Artist Residency in Iceland: Part 1

liz tran 1


May 9th, Seattle, WA

I’m getting ready to take off for two months to the drop-dead gorgeous country of Iceland. This will be my fourth visit to Iceland.

During previous visits I was an artist in residence at SIM in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital. The experience with SIM was great but this time I’m looking forward to a different adventure.

I’d been drooling over the website for Baer over the past few years and found myself applying this time around. It’s an unusual artist residency in that it only runs for two sessions in the summer. Baer is located in Northwestern Iceland, and during winter months accessibility can be problematic due to the harsh weather.

After the month at Baer I will return to Reykjavik where I’ve rented a little house just off of the main shopping street. I’m expecting visitors for part of July and will be attending a friend’s wedding. I may have an exhibition there as well.

I just looked at the date today: May 9th. My stomach did a little flip because I’m realizing that I need to start figuring out the logistics of bringing all of my supplies overseas.

My materials are very specialized so I always bring them. Every time, without fail, I find a TSA Baggage Inspection calling card in my suitcase.

June 1, Keflavik Airport, Iceland

All is going well. Fortunately, I managed to get everything here with two almost-50-pound checked bags (make sure to weigh before leaving home!), a 25 lb. carry on backpack, a purse (a giant oversized reusable grocery bag) and a 4’ tube filled with a 30’ roll of Lavis Fidelis watercolor paper.

Not only is this tube heavy, it is awkward. I accidentally hit multiple people with it during my vodka-run at the duty free by baggage claim. Thank the art gods for luggage carts!

That went pretty smoothly I say to myself within feet of exiting the secure area of Keflavik Airport.

Suddenly an airport security guy appears out of nowhere (they must have been watching me?!) and asks me something questiony-sounding in Icelandic. I smile and apologize, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Icelandic.”

“What is in your tube?” he says in English.

“A 30-foot long roll of very expensive watercolor paper that can’t be purchased in Iceland,” I say.

Then I kick myself. Never admit to something being expensive. They may want to tax you.

After a red eye international flight it is difficult to think straight. He says “OK” with a smile and waves me on. Phew, dodged that one!

June 1, Reykjavik, Iceland

Getting my luggage from the airport bus to inside the bus station is no easy feat. There are no carts at the BSI bus station. I decide to tackle this task by leaving my giant pile in the parking lot and taking in one or two items in at a time.

It feels strange to leave my luggage without supervision, but I know thievery is rare in Iceland. Still, I come from a neighborhood where everything that isn’t nailed down in stolen, so it’s emotionally jarring.

I am growing weak from travel. The bus driver calls to me “Is this yours?” Argh! I almost forgot my backpack!

I awkwardly move my luggage with a similar strategy from the station to the taxi stand. I feel guilty as the elderly taxi driver is hauling everything into the trunk. I offer to help, but he won’t let me.

The TSA calling card is the first thing I see when I open the bag containing my paints. They had opened the Tupperware container full of about 20 jars of ink and acrylic mediums but had not resealed and re-bagged it. Thankfully, nothing leaked.

June 4, Hofsos, Iceland

I’m currently sitting here at Baer. I arrived yesterday after a five-hour bus ride and I’m still in awe. Pinch me! This place is heaven.

As the bus driver was unloading my baggage yesterday, he asked, “This brown bag is yours?”

Yes, and this bag and this and this and this. He looked a little annoyed like I was Mariah Carey arriving for a trip to the Icelandic countryside with countless bags full of Jimmy Choo stilettos.

For me, international shipping must be avoided at all costs. Not only is it extremely expensive, it can take forever to clear customs. When the package finally arrives (assuming that it does) you are often subject to a seemingly randomly calculated amount of taxes.

But hey, I’m cheap.

If you’d like to play the lotto of international art-supply shipping, go for it. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.


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About Liz Tran


Liz Tran’s work is influenced by the connection between the natural world and the internal environment. Tran utilizes mixed media and painterly brush strokes in a playfully layered, yet emotionally nuanced way to depict her imaginary landscapes.

Tran is a graduate in print art and painting from Cornish College of the Arts and exhibits both nationally and internationally. Public collections of Tran’s work include the City of Seattle’s Portable Works Collection, The El Paso Children’s Hospital and The Child Center. She has been awarded multiple fellowships and grants, including the Clowes Fellowship for residency at the Vermont Studio Center, the Nellie Cornish Scholarship and residency at CAMAC, Jentel, Millay Colony for the Arts and The Center for Contemporary Printmaking. She resides in Seattle, Washington.



  1. Lex on June 10, 2013 at 9:21 am

    Loving this insight into air travel with art supplies! Sounds like a mixture of traveling with a baby AND camping!

  2. m.a.tateishi on June 19, 2013 at 2:13 am

    It’s amazing that you create such beautiful deep colour in your art with such tiny pots of paint!

  3. molly on August 16, 2016 at 6:47 pm

    Thank you for giving me hope. I’m going to a residency in iceland for several months and have been pretty concerned about mailing/moving supplies, I hear they dont like paints at customs&TSA but you were really cleared fine? I work in acrylic and have been uncertain how to make sure 300$ in acrylic -gets- to my residency.Thanks for sharing!

  4. gabriella on August 21, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    so pleased to have come across this write up. How was the rest of your residency? And, cost surprises with food or travel expense while there. Did you rent a car, and if so was that expensive? Any other details would be appreciated.

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