In July 2013, we dropped off our 15-year-old daughter at Cow House Studio‘s three-week, intensive “Art on the Farm” program. We arrived a bit early, so Rosie took us on a tour of the grounds and facilities, and she kindly offered us tea. Far from any urban distractions, the studio sits on a small, working farm that’s been in Rosie’s family for many years. She and her husband Frank converted a barn into a spacious, beautifully equipped atelier. They transformed another stable into a living facility for over twenty visitors, complete with open kitchen and family style eating arrangements. With some trees for shade, a bucolic pond, dogs, peacocks, pigs, a horse and a cat, the setting was complete. As we drove away, passing the bus with Frank and the 19 other teens just arriving from the Dublin airport, my wife and I felt confident that this investment in our daughter’s future was destined to pay dividends.
She emerged with a healthy dose of new confidence in her strengthened artistic skills and an impressive number of quality sketches, drawings, and paintings to bolster her portfolio for college applications. Coming from a small international high school in northern Italy where she is the only student taking IB Visual Art & Design, she was unaccustomed to being surrounded by creative artists her own age. However, she quickly made friends with her like-minded mates and enjoyed every minute. She continues to stay in contact with her new friends through a Facebook group.
Immersed in the Irish countryside, our daughter found the surroundings very inspiring. The isolation happily focused her on doing art and making friends. She appreciated the trust Frank and Rosie extended them and the relative freedom that their responsible behavior earned them. For eight hours a day they honed their craft in the studio or else by sketching or painting outside. After cleaning up the studio, however, in the remaining time they could go on walks, play with the pets, watch a DVD, swim or fish in the pond, or just hang out with friends. Of course, when a deadline was imminent, the studio was open for after hours use as well. They had access to computers to do research, print out images for inspiration, or use Skype for contacting parents if needed. In our case, no news was good news. Rosie posted photos of the group each week so we knew our daughter was doing well.
She also sang the praises of Frank’s food: delicious, home-made, with a vegetarian option always available. Every day, he cooked something from a different cuisine. She remembered Mexican, Italian, Indian, American dishes. The meals were not only yummy but also well-rounded. A rotating group of teens set and cleared the table for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She commented that this shared responsibility taught her teamwork and how to divvy up work effectively.
The program offered our daughter’s first chance to do nude drawing, and she really appreciated the different fixed-time sketching exercises (1, 5, and 10 minutes). They helped her see she was capable of abandoning her normally meticulous (yet slow) working style to capture a subject’s essence under fire. In addition, she had fun being a model for three different friends’ photo shoots. It was the first time peers and visiting artists had critiqued her work. She found it a valuable learning experience to understand what they liked and what she could do better in her next piece. The comments were always offered in a positive, supportive way.
She had asked ahead of time to work with many different materials, and she was pleased that she was able to do exactly that: charcoal, acrylic paint, and ink just to name a few. She especially enjoyed the book-making project they did, where she was able to marry her love of math and art into a handsome, hand-made book about examples of the Fibonacci Sequence in Nature. They had to go outside and find an object (in her case, a pinecone), and then develop the idea for the project by making twenty sketches. It taught her to edit down her work and forced her to make decisions about the best ideas to include in the final book that only could accommodate 5 spreads.
In the first two weeks, they were assigned a project and artists in residence would come around to offer the teens help to meet their goals. The third week they got assigned to a specific supervisor and they had to seek out his/her help as needed. In this last week they were in smaller groups and got to have more individual attention from the supervisor. Every night the supervisors would present their own work to the teens and talk about how they got to where they are now. She found these talks very interesting. The young artists could ask the resident experts questions about where they went to school, and to describe how their style and personality had changed over time and why.
The multi-day outings were an excellent break from the studio work. During her session they first visited downtown Dublin and then later saw the Dingle Peninsula and Killarney. On the latter, they stopped at a beach that she said was “literally the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen.” Every day during these excursions they were allowed free time for lunch and a bit of shopping. On these two trips they visited three additional young artists’ galleries to get an explanation of their work and ask questions.
In short, we could not have found a more appropriate and valuable experience for our daughter. It is without reservation that I recommend Cow House Studios “Art on the Farm” summer program to any teen artist.
P.S. I tried to post this review on Google, but after 24 hours I still don’t see it so I’m posting it here on my blog.
UPDATE: Cow House Studios posted some examples of student artwork from the Art on the Farm Summer 2013 program here.