Weir Farm Artist-in-Residence Project: Documenting Spaces During Times of Transition

“I choose the rooms that I live in with care.” In this song, Leonard Cohen describes a simple space: small windows, a bed, and bare walls. These plain words do well to describe the narrator’s state of mind. 

This I’ve always felt: that our environment has the power to both represent our frame of mind and to influence it. As a kid, I constantly redecorated my room and in college, my original major was Interior Design. Not surprisingly, interior spaces have become a subject of my paintings.

Documenting spaces during times of transition, in a simple sense, creates a record of the times. This project began with a move from one house to another, then continued to a month-long artist residency, and finished with paintings of quarantine. Through all these transitions I painted my rooms, views out windows, and the world outside. Recording the environment over time can show nuanced fads, national trends, and, if completed by the same artist, subtle shifts in mood. 

My intention for this video/blog began as a substitute for the Weir Farm residency’s in-person artist talk, which was canceled due to covid. But on the whole, it’s become a vehicle to process these past two years and the paintings related to it. 

Beginnings: The Move that Sparked this Project

The desire to document the spaces around me began in earnest in January 2019 as I prepared to move.  Painting the rooms and corners that invoked great memories was a way to create a record of our home of seven years. I tried taking pictures, but my camera could not pick up the space the way I imagined them. 

Living Room Coats 5x3.5 inches acrylic on bristol 2019

So, I set my pochade painting box, normally used for travel outdoor painting, in various rooms. In Coat Rack in the Living Room, the coats changed daily but the rack mounted to the wall and the cozy wool blanket draped on our couch were constants. I aimed to capture a moment I experienced while sitting in our living room, often listening to music while my family and I read and chatted. In the same manner, the angles from the books, artwork, and furniture played with the light from the lamp in the acrylic painting Living Room on Walnut. The view from this vantage point invoked the feeling of a cozy place to listen to music and wait for a friendly visitor. 

Living Room on Walnut 8x8 inches acrylic on ampersand board 2019

In Kitchen Serene, the light illuminates the varying shapes of the dishwasher, windows, table, and door. This scene reminds me of the morning coffee and light snacks with my family. I painted these rooms in one sitting and realized immediately that I had captured the spaces meaningfully and as I remembered them.

Kitchen Serene 6x8 inches acrylic on claybord 2019

Days after a rushed move, I painted a few small interior scenes of my new studio. The room was like a gem to me, and yet it did not feel like home. I knew, as a student of Reggio Emilia education philosophy, that the environment is like a third teacher. Since my studio is my workspace, I unpacked with the intention to keep my supplies easily accessible in an open, clean space. 

Unpacking Studio 5x3.5 inches acrylic on bristol 2019

My studio had gleaming white painted floors, and knowing I would have to cover it with a rather large rug, I wanted to capture a move-in moment.  All of my work, as well as untouched canvases, were stacked against the edges of the room. I loved the play of the white bookcase, the leaning canvases and frames, and the painted hardwood floors meeting the carpet leading to the stairwell. There was a feeling of endless possibilities. I sat down and painted this tiny still-life interior, Unpacking Studio.

Chair in Studio 5x3.5 inches acrylic on brisol 2019

After arranging my furniture, I drank a cup of tea. I got up and noticed the repeating rectangles on the pillows, the curves of the furniture echoing the painting above, and the cool muted colors. I captured Chair in Studio for its simplicity of a refreshing moment.

Weir Farm Art Residency

In the Spring of 2019, I applied to Weir Farm Artist Residency. By this time newspapers had been reporting for years about ratcheting tensions and political divisions in our country. I decided to apply with a proposal linked to this divisive climate. 

Portrait of J. Alden Weir, as photographed in the Weir House

Each year, Weir Farm Art Alliance accepts applications for monthly residencies. Artists live in the cottage and create a body of work in the Artist Residence studio. Weir Farm is a National Park in Connecticut set among rolling hills, a small wood, and a rippling creek. It includes, among other buildings, the house and studio of Julien Allen Weir, a realist painter from the 1900s, his daughter Dorethy’s studio, and the studio of sculptor Mahonri Young, Weir’s son- in-law. 

The proposal I submitted with my application aimed to capture a National Park leading up to the election. In my proposal I state:

My work focuses on objects in space and describes how things interact with the living. In uncertain times, I find comfort in representing the world realistically. The polarized narratives that fuel debates leave marks and tensions in rooms and houses. I paint interior scenes and still-lifes that hint at or partially include, the people that inhabit them.

The social and political climate is unclear, but I would continue to channel stability by representing the world in realistic paintings if I’m chosen. I work primarily from life, and for this residency, I will create various smaller alla prima oil paintings from life, sizes ranging from 6x6 to 10x10 inches, and then use these paintings and sketches, along with photographs I’ve taken, to create larger paintings ranging in size 12x16 to 30x30 inches. Compositions are assembled through sketches and journaling in my studio. I would like to document the effect of people on spaces, and in the end, my work would represent a unique time: the lead up to a tumultuous national election. 

Weir Cottage, my home while an artist-in-residence

Weir Studio, my workspace

Working in the studio

I was delighted to be selected as the March 2020 resident artist. As the residency approached, I wanted to practice painting from life, so I drew and painted my rooms. 

Out Kitchen Window 12x9 inches acrylic on bristol 2020

Out the Kitchen Window was painted from life while listening to the impeachment hearing in January 2020. I found myself looking out the window while I listened to the live feed and decided at that moment to bring my pochade painting box down. I captured the morning light reflecting on the branches, house next door, and potted plants on my windowsill in one sitting.

Sill and Painting in Studio 8x8 inches pencil on tinted Strathmore 2020

For Sill and Painting in Studio, right angles, a simplified painting, and a tiny plant resting on my studio window sill are rendered minimally and with slight variation in value. A quiet moment of time set aside for reflection.

Bananas in Kitchen 12x9 inches acrylic on bristol 2020

In Bananas in the Kitchen, ultramarine blue storage jars step down the painting in a jagged diagonal. Bananas sit on the reflected surface next to a teacup as the light shines from the left, leaving a large shadow on the wall behind the sugar bowl. This simple arrangement of a tidy kitchen is sparse and orderly, a desire during a hectic time.

Alla Prima Cottage 10x8 inches oil on canvas 2020

On March 2, my first day at Weir Farm, I painted Weir Cottage to get acclimated to my new environment. This alla prima oil painting shows the cottage where I would be sleeping. During Weir’s time, this old cottage used to house the groundskeeper and his family of eight children. Architectural designers today focus on the power of interior space on mental health. This two-bedroom residence was built with a focus on functionality.

Weir Creek Plein Air 6x6 inches oil on ampersand board 2020

On a brisk, windy morning, I completed Plein Air Creek. The frog croaks were deafening even though the temperature was in the 40s. I set my pochade box up and quickly sketched out the rocks, orange leaves, and blue sky reflecting on the creek. It was way too cold to stay there very long so I couldn’t rework the transitional areas or add nuanced details. The leaves became an orange bank that ran across the board. Later that day in my studio, I brought up on my phone a photograph I had taken of the creek. The left section of Weir Peeper Frog is the landscape, the top right is my phone as I saw it for the reference image, and below that is a spring peeper frog.

Spring Peeper Frog 12x16 inches oil on arches oil paper 2020

I continued to explore Weir Farm with more preparatory paintings. In Sky Above Cottage Kitchen, the homey kitchen was both my place for meals and a desk where I did the majority of my writing and planning. I used a portion of an earlier sunset painting on paper, taped the top half off, and added a scene of the kitchen below. The light out the window was much brighter than the yellow walls and the bands of dark clouds streaked across the light sky. 

Sky Above Cottage Kitchen 12x12 inches acrylic on arches 2020

Later, I photographed the grounds with my Nikon camera. The project idea was starting to take shape. I sketched in my journal the plan for ten paintings based on my photos and observations. I started most of the paintings in the Weir Studio, but on March 12 the growing threat of a coronavirus pandemic increased and it became dangerous to stay. Connecticut had its first case of coronavirus and Governor Lamont threatened a state quarantine. With my paintings packed, I left for NJ.

A pencil sketch of supplies stacked next to the Weir studio door.

Thankfully, everyone I knew was safe, and the project I had planned offered an escape. The world seemed to reel in fear and uncertainty, but I went to my studio. I donated my N95 masks and gloves I use in the studio to a local hospital and set to work. 

Home studio

Weir work-in-progress still-life on my easel

The value underpaintings for the three large scale landscapes were started in Weir studio. Windy Weir Porch was started on location and completed in my home studio. The blurry and washed out reference photo I took at sunset captured the Weir House porch and side yard. Pink and yellow hues take the place of the red paint, and the light blue sky appears to bend and disappear between snaking trees.

Windy Weir Porch 22.5x30 inches acrylic on strathmore 2020

In Weir Barn Entrance, no.1 the sun sets on a cloudless day and leafless trees line the sky and barn. The warm March sunlight hits the fence and the dark stain of the barn recedes to reveal warm, light orange. The branches of the tree in front of the barn shift and slither.

Weir Barn no.1 22.5x30 inches acrylic on strathmore 2020

In Reflection, Cottage Studio, the last moments of sunlight reflected off the four window panes of the Weir House. Angles skewed due to the settling of old glass. The reflection showed a cottage bathed in the warm light of sunset. The iron bars divided the deep violet sky into four, and then further into long, pointed arches. Completing these large paintings on paper in my home studio instead of the airy residency studio was more of a challenge since my home studio lacked the large wall to tack the paper. 

Reflected Cottage 30x22.5 inches acrylic on strathmore 2020

Beginnings of Reflected Studio in Weir Studio

Reflected Cottage in my home studio

I captured the grounds of Weir Farms during all weather and times of day, but the angles that played on the buildings at sunset were most appealing. In the acrylic painting Weir Barn no.2, the first of three landscapes painted entirely in my home studio, the light blue sky mixes with the orangish-bronze wood barn. The old wooden fence and loosely articulated branches fill the top and bottom of the right half, drawing attention to the large area leading to the entrance of the barn.

Weir Barn no.2 9x12 inches acrylic on ampersand board 2020

In Dusk Down Nob Hill, the landscape is dominated by the dark band of trees and light ochre swaths of land. The real attention grabber is the red tail lights and street signs shifting in the dim light of dusk. Warning! Watch out for curved roads ahead.

Dusk Down Nob Hill Road 9.5x11.5 inches oil on board 2020

For a change of subject, I painted a still-life with objects from within the Weir house next to my coffee cup, pour-over, and a brochure of the newly created 2020 Weir Farm quarter. The objects added from the house are a 1940s America First book, German stained glass, and an Indian ceramic tile. These are assembled next to a black and white photograph of Anna Barker Weir in a gold frame in front of the living room striped wallpaper. This painting reminds me of our times. It shows a desire to keep America-centric while at the same time acquiring value from exotic lands.

At Weir studio

My last painting completed for the residency project is a slightly acidic landscape. Young Studio shows the sun casting shadows over the Weir Farm environment, devoid of people. The contrast between lights and darks are muted, like an acrid screen separating the viewer from the scene.

Young Studio on my easel, still a work in progress


As I completed the Weir paintings at home, I made time for other artwork. Quarantine brought anxiety and hardship but also the opportunity to connect with others. An Instagram challenge helped guide my work back to my present environment. The themes set by realist painter Felicia Forte were simple and open-ended, the perfect inspiration for an artist. Each week in April and May, Felicia posted one-word nouns as a prompt for artists to interpret. These prompts set the parameter and allowed artists, dealing with the same stay-at-home orders, to express themselves communally. I drew and painted a few of these prompts then posted them with the tag #forteQchallenge. 

Shoes in Times of Quarantine 8x8 inches charcoal and acrylic on tinted Strathmore 2020

Morning light is always pleasant, particularly when there’s no rush to run out the door each day. In this drawing, Shoes in the Time of Quarantine, I captured a moment that recurred for months at all times of the day: slippers connecting.

In Dotted Socks, an unconventional subject, my polka dot socks, are rolled and placed on two sheets of paper. The sunlight shines like a beam to create a topsy turvy composition, exemplifying the bizarre feeling of early quarantine. Mixing acrylic paint and charcoal softened shadows that receded into darkness.

Dotted Socks 8x8 inches charcoal and acrylic on tinted Strathmore 2020

For the last painting in this Instagram challenge, Self-Portrait During Quarantine, I used oil paint on an ampersand board. In the corner of my studio, there are two mirrors on a hutch. The large oval mirror reflects the ceiling and wall. In addition, my simplified portrait reflects out from the rectangular mirror in the center of the painting. Pictures are hung, a coffee cup rests, and my jacket is draped on a chair. The wall moves with jagged brushstrokes and subtle shifts of color. This stationary moment is full of potential action.

Self-Portrait During Quarantine 6x6 inches oil on ampersand board 2020

Also during this time the shared zoom room became an ubiquitous feature of socializing. Like every other school, my French class at L’Alliance Francaise had moved from in-person classes to zoom. I painted a farewell gift for my French teacher that included rectangle portraits on a black background. The light of the screen reflected off the students’ glasses in cool blue rectangles. Laptop lenses angled upward causing door jams and picture frames to jut out to varying degrees. 

To sum up, I began this project by documenting the spaces I loved. Familiar rooms brought love and laughter, conflict and reconciliation. Those rooms weren’t simply reduced to angles, color and light. The time spent was special. I looked intensely to capture the essence. As time passed and the world closed down from coronavirus, my rooms and the objects within them became my walls. No matter what objects or compositions I created I found myself reflecting the intimate moments of time alone. Originally, I thought the Weir Farm National Park Art Residency would offer me the time and space to reflect, to read, to listen, to write and, ultimately, to paint a body of work. But that residency was cut short. In a way, I was offered extended time to complete the project in my home studio as my job was put on hold and social life halted. Now that this project is complete, I look to my next.

Future Project 

For my next project, I’m interested in moving beyond interiors and their facade to the land. There is a battle raging in my home state of New Jersey, like in the rest of the country, between renewable energy and fossil fuels. Pipelines are being dug in protected NJ state forests, wind turbines are being constructed along the coast, and solar farms are covering lands where there were once family farms. The issues are complex. Even so, I will document my backyard, so to speak, as we enter a new phase of this energy war and we experience the effects of climate change. To start, I’ll review historical photos and photos I have taken on location; travel and paint plein air paintings, and hopefully include portraits of people who are most involved. I hope you’ll follow along on this next journey.

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