At the end of June, I traveled over to Warwick Furnace Farm, where I was invited by the dear Claire Rosen to participate in a week-long experiment. You see, Claire is this magical soul that invites people into her world and dreams up possibilities that are so delicious you must say yes. Her ideas are so delicious, in fact, and in-sync with my own that I would say yes to just about any of them.
So back in 2021, when we started talking about collaborating, I was on board. I didn’t even really know what I was on board for, exactly, but I have come to realize that I can be fairly flexible, malleable really and I jump at most any opportunity to work together with good people. We talked, we got a date on the calendar and it all seemed to fall into place in the most magical way.
I showed up on the farm at around 10am on Saturday, June 25 to first teach a workshop on cyanotypes which we cross-promoted and got a great response. We set up the hilltop with personalized boxes for each participant, strung up some twine from which to hang finished prints, and got ready to receive the 18 guests. It was hot, but it was so lovely. The group was kind and generous, curious and fun. It was such a pleasure to be with them. I concluded by cleaning up and sitting atop the lavender field, sipping lavender lemonade, just taking it all in.
I couldn’t really imagine a more perfect beginning to the week. After an incredible nap, like the nap of the century, I settled into the evening with the Rosen’s and a hilltop dinner where we enjoyed yummy treats that Charlotte got at the Bryn Mawr Farmer’s Market. I was tired but so happy.
Practically speaking, we choose one week. I am not sure exactly how we decided on that but it felt like a good amount of time. We thought we’d start with the workshop to get creative juices flowing but also so that I wasn’t thinking of teaching all week when I was there to do my own work. That worked perfectly.
I stayed with Claire in her fairyland home where I got to sleep among a few special creatures, wake each morning to the sun through lace curtains and the sounds of the farm gearing up for the day. I’d make coffee, walking my way over to the barn and into Claire’s studio. Without the responsibilities of home (I didn’t have a dog to walk or animals to feed, I didn’t have the day-to-day routines that divide the day), I had nothing to break up the hours between wake and sleep. Without the routine, I felt free to follow the creative flow — sometimes into the evenings or early in the morning. Cyanotypes, needing the UV light, I am generally under the spell of the noonday sun. It makes creating fairly routine but the other parts of my creative process like writing, dreaming, reading, recording, foraging and pressing got to float around the day in their own way. This freedom was the first of many magical things that the week provided.
The thing that was the most delicious (and most surprising) was the farm community into which I just got folded and stirred. Being adopted by the farm is a great gift. The Rosen’s do this effortlessly. I felt like part of the family in just a few days and by the end, I didn’t want to leave. With the farm comes people and conversation about everything from farming practices to business strategy. We talked wholesale one minute and what it means to be human the next. We shared people to follow on social media and talked about grief and friendship. These conversations did more for my creative spirit than I had considered.
I spent the week foraging plants, building a space upon which I could create the piece that I had been dreaming up for over a year, and thinking through the exhibition that will be on September 9 on the farm. I created lots of fabulous work over the week. Some of it didn’t turn out too great, others good but not great, some terrific – like this huge piece! But the thoughts I had while creating and the hands I had helping me filled my work with great love (and this means more to me than anything.)
Someone asked on Instagram how something like a week-long artist residency is “profitable for your business” – I thought about this question so much over the week. Being an artist isn’t about immediate gratification. It isn’t about quick money. But, in my opinion, it is about showing up consistently so people know you are there and that your work continues to flow from you and out into the world. The only way to keep at it is to regularly fill yourself up in whatever ways recharge and ignite your flame to create. In this way, this week was the most profitable thing I could have done for my business. It lit a fire inside of me and you all noticed and you felt it too. When my work is born out of this place of wonder and magic, it is my best work. When we do our best work, people look more closely. It is a beautiful cycle that is the core of this creative life. I think every creative, every artist, every musician, dancer, poet, and chef needs to invest time or money to fill their cup. So in the long term, it is profitable. The week helped to keep my practice at the center and my career moving forward.
My week ended with the largest piece I have created to date, piles of cyanotypes including the last few of my 100 Day Project, a name for my exhibit (Lost in the Lavender) and new friends that feel like old ones. On the afternoon of July 1, Claire drove me home, the truck-bed loaded full of all the stuff I had to create, and we said goodbye. It felt completely surreal to be home. What a week. It feels like a dream.
Photos by Claire Rosen and Sarah Bourne Rafferty
Workshops + Retreats