Chateau Orquevaux

collaboration, creativity, inspiration, process, Residency

Day One

Three weeks after returning from France, I’m finally sitting down to reflect on this residency experience and the profound impact it has made on my art practice and my life.

I spent the month of September at Chateau Orquevaux in France with 17 other artists. We’re writers, painters, collage artists, photographers, builders and makers from Iran, India, Ukraine, Russia, El Salvador, Canada, and the US. All but 2 were there for the full 4 weeks. The setting was sublime.  Every resident had a private room and private studio.  Just imagine waking up to this view every morning!

View from my bed(!!!)

View from my bed (!!!)


I lucked out by also having an en suite bathroom (shhh!!) and a private bath. And here’s the kicker ~ all meals were provided. There was never a shortage of food. Or wine. Or coffee…

Classically trained Chef Marie brings the joy every single night, providing numerous menu options to accommodate everyone’s dietary needs.


Especially as a mom, having all my needs met, having nowhere else and no one else I needed to be, nothing else I needed to be doing but diving deep and creatively exploring was life changing. 

The Stables. My studio = carriage doors on the left.

My studio was in the stables, just down the driveway from the Chateau. As someone with a home studio, this ritual of walking to my work space was new to me. I came to appreciate this short commute between where I live and where I create. This distance gave me the privacy I needed to release the pressure valve and finally explore matters I’d been avoiding. With no to-do lists cluttering my mind, my journal pages were filling with hopes, dreams, and fears that needed a wide expanse of time and space to surface. 

Then, with my heart wide open and vulnerable, I would head into the studio. Instead of listening to podcasts, as per usual, I listened to music. Following a tip from my writer friend Jonathon, when I found a song that resonated with the emotional space I was in (or wanted to be in), I added it to my ChateauO playlist and put it on repeat. And wow, did that open doors I wasn’t ready for. My thinky brain was no longer in command of my creative process. All I could do was paint my way through my feelings…which was one of my creative goals.

Rise & Shine, Acrylic & oil on 30″x 40″ linen canvas.


At this point, I could write about the work I made, the breakthrough pieces, my choice of medium and materials. And maybe I will in another post. But here’s the honest truth. I was ready to show up and make a lot of work. I was prepared to push myself to go deeper. I was looking forward to luxe accommodations and exploring the grounds and the town.

But what blindsided me was the degree to which I would fall in love with my fellow residents. After 2+ years of being an isolated pod person, I felt socially awkward and dreaded having to engage with strangers for 4 weeks. Luckily from what I could tell, socializing was limited to dinners and sporadic evening events.

Chateau Orquevaux ~ September 2022 Residents

I never imagined a gathering of such talented, brilliant, wickedly funny people. We laughed, danced, sang, cried, explored, told stories, bore witness, made art, played dress up, took chances, and bared our souls. My final Instagram reel contains no images of the mountains of art we made. Just photos of people falling in love, making memories that will last a lifetime.  All in the span of 28 days.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by eliaichi kimaro (@elikimaro)

 

Residency Goals

creativity, inspiration, Narrative, process, Residency, Story

I have the good fortune of spending the month of September at an international artist residency in the Champagne region in France. Chateau Orquevaux offers 2- and 4- week residencies to artists of all disciplines from around the world. This will be my first experience at an international residency.

As I close down my studio and pack my bags, I have a few goals in mind:

1. I will leave my oil and encaustic paints at home, and instead travel with acrylic paints, charcoal, ink, watercolor, crayons. And I want to work on paper so that I can pack all my work in my backpack and suitcases when I come home. Travel light. Keep it simple.

2. When COVID shut the world down, I took advantage of the increased access I had to teachers/mentors. When they went online with their course offerings, I was right there, ready to soak up their teachings. So the past 2 years for me has been a period of intensive learning about color, value, design, texture, best studio practices ~ just arming myself with knowledge to expand and deepen my ability to paint and see.

But the more I learned, the harder it became to paint instinctively. My brain became a bully, taking command of the creative process. All my choices became conscious, calculated decisions. I was thrilled to discover that I could apply what I know to resolve my painting at any stage ~ especially those early stages with fresh, energetic marks. The flipside was that I grew precious about my work, fearful about letting go and trusting that something better would emerge. As a result, my paintings ~ which used to be 20-30 layers deep ~ became very surface and shallow.

So my goal now is to find my way back to how I used to paint. I need to trust that all my learning is there and accessible if/when I need it. But I don’t want to lead with my head any more. I want to return to using my gut as my guide to painting my truth.

Belonging ~ Origin Story

creativity, Narrative, Origin story, process, Works In Progress

Belonging (2021)
Collaged transcripts, oil & cold wax medium on wood panel
36″x 60″

The daily writing practice I started when I was 7 has become the creative cornerstone of my life. Writing makes my subconscious conscious—it is my key to mining the stories I’ve inherited about who I am and where I come from. Then I head into my studio to make sense of what I have just unearthed. The act of creating shows me where I stand in the flow between cultural inheritance and legacy.

Family stories form the foundation of this painting…

June 28, 2021: A new piece has me burrowing back in to the family stories I collected for my film, A Lot Like You. I’m cutting up transcripts of stories told to me by my family on Mt. Kilimanjaro, and gluing them onto a 36″x60″ wood panel. Even in paper form, my Aunts’ stories are arresting. What a gift that time was. 17 years later, I’m still feeling the ripple effects of our conversation in the hut. (I tell the story of our time together in my 2016 TEDxSeattle talk, Why the World Needs Your Story.)

June 28, 2021 (end of day): Record breaking 110° in the studio today. Foundation laid. 15 square feet of transcripts. Calling it a day. Going to melt into a G&T!

July 13, 2021: Laying down some warm tones over the collaged transcripts ~ the first of many layers to come. I expect this painting to be a slow and steady build over the coming weeks.

July 14, 2021: Next layer on the 36″x60″ transcript painting…

July 19, 2021: Can’t stop laughing at this guy! No time to paint the last 4 days, so my starting layers totally dried. Time to start again. It’s way too early to be precious about any of this. So I get to start the day scribbling, doodling, writing, painting with colors I don’t usually use to reactivate the surface. Getting this piece from 0 to 60 so I can cruise into the week ahead…

Lost In Composition – interview

Activism, collaboration, creativity, family, Film, Narrative, Origin story, process, Story

I’m so grateful to art collector Paul Drinkwine for inviting me to partake in his project, Lost In Composition, “an art blog focusing on living artists and their works.” What a gift, to have this growing record of folks making art in our region at this moment in time.

Our conversation covered a 30 year span ~ starting with my activism, then moving through my work in film, photography, parenting, and finally visual art. What a rare treat to have this much time and space to reflect on my life and creative journey!

Paul created this dedicated page for our conversation which includes his reflections, images of work we discussed, and links to other artists mentioned in our conversation.

I look forward to seeing who he selects for future episodes…

 

 

Winter/Spring Art News…

Art For Sale, collaboration, creativity, education, Exhibition, Gallery, inspiration, Narrative, Origin story, process, Speaking, Story

Just published my Newsletter with updates on 1) creative collaborations with filmmakers, authors, musicians & chefs, 2) my foray into teaching, and 3) shows in venues around town.

You can click the Subscribe button at the top of the page if you would like receive my newsletters (I send out 2-3 a year).

Composing a Life” – Acrylic mixed media on 24″x 24″ wood shipping panel.

 

Speaker ~ Pricing Your Artwork webinar

Art For Sale, collaboration, process, Speaking, Story

Online Conversation with Eliaichi Kimaro & Shalene Valenzuela
Wednesday, March 9, 6-7pm PST

 

FREE with Advance Registration: https://us06web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAod-Gvrz0rGNATDbbx2- JD1pXhLE-Y7hWQ 


Mini Confabs & MAC Speaks Series: Conversations BY artists FOR artists. The Robert B. McMillen Foundation in collaboration with Gallery One and Allied Arts of Whatcom County are hosting conversation, skillbuilding and networking opportunities FOR artists BY artists.


Do you struggle with pricing your work? Set the price too low and you could leave money on the table, set the price too high and your artwork could start stacking up in your studio. How do you find the sweet spot that ensures you are getting paid fairly for your work? How do you deal with gallery commissions vs direct sales out of your studio, and what about reproductions? It looks different for each artist. Join us for a conversation and hear how two artists tackle this topic!

. . . . .

UPCOMING SPEAKERS:
  • Friday, March 25th – 6:30-8pm PST via Zoom
    Demo/Artmaking
    Mask Making with Jen Angaiak Wood
  • Thursday, April 21st – 7-8:30pm PST via Zoom
    Teatime with Timea Tihanyi
    Conversation topic: Object Permanence: Craft in the Digital Age

Memorial Day (Commission) – Origin Story

collaboration, creativity, inspiration, Narrative, Origin story, process, Story, Works In Progress
This Spring, I received a captivating commission request. Chris Weber and Jack Gingrich were long-time employees and soon-to-be co-owners of The Herbfarm, a restaurant that creates thematic 9-course dinners showcasing the exceptional seasonal food and wines of the Pacific Northwest.

In his initial email, Chris shared The Herbfarm’s compelling origin story. Theirs is an inter-generational story of hope, ambition, success, tragedy, resilience, and grace. At its essence, this painting would be about inheritance and legacy ~ my creative core. As I read it, I could clearly see how every layer of this painting could correspond to a chapter in The Herbfarm’s life.


On our site visit, a few more things came into focus. The decor of the restaurant is formal Victorian, which is not in my artistic wheelhouse. Having an abstract piece was going to be a departure, so I wanted to keep it simple, organic and elegant. I wanted the painting to feel like a weathered, textured rock face you might encounter on a hike. Against the dark walls, this statement piece would be mostly white and monochromatic. We decided on a diptych with a circle connecting the two halves, but wanted to make sure the two halves could also stand on their own. And mimicking the restaurant’s palette, I limited my paint palette to natural, earth-based pigments ~ ochres, umbers, saffron, indigo… 

 

The following process photos show the evolution of this painting. The captions are pulled from Chris’s initial email…but you can find a beautiful rendition of The Herbfarm’s history on their website.

The original owners, Carrie Van Dyck and Ron Zimmerman, started this restaurant in a plant nursery; Memorial Day 1986. 

 

 
It was built from the ground up…

 

The restaurant flourished…

 
…receiving national recognition and a dedicated cult following within a decade. 

 

 

 

Origin Story – “Where Justice Meets Joy”

creativity, Origin story, process, Story, Works In Progress

This piece taught me about the role of art in my life, which I wrote about here. But I wanted to assemble the origin story of this painting. So here’s a look back at the rather challenging evolution of this painting.

. . . . . . . .

2/14/2020: New day, new words, new piece. The words inscribed on this piece is the following quote from John O’Donohue: “Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go, but more important it will teach you a kindness of rhythm in your journey.”

2/14/2020 End of Day: This metro map of my hometown will be coursing thru the painting like veins just below the surface. #Rockville #RedLine

2/20/20: I seem to have painted myself into a corner. By the end of the day, the painting was feeling too tight and controlled.

3/2/20: …and now for something Completely Different. The metro piece has taken a turn as I play with perspective and purples for a change.💜

Point of Process

#NoPanelLeftBehind, Art, creativity, inspiration, Narrative, process, Story, Works In Progress

I’ve recently become aware that I need to refine how I talk about my creative process. My process is largely iterative ~ far from linear. I love repurposing old paintings, building upon the history that is already there. I’m happy to abandon ideas of where I was trying to steer my painting, and open myself up to where it wants to go.

But in the midst of these bold 180s, one can miss the fact that there is a method to the madness. Every layer is deliberate and serves a purpose. Every layer is infused with intention. And this intention, whether it can be seen in the final piece or just felt, can be sensed by the viewer when they stand in front of the finished painting.


For example, here are four starts to four separate pieces:

• A meditation on contemplative imagination (and the ways that our art can amplify our activism).

• 2 collaged panels of transcribed interviews with my family/Chagga tribal elders.

• And images of notable milestones in my life.

Even though my approach might seem intuitive and loose, rest assured, it is not random or mindless. Every layer serves a purpose and informs the final piece, even if they lie deeply embedded beneath the surface…🤓

10 years ago today…

creativity, family, Film, inspiration, Narrative, process, Story

#TBT2011 10 years ago today, I had the thrill of seeing myself, my family, my film through a stranger’s eyes. Lindy West (who later authored Shrill, The Witches Are Coming, and most recently Shit, Actually) wrote the first ever review of my film. By the end of it, I was crying. Up until that moment, I had no idea whether my film would resonate or connect with anyone outside my circle of friends and family. Mostly because I had been told by funders and distributors for 8 years that no one would care. I was an unknown. There was no one famous in my film. It took place in “Africa. Who could relate to this? Why should anyone care about the stories of these people? What makes you think your story matters to anyone but you?” It was a relentless torrent of unequivocal No’s.

So after hearing (but not believing) that my personal story was unrelatable, the power of seeing my film reflected back at me in Lindy’s words knocked the wind out of me.  She got it.  She got all of it. She offered insights into my family and my story that I hadn’t even made. I felt seen and validated.

I cannot overstate the power of this moment.  Reading Lindy’s words erased the years of rejection, and set me on a new course.  I stood taller. I breathed deeper. I stopped seeking the permission or approval of traditional gatekeepers, hoping they could pave the way for my film. I carved out my own path instead, and my film’s life span has exceeded all expectations.

My take away, from both my film and experiencing Lindy’s review ~
Never underestimate the power of bearing witness to another person’s story.🖤