Lee Oldford Churchill, Canada

Residency Period: Sept 1, 2016 – June 30, 2017


Bio

Born and raised in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, Lee began her formal training at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Corner Brook, NL. In 1998 she transferred to the University of Alberta in Edmonton, majoring first in sculpture, then switching to painting and printmaking. At U of A she earned her BFA with Distinction in 2000 and then went on to earn a M.A. (Art Conservation) and M.A. (Art History) from Queen’s University, Kingston, ON in 2000 and 2006 respectively. She currently resides in Calgary, AB, Canada, where she works as the Paper Conservator at the Glenbow Museum and as an instructor at Wildflower Art Centre, City of Calgary. Her current work utilizes watercolour, pastel, acrylic, pen, and other media.


On-hiatus Proposal Summary

Working full time and parenting, Lee has struggled to maintain her “professional artist” status as designated by Canada Council for the Arts and other public institutions, which also qualifies her to apply for funding to sustain an artist career. She feels trapped in the circle of “not enough work=not enough sales and exposure=not enough money=having to be employed=not enough time=not enough work”.

While making art has been part of who she is, the pressure and stress of “being engaged” with her practice has driven her to the point where she feels her whole life may be happier if she just stopped, if she gave up defining herself as an artist-who-does-other-work-to-support-themselves and embraced being solely an arts-industry-employee.

Through her participation in RFAOH, she wants to give herself permission not to produce art, to ultimately examine if letting go of “being an artist” will make her feel less pressure and stress, and return some joy to this aspect of her life. Her requested residency period overlaps with her son’s school year during which time she may participate in some activities without the guilt of her inner voice screaming ‘if I have any time I should be making art’.

Although she is hesitant to set out too detailed a plan for fear of creating a high pressure situation similar to the one that she is in now as an artist, one of her on-hiatus activities may be taking a class in clay. It is an area that has no association to her past art practice, and she wants to see if she can engage meaningfully with the process of creating, or whether it has become so entwined with stress/anxiety that any attempt to create is a trigger for feelings of failure, anxiety and inadequacy about her self-identification as an artist.

She hopes this hiatus would give her time and clarity to make a decision whether defining herself as an artist is worth it, or if not being an artist is better for her mental health, family life, and relationships. If she decides to return to art, she hopes it would bring fresh inspiration and perspective.


Final Report

My experience as an RFAOH resident has been amazing. It is a cause for ongoing and future reflection that having an external, and thereby legitimizing, force say it was 'ok' not to make art, I let go of an immense amount of stress and gut-wrenching anxiety. I am not entirely comfortable with the idea that I need an outside agency validate my thoughts and actions.

I did the clay class I set out in my proposal and as I hoped it showed me that I am still in love with artmaking and am so very happy when I give myself over to the process. I had thought I would review Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way" as well but I decided (after a few months of seriously avoiding getting it off the shelf) that my reluctance was something I should listen to. If I was dragging my heels, forcing myself to re-read it was against the spirit of my hiatus.

With my mother-in-law passing away and then my father being incredibly ill, my hiatus ended up looking very different than anyone could have thought. I spent a full two months of it away from everything focusing on the people who truly matter rather than immersed in the 'daily grind'. Both the hiatus and these events have drastically altered my perceptions and goals.

I still feel battered and broken. But there's been a release - like when you have a bad tooth and once the dentist fills it you realize how miserable it was and now you're a bit boneless.

I'm on the mend.

I'm human and I have bad habits.

I feel like my hiatus had changed me and that I won't try to shoehorn myself and my work into a mold we don't fit. But I know it is going to take constant vigilence to not fall into anxiety and let it push me into areas I'm not happy with. Whether my hiatus will change the look of my work, I don't know yet. But it will certainly change the spirt behind it.


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recent comments

On Jun 21 2017, Lee Churchill commented on June 20: If I knew where I wasn't supposed to be, I wouldn't go!! :-P If you've got some idea of how I can be[...]

On Jun 21 2017, co-director (s) commented on June 20: Happy (fairly) big Birthday Lee! (: Twack on, all year! I think it's the matter of what is "everyt[...]

On Jun 12 2017, Lee Churchill commented on June 8: :-) It definitely sounds like a fascinating talk. With the idea of going for an MFA, S's situation[...]

On Jun 9 2017, co-director (m) commented on June 8: I wish we had a recording of Tehching's panel discussion in Venice last month where the convergence [...]

On May 25 2017, co-directors (s) commented on May 8: Family emergency sucks... Hope things are alright with yours![...]


Sept 16

So I set myself the goal of publishing at least on the 1st and 15th.

Reading Marissa’s accounts of their ‘moonfarming’ project, I’m in awe! What a massive, amazing, undertaking. My husband and I are creatures of habit and caution – I don’t think it would be far off to say we’ve been debating since 2008 on whether and when we should think about moving to a house with a yard, in the same part of our city! Moving to another country without everything firmly laid out is hard for me to conceptualize.

So far for my hiatus I’ve signed up for a clay class (yeah me!) I just have to wait and see if it’s gotten enough enrollment to go ahead, I’ll know within a week or so.

Since I’ve started I’m finding it interesting how when I see calls to enter and submission deadlines I still get a moment of tension before I step back and breathe and remember that it’s not my problem right now. Then there’s a moment where I almost sag with relief.

In that vein I saw the Squirrel of Judgement:

squirrel
Yeah. He’s an @$$.

There was a point where in an attempt to get in my studio more I posted a sign on the door saying “IF YOU WANT A BETTER PORTFOLIO YOU HAVE TO DO THE WORK.” It stayed there a couple years before my brother-in-law said it was mean.

An interesting (and gentler) quote came from St. Francis Of Assisi:

“He who works with his hands is a laborer. 

He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. 

He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist. “

I liked the fact that he doesn’t seem to suggest any specific ‘thing’ as being art. Doing the work and how you do the work is what makes art. It reminded me of some reading I did a few years back about Zen, and the concept of wabi-sabi. Mindfulness, intent, and appreciation being the keys.

Which got me thinking about some very slow projects I’ve been doing, I have a shawl that I’ve been knitting for about 2 years. I started it to force myself to use a knitting pattern. I knit, I know lots of knitting tips, tricks, and stitch patterns but can’t follow an actual complete pattern worth a d@mn. My eyes skitter off the page, my mind wanders, and then I find I’ve made mistakes so I have to tinker back. I am awesome at casting on and just plowing on through making it up as I go. Great for tons of projects but not if you want to actually know what you’ll end up with or whether it will fit someone not in the room to measure against.

minionmits

Mittens I knit for my oldest son. I loved making them and he adored them. However, I’m told that is not what thumbs are supposed to look like.

By this definition would the shawl be labour and the mittens art? Even though they are ostensibly the same process? I’d love to see a juror’s face if I submitted them to an exhibition. Even if they do make my heart happy.

I’ve also been reading about attention, motivation, and procrastination. I discovered there is a Professor at Carlton University in Ottawa, Canada who studies procrastination – it’s his JOB! How cool is that?! http://www.procrastination.ca/who-we-are/ But with his publication record, I don’t think he procrastinates a lot!

It’s been fascinating reading, especially about something called “executive functions” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_functions which (very simply) is your brain’s ability to co-ordinate and regulate itself. Reading about executive DYSfunction (inability to control attention, set goals and organize) was one of those “oh my g*d, that’s ME!” moments. But then reading further reading says being tired, stressed, and physically unfit all disrupt EF disproportionally. So, I am scattered and disorganized because I am tired, stressed and unfit. Dang it. As my doctor says – never read too much into internet information. J Still interesting reading.

As part of my musings, I sat down and did some math on how I spend my time – trying to figure out if and when there were blocks of time I could schedule art. It was an interesting exercise. If the clay class goes ahead I’ll be giving up a half-day of work-work (vs. art-work) in order to fit it in – which isn’t great for the budget but will be good for my mental state, I think. SO, otherwise, weekdays are a bust – between work-work, housework, kids’ school/activities and needing at least 6 hours of sleep; Monday morning to Friday suppertime are gone. Friday nights, I go for a semi-regular ‘artist date’ at a friend’s studio. Sometimes we work. Sometimes (mostly) we drink wine. It’s much needed decompression time.

According to my math there were 20 hours on the weekend ‘free’ but then I had to laugh because, of course, some semesters I teach on Saturday from 9 am to mid-afternoons (6 hours plus commute). And we spend family time – cleaning the house, watching a movie, doing a large grocery run, getting outside to a park or swimming.

Maybe I need more portable art – like some knitters take socks or a scarf wherever they go. A sketchbook didn’t work out. Despite constant lectures, our (almost) 4 year old is a very gleeful runner; if we take eyes off him for a second he’d be out in traffic. I wonder if I could keep clay in a tub and manipulate it while still paying attention? Maybe I could be a fibre artist and actually knit, I can do garter stitch without looking at my hands.

And now it is the 16th.

I am posting “late,” that’s in quotes because the 15th deadline is solely a figment of my imagination. Last night was my eldest’s school dance. After the excitement they were both bouncing off the walls. Maybe it was the dance, or the full-moon, or Mercury in Retrograde, or the cookies – I’m not sure it’s worth speculating. But many stories, downstairs visits, and glasses of water later, it was 11:15 pm and I was falling over, even if they weren’t.

Now, it’s Friday and since I’m not working on applications and my teaching doesn’t start for a couple weeks, it is gloriously free. In the spirit of Zen, I’m going to work on appreciating each moment as it comes and maybe that in itself will transform these days into art.

Leave a Comment (6)

Lee Churchill wrote on Jan 25:

Thank you Mohamed, These are good thoughts to dwell on.

mohamed Esbaie (moonfarmer) wrote on Jan 17:

hi,

I'm marisa's Mohamed,
today is an unfavourable time according to the biodynamic calendar,
a time in which it's recommended to tend to unfinished things
(as apposed to beginning projects and such),
if I may share a comment which has been taking up space in my mind...
art is vital for a society,
it allows its inhabitants a chance to see that your soul IS,
& is allowed to explore expression.
Without art people easily forget that we each nave a unique soul which needs manifest.
I would love the opportunity to draw comics,
but you guys more than others can see what our life is like..
I recently said a prayer,
it was something like "if this desire within me is needlessly eating at my soul,
then please take it out at me",
but it's still there,
and marisa and people such as ourselves are reminders that you can't give up on your soul because your surroundings are bleak.
if I may share another prayer which gives me much comfort it's "don't make money the grandest of my worries" and leave it at that.
keep your chins up.

Lee Churchill wrote on Sep 20:

I, personally, think you are right that figuring out how to make an income from art is a talent. But I have a entrepreneur friend who says its a skill - that many artists need to learn more business skills like marketing, pricing, inventory, and budgeting. To which I say :'( AHHHHH!!!!! and hide under the couch.
Interesting, the free studio space and shared child care is brilliant (and a sizable 'in-kind' donation) - they also mention they do not provide accommodations. I'm sure whoever gets in will have an amazing time. They mention this site http://www.artistresidencyinmotherhood.com/ which I've seen come up other places recently. It seems like an excellent way to create structure and be held accountable (even if only in my own head). Definitely worth tagging and exploring.

co-director (s) wrote on Sep 20:

Indeed, in all these cool "ahead" things, there's very little wage and only very few manage to make it a "profession" in an economic sense (and i'm attempted to call that itself a talent, not the content). This sort of confronts with the popular contemporary notion of "art" being for "everyone" from this specific aspect, and the good old "privilege and class" are being discussed in a new light, we've been noticing. Interesting and challenging all at once!
Oh and I saw this: http://www.mothersinarts.com/residency -- though there's no mentioning of stipends......

Lee Churchill wrote on Sep 19:

Goldsmith and that class sounds fascinating. I, simultaneously, want to take it and run in horror (why horror? I don't know!) Now if only someone would pay me a living wage to be ahead of the game I could quit a few jobs and live happily ever after! :-P

co-director (s) wrote on Sep 17:

Do you know Kenneth Goldsmith and his "Wasting time on the Internet?" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Goldsmith
https://www.english.upenn.edu/courses/undergraduate/2015/spring/engl111.301

He's become an international superstar and the topic of "wasting time" in general seems to be so popular right now -- so if you think you've been practicing that all this time, you've been ahead of the game and that's why you are at RFAOH (;
PS: I love the part that your brother-in-law said your sign on the studio door was mean (**)