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


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recent comments

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

On Mar 27 2017, Lee Churchill commented on Mar 6: Thanks Matt! It seems like a tie between Rob and Wayne to me. <:'( :-7 To add my own do[...]

On Mar 23 2017, co-director (m) commented on Mar 6: We like your posts Lee![...]

On Mar 22 2017, co-director (s) commented on Mar 6: We have a pretty good hunch that Rob is actually having the best time though (:[...]

On Jan 31 2017, Lee commented on Jan 25: Thank you, for the luck and the compliments![...]


May 23

May 23

We just finished out the May long weekend, or the “May two-four”, or various nicknames…officially it’s Victoria Day (her birthday was May 24th) but it’s held whatever weekend is closest to that date. It’s the start of summer, even though it’s usually still miserable. Newfoundland had snow :-P! Fortunately for us, we went camping with a cousin and his kids. Interior BC is already up into the high 20 degrees and it was glorious. There were trees and mountains (and a very odd drained lake…) lots of good food and company. The kids got to wander and explore.

 

 

I brought a sketchbook and didn’t do a tap in it. 🙂 

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May 8

May 8th

I’ve been away for three weeks on a family emergency. I’m back home now. With pretty much nothing to report other than waiting in hospitals is exhausting.

I arrived back in Calgary on May 6th and was whisked away to Banff National Park where my family were camping.

It was exactly what was needed.

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co-directors (s) wrote on May 25:

Family emergency sucks... Hope things are alright with yours!

 


Apr 12

Apr 12

I started a new project, I’ve never made a crazy quilt before but have tons of scrap fabric. So here we go, square one, basted and ready to start the decorative stitching.

It made me realize I haven’t shared the final March Drawings. I didn’t do the full 31, but that’s what being on hiatus is about right? No pressure!  😀 

 

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Apr 6

Apr 6

I just saw a meme “Be someone’s sunshine today”. It’s not a sunshine day.

I am tired. And sad. For no particular reason I want to be home curled up with a cat. And blankets over my head.

The weather’s changing and I have a head ache. I over stretched my shoulder trying to get the pressure in my ear to go down. Now it’s cramped.

Edward got into Kindergarten. Thankfully. Now we just have to worry about daycare. It’s killing me that our tiny little soul is old enough to be going. Even though he’s in fulltime daycare this feels like such a big step and somehow that he will be less safe and protected. There will be so many more kids in his class, not to mention the kids on the playground.

Summer break worries first, though. Not sure what we’re going to do with Arthur. Camps are filling up fast. But are stupid expensive and have to be prepaid. *Deep Breaths*

I need a nature break. Seeing pictures of sunrises and sets on Instagram are making me pine for backcountry camping. We live inner city, my office is inner city. By spring it starts to feel very gray and very claustrophobic.

  

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Mar 29

Mar 29

I pulled a tendon between my big toe and heel. A friend said “Only you.” Sigh. This one I have to own. I managed to pull it walking. Not even fast.

WARNING – I’m about to get my art history geek on!

Back to thinking about art and my relationship to it. These ideas have been percolating (fighting?) in the back of my head since before I started this residency. I’ve been aware that I struggle with ‘art’ and ‘art world’ and other definitions but I’ve just avoided making time to express it to myself clearly. Probably because it’s a huge systemic issue that has no happy resolution.

From the RFAOH website:

“Moreover, our everyday encounters with media and technology in recent years have created a culture where we no longer necessarily equate creativity with lengthy and strenuous activity or with the specific material dexterity of an individual.“ (http://residencyforartistsonhiatus.org/about/)

This is where I find myself mentally and emotionally stuck.

As an artist, I am basically interested in exploring materials and processes. The final outcome (say the pen drawing of a goose) is secondary to the actions of making and learning how a new pen works. The outcome could, theoretically, be anything – even a page of random scribbles dotted with water/brush marks. Why is it representational? No reason other than it gives a structure for making different marks. In this regard, the resulting works can be considered products and garbage (or fancy word: detritus) simultaneously. My work gets called a product when I think I can sell it, or otherwise, garbage when it is ‘unattractive’ or ‘unsellable.’ The truth, however, is that the product and the piece of garbage are actually of equal value to me in terms of the benefit I get from them.

My indifference to the final outcome is why my portfolio doesn’t appear unified. Mostly the images are not the point, are totally random, or fleeting whimsy. Maybe I need to choose a type of imagery? Or just switch to abstraction? That makes me feel squidgy though, things that are arbitrary should be so. Picking a set of consistent imagery to satisfy some vague external force’s need for me to be dependable (aka: having a potentially sellable ‘style’) goes against who I am on a fundamental level.

Interestingly, lack of attention to detail and finishing bothers me immensely.  Seeing an intriguing work and then getting closer to realize it’s shoddily executed is a huge disappointment. Even though I cycle through media and styles, I always work to increase my proficiency so that the experience of closely interacting with my work is as satisfying as seeing it from a distance. Which is also why I love making miniature books and sculptures that are meant to be held in an intimate way. So how do I fit into an ‘art culture’ where effort and craftsmanship are not valued?

I also hate jargon. I have never believed that so many MFA students really, naturally, blend esoteric language with their art. I’ve always had this sense of conflict as though the theory was being shoehorned onto their writing in order to sound ‘academic.’

Here is an article I just discovered, that may be my new favourite, about “International Art English” (IAE): https://www.canopycanopycanopy.com/contents/international_art_english

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/jan/27/users-guide-international-art-english

I love that obviously others have found ‘art-speak’ to be as weird as I do. Their analysis is fascinating and ties in nicely with the French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu’s idea of ‘cultural capital’ – that in order to be seen as a legitimate part of a class system you need to follow the unwritten and unspoken but established rituals of that system.  IAE writing is a gateway pointedly separating insiders and outsiders, and aims to positon the art and artist in a specific (elite) market. And of course that would be proliferated by universities – how else would they support the idea that having a BFA/MFA was crucial to advancing your career?  The fact that IAE restricts huge portions of the general populace from interacting freely with your work is one of the things that super bothers me. I totally get that there are times when you are speaking to other experts in the field that jargon can be a type of abbreviated language for complex ideas but when you are interacting outside the ‘ivory tower’ of university or conferences and such, it’s actually (to quote Wil Wheaton) “a dick move.” A quote sometimes attributed to Einstein is “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” If you don’t understand your own art well enough to break it down into lay terminology isn’t that a BIG problem?

Ahh! It feels good to get that off my chest.

 

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Mar 28

Mar 28

I mentioned personality profiles in a previous post. And a couple things have happened since that make me wonder (again) how other people see me.

First, there was an email sent to my whole department (all three of us) with the ‘train’ attached – all the emails this person had sent to others before us about the subject. Part of it (to paraphrase) questioned whether we had much in the way of senses of humour. Which was like, reeeeeealllllly?! You see us in about 5-6 meetings a year, WHERE IT’S OUR JOBS TO BE THE BRAKES on the crazy ideas, and from that you have the impression we’re humourless? Small case – wtf?!

Argh.

Anyway, that I laughed off as being silly.

But then at my other job some staff were joking around and a coworker said to me “I’d love to know what your idea of partying is!” I had to rush out to teach before I could find out exactly what that meant, but I was left with the wtf feeling again. I know it wasn’t meant in any mean way but why would anyone assume I party differently than anyone else?! So weird.

I think if I had a super power I’d like it to be telepathy – but only if I could turn it off when I wanted – understanding what’s in other peoples’ heads fascinates me. One of my favorite books is “This Alien Shore” by C.S. Friedman about humans who went into space and mutated until they might as well be aliens. In one culture they developed a whole system of facial markings that communicate their personality types and their cultural rules give different traits precedence in certain situations. So for example, when meeting certain people not shaking hands is preferred but for other personalities not shaking hands would be a grave offense.  And you can tell it all on their face. I can only say, I think it would make life a lot simpler.

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Mar 27

Mar 27

I showed up to drop my son off at his Spring Break day camp and one of the staff had called in sick, so I got to be the before camp care. Fifty-odd kids in a gym, aka: absolute mayhem. It’s so fascinating to see how kids interact and process the craziness. Some hang back and sit on the side watching to find a ‘safe’ time to enter the action, others plow right in and are explosive in their response, seeming to find any means possible to endanger their own lives! 😛 (Who knew skipping ropes could be garrots?!) And one who seems to be a true introvert, content to sit and watch the activities of the others.

 

 

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Mar 6

Mar 6

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday. The boys were very keen to make Daddy’s day great – he got to sleep in and have breakfast in bed (cornflakes and coffee), homemade cards (Thank you whoever invented mess-less glitter!!), supper that he (mostly) didn’t make, and of course cake! 

Arthur insisted on sewing a fabric ball as a gift, and with a (very) little help it worked out great. Though mostly he and Edward played with it. But at 8 and 4 it’s the initial thought that counts, right??  

I ordered some patterns for making my own clothes. I have been hoarding fabric for ages and now it’s time to start making things with it. Truly. It’s going to happen.

I started participating in a March Drawing-a-day group. Art practice? I don’t know. I don’t intend any of the drawings to ‘turn into’ anything. They aren’t prep or prelim work. They are isolated scribblings, mostly in an attempt to have a brief window of discipline. Externally imposed by the fact that I signed up and committed to it.

I’m two days behind.

Last week I met with a realtor to ask about the types of renos and improvements that would be needed to sell our house – we rented and then bought it, so it most things haven’t been updated since it was built in 1993.  It’s added a whole new level of ‘should do’s’ to our already crippling list.

Edward’s being bullied at his dayhome. As a parent it is such a sucky situation, and so hard to know what to do. We don’t want to be helicopter parents – but he is tiny. And the other kid is known to be sneaky, violent, and mean. He waits until the teacher’s back is turned, destroys whatever Ned’s working on, and is basically gone by the time she can turn around. Last week, Ned finally snapped and bit him. I feel awful, he shouldn’t bite…but I can’t blame him.  If it were me, I’m pretty sure I’d retaliate too. So how do I consequence that??

Mar 10

So I’ve been doing the drawing a day for ten days, I caught up! I’m surprisingly pleased with a few of them. When I did the challenge last year I didn’t take it too seriously, and I got a nasty virus right in the middle, so I really wasn’t too happy with my work. This year I decided to put more effort into it. Having a few already that I feel good about is encouraging. Like I said before I really didn’t expect these sketches to produce anything so I’m going to say ‘yeah me!’

I’m feeling like my posts are very banal – seeing George conquer mountains, Maria corral a homestead, Joyce’s experiments brewing, it’s bring home my feelings of dissatisfaction and stagnation.  I love my day job, but working halftime is brutal. I love teaching but there aren’t that many classes. I look at the things needed to “set myself up” as an artist and feel totally overwhelmed. I don’t have (minimum) $2000 to get a designer to set up a website. I don’t have time (or desire) to learn to create one myself – templates, hosting, domains are just not my thing. I feel Ramla, Wayne, Rob and I are in much the same boat – sad, discouraged, drifting.

Mar 14 (aka: 3.14)

Pi Day!

Not sure I’ll actually get to eat pie today but it tickles my funny bone every year.

We made noodles with the boys on Sunday. They were super stoked to be getting all goopy in the kitchen. It pushes my control freak buttons but ended up being super fun. We’ll have to do that again soon. 

I went from being caught up on my drawings to 3 days behind. I’m struggling with how I want to interpret some of the themes: Taxi, Gone with the Wind and Lawrence of Arabia (the coordinator declared it movie week). Maybe I’ll ditch those and just doodle something random.

In one of my adult classes the students wanted to know what I’m teaching next semester, so they could sign up. That’s a pretty huge compliment, in my mind.    

It went from -19 to +10 between Sunday and today (Tuesday). My head is killing me. Chinook headaches are no joke.

My poor boys are really struggling with the time change, losing an hour of sleep has left them deeply unhappy about waking to go to school and daycare in the mornings. Even Peanut who is normally a cheerful morning person and not very cuddly came in and tucked himself into bed with us this morning.

I’m starting to think some of the difficulty with understanding him is because his nose is always stuffy. But… how do you get a 4-year-old to cooperate with nasal irrigation? Something to ponder.

I got home from teaching last night and started poking around on Pinterest before going to bed. I looked up my Myers-Briggs personality profile (INTJ). Very funny and spot on quotes and infographics.

Mar 15

My clothes patterns came! Now to find time to work on them…

Mar 20

Happy vernal equinox!

I used my studio night Friday to pin and cut pattern pieces for one shirt. I’m hoping to find time this week to actually sew it. It’s a summer shirt in hopes of speeding along the weather. J It’s still cold here -8 and everyone is done with it. The weekend was so very busy, kids’ classes and teaching, playdates and birthday parties. It pulls time away from things like housecleaning but I’m cool with that. It’s so fun to see the boys excited and interacting with others.  It amazes me to see the difference in their personalities – at home they are whirlwinds, talking and moving constantly, so outgoing and LOUD but when they get out in the world they seem very quiet and reserved and with waaaaay better manners!

It’s getting to the end of my hiatus and I haven’t made myself sit down and do too much serious thinking about what comes next. I pulled my copy of the Artist’s Way and it’s sitting on my table watching me, waiting… I’m definitely feeling so much better without the pressure I was heaping on myself and without the pressure the art I’ve been doing is so satisfying and makes me feel more like ‘me’. So, obviously, I can’t not create. But do I have it in me to be creating and not want to/feel obliged to be writing grants and exhibition proposals? Three and a half years later I’m finally getting over my volunteer burnout and thinking of starting to be back out in the community doing things but with the wisdom NOT to take on a massive project.

For now sketches.

I’m seven days behind.

 

 

Leave a Comment (3)

Lee Churchill wrote on Mar 27:

Thanks Matt!
It seems like a tie between Rob and Wayne to me. <:'( :-7
To add my own doom and gloom. :-P Their experiences have reminded me that as tempting an idea as it is - just packing up my family and and leaving for parts undecided won't really undo the stress and indecision inside me.
All that just travels with me, in one form or another! :-P

co-director (m) wrote on Mar 23:

We like your posts Lee!

co-director (s) wrote on Mar 22:

We have a pretty good hunch that Rob is actually having the best time though (:

 


Jan 31-Feb 26

Jan 31

It’s been a contemplative few days.

The Facebook comment RFAOH made about my last post, was this:

Lee’s latest report also prompts similar questions to the ones posed in our meeting with Rob at his screening: Are you an “art teacher” or an artist teaching art? Is teaching art to someone, or helping someone to make art, not an art practice? The Tug-o-War on rhetoric continues.

Oddly, it floored me. I’ve never seen my teaching as part of my art practice. Thinking about it, I have no idea why, it just never occurred to me that teaching art would draw from the same well as making art. Which is strange, since in class I talk extensively about creative process, methodology, etc. Teaching certainly helps keep up my technical proficiency with materials I don’t use as regularly in my own work (like oil pastel). And it helps me remember that I am both knowledgeable and competent, which I struggle with sometimes. I’m told I dismiss my knowledge as general knowledge, when in fact it’s not.

This is something I’m going to have to keep thinking about.

Feb 6

It’s Monday again.

I dug our car out from under the weekend’s worth of snow, driving was mad – there was hardly any difference between the roads, sidewalks, or lawns.

Found my laptop! It was in Peter’s rarely used briefcase, neither of us can remember why….

Feb 7

I taught Adult Arts combo last night – we did relief printing. I thought they did great. I’m not sure what they expect, it’s a class where you play with a new media every night. Sometimes I think they want me to walk in with an image and “say we are doing this and this is exactly how.” Which in my mind defeats the point – how would you experiment if you’re doing exactly what I tell you? How are you going to know if you like the process if you only do it the way that I told you too?? I see so many students who want a formula – how is that art?

How could copying my work express who you are??  

It’s currently -28. That’s in Celsius. It’s getting down to -35 tonight. 

Feb 21

This weekend was Family Day. It’s a totally random stat holiday, I think mainly to keep people from going mad in February. But we took it wholeheartedly and spent the weekend just hanging out with our boys. They kill me. They are so sweet and funny, and sometimes it is so hard to set aside all the day to day ‘stuff’ and enjoy them.

The house was ignored and is a disaster.

Feb 26

All day today, Edward has been a tyrant, angry, yelling, crying. Then this evening I sat with him, trying to distract him by reading a story, and he fell asleep in my arms. So tired and still not able to articulate it at all. I sat for ages, just cuddling him. It was the best.

The new class catalog is out for my work. There’s a ‘clay studio’ course being offered. I want to see if I can audit it, but I’m switching my schedule to drop off and pick up Arthur from school. I have a feeling they end at the same time.

We’re still decluttering – I feel like things are messier than ever, even though I know that it’s because I’ve pulled out things that haven’t seen the light of day in over a decade. Two more bags of clothes for donation and a truly bizarre amount of old paperwork. I found two boxes of papers from my masters’ programs. I have no idea why I’ve kept them this long. The recycling is overflowing. There’s a tube of partly finished paintings from my undergrad?! There’s no way they’ll be finished. I haven’t been interested in those themes since the turn of the millennium!

…though I also discovered a forgotten stash of printing paper (BFK Rives) from when my studio was in the basement prior to 2005…so that was kind of cool.

This month has been banal and yet turbulent. No big breakthroughs in any area of art or life. But some small breakthroughs, nonetheless. Some things look like they aren’t going to happen. Some things are open-ended, some hope, some despair.

Mostly, just treading water.

Gratuitous cute cat photo. 🙂
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Jan 25

Jan 25

This month has been eaten up by family ‘stuff’, stuff that’s not for online sharing but time and energy consuming. Now, in the potential homestretch, we are looking at a best possible outcome. And I’m feeling a huge sense of release and relief. This is going to be ok.

Provided an application gets accepted. BUT I am not going to dwell on that.

My other job has also started back up – two years ago I began to teach art classes at a city art centre evenings and weekends. It’s funny, I think it’s my favorite job I’ve had. When I finished my BFA in 2000 several of my friends went on to do teaching degrees, but knowing myself, I swore I’d never teach. At the time I was right I lacked any number of personality traits that make a good teacher; at the forefront were: being patient, non-judgmental, and having empathy. Sixteen years of life experience and having two boys have reformed me.  😀 And since its “Bell Let’s Talk” Day in Canada (#BellLetsTalk) I’ll mention that anxiolytics and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are awesome for increasing patience!

This term I’m teaching adults and kids – Arts Combo (a mash up class where you play with a different media each week), Oil painting, and Sculpture. I’m already having fun.

A quick pastel sketch of a pinecone I did as a demo.

I also finished a project that’s been sitting in my studio for over four years!  The idea was to make a crib quilt for a friend’s baby but once I designed and started embroidering the blocks it grew into something very different! So now it’s single bed size which worked out well since the baby is now a preschooler. I just have to mail it. Every one of these ‘late’ projects I finish and move out of my studio, the less weight I feel.

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Comment (3)

Lee wrote on Jan 31:

Thank you, for the luck and the compliments!

ramla fatima wrote on Jan 28:

good luck :)

co-director (s) wrote on Jan 26:

That's an amazing production, Lee! One of my most favourite two types of productions I personally dig -- the exquisitely artistic work with a function, and the work that makes you think about: "the whole world + the work = the whole world".
How lucky she/he is to receive this... Plus, more room in your "studio"!

 

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