Art on the Water: Artist Residency Programs at Sea

From the frozen waters of the Arctic to the sun-warmed Pacific, artists find inspiration at sea.

by Cynthia Close

Grand Design by Sally Lindner, 40 x 66, oil on canvas.

Artists are curious by nature. And the search for inspiration can extend beyond land to the less chartered environments experienced at sea. A marine-based artist residency allows you to discover how the journey can be as exciting as the destination. 

Exploring Climate Change

Sally Linder walking on glacier in Svalbard to obtain a better view for sketching.

Climate change concerns and a compassion for all living things are the driving forces behind Vermont artist Sally Linder’s work. And she felt a particular sense of urgency concerning the plight of the polar bear. This led her to contact National Geographic and ask if she could travel along with their scientists, photographers, journalists, and Inuit trackers on their Arctic-bound ship to see the effects of global warming first-hand. She joined a group of travelers whose participation supports the work of scientists on the Lindblad Expeditions, which take citizen explorers to remote areas like Antarctica and the Galapagos.

Ilulissat Glacier by Sally Linder, 20 x 31”, oil, graphite, colored pencil on drafting film.

During the Arctic expedition, Linder sketched polar bears with one hand while holding binoculars with the other. She was struck by the intense 24 hours of light, the deep silence, and absence of people. Since that first trip, she has traveled three more times by ship to both the Arctic and Antarctica. The powerful impact of these experiences show in her drawings and paintings of the barren landscape and poignant plight of the polar bear.

Adrift by Sally Linder, 52 x 36, oil, graphite, colored pencil on drafting film.

Ocean Research

Together, artists and scientists can bring a deeper understanding of the ocean to the public. The non-profit Schmidt Ocean Institute actively seeks artists from all disciplines for their Artist-at-Sea program. Sailing takes place on the Falkor, a cutting-edge oceanographic research vessel. Artists work side-by-side with crew and scientists, studying life as it evolves from sea level to the ocean floor. And their informative website live streams happenings on board. Watch dives to deep-sea coral canyons off the coast of South West Australia to the Cape Range Canyon in the Eastern Indian Ocean.

Alaska Adventures

If a ferry is more your speed, check out the Alaska-based Island Institute residency onboard the Sitka. In 2017 the Institute’s director Peter Bradley created a nomadic artists residency, dubbed Tidelines Journey. Five artists travel the 3,500 miles of southeast Alaska’s Marine Highway via ferry boat. Along the way travelers visit towns and isolated villages. The boat tour, led by artist Nina Elder, fosters new ways of thinking about place, nature, and community. Elder’s motto, “Let curiosity lead” seems like a fitting directive for all artists, not only those seeking inspiration at sea.


For more information on artist residency programs check out the feature article in the July/August 2020 issue of Artists Magazine.

Cynthia Close, of Burlington, Vt., earned an MFA from Boston University and worked in various art-related roles before becoming a full-time freelance writer and editor. She contributes to Art New England and Art + Object, among other publications.

5 thoughts on “Art on the Water: Artist Residency Programs at Sea

  1. Dexter Morgan says:

    We got a special request to make painting as well as paint this room. It’s very different from these beautiful drawings. Most people don’t request Arctic paintings from our Oahu Interior Painting company. I may use these for inspiration during my leisure. Thanks for this! 🙂

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