Emma-Jayne Holmes- Helfa Gelf Sept 2018

North Wales has a month-long open studio weekends event for artists and craftspeople, called Helfa Gelf. During the month of September, artists open their own studios to the public at weekends or collaborate with other artists and open as a group at a venue and host demonstrations and talks from there. Helfa Gelf also provide training and networking opportunities for artists throughout the year and I have benefited from attending some of these. Courses range from writing an artists statement, social media, digital videos to dementia awareness and masterclasses from the group members and visiting artists.

I have opened my studio at home twice but opted not to this year as I am studying for an M.A. However I noticed an invitation from Helfa Gelf to apply for a residency at Stiwdio Maelor for September. 2 weeks accommodation, in exchange for providing an engaging participatory workshop for visitors to their open studio event and leaving a piece of work for Stiwdio Maelor to then sell.  2 weeks away from domesticity, in the heart of the Welsh countryside, just before I commenced my 2nd year M.A. course, I couldn’t not apply! I really wanted it.

On 28 August I moved in for my 2 week residency. My studio space was very generous. I had the whole attic space with a main studio space and separate bedroom. Initially, I was concerned that there was no window to look out, but skylights let in plenty of natural light and you can view outside if you choose to stand in the right place. In actual fact, this worked really well for me as it prevented me from getting distracted by fantastic views and allowed me to focus. The empty walls, 4 tables and space allowed me to spread out, see things I may otherwise have missed and pursue an uninterrupted train of thought. Not having the domesticity and timetable of family life allowed me to work late and lie-in (a luxury, which I only indulged in once, it was bliss).

The residency kicked off with a shared supper, attended by not only the resident artists but also other artists who were staying locally as the following day we all attended a Helfa Gelf workshop on “Collaboration”.  I spent a day with warm-hearted, generous and inspirational artists, connected with old friends and made some new ones. A great start to my residency experience at Maelor.

One of my objectives was to get out walking and sketching in the landscape. At Maelor it is all there on the doorstep. Maps or local walks and paths litter the bookshelf in the dining area. Any fears over getting lost were quashed ‘if you stand in Corris and look lost, don’t worry someone will come out and point you in the right direction!’ It is a very welcoming and friendly community who have adopted their flow of eccentric and inquisitive artists as part of their community. I hadn’t visited a pub regularly for some years, you don’t with a young family, but here it is virtually the living room for Stiwdio Maelor. Having worked away during the day we resident artists took to meeting at the end of the day and sharing stories. Complete with local conversations, dogs to climb over to get to the small bar and excellent local beers, it was a privilege to be part of.

On the second Saturday we were scheduled to open Stiwdio Maelor to the public. So on Friday evening and Saturday morning it was all hands to the pump as the resident artists cleaned and prepared the spaces. Putting up signage and flags, laying out work and even emptying one room of furniture to create an additional gallery room for Shropshire artist and regular resident artist, Linda Barlow. Visitors would have access to the main studio, an exhibition in the dining room and hallway and Linda’s exhibition in the writers room. I had laid work out on tables in my studio of the work I had produced during the residency so far and Susan had also done that in her studio. Our timetable was 11-5pm, Sketching walks hosted by me at 11-12 and 4-5, and the time in-between hosting mono-printing in the main studio, at 1 writer in resident Liz Corbett would read aloud from her novel and answer questions and following that Susan Calza an artist visiting from America, planned to show her videos and answer questions. Outside the rain poured down and my scheduled “Sketching Walks” got washed away!, we doubted whether anyone would turn up but stood ready to greet anyone braving the weather. To our surprise the door opened and a fellow M.A. student with his wife travelling from Castell Emlyn walked in and so started the steady flow that continued throughout the day. It was fortunate that there were four of us as at times we were all busy with visitors. We had artists considering applying for a residency who stayed for most of the day with their daughter and enjoyed the mono printing. Locals came in to listen to Liz read from her book and regulars to the neighbouring cafe called in to view the work and see what the buzz was. By 5pm we were all truly shattered and somewhat shocked by how busy we had been. As my studio was on the top floor and I was hosting the monoprinting on the ground floor I did my exercise for the day. We treated ourselves to supper out at the pub in the next village and giggled back in the dark. 

Sharing the space with other artists provided for culturally rich experience, shared walks and the ‘odd’ road trip out. I felt like I was learning so much from so many sources and also sorting out my ideas. Coming in from a day out sketching to be met with an offer of a cooked meal was heavenly.  Stiwdio Maelor gave me the physical and mental space to reflect, on the year, my personal life and my career. It provided a bubble from my current domesticity and gave me a rich stimulus to assist with my personal development. 

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