Artist residency: Two types of pause.

Life has a certain way of gaining momentum. We choose a direction and then keep our heads down as we move forward, trying to keep our feet beneath us while navigating through a chaotically complex world. Any orienteer worth their salt knows that this sort of approach is a surefire way to get lost, whether in the woods or on the divergent paths each of us individually walk from birth to death.

Our internal compasses need to be recalibrated from time to time; honed back in to account for all that has changed around us since we last paid them attention. We must find space between the efforts where we can better survey the landscape of our lives; looking back at the path we’ve trod, cultivating perspective for where we stand, and consciously choosing the direction of our next steps towards the expansive horizon. In a sense this is the definition of living creatively – actively, not passively –  and I dare say it is a process of checking in with oneself that is not limited to capital A “Artists”.

Earlier this month (March of 2020) I was invited to be an artist-in-residence at Falcon Trails Resort in Manitoba, Canada. Without getting into the details, it is suffice to say that this opportunity for retreat came at a moment when it was much needed – a gift of spaciousness amidst relentless daily struggles, which had become a pattern all too familiar.

Turning off my cellphone as I left the city limits of Winnipeg, it was time to be wholly dedicated to being present with what was in front of me. Cutting away the inevitable distractions that accompany living in the modern world, I sought to reconnect with a familiar yet elusive cadence; openly receiving on a deep inhale and creatively expressing on a full exhale – uninterrupted.

A plume of smoke at the end of a lonely gravel road drifted from a cabin in warm greetings. Arrived and sheltered, it was not long before Mother Nature welcomed us in her own way with a blank canvas of fresh snowfall that blanketed absolutely everything. Peace settled with the snow, without and within; undoing a latent tension within me that had sneakily taken up residence. We all have different environments which help us get out of our heads and back into our bodies, and for myself nature has always been a strong anchoring force that pulls me back.

The lump in my throat soon loosened, and it did not take long for words and images began to flow anew. Alongside illustrator Adrienne Shum of Little Nugget Print Co, we spent time exploring with all our senses and collaboratively rendered similar scenes that touched us through our different lenses. The resulting body of work is simple, yet wide and wonderful – much broader than I expected of our brief retreat. The muse is e’er an unpredictable thing.

After a mere two evening sojourn, it was time to return to the urban sanctuary that is my apartment.  I turned my phone back on to discover a brave new world. The Coronavirus, which I had been following closely due to its effect on those I’m connected with in Japan, had arrived on my figurative doorstep in Canada. My phone buzzed incessantly as the ramifications of the impending pandemic rolled in, and within 48 hours all the work opportunities I had cultivated for the next six months completely dried up. Oof – hello space, my old friend. Time to get creative, as I know so many of us now must.

There are moments of chosen pause and there are moments of forced pause. While both create space for new things in our lives, there are otherwise many opposing dualities between the two: within our control versus out of our control, carefully timed versus unexpected, comfortable versus uncomfortable, gain versus loss…the list could go on. Although in extremity these contrasts can feel like they are black and white, if we look closer they both seem to be present in tandem in both cases – just in perhaps different quantities and balance. The question that follows then, is: how can we hold both?

In all pauses, there is an opportunity to step forward; however, it is in the consequence of not doing so that we see a vast difference. When the momentum of our life disappears from a forced pause, the cost of inactions shifts from simply maintaining the status quo to a wider unravelling. Yet, the opportunity remains if we decide to act creatively and choose it. The key is to keep your head on your shoulders, survey the landscape, and creatively find a new way forward. Keep your head up and don’t get stuck.

Both when the times may be good or when they may be challenging, it is worth remembering: this too will change. Did you have a tough day? Remember: this too will change. Was today instead really good? Also remember, this will change too. Remain agile and we can handle all of it one step at a time.

Despite a bit of a delay in publishing due to other important conversations needing to be had regarding the pandemic, this work has since been released on the Falcon Trails Instagram feed under the hashtag #sketchesandsketchimages. Check them out online and, if you ever get the chance, in person!

Introducing artists Adrienne Shum and David Quiring

A photograph of an illustrator and an illustration of a photographer; introducing Adrienne Shum of Little Nugget Print Co and me (ahem: David Quiring).

Falcon Trails cabin after a fresh snowfall

Fresh air and fresh tracks. There’s nothing quite like going to sleep in a storm and waking up to a pristine blanket of snow.

Sorel boots on the doorstep

Lace up! As they say pretty much all around the world, there’s no such thing as bad weather when you have the proper clothing. Winter in Canada is no exception.

David hiking through Mantario burndown

Breaking trail through a section of charred forest on the Mantario Hiking Trail.

Picnic Island on Falcon Lake in winter

Here’s a visual riddle for you: can you tell which direction is north? Hint: the spring time sun is strong!

Falcon Trails cabin from lake in winter

Mornings spent stretching the legs in the front yard…

Falcon Trails cabin on a stormy night

…and evenings spent sheltered from the weather.

Fresh snow on the forest floor

A blank canvas and a final reminder that no matter what is going on in the world there is something beautiful to fill it with. The seasons will always change.