, or learning to draw faces quickly. I’ve also had the model do a few walk cycles, where he holds a pose for one minute, then moves forward half a step, repeat, while trying to capture the poses on the same sheet of paper. It’s been pretty fun.
About half the time there is some kind of event in the dining hall in the evenings. Either a reading from a visiting author, a slide presentation from a visiting artist, or ‘resident slides’, when the artist residents who sign up give a five minute presentation on their work. I signed up for this on the first evening. I figured the sooner people saw some of my work, the sooner I would stop getting confused looks when I say I’m an animator and not a painter. It went well, though we only had five minutes altogether and were supposed to only spend 15 seconds on each slide. This meant I had to try explain stop-motion animation as a concept and my own specific set-up in lightning speed. It was a challenge.
There’s also a lot of walks one can take inside and outside Johnson. It’s gotten warmer the past few days and the snow on top of the roofs (and the amazing icicles) have started melting, but there’s still a lot of snow on the ground. I’ve taken one good two hour hike along the river, but overall it seems hard to find the time for stuff life that, as the studio beckons.
Right now I’m working on a short piece that will end up being part of a collective film with other SEAT members. This will be presented at Zeitgeist in April, so look out for more news on that. I’m primarily using marker with a lightbox, copystand and camera I brought with me in my suitcase. I also managed to get a hold of a pane of glass, so now I can draw on that instead of a treated clear plastic I was planning on using. The glass really allows the marker to lay down much more smoothly. Thank you Dan, caretaker guy, for finding me this glass!
Today a bunch of us spent some time creating a giant snowball. Photos next time.