Monday, September 5, 2016

Residency recap

Spark Box Studio Picton, Ontario, Canada. Aug. 1-13, 2016

July 27: I leave for Canada having just completed three distinct exhibitions in Asheville, NC. I'm feeling ready to sow some seeds, experiment, and see what transpires. 

I stay in Toronto for five nights - fabulous city.

With travel restricting my material supply and knowing that I won't  have access to an art store during the residency, I must thoughtfully plan my materials list. At a store called DeSerres on Spadina Ave in Toronto I purchase:
• Set of 10 Golden Fluid Acrylics
• 1 tube Titanium White
• Small bottle of  DeSerres pouring medium
• 1  long-stem bright
• 1 small glue stick, 

• 1 hot pink marker 
• 36" x 60" un-stretched primed canvas

Materials packed in my suitcase from Asheville: assorted decorative papers, 30 sheets 8 x10 paper, 25 sheets 11” x 14” digital print cardstock, 1 almost-empty tube of sap green, small half-empty bottle of high-flow Nickel Azo Yellow and Quinachridone Nickel Azo Gold, 2 markers (green and purple), 4 short-handled brights, one liner brush, a black pen, a charcoal pencil.

Landscape by David Milne (1882-1953)
While in Toronto I visit the Art Gallery of Ontario where I see paintings by Canada’s Group of Seven and other Canadian painters such as David Milne. I am particularly struck by Milne's use of black and his pared-down landscapes. 

On Monday, August 1st, I take a bus to Belleville, Ontario where I'm greeted by Chrissy Poitras and Kyle Topping who are the founders of Spark Box Studio. 

As we drive to the residency my hosts explain that the area is in the midst of a drought having had no rain for several weeks. The roads are dusty and the fields are turning brown.



Spark Box Studio is located in rural Picton, Ontario in a farmhouse which is big enough to house three residents at a time. My studio is well-lit and clean with a good amount of wall space and tables. there is a separate print shop out back with an extensive library of books. The grounds are lovely and provide shade during the long, hot, mid-summer days. 


During the first couple days I work frenetically in the studio hashing out ideas that have been floating around in my head for awhile. I decide that I will work on paper until I have established some concrete ideas which I will then pursue on canvas.

The second night of the residency I take a long walk and almost get lost. The roads are long and flat. Everything looks the same and I can't figure out where I am. I don't  have my phone on me and the night gets dark quickly in Picton. I finally find my way home via the sunset. My neon blue sneakers have turned grey with dust.

Chinatown in Toronto

I spent a couple days experimenting with the backside of the primed canvas and also painting on the canvas while it’s flat on the table so the fluid paints puddle up in the rolls and ripples of the canvas. I like this method and will try it more in my studio at home.


Another new element I invite into my residency studio practice: black paint. I have always mixed my own black – rarely have I used black out of the tube and even less have I mixed black with other colors. Lately I’ve been wanting a more toned-down palette for representational work. I take inspiration from David Milne and his black landscapes.

On the third evening of the residency Chrissy takes us to a Lake Ontario "beach". The water levels are low. Surrounding wells have dried up and residents must drive to a water-filling station which provides filtered water from the lake.

I frequently take walks in the neighboring farmer’s field. By the fourth day I'm really beginning to feel a connection to the landscape and I decided that I will continue the residency using the surrounding environs as my inspiration.

The flat flat landscape and brutally hot days and nights are new to me. Shadows extend for great lengths when the sun disappears behind the flat horizon and the sky turns into streaks of hot orange pink on blue.

Farm Dump

There is a junk pile a couple miles from the residency site, at the end of a trail that winds around a golden field. I love the way it provides an abrupt visual within the flat landscape - particularly when the sunset is breaking over it. I make a painting of it and am pleased with the results. This painting captures an aesthetic I’ve been going for and the subject matter resonates with me. (Heaps, mounds and piles are not new to me.) I decide I will continue to find unsentimental spaces where man and nature converge – eg, dumps, industrial lots, etc… I start looking for these spaces during my walks.

I quickly use up the canvas I had acquired in Toronto so Chrissy lets me purchase a 36” x 60” piece of raw canvas. She doesn't have anything to prime the fabric so I spent a night rubbing my murky grey paint water into the fibers of the canvas on the floor of the studio. I enjoy how the paint water stains the canvas so I throw black and yellow paint onto the wet canvas, allowing it to bleed through the fibers. It’s mesmerizing to do this. I hang up the wet bolt of canvas and go to bed.

Next day the canvas is dry and I began staining it more, then add more paint and marks. I adhere a piece of paper to the canvas  and rub it into the fibers. I feel like a fiber artist and it is exhilarating. 

I'm somewhat overwhelmed by the possibilities – with the use of decorative papers it is endless what could be achieved. These are my first attempts with working paint into raw canvas. I will try more in the future. 

Toronto after a Storm

The Perseid meteor shower in the early hours of August 12 is amazing. I go out at 4:00 am and lay down on the picnic table. I count over 50 shooting stars before dawn arrives.

Nearing the end of the residency, I take stock of everything I have worked on: nine works on canvas, several on paper – a portrait each day…It’s been a good run. I think my favorite piece is the very last painting I make on my last scrap of canvas  - an A&W hamburger stand.  

I roll up the canvases and pack them into a cardboard cylinder for their journey to Asheville where they will get more attention in my studio.

Aug. 13: Rain cascades over Ontario as we drive to the Belleville train station. The drought is ending.

Many thanks to Chrissy and Kyle of Spark Box Studio for this fabulous journey.


  1. thank you for such a great account of your trip. Great paintings, and love your musing
    Miss you

  2. Thanks for sharing your journey with us. Inspiring. Now I want to go to Toronot and its envrons. Judith Yooung

    1. Hi Judith! Do it! Toronto is so easy to navigate and Ontario is lovely.

  3. What wonderful work, Ursula! A lovely blog! See you in class, Judith

  4. How wonderful to see your inspiring work. I am trading houses with an acquaintance from Cape Cod for three weeks. He and his wife are both professional artists nad I take great inspiration from just being here. So why aren't I painting?

    1. Maybe all that salt water in the air is motivating you to unwind and relax! Enjoy it :)

  5. Wow Ursula! Thank you for letting us see and experience your blog on the trip to
    Canada. What a wonderfully inspiring art journey for you!


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