SWARM – Artist Research Residency

I wanted to write about my recent artist residency while still fresh in my mind. Parts of it are already starting to lose their shine and fade away as I slip back into the routine of daily life. I spent 8 days at the Ayatana Research Residency in Chelsea Quebec. The theme of the residency was insects. If you are reading this you probably know how much I love my bugs and incorporate them into my artwork whenever possible.

This was my second time at Ayatana. Last year I participated in a nocturnal themed residency. This year I came back as an Expedition Leader. I really enjoyed the opportunity to have a leadership role in the residency. It gave me a different perspective and required me to be completely present and attentive. It’s always interesting when you put a group artist together in a house for a week. Navigating the different personalities and getting to know each other can be really fun and sometimes challenging.  Most of the artists were pretty awesome. Their artwork, support and feedback were really inspiring and made me want push myself and practice even further.

Ayatana Swarm Artist Residents

Ayatana Research Residency artists, director and house Mom

The house we stayed in was surrounded by a lush landscape filled with every color green you can imagine. We had a view of the Gatineau River and a sky that went on forever. The environment alone was really inspiring and refreshing for someone who lives in a city. The silence was another thing I really treasured; it was so quiet and peaceful.

Swarm Residency

The view from our deck. Photo by Michael Pisano

Now to the fun part. The week was a smorgasbord of activities. I learned so much about a variety of topics and subjects. It would be waaaay to much to go over everything so here are some of the highlights.

It was really great to just explore the surrounding area and search for insects and other specimens. You would be surprised to find out how many species of insects are right in your own backyard.

Checking out the insects on the property. Photo by Alexis Williams

Tiny grasshopper in the yard of the residency house. Photo by Michael Pisano


We went to the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes. This place was pretty amazing. It is one of the five largest collections of its kind in the world and contains over 17 million specimens. The Collection is housed at the Ottawa Research and Development Centre in the K.W. Neatby Building on the historic Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa, Ontario.

They have some really cool scientists on their staff who are very friendly and informative.

Spider Specimen from the CNC

Spider Specimen

Some of the insect drawers 

Learning about some of the insects at the CNC


It was really fantastic meeting with Bee physiologist Charles Darveau at the University of Ottawa. Charles studies the evolution of physiological systems, specifically the metabolism and physiology related to animal energetics during locomotion. We were able to view some bee hives and check out the equipment used to measure the locomotion and velocity of bees.

Bee physiologist Charles Darveau at the University of Ottawa.

Equipment to measure how bees respond to different temperatures.


Moth man Jim des Rivieres is fantastic. He is a really great person who loves what he does. He creates beautiful large scale images of moths. He showed us how he does it too, explaining the equipment, settings, technique and everything. He also set up a moth lure in the yard so we could view some of the local moths.  The next day I did some scanning practice of my own with plants, honeycomb and other cool materials from around the house.

Jim des Rivieres demonstrating high resolution moth scanning.

Hanging out with the moth lure.

Hanging out with the moth lure.

Practicing my high resolution scanning.

Practicing my high resolution scanning.


I taught a little encaustic workshop to the other artist in the residency too. I always love sharing and teaching others about encaustic. It was a fun and I think sometimes frustrating afternoon. Encaustic can be a little challenging to work with. Everyone did a great job and learned a lot about the process.

Encaustic workshop

Encaustic workshop


We also visited the Canadian Museum of Nature. They are really cool because they have a live insect exhibit. I think everyone spent most of their time in that exhibit. Lots of cool beetles, tarantula, ants, stick bugs and so much more. I also love the rock and mineral collection. That place holds some magic for me. The very first thing I wanted to be when I grew up was a geologist. I would find rocks in our yard, wash, display and try to sell them to people. Although I am not a geologist I have a huge appreciation for rocks, minerals and fossils and I still have a lot of them from my childhood collection and continue to add to it.

Beetle at the Canadian Museum of Nature

Live beetle at the Canadian Museum of Nature. Photo by  Michael Pisano

Beautiful Aragonite specimen

Beautiful Aragonite specimen


These are just a few of the activities that we did during the residency week. We also went on hikes with a dragonfly expert and an entomologist. Learned about the effects of herbicide and pesticide on the environment and talked with an exterminator.  I could go on and on.  I can’t believe a week has passed since I was enjoying my early morning coffee on the deck staring out into the sky. I am excited to see the ways my art and process may be influenced by everything I learned and the great conversations I had.  I’m already scheming on other possible residencies and art collaborations.  Below are several more photos of the residency, hope you enjoy.

Exploring the Mer Bleue Bog

Exploring the Mer Bleue Bog. Photo by Michael Pisano

Tent Caterpillars. Photo by Michael Pisano

Hike in Gatineau Park with entomologist Andrew Young. Photo by Alexis Williams

Deep thoughts by the river.

Deep thoughts by the river. Photo by Michael Pisano