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AIR - Reflections on my Artist in Residency at Jen Tough Gallery

My first artist in residency has been an amazing experience. It is a definite highlight of my short, 6 year artist journey so far. My residency was productive, fun, and exciting. I learned a lot by experimenting with new media, meeting new people and turning all of it into art.

Gallery wall with five paintings at Jen Tough AIR studios
My art at Jen Tough AIR Studios

We decided to drive to Santa Fe and bring a set of paintings. It definitely was a long drive from the Bay Area to Santa Fe. It is well worth the time, as the landscapes and colors we saw as we drove from sunrise to sunset were ethereal. I was nervous because I didn’t know what to expect nor have any idea what to create. But Santa Fe and its magical landscape and light just provides so much inspiration. The sky around Santa Fe has amazing colors during dusk making me marvel as I drive back to my temporary home away from home.

An impression of the AIR Studios in Santa Fe with an Aspen tree
AIR Studios with it's Aspen Tree
I listen to the “Tough on Art” Podcast whenever I am working in my home studio. So it was exciting to meet Jen Tough in person. It was quite interesting to talk to her in person as it sometimes felt like I was in an interactive podcast. So fun!

After getting a tour and other essential information for our stay, I was eager to get settled in the Sunflower Studio. First order of business, putting up the paintings we brought.

Picture of a gallery and studio with paintings
My art and workspace in the Sunflower Studio

With that done, I was off to figuring out what I am going to create during my stay. This was going to be different as I was presented with a challenge. Since oil paints are not allowed in the studios I had to try new mediums. Luckily Jen suggested oil sticks as they are the closest to oil paint, just less toxic.

So I came with an open mind. Experiment, explore, and learn new things using my oil pastels, acrylic paints and of course my new toys - oil sticks. I also had both canvas and wood panels to try out.

For my first experiment, I started with images that I recently worked on, inspired by our recent trip to New Zealand. My NZ cows and sheep on the steep, verdant green hills of the North Island.

Two oil pastel paintings of cows and sheep
Experiment: Oil Pastel on Canvas

Working with this combination, I’ve discovered that oil pastels on canvas are definitely not my favorite! No matter how much I layer the pastels, the white specks keep on peeking through. I discovered that oil pastels on panel are a better medium, at least for me. I still struggle a little because trying to blend it with my fingers muddies the colors. Experiment one was fun, but not sure it is an unmitigated success.

After that I let my mind wander and let newly found inspirations take charge. While parking at the studio, what is called an Aspen tree caught my attention. It has eyes! I really stared at it in amazement and wondered what this tree has seen over the years. Or maybe the tree was staring at me, wondering what I was doing here. You never know. But I did find my first subject.

And so after pondering my two 8x8 wood panels, I decided to take a leap with my black oil pastel and make the first mark. And there it was, the Aspen with its many eyes and thick trunk.

Two images of an Aspen tree and Santa Fe landscapes
Aspen Tree on 8x8 Boards

I also found myself constantly marveling at Santa Fe's architecture. The structures feel very respectful to nature. They don’t stand out but blend in the landscape as if they want to go unnoticed. And so, for my second 8x8, I decided to add in a structure next to the Aspen tree. In this one, I wanted to play with the light on the structure and the Aspen Tree.

Then on the third day, the time had come to open my new oil sticks and try them on a fresh canvas. Turns out I love oil sticks on canvas! If you are familiar with my work, you know that I like clean lines and am a sucker for details. Maybe that is my unconscious OC that’s emerging?

Detailed image of a street vendor in oil con canvas
Detail from "The Vendor and his love letter"

Because of some constraints like limited colors and the thickness of the oil sticks I had to let go and work loosely. It enabled me to work in a different mindset - being playful and take what’s essential (I guess this is what you call abstraction) to create a series of pieces: “Window Rock”, “Speckled Hills” and “The Vendor and his love letter”. I was on a roll and quickly created these new paintings.

My last and biggest piece is still in progress but I am looking forward to working with it at home so I can try and combine oil sticks with my oil paints. Just to give you a quick peek, this is what it looks like right now.

Santa Fe column gallery in oil painting
Work in Progress - No title Yet!

This artist in residency at Jen Tough Air Studios has been an amazing journey for me. I have never felt so centered, inspired and productive. I truly felt like an artist with ideas abound and I wished that I had more than my two hands.

A set of five paintings depicting Santa Fe and its landscapes
The Complete Santa Fe Series

While at the studios, I was blessed to spend time with fellow Bay Area artists Terry Tsu and Hilary Sheehan, who exude this open, happy and positive energy. They were always ready to join me in creating fun and animated memories. I was also blessed to get to know other artists like Karen Allen, Paula Best and last but not least, Deidre Greenly. She was my next door neighbor giving me advice, sharing her advocacy through her art, chatting about life and laughing. I'm so happy to have become friends with her.

I truly loved and enjoyed the spontaneous conversations I have had with people visiting my space during the open studios. I hope they also take with them the calm, peace and positive energy I try to share through my art.

AIR studio - Sunflower room at Jen Tough gallery
My lovely workspace for the Residency

Thank you again Jen and Todd for having me in your beautiful Air Studios. And if any of my readers are in Santa Fe, make sure to visit Jen Tough Gallery. You won't regret driving down there!

Till next time,


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Karen PM
Karen PM
29 Eki 2023

Wow!!! Beautiful and quite inspirational, indeed! Thank you for keeping me updated on your Artist in Residency adventures in Santa Fe, NM. Proud of you, Christine! Congratulations on a successful residency and most of all gaining new skills with new medium and wonderful artist friends while navigating a new place in only a span of one week.

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