It's not everyday you get to photograph the ragged cliffs of Iceland. But for Belle Carlson (C'19), that was her reality. As her junior year approached, her passion for her art led her to pursue a semester abroad in an artist–in–residence program, allowing her to focus her attention solely on her art. Between Finland, Iceland, and Burren College in Ireland, Carlson spent her fall semester focusing on a series of environmental portraits, each of which featured the unique geography of the respective countries. As an artist–in–residence, it is no surprise that her schedule differed very much from that of a typical Penn student.
The day starts early. Because “in many of the northern countries I studied in there wasn’t much daylight... I had to get up very early in the morning for shoots,” she says. To greet the sunrise and find the direction the grass blows, she works outside, capturing the red hues streaked above her.
After a morning out, Carlson spends her afternoons in the studio producing, editing, and critiquing her work and those of other artists. With all this time in the studio, she was able to "process and accept the mistakes that happened along the way," teaching her to become more accepting of the flaws in her art. Not anything like those afternoons spent in Van Pelt.
In the evenings, it's time for workshops, though sometimes they alternate throughout the day. Today it's to hone in on photography technique. Tomorrow it's a workshop focusing on the conceptual theory behind portraits.
Apart from working on her own art alongside peers, Carlson also had the opportunity to hear visiting artists from each of the countries speak to participants about their own creative processes. In this way, this residency changed not only her artistic technique, but also her entire relationship to her art and her environment. It allowed her to take in more of the people. In Finland, she noticed how introverted the culture was; in Iceland, how conversational and outgoing.
Her early starts do not grant her early nights. “I frequently would be up extremely late into the night printing my work because I’m a night owl and that time frame worked well for me,” she said. But it pays off. She's since submitted to a journal in Finland and plans on submitting to galleries in the States.
Regardless, the residencies are sure to strongly influence her senior thesis for her Fine Arts major. Whether or not you're an artsy person, there's no doubt Penn students can benefit from an artistic residence (whether that be as performers or as writers as well)—so long as they're self–motivated and comfortable being surrounded by people from ages 22 to 70. And waking up at dawn to catch the morning light.