The Enso Circle, developed by Michelle Belto and me, is a new concept in creative communities. It’s a virtual artists’ residency program, joined through application, and limited to twelve participants.
The Circle has definitely exceeded our hopes, both as a successful model for group dynamics and as a platform for encouraging individual artistic achievement.
Part of the appeal of The Enso Circle is that each individual artist sets an individual goal. It could be something specific, like creating twelve pieces of fiber art for an upcoming exhibition, or it could be something general such as learning more about encaustics and producing three exploratory works. Journaling is encouraged, but not required, and there is lots of lively 24/7 conversation in our Slack space.
A huge hunk of icing on the cake for me is what I’m learning as an artist as I work right alongside the Enso Residents on my own project, a series of encaustic collage works with historic photographs of child laborers from the early 20th century.
Here are three huge takeaways I’ve gleaned at this point in the term – they are not new ideas, but the “learning part” is how effective and important they are to getting art accomplished.
ONE: SET A GOAL – IT’S THE SETTING, NOT THE SPECIFIC GOAL
Just do it – write down a goal based on something you are already doing, something you have always wanted to do, something based on another artist’s intriguing techniques that you want to explore in your own style (yes, that’s OK). Two of our Residents have changed their goals since the started – they knew what felt right, so they adjusted. That’s OK, too.
My own goal was pretty specific: Working from dark to light in mixed media and encaustic photocollage pulling images from the dark of the past to the light of the present. In 1904, the National Child Labor Committee formed in the hopes of ending the horrors of child labor. One of these investigators was the photographer Lewis Hine, who traveled across the country meeting and photographing children working in a variety of industries.
I’ve never been a write-down-your-goal person before, but, boy does it help!!
Here’s one of my first experiments toward my goal:
This led to my panel idea (below).
TWO: MAKE A TIMELINE – REVIEW IT OFTEN AND HAVE A MIDPOINT
I wanted to be halfway this week. I had decided to make five panels, each with photographs of the children on black backgrounds. If that timeline didn’t exist, I probably would have thought “too busy” and just let the project lapse, but I felt a self-imposed obligation, thanks to the others in the Enso Circle who were all reporting on their own progress.
Here’s the halfway point – the screen panels have been finished and connected. I had to figure out the best way to connect the waxed panels, and ended up using strips of hand-dyed canvas. It worked great.
Next will come finishing the back with handwritten stories of each of the children pictured on the front . I’m still not sure what that will look like, but I’ll ask my fellow Residents what they think.
THREE: SHARE YOUR WORK – WARTS AND ALL
Even if you don’t belong to a structured community such as The Enso Circle, you can still do a “show and tell” with like-minded friends. Do it on a regular basis. Right now, it will probably be virtual through images shared on Instagram, email, or Facebook, but it won’t be long before we can gather again in small groups.
I have learned about the importance of talking about work in progress – it’s an authentic way to expose yourself to feedback. In the Circle, we use Slack, uploading pictures, asking questions, and making comments. So far, the sharing seems to be keeping us all on track.
Here’s how Katherine, one of our Resident Artists, put it:
It is unbelievably helpful to see other artists in action. To truly see the individual style, prep and steps along the way of each artist and their projects. To see successes and failures and the opportunities in the those too.
I will be putting together a mid-term catalog of Works in Progress from our Residents – stay tuned for that in the next week or so.
I hope my three takeaways from The Enso Circle help. You can do this for yourself, particularly if you are stuck and feeling kind of directionless.
Thanks for reading, and take good care.
“The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.” —Bill Copeland