Art Tahsis: Artist Residency

by Claire Gaulin-Brown

In September I spent two weeks in Tahsis, British Columbia, for my very first artist residency! Tahsis is located on Vancouver Island, about 7 hours North west from Victoria. The town is very small, with a couple of hundred people, and is accessed by 60 K of unpaved logging roads. Thankfully for me and the trees, loggers in the area were on strike while I was there so I didn’t encounter any trucks on my slow drive into town.

The residency was overlooking a large ocean inlet, that is not very wide so it sort of looks like you are overlooking a lake. I often started my morning by walking down to the water’s edge and sketching some seaweed or bull kelp. The residency was very self directed, which means I could pretty much work on anything that I wanted. I didn’t come with a huge plan, since I wanted to open myself up to anything that caught my interest, whether that by walking around the forest to collect flora samples to sketch or just thinking about new ways of being. I will admit that I didn’t do nearly as much walking in the forest as I thought I would have, as cougars in the region are a very real thing and I just didn’t feel that good about being out alone.

While I was there I played around with ideas of different flora taking on a different ambiance, depending on where they were. I looked at plants in logging cut blocks and felt their sharpness, the feeling of being unwelcome. I then walked in forested areas, and felt the soft edges and welcoming angles of the same plants that filled the forest floor with their abundance and succulence. The difference? Cutblocks feel inherently harsh, unwelcoming, because of what they represent, not because of the end product. This was an idea that was sloshing around in my brain, that I tried to create a piece with, that unfortunately will not see the light of day, but the idea still intrigues me and I think is worth pursuing at another time.

I also planned on drawing whales while I was there. Even if I didn’t see any, it felt like a good moment to explore marine ideas, since I would technically be spending time by the ocean.Thankfully I was treated to the true inspiration. A few days into my time there, a Humpback Whale came into the inlet and spent several days in and around where I was. Surfacing once and a while, then spending long periods of time out of sight. The mornings were the most breathtaking, seeing and hearing the whale come up for air, creating mist over top of the totally quiet water. It was honestly heart stopping to watch. One morning I sat right at the water’s edge, and the whale surface just out from where I was. As soon as I saw its back, I was actually scared for a moment! There’s something kind of terrifying being so close to something SO large! The guys on the property talked about taking a small boat out some day and going swimming with goggles out to see underwater, while there is a whale in the area. The idea both terrifies and inspires. Maybe one day:)

From these experiences I made “Speculative View” featuring Humpback whales as the main stars. There is something hopeful about the painting, like a speculative future of unlogged hills, healthy marine life, and an unstoppable cycle that feeds into the other.Overall it was such a wonderful experience to spend time in a fairly remote location, with wonderfully kind people who care about nature in similar ways, and who solidified ideas of making things from scratch, cooking, growing, mending etc. That is inspiring in its own way that warrants its own blog post.

I hope to be able to go back at some point for another couple of weeks, and keep exploring. I learned the power of an artist residency, giving an artist time and space, and place, to think, experiment, fail, succeed etc. What a gift.