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I completed my Bachelor degree in 1990 in Ceramic Design and spent my first year post-uni as a resident artist at the Meat Market Craft Gallery in North Melbourne. I left clay for some time after that when family became my focus and have only seriously returned to ceramics in the last ten years. When I first returned, I found it quite difficult to find my place in the world of art. I entered competitions and applied for galleries and was repeatedly knocked back.
I decided that I needed something more substantial on my resume. I had read about other artists doing residencies. I wanted to gain a broader overview of my art form, see what other artists were doing in clay. I felt passionate about taking time out, away from the distractions of the day-to-day to focus solely on my art.
As many of us know, the minute you have children, personal space and time vanish into thin air. But my two children were now old enough to cope without me for a few weeks… surely.
I began researching art residencies. I was looking for a supportive environment that would allow me my own space and time to develop new artwork. For my first residency, I ruled out any that required me to present a workshop or talk. At first, it seemed like a daunting prospect and the usual doubts reared their ugly heads: Am I too old? Am I good enough? Am I fooling myself? But the most difficult question was, how am I going to tell my husband that he is not coming with me?
Before applying, I scrutinised each residency's web page and looked up artists who had previously attended. I was looking for a professional standard; I wanted to make sure that the residency attracted high-calibre artists and was run in a professional manner.
I decided to apply for AIR Vallauris, a ceramic (and now other art media) artist-in-residence program in the south of France. I may have been swayed by romantic visions of champagne, baguettes and fromage. When I finally pushed 'send', I was excited and scared all at the same time. I didn’t tell anyone I had applied, as I didn’t really think I would be accepted. But to my surprise, I received an acceptance email. I was really going to France. At that point, I realised I hadn’t actually told my husband yet (whoops!) but I knew he would be 100-percent supportive.
So, I spent six weeks in the south of France where Picasso had his ceramic studio, working with three other artists from the United States, Korea and the Netherlands in two studios that were wonderfully historic and very quaint. We worked hard during the day in the studio, and at night or on our days off we travelled around the area, drinking wine, eating the most amazing food and having the wonderful experiences. We were motivated and invigorated, and produced many artworks.
I have since attended eleven other ceramic art residencies. That first one in France was the first —and the last—time I had to fund myself. Subsequent residencies have all been partially or fully funded and I am so thankful to have had these opportunities to grow as an artist. The hundreds of artists who I have worked with over the years have led to a huge network of support and career development opportunities.
If you are thinking about applying for a residency, here are a few tips based on my experience.
Yes, you are worthy. No, you are not too old/young. Yes, you will love it. No, it’s not scary. You will make some of the greatest friends, and the time and experience will support your art-making in such a positive way.
Do your research.
Check the residency website and the artists who have previously attended. There are residencies out there for everyone. Try looking at http://www.resartis.org/en/ for a start.
Check the costs.
Make sure they are clearly stated on the website, and remember to convert to Australian currency. If the residency is funded, make sure you present a professional looking application (to be discussed in a future post).
Clarify the accommodation details.
Make sure accommodation is included in the residency cost and clarify if you will be sharing a room. If want your own room, you can usually ask and they may charge you just a little extra.
Think about the dates.
I went to France and Japan in winter, which was okay for me as I don’t mind the cold, but it may not be for everyone!
Find out what materials and equipment are included.
Some residencies pay for all materials and some require you to purchase them.
Make sure the studio space suits your work.
If you are a painter, is there enough wall space or easels for the size of the work you want to create? If you’re a ceramic artist, is there a kiln available and access to glaze materials? Ask if you will you work by yourself or with others in the studio space.
Clarify what is required of you.
Do you have to bring work with you to exhibit? Are you required to donate all or some of the work you make during the residency (usually required in China)?
Find out if you are you required to give a presentation or workshop.
If you are, clarify who your audience will be. Don’t be afraid of presentations as many organisations include a community aspect in their programs to help them obtain funding. They are usually quite fun.
Don’t ever let a knock-back get you down.
Just improve your application and apply to another residency, or apply again in the next round. I have been refused as many times as I have accepted.
Sally Walk is a ceramic artist. She holds a Bachelor of Art (Ceramic Design) and a Post Grad Diploma of Education. She has been working in clay for more than thirty years and creates sculptural work in stoneware and porcelain clays. Sally has attended twelve ceramic art residencies all over the world and has held six solo exhibitions and more than thirty group exhibitions. She was selected to exhibit at the Tokyo Art Fair in Japan, Art Melbourne, and the Florence Biennale in Italy, where she was awarded the ‘Lorenzo il Magnifico’ first prize for ceramics. For more about Sally, visit her website or follow her on Instagram (@sally_walk).