Updated: Feb 15
Today I'll be sharing my experience of the artist residency at the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park and Zoo, along with a peek into my studio and art projects.
About the residency
The residency was located in the Bunkhouse, which was originally used for staff when the Forestry Farm first started. Eventually, the house was used for storage. In 2019, the City of Saskatoon launched the first residency program and completed renovations on the bunkhouse to make it a studio facility. The Bunkhouse has a total of 4 studios, a kitchen and a washroom. I was there from September 2020-April 2021, with three other wonderful artists Drew and Sammy (actors) and Julia Milon (watercolour artist). Each year different emerging artists are accepted into the program, ranging from visual artists, musicians, poets, etc. We were encouraged to create art inspired by our time at the SFFPZ, and then at the end of our residency, we had an art show and theatre performance.
My space was located on the second floor of the Bunkhouse. I had two windows overlooking the park, which was quite beautiful. I also had a second smaller room, which was dedicated to art storage. Typically, all of the studios would be used, with artists coming and going and guests would be invited to visit the space. Due to Covid 19, there were some changes, and only 3 spaces were used. My fellow artists and I had to schedule our times to be in the building at separate time slots. We could only access the studios from 10:00 am - 4:00 pm, which was when the zoo was open, but we had access 7 days a week.
When applying for the residency, I had to propose a project. The project I chose was to paint the animals at the zoo, which are endangered or at risk of being endangered. I chose to paint them in their natural habitats, not in their enclosures, to signify the importance of preserving their environments. I hope that this series encourages people to take action so that these animals and their habitats will be around for future generations to enjoy. I decided to donate 10% of each sale to the SFFPZ. The majority of the animals at the zoo are native to Western Canada, with the exception of some exotic species. I chose to focus on those who are native to Canada so that most local viewers would be able to recognize the animals and bring their own experiences to the artworks.
Learning About the Zoo
The more time I spent at the zoo, the more I learned about their values. I took tours with the staff to hear their stories and experiences working at the zoo and their relationships with the animals. The SFFPZ is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to fostering respect for nature through education. They have delivered over 500 education programs, all committed to helping people appreciate and respect nature. In 1976 a group called the Saskatoon Regional Zoological Society (SRZS) emerged. The aims of the SRZS were to ensure the animals held at the Zoo were cared for properly, to fundraise for better facilities at the Zoo, and to provide educational programming. Therefore, there are certain rules about how animals are treated. For example, each animal has regular vet check-ups, regular feeding schedules with proper nutrients, enclosures that need to be certain sizes depending on the animal, a safe space in their enclosure where the animals can be undisturbed by humans, and the staff have proper training ensure the animals are well cared for.
It was great to learn about the animals themselves. The animals are either born into the zoo or are removed from their natural habitat because their chances of survival have been compromised. Both grizzly bears have vision problems, and one is blind. Both of the bears’ mothers died when they were cubs, and one bear’s mom got hit by a train in B.C. so their chances of survival were quite low as orphans. They were taken into the zoo and cared for and now live together as young adults. The swift fox, whose name is Sparky, is quite shy and is scale trained for being weighed. He enjoys eating bones, eggs and mealworms. The swift fox was common in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, but vanished from the Canadian prairies in the 1930s. Today, the swift fox numbers are increasing in the wild.
My Artistic Process
My process was to first photograph the animals, which allows for a reference when I go back to the studio to paint them. I often will take photographs for representational art because having that reference is extremely helpful and acts as a road map so I don't get lost and frustrated. I spent the first two weeks of the residency getting high-quality photos of the animals.
Some of the animals are very shy, such as the swift fox and the owl. They hide at the back of their enclosures, often sleeping during the day, camouflaged in their surroundings. However, once I got the photos I needed, it was extremely satisfying.
I used a telephoto lens that allowed me to zoom in and see all the details of the animals. I also used a tripod to support the camera, as it’s quite heavy to hold on its own. Once I got all the photographs I needed, I sketched out the outlines of the animals on canvases. I used acrylic paints, working from the background to the foreground. I kept the backgrounds fairly minimal to help emphasize that the animals could be anywhere in their wild habitats.
Each painting takes at least 12 hours, not including the time it takes to photograph and plan out each piece. Once they are finished, I put a transparent matte varnish on top, to help preserve the quality of the paint. Next, I attached the hanging wire to the back of each piece for easy hanging and photograph the finished painting so that I can share them online and make prints.
Witnessing the beauty of the park
During my time at the residency, it was wonderful to witness the changing of the seasons. The landscape also inspired me to create a painting of the pond area. There is a pleasant meditation garden filled with diverse vegetation and it also has a variety of sculptures throughout the grounds.
The residency gave me some great media opportunities, such as interviews with CBC Radio, CTV Morning Live and SaskToday. Each interview was in a different format, such as a pre-recorded radio interview, a live on-site interview, and a written response newspaper article. I had a great time discussing my art and the Bunkhouse, and each host was pleasant and easy to work with.
Art Show & Theatre Performance
At the end of the residency, we put on an art show and theatre performance to celebrate all of our hard work and to share it with others. Our event was held outdoors at the gazebo at the SFFPZ, along with music and spoken word poetry. This event was extra special because it was my first in-person art show since the pandemic. It was great to see so many family members and friends on a sunny summer day.
After the residency
Moving forward, I continue to be inspired by the SFFPZ and the theme of raising awareness of endangered animals. I have expanded this series to include other animals and plants that are endangered or at risk of being endangered in Canada and Bolivia, where I have family connections. My Bachelor of Fine Arts graduating show also included this theme. Additionally, I have shared my residency artwork with my students, who have created their own drawings depicting animals and wildlife.
That's it for now! I'd love to hear your thoughts below in the comment section and feel free to check out my new Youtube channel! To stay in touch, sign up below for my artist newsletter. Thank you for reading, I'm so glad you're here.