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.
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.
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.
Lee Oldford Churchill’s 11 month on-hiatus residency ended on June 30, 2017. We thank Lee for her participation in our 3rd cohort of residents, and sharing with us her sometimes very personal and honest struggles as an artist (on-hiatus) that many of us can identify with. She has also told us about her next (yet unofficial) “moves”, in order to end the familiar “life starts after…”. RFAOH sends her our utmost cheers for her multiple post-hiatus challenges, and look forward to hearing all about them — one of which: “I’ve decided I do want to go back to making art, but it would be by my whim and desire, not the forced type I’ve been doing.” Best of luck, Lee!
Click “Final Report” to read on her experience at RFAOH.
So technically, my residency finished 11 12 days ago. It’s been a crazy couple weeks, what can I say?
In truth, I was hoping I’d get inspired and have some grand-finale type post about how everything is getting on track and I’m ready to spread my wings and excited to dance back into the ‘art world’.
Truthfully, with the blows the past year has dealt us I feel more like a Loony Toons character – Bugs, Daffy, or Wily Coyote – blackened eye, bandages, hobbling off screen on a crutch.
And I’m still waffling.
Leaning mostly towards getting back in the trenches.
But with just a bit (ok, actually at least ¼) of me wanting to stay on the sidelines and declare defeat.
The past weeks have been highs and lows – great inspiration and plans followed by days of lows and hard practicalities. As a ‘Mastermind’ I like system building. I like control and to set things up and have them run ‘correctly’ (aka smoothly, and to my exact preferences). But I do not like being the one who has to dot ‘i’s’ and cross ‘t’s’.
I fully admit, as a control freak, that facing situations where I am dependent on unpredictable strangers to forward my goals, that’s when things go to h-e-double-hockey-sticks. As an adult, I like to think I’ve grown beyond petulance. But I’ve been feeling suspiciously like that. I may even have stifled the urge to stamp my feet and pull my hair once or twice.
I started a 40th birthday resolution to purge my studio of old artworks, things I’ve been hanging onto since back in my university days. Some I just liked too much to let go, some are experiments that got shelved. It’s time to let them go and see what happens. The first lot were a bunch of pochoir prints I did in a workshop. A friend and colleague bought four which felt nice.
The hiatus has felt good. It was definitely a break when I desperately needed one and most likely wouldn’t have gone easy on myself.
The year ahead is going to be filled with more challenges and changes. We’ll just have to see where things go!
I’m turning 40 (well, according to my Mom I turned 40 at 5:19 this morning! 😛 )
I’ve been finding this whole year coming up to 40 to be a very reflective experience.
I posted on facebook some time ago about the fact that I’m starting to feel the ‘hump’:
I’ve lived out of my parents’ house longer than I lived there.
I’ve been in a relationship with Peter half my life.
I’ve lived in Alberta 19 years, a year shy of as long as I lived in Newfoundland.
I graduated high school 22 years ago. My BFA 17 years ago.
I have towels older than my former babysitter and she’s now in University.
I’ve been married as long as our current babysitter has been alive.
The clothes and music from my childhood and adolescence are now vintage/ classic and coming back into fashion.
When my Mom was 40, I was 15, and my brothers were 16 and 18.
And so on.
It feels weird.
Time has warped – logically, when I sit down and catalogue events, obviously significant amounts of time have passed, you don’t get degrees, have family, and jobs without time moving forward.
But emotionally the truth is – I don’t feel ‘how did I get this old’ because I don’t feel old. I still feel like a teenager with all the possibilities of the universe spread out in front of me (and sometimes with the same poor judgement of said teenagers.) But I don’t feel ‘adult’ or like life has somehow become a predictable routine. I can’t connect with the idea that, statistically, half my life is behind me (in Canada female life expectancy at birth averages 83 years).
I often wonder if being an ‘adult’, in control and having all your $#!+ together, is some myth that gets heaped on kids. Peter and I are admittedly more prone to inexplicable happenings than many people (maybe we have poor karma?!)
Peter, as a passenger, has been in 12 major car accidents – as in “car flips over, spins, and is hit by an oncoming vehicle” type accidents. And he’s had two cars totaled – while parked. One was run over by a garbage truck and another had an SUV jump a curb (in a parking lot!) and land on top of it.
For me it’s paperwork. I have a saying “if there’s a piece of red tape within a 5-mile radius I will be hanging from it by noon.” My first student loan was sent to the wrong province, to a school I’d never heard of. My master’s application, mysteriously, got split in two and sent to different departments, so both thought I had incomplete applications. I showed up to an artists’ residency that was by application, and though I’d gotten an acceptance letter, the coordinator had never heard of me.
These are just drops in the bucket.
Friends have poo-pooed me saying that these things happen to everyone but it’s the sheer accumulation over time that makes me question the chances.
But really. Are there people who have everything together? ….I don’t know whether to hope for or against that.
I used to make a point of never working on my birthday, it was a day for ‘twacking’ (which is Newfoundland-ese). It was for having lunch out, window shopping, a few pints, and just generally appreciating all the possible joy of having a totally easy-going day. It was awesome. As I’ve said, I have anxiety – it was probably the one day of the year I wasn’t stressed on some level about getting somewhere, or meeting a deadline.
The last few years I’ve had work-work that had to get done, and so I worked. I’m working this year too. Maybe next year I’ll twack.
I started this post May 16, but it’s been slowly percolating the past ten months.
And just as slow in the writing.
It’s getting to be crunch time.
My hiatus ends June 30 and I’ve given myself until then to decide what’s next:
Do I ‘quit’ art? Sell off the majority of my supplies and turn the studio into a bedroom for my youngest?
Do I stay on unofficial hiatus and make things as the mood/time allows, without attempting to promote myself or maintain a professional status?
Do I recommit myself to the whole endeavour, buckle down, and make more work, set up a web page, get back into grants, shows, etc?
This hiatus has been eye opening in so many ways. My overall stress is way down despite various personal emergencies this year. I had an epiphany this week that attempting to ‘produce for sale’ was part of what was blocking me and making me avoid the studio. Since being on hiatus I’ve at least been playing with making things, regaining some of my happiness. I sketched this week for no other reason than to pass the time! I’ve also been using my artist facebook page more too, for sending out RFAOH posts. A definite step towards self-promotion.
I was asking a colleague who has a business degree about what would be involved in setting up a business goal plan for the upcoming year. I was surprised she suggested including personal goals as well as business ones. Her belief (as I understood it) is that as artists/mothers/business people/… we need to look at balancing our personal goals/needs with business and professional goals. Her suggestion was writing down what I want in each area over the next year with specific details (do a 5K in less than 1h 45m, earn 10+k in art sales….) then look at how each is possible, and if they can be done simultaneously with all my other commitments (jobs, parenting, partnering). This would then be the framework for planning.
Pros and Cons:
1) Quitting has its appeal, the idea of selling off supplies and walking away seems very clean. A new blank slate.
But I’ve spent a lot of time and money getting supplies to have on hand for whatever I feel like making. It feels wasteful-anxious-embarrassing-dumb to ditch it all (even if I get some/most of the money back). I think that’s what minimalists talk about when they discuss why people end up with so much more stuff than they need. Really the minimum I need is my watercolour kit and papers. The rest of my supplies I just like, the colours, the tactility, are soothing.
Again, it may be that I have hoarding tendencies. Meh.
The idea of the boys not sharing a room also has appeal – they both like company to sleep, so together seemed reasonable. But they keep each other awake, so it’s not so awesome for sleeping. BUT it is super sweet to hear Arthur reading stories to Edward …even at 9:30 at night…
2) Staying on hiatus is actually the least appealing option.
It feels like being indecisive. Whether I choose to commit or not is still up in the air but I hate feeling wishy-washy. Suck it up, make a decision, and march on. I acknowledge this is pretty black and white thinking and may not be appropriate to this situation, which is why I’ve kept staying on hiatus as an option. I need to talk this through with a couple people as sounding boards to establish whether I’m being too rigid.
3) Recommitting is scary.
I remember how I was feeling last year and am really not sure I want to risk going back to that state. BUT with the distance I have now I feel like I would approach being an artist-businessperson very differently. Firstly, I can write ‘businessperson’ without feeling as if it’s somehow antithetical to being an artist. Secondly, I feel I can make art and sell it without falling into the trap of grinding out things I don’t like, just for sale. Third, accepting that my art can be dealt with in a more organized and professional manner, while still being exploratory and fulfilling, is another big step forward. It’s the way other lifegoals are going to be achieved.
When I wrote that all I need are my watercolours – that was unconscious and it was an eye-opening moment for me, it took several days of processing on its own.
For various reasons, decluttering, family age/stage, etc we’ve been contemplating moving – movers charge by weight, so the less you take the less it costs – so I’ve been looking at everything in our house with an eye to “if we were to move next week/month/year what are the things I would feel had to come with us.”
Not that I’d be sad to see go, there’s lots more of that!
But it’s surprising to me to realize what I feel is essential and it’s not always what I might have anticipated (or what Peter would think either). When I went through our first floor, there was only the rocking chair where I nursed my boys, our kitchen table, and SOME of my china (surprisingly not all of it, even though it is all sentimental or heirloom). I’d be loath to give up the piano, but if push came to shove, I’d leave it. So basically 3 (admittedly large) items and a box. In our room (other than the quilts my mother has made us) I bet I could get everything I want into a large suitcase and bankers’ box.
Can you be an unsentimental hoarder?? Dunno.
While all this bubbles in the back of my head, we’re enjoying the beginnings of summer – our windows are open every night now, the night temperatures aren’t dipping much below 10 and daily highs are getting upwards of 25. There’s been enough rain so things are still green and fresh. The brown scorched earth will set in between the end of June and mid-July. I cut the pieces for a summer pajama set – now I just have to find time to sew it. We’ve been camping, and to our local “historic village”, Heritage Park, twice already. The park is fifty-odd acres in the middle of the city where we can let the kids run and roam without being terrified of crazy drivers. Between the walking, the stream train, and the 100+ year old amusement rides, it’s got everything a parent could want. The kids are pretty keen on it as well. 🙂 The boys have soccer and we’ve been practicing passing the ball around. Edward would rather be a robot scanning the ball than kicking it but he’s four so he gets indulged. Arthur is getting quite good, maybe next year we’ll put him in a ‘real league’ rather than Timbits (a low-competition, once a week league).
…Though that’s a 3x per week commitment from the parents and I’m not sure we’re up for that… I’m so confused by parents who manage to have their kids in things every night of the week. The top of my head would pop off. We barely keep everything running with the kids in piano and 6-weeks of soccer. I think the house would implode from the weight of laundry and sticky little boy grime if we took on more.
Random thought-memory. My instructor position is predicated on being a working artist, I’m not sure how strict they are on whether I could keep it if I quit. Hmmm, that will need to be figured in.
A friend has told me the school where I started my BFA (one of my favorite places in the world) is in the last stages of getting an MFA authorized. I’ve got two Master’s but because they aren’t MFAs I haven’t been successful getting art program jobs (there are other reasons like a discombobulated portfolio as well…) but I’ve been told that no MFA kills my chances regardless. SO…I’m thinking that when they open applications I might try that. It feels more than a little insane but I love teaching. I know that in the future I want that to be a big part of my work. So, if I want to get more employment, it’d have to be an MFA or an education degree. Either is at least two years. I could apply for an MFA in Calgary but the expense of living here and going to school is really prohibitive. Of course, how one pays for a degree without a job is a question for later. It was all so much simpler when I was in my 20’s without a fixed address or kids and with a student loan.
As always things ebb and flow and change on a dime.
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. 🙂
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.
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.“ (https://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.’
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?
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?!
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.