Lisa Cirenza on Boosting Creativity Through Artist Residencies

Lisa Cirenza on Boosting Creativity Through Artist Residencies

Lisa first contacted us when we sent out one of our monthly update emails. She replied, sharing her Artist Residency experience in Cuba, and wondering if this could be something other artists would be interested in knowing more about.

The theme immediately caught our attention. After some email exchanges with Lisa, I grew very fond of her kind personality and vibrant energy - which you can see through her art.

What are Artist Residencies? How can you leverage them to accelerate your artistic growth? And how awesome is Lisa and the art she makes?

Let's find out! 

- Ânia, Etchr Community Influencer

Ânia: For our readers who aren't familiar with you, could you give us a quick rundown of your professional background?

My name is Lisa Cirenza, I’m an artist living and working in London, originally born in the United States. I work in 2D visual art and my work is a hybrid between digital and traditional mediums. I have roots in cubo-futurism, and linework derived from my Sumi-e studies in Tokyo.

My work is primarily about opposites: old versus new, tech versus tradition… I love understanding change and I love understanding where the commonalities are amongst humans who are in different situations.

I have exhibited in Kyoto, New York City, Silicon Valley, Edinburgh, Paris, and London. My work is held in state, corporate and private collections in Japan, France, Finland, the UK, Canada, and the USA. 

Ânia: How do you seek inspiration for your work?

Aesthetically, I draw inspiration from contemporary and historical artists also seeking to visualise beyond the surface dimensions. I spent a lot of time studying the concepts of the Cubists, and Hockney’s ideas about space and time. Colourists are important. I view colour as a metaphor for all the mixing of ideas and experiences I’m trying to put forth in my works.

The world is becoming increasingly binary: black or white, red or blue. We are increasingly incapable of finding the beauty of opposites put together in the same space, and see them both more brightly than if they would have been standing alone, and we rarely take the time to mix or to contemplate ideas beyond our ‘known’ assumptions.

Ânia: What is an Artist Residency?

An Artist Residency is a program that allows creatives to travel and stay, often with other artists, in a unique environment, with the purpose of purely focussing on their creative endeavours. Each Residency is unique, with many different types of programs and financial models. In some situations, the artist pays their way, whilst other programs offer scholarships/grants to cover partial or full expenses. 

There can be a lengthy application process so that artists are selected according to standards that ensure mutual benefits to the artist, the other artists, and the programs. 

Artist Residencies can be seasonal, ongoing, or tied to a particular event. They exist in all sorts of spaces - urban, rural, deep in nature - and include many types of creatives: writers, musicians, playwrights, dancers, actors painters, sculptors--and sometimes scientists and other academics to truly enhance the experience of all.

Ânia: How can an Artists’ Residency benefit creatives?

An artists’ residency is a unique opportunity for us to take some time out to delve into new projects, ideas, and mediums that we might not otherwise have the opportunity to explore in our daily practices.

Living and working beyond the confines of our normal spaces, often amongst other artists, gives breath to experimentation and new ideas.

Too often we get caught up in our unique ‘standard operating procedures’, with administrative duties and the requirements of producing works for exhibitions and commissions, sometimes deluging our creative time and space for experimentation.

Physically working away from those demands and responsibilities can be incredibly liberating, as can the opportunity to bounce ideas, techniques etc. between other resident artists.

Ânia: What made you join an Artist Residency? And why Cuba?

I tend to work 12-hour days, 5-6 days a week, to juggle the creation of new works, and the many business aspects of being a professional artist.

It is often difficult in my daily routine to find time allowing for the exploration of new techniques and approaches. I welcome the opportunity to break the routine.

Cuba provided a unique opportunity to explore some of my favorite themes: understanding what lies beyond the surface of the narratives we carry with us, society in transition in our increasingly connected/disconnected world, and the prolific Cuban art and music scene.

I grew up in the USA experiencing the Bay of Pigs and other polarizing events; Cuba was part of the evil empire narrative of the Cold War. I wanted to move beyond that narrative and meet the people, understand the same events from their perspective, and study in a place seemingly stuck in time – and yet, thrusting forward. I also wanted to meet Cuban artists and understand their response to similar ideas, both technically and philosophically.

Exploring the many paradoxes and having the chance to communicate my experiences visually was a unique opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

Ânia: How do you find the right Artist Residence for yourself?

Sites like Resartis list residency details and deadlines around the globe. Knowing why you want to go through that experience will help you respond to the application questions and find the Residence that is right for you.

I suggest you apply to Residencies that will push your boundaries as an artist, helping you probe themes and mediums you wish to take further. Also, consider what value you might have to the organisation hosting the residency. And by value, I mean value to other artists and the local community.

Ânia: What's been your most interesting outdoors experience as an artist?

If working in heat over 120F and using an ice pack to keep my iPad from overheating classifies this as an interesting outdoors experience, then my time at Cuba was certainly one of those.

My Etchr Slate proved invaluable in Cuba, as it carried pastels and other dry materials for when it was too hot to use the iPad, with the flexibility of sandwiching the ice pack behind the iPad when it wasn’t brutally hot. The Slate also worked beautifully with my tripod and gave me an instant easel for longer periods of working at my residences.

My work thrives on being out and about with a variety of materials. Responding to the environment adds energy to the work that simply isn’t possible from a photograph. I’m grateful to Etchr Lab for making these experiences more possible than ever before.

I am looking forward to my future residency this March in Zurs, Austria on the slopes of the Arlberg's, where I’ll have the opposite problem as I try to figure out how to use heating pads to keep the iPad from freezing. I’m hoping to use my Etchr Slate on the ski slopes with my iPad and a heating pad.

…it could be an interesting week!

Ânia: Where can our readers find more of your work?

You can find my website at, and learn more about my work in a BBC Documentary, The Financial TimesReuters1340 Contemporary, and a Paper53 Blog Article sent to 2 million subscribers.

I am currently exhibiting at Bermondsey Gallery in London and will have some of my Cuban works on display at Aqua Miami with Steidel Contemporary.

I also have process videos of some of the paintings shared in this blog post: "Dream Big" and Hope Has a Champion".

Got Any Tips to Boost Creativity?

As Lisa mentioned, visiting other cultures, being immersed with other artists and going outside your comfort zone can do wonders to your creative fuel.

...but sometimes, even the smallest change can make a big impact. For example, I recently tried a fountain pen and noticed a big change in my artistic process that made me establish a new creative routine!

What was the latest activity that improved your creativity? 

Please share your stories (and any questions you have for Lisa) in the comment section below - who knows, maybe you can help unlock someone else's creative block! 

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