I'd never been on an artist residency so I did not know what to expect. But whatever my expectations were, they were far exceeded during my recent residency at Chateau Orquevaux. Nestled in the French countryside, the Chateau sits overlooking a tranquil lake complete with bridges and waterfalls. Everyone was absolutely stunned by the amazing vista which the photos do not do justice.
Above: images of the chateau and grounds
Residents can stay for either a fortnight or a month and the residency accepts writers as well as visual artists. During my stay, there were about 20 guests, most of which were housed in the chateau. A small number were housed in cottages within the small local town of Orquevaux which sits just outside the chateau gates. Each resident has a single bedroom and a separate studio, although alternative arrangements for couples may be possible. While some studios were located in the main house, my studio was housed in the converted stables which held about 10 generous studios. My studio was the largest I'd ever had and I wasn't really sure what to do with all that space.
Above: images of the stables and my art studio
On arrival, we were presented with champagne and nibbles. Our bags were bought to our rooms and we were given a quick tour before dinner. Dinner was served buffet style and we were invited to help ourselves. Each night the food was different, but on every occasion, there was a green salad, a cheese platter, a selection of vegetable and meat or fish dishes, as well a dessert. The food is made on-site by a local and it was marvellous. Be prepared to eat like a king.
Above: pre-dinner drinks and dinner are served
The following morning we were taken by van to the local art supply store where we could stock up on art supplies. I had sent a box ahead of me so I personally didn't need much. there is also an art supply cupboard in the basement with the abandoned products of previous artists which covered all the basic materials. Each artist's studio had a desk, a lamp, an easel, and accompanying seating.
We were largely left to our own devices to create however there were a few structured activities along the way. These included an arts business session, a writing feedback circle, and a life drawing class which were voluntary for all guests. There was bonfire night, a literary salon, and swimming in the lake if the weather permits. On the second last day, an open studio event is held whereby all residents are invited to present what they have been working on. While it was a bit nerve-racking, by this stage everyone was on easy terms with each other, so it was quite an enjoyable and enriching experience.
Above: bonfire night and life drawing
Outside of the chateau, there is little to do. In the local vicinity, there is a cute little castle that we sketched and a sunflower field within walking distance. There are also cows and a local church. Needless to say, residents mainly stayed onsite.
Above: the nearby castle, sunflower field and church, all within walking distance.
The program is run by a couple called Ziggy and Beulah who are American and Australian respectively, so it's not surprising that the majority of attendees are of similar origin. The age groups were quite diverse and I was pleased that everyone was very normal and everyone got along well. Despite everyone's initial reservation, by the end of a fortnight, we were all happily dressing up in costume and belting out songs on the karaoke machine with very little self-consciousness.
The amount of work done is different for each individual. As the hosts often reminded us, the residency was there for whatever we needed from it. While some participants worked eagerly into the night, others relaxed each afternoon with a glass of wine, and some slept a lot and caught up on much-needed sleep. Unfortunately, I caught a cold upon arrival and was ferried to the local doctor to obtain a course of antibiotics. In the second week I strived to make up for lost time (both socially and artistically) and in the end I presented 12 finished works on paper at the open studio event. I was pleased with what I had accomplished.
Above: photos from my open studio event.
The residency gave me the time and space to focus on myself and my art practice. While long-term benefits are yet to come to fruition I believe that my art practice will be better off for the experience. I've come away feeling refreshed, invigorated and with a whole bunch of new friends who are as equally passionate about art as I am. If you're thinking about applying for an artist residency then I say go ahead and do it! You will not regret it for a minute.