Vermont Arts Council

Ten Tips for Surviving Winter

Winter is upon us. We know it will last through March and yet we live here — on purpose. We have our reasons. Many artists cite the tranquil seclusion and the inspiring natural beauty of the landscape.

But how does one stay positive and creative through the subzero-temp nights and grayest of days? We asked three Vermont artists who know what they’re in for and how to handle it: Katie Runde, a veritable Renaissance woman who focuses on music and painting; Robert Burch, a 40+ year glassblowing veteran from Putney; and Hillary Boone Orsini, a program manager and Results-Based Accountability consultant who moonlights as a standup comic and cartoon artist. Here’s what they had to say:

1. Take advantage of the light

Katie is also a figure skater. But, she says, she doesn’t get outside as often as she’d like; she needs those plus-or-minus six hours of daylight to get work done. (Six whole hours? How dare she have such lofty expectations!) Artificial light completely changes the colors of a still life setup which messes with the final painting.

2. …and the dark!

Robert Burch

Hillary uses the winter as a period of hibernation and reflection. “In Vermont, when it’s dark at 4 p.m., you best be doing something creative with your evening,” she warns.

3. Tackle a big project

This winter, Hillary plans to begin turning her observations from hiking the Long Trail into cartoons. She has a wealth of notes on the “highs and lows, fear and exhaustion” that she thinks will make excellent comic material. In order to receive the coveted End-to-End patch for completing the entire trail, hikers must submit a journal. Instead of just words (bo-ring!) Hillary will document her trials and triumphs through drawings.

Katie takes on extra work during the winter – “It’s the perfect time to put in ten-hour days” – and adds another art form to her repertoire: snow sculpting. Which brings us to tip #4 …

4. Play in the snow

Like chalk drawing and musicianship, snow sculpture is more about the process than the final piece. Since it will melt away, “you’re very in the moment,” Katie says. “You go into it knowing that it’s temporary. Most of the audience comes by when it’s not even finished.” This can be tough. For the first several hours, any snow sculpture looks like “a giant potato.” She doesn’t get bogged down, though, and even finds a teaching moment to relay to her art students. “If an artwork isn’t a masterpiece right away, it’s okay,” she says. “You’re gonna have some potato moments, and you have to get used to that.”

5. Wear extra layers

The changing of seasons doesn’t much change Robert’s glassblowing work. “I wear a sweater and close the door in the shop,” he chuckles. It’s a matter of perspective. The air temperature difference of, “maybe, 50 degrees” is relatively small compared to the 2000-degree molten glass he works with. Fighting frostbite while carving snow is harder.

Remember Katie’s outdoor art? She admitted to bringing multiple pairs of gloves. (She didn’t say how many exactly, but I’m thinking a small suitcase full.) When it’s cold enough, she adds a hand warmer in between.

Katie Runde’s “March”

6. Go someplace warm

Robert can take advantage of the tools of his trade. “Late at night,” he says, “I’ll put my back up against the furnace, toward the fire. It’s wonderful. Cold beer, warm furnace.” Hillary just leaves — says she “wholeheartedly believes” that everyone should go somewhere sunny for one week in February or March. Katie advises staying in and getting cozy. Every time you drive the treacherous and snowy roads, “you’re taking your life in your hands.” (Get that girl some studded tires. Am I right?) One of Katie’s drawings, “March,” captures her feelings for that month through the expression on a man’s face. Katie has a hard time explaining it in words. She tries, though: “It’s like a quiet determination. “If you’ve ever milked a cow … it’s that look on the cow’s face when it’s being milked. The cow doesn’t like it, but lets it happen.”

7. Shop local

Handcrafted art makes a great holiday gift. Robert endorses glass, of course, citing its “inherent beauty” and the fact it can be customized. He enjoys fulfilling requests for people who visit his shop, creating a piece that is truly one-of-a-kind. Katie sells “tiny artwork” at craft shows. These smaller paintings are more affordable than her commissioned portraits, and still provide the buyer with a unique gift. Buying locally supports artists. Katie needs to sell enough of these paintings this year to pay for the transmission she just replaced in her car. “It’s not romantic,” she owns, “but it’s true.”

8. Collaborate

Holidays can mean family gatherings, and for artist families, that can mean collaborative projects. Robert and his potter son Ryan have experimented with mixed pieces made of glass and ceramic. Hillary used family time last year to interview people about the “best and worst of home cooking.” From those conversations, she and her wife, Francesca Orsini, produced a podcast called “Signature Dish” as a way to “capture voices and stories.”

Katie works on a team sculpting snow with two other artists; their skills complement each other. She also likes the culture and community of this niche event. “Wherever you go, you meet the same crew. At nationals, from year to year, you see your old friends.”

by Hillary Boone Orsini

9. Own it

Not everyone is able to jet to a tropical locale (see tip #7). Hillary suggests traveling just north to Montreal for the Nuit Blanche, an all-night arts festival. Montréal en Lumière is like a “celebration of winter on a Harry Potter scale.” There’s interactive, illuminated art; performances of music, theater, circus, and dance; gourmet food; and outdoor activities like slides, a Ferris wheel, and a zip-line. “It makes you feel like you own the winter,” says Hillary.

10. Challenge yourself

Robert takes on custom projects. “It’s difficult, but I like the challenge.” Hillary challenges herself to get outdoors at least once a week. She somehow enjoys this, despite the fact that she laments the cold weather in many of her cartoons. Katie really embraces challenge in snow sculpting. “It’s never the same. It could have ice crystals, or cigarette butts, you never know! It’s part of the fun and the horror.” You also have to be daring and athletic. Snow sculpture includes balancing on scaffolding and “pounding a multi-ton block of snow” into the wee hours of the morning.

You’ve got this

When it’s dark at 4:30 and the temperature hasn’t been above 10 for two weeks, you know what to do. Fuel your soul with a new endeavor, get outside (if that’s your thing), or get on a plane. Take an artist’s word for it: the secret to surviving a Vermont winter includes effort, creativity, close friends, and a little celebration. Go forth! And pack an extra pair of gloves.


Rachel Stearns

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