Kirsten Lee is a multi-disciplinary artist living in Wild, Wonderful West Virginia. This is her final installment in a 4-part series as Artist Strong’s Artist in Residence. You can enjoy more of her art over on Instagram @kleewv. Visit her website to explore artworks and ongoing projects at

Our painters’ group is all abuzz: twice a year they get a block of rooms at a resort in the woods. There’s no agenda, no schedule. Everyone works on their own project in their own media, focused but open to the cross-pollination of ideas. They set up a dedicated room (that someone else has cleaned!) with plenty of space to work. And best of all, somebody else plans and cooks the meals!

It spans just three days, and always close enough to get home in case of an emergency, which makes it far more doable than anything else I’ve looked into. For the first time since I joined the group, my brain starts buzzing too. Carrie’s digital residency has me wanting to go. I never would have even considered it before!

Why not? Farm logistics are a biggie. But I’ve had the idea that if I’m spending precious time and money, I need to have an idea worthy of it, the skill to pull it off, and just the right materials.

It gets even more warped: if I’m going to maximize it, I should spend every waking moment creating. Haven’t you thought the same thing? Why pay for access to a pool or forest trails? (Silly inner critic, even you know the magic happens in the down time!)

Come to think of it, my Friday Painters are kind of bite-sized residency. I have to keep the schedule clear, and race through the morning chores to keep 28 horses and their owners happy. I have to plan spontaneity-not entirely an oxymoron. I have to pack accordingly, and schlep it across town.

Each time it has gotten a little easier. Systems have evolved as I learn more about the needs of my work and my own quirks. I found a nifty collapsible cart at Goodwill that perfectly fits those 50%-off totes with organizational trays.  Even packing paints, brushes and substrates has become easy, intuitive and more comprehensive.


Once there, the space is open and inviting. Quiet conversation can turn to raucous laughter, or the near-silence of focused work. Materials, information and ideas flow and cross-pollinate. Messes sprawl across tables. 

… Has this been training for a residency all along?

As to the “worthy idea,” it always cracks me up the way people think creating art is so intuitive and free! Most have no idea how much thought and how many decisions come together to shape the final creation. How much work and failure you DON’T see in each gorgeous image. So much of art making is, in Twyla Tharp’s words from week 2, “entertaining the uncomfortable.”

Right now, I’m having a lot of fun with mixed media printmaking. When I’m playing inductively, it’s all intuitive fun, particularly with metallic paint or sparkly pan pastels! Don’t like it? Add more sparkles-I mean layers-or chuck it in the trash. It’s mostly cheap paint and repurposed paper anyway.

But when I try to think deductively to create a layered image I can see in my mind’s eye, I have to turn my brain on its head. What layers will end up where? What colors will end up popping or blending to mud? What marks will be a mirror image?  

One diploma boxed in my mother’s basement calls me a geologist. I think about the quieting sea softly, slowly laying down layers of sediment, marked with what will become beautiful fossils. Over millennia they rise up into glorious mountains, then erode into intricate patterns. Why can’t all my art making be that effortless?

The boundaries will blur though. With exploration and repetition, the thought process to create a preconceived image will evolve from onerous to instinctive. The art studio is no different than the gym. Put in the reps and the skill and strength will come.

Like packing the art cart and getting myself across town for a few hours with friendly, fantastic artists. A little easier each week, tweaking systems along the way. Creating from an outline, or chasing down a rabbit trail. Not much existential difference between crossing the county or crossing the state once the packing is done and plans are laid.

The timing doesn’t work for this year’s autumn retreat. But just you wait ’til spring! And until then, I encourage us both to find more bite-sized residencies in everyday life.

As to this digital residency, how can this be the last installment? As with inductive arting, each post has turned out very different than I planned! I hope you have recognized bits of yourself and your art in my ramblings, or thought or tried something new. I’d love to hear what resonates-or repulses!- in the comments.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.  I look forward to seeing where art takes you next!

Every month, 1-3 artists show up in our Artist Strong community to share their artistic process, journey, explorations with us over the course of a month.

The goal is to normalize the MANY, VARIED experiences of being an artist.

And if YOU  want to apply to be an Artist Strong Artist Resident, subscribe to our weekly updates to hear about the next time applications are open.

Hi there, Carrie here. I want to personally thank Kirsten for her truly honest insights into the process that is ART. Sometimes being honest with ourselves about the expectations and definitions of art we hold can be difficult. They can often be entirely subconscious!

To have an opportunity to hear from another creative reflecting on all of the different kinds of resistance and inner critic we can face trying to show up for our art is so very powerful. I hope Kirsten has inspired you as she has inspired me.