November Residency in Tjørnuvik on the Faroe Islands

After almost six years, I finally had the opportunity again to spend some time in an artist residency. Originally, I wanted to spend two more months in two other residencies, but due to Covid they were postponed, so I am particularly grateful that I was able to do at least half of the journey I had planned for this year.

The residency called LISA (Listafólkabústaðurin) is located in the old schoolhouse (Skúlin) in Tjørnuvik which is the northernmost village on Streymoy, the largest island of the Faroe Islands.

The small village of maybe 20 buildings and around 60 inhabitants is surrounded by large mountains and swooshing waterfalls. The village faces the open sea with spectacular waves which attract surfers from all around the world who can rent gear in a surf shack by the beach, even in October. From the shore, one can see two large rock formations next to a towering cliff. Legend says that these were once a giant and a witch who tried to pull the Faroe Islands back to Iceland, but they turned to stone as the sunrise surprised them.

The schoolhouse is right in the middle of town. It is a small two-story building with two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a large classroom where you can work. As an instructor, I felt right at home. The house felt very cozy, and the big room had a great positive atmosphere. I imagined how it was when school children attended classes here and there is still a blackboard, maps, and schoolbooks. The building was used as a school for the last time in 2005. In 2013, the town and the Sunda municipality decided to create an artist residency in the old school for artists looking for inspiration and solitude.

Tjørnuvik is connected to the public transportation network. Buses usually go in the morning and the afternoon and not during the weekend. If you are totally dependent on public transport it could be challenging. I rented a car for the first and the last week and stocked up on groceries for the time in between. This way, I was also able to drive my luggage from and to the airport and used the bus system for return and pickup of the rental. The drive to the airport on Vágar is about one hour, by bus it takes two hours and you must switch lines twice.

The Faroe Islands have a great infrastructure including three subsea tunnels to connect some of the islands. The tunnels are simply amazing but also costly. Each round trip cost 100 DKK (16USD) and for the Eysturoyartunnil it is between 125-175DKK (20-26USD) one way. This tunnel has the world’s first (and only) roundabout in a subsea tunnel. Technically you don’t need this tunnel as you can also take a bridge that connects these islands but depending on where you are it saves you a 90-minute drive. When you exit the tunnel, a picture is taken of your license plate and you pay online. In my case, I paid the rental car company after returning the vehicle.

Driving itself is save and fun although I sometimes found the drive to Tjørnuvík difficult as it is only one lane for both directions. Once in a while, there are short passing lanes so drivers can make way for each other. During the day it is sometimes hard to see if another vehicle is coming and therefore it sometimes gets tight on the winding road. It is much better during the night since you can see the cars from far away but then you face sheep and geese that are suddenly standing in the middle of the road.

Sheep in general are all across the islands. There are about 50.000 people living on Faroe and 70.000 sheep. I tried to get good pictures of them, but they are rather shy and run away quickly. Only if you are driving, they tend to not run away from you or simply jump in front of the car erratically.

The landscape is simply monumental, and most roads are along the coastlines which guarantee fantastic vistas. I spent a lot of time simply driving around and taking pictures from the side of the road, but I also took a lot of hikes which there are plenty to choose from. Some of them cost up to 30 USD which is a hefty sum. I thought it was worth it but there are also plenty of free hikes one can take. Three hikes are right in Tjørnuvík. Two of these felt rather unofficial to me and I only found them with a Trails App. After an hour in, you must be rather confident in your hiking skills so I did not proceed. The most popular hike leads to Saksun, the neighboring town by beeline, and is easy to find as the entrance is marked by a sign. The whole hike takes about three hours, half of it a steep climb. I walked about half of it as I did not want to walk back and forth. The view is just majestic and as you reach the plateau, the terrain becomes even and quiet. You basically follow the stream up all the way from the village. Only on the Saksun side, a sign warns you that you should not take this hike during the hunting season starting in November.

Saksun itself features another beautiful and very popular easy hike alongside a black beach leading up to the ocean, surrounded by waterfalls and towering cliffs. The fee is about 11 USD and definitely worth it. I did this hike twice as it is easy and extremely beautiful. Every so often, a gunshot echoed like thunder through the valley reminding me of that warning not to cross over to Tjørnuvík during hunting season. I saw a lot of hunting parties across the islands, especially over the weekend. I was told that they hunt hare, and I almost ran over one myself in the middle of the night on my way home – rather cute I must say.

A few times I drove to the capital Tórshavn to buy some things I forgot to bring. I became a regular in the local outdoor sports shop and was glad to buy a pair of decent Viking rubber boots which I needed for most hikes. You simply must cross small streams too often and after a week of wet feet, I had enough. I also bought Devold long johns made from Merino wool and was wondering where they have been my whole life. Everything in Faroe, so it felt, comes at a premium. There is not a whole lot of competing stores, and they can dictate the price but I also was very pleased to shop for groceries at Bónus again which reminded me so much of Iceland.

One of my favorite things was seeing the shift from autumn to winter. When I arrived, everything was still lush and green, slowly shifting to brown and suddenly it started to snow, and it became all white. Road conditions became more challenging, and I sometimes wished for an AWD, especially after fresh snow.

I was hoping to get a chance to see some Northern Lights and I did get lucky one night although the Faroe Islands are not necessarily the first choice if you want to see the Aurora Borealis. Tjørnuvík has a good position since it faces North and looks right towards Iceland. But the Aurora needs to be much stronger to be visible over the Faroe Islands. Also, the weather needs to be good, and I had a few nights where there might have been some activity, but it was simply raining. The islands do get a lot of rain due to the location right within the Gulf Stream and I noticed the temperature was “much” warmer than Iceland as the geek in me crosschecked this on my weather app a few times. But I am grateful for the two nights of display of Northern Lights and I was indeed able to get nice shots of nature’s firework.

To conclude, I had an amazing time and a lot of quiet moments to reflect. It’s peaceful here and at least during October/November not overrun by sightseers like me. By the number of hotels and rooms, you can tell that the Faroe Islands are still left alone by the crowds that flock to Iceland and I hope that won’t change soon although a tourist bus with a large James Bond 007 paint job has me worried about the future, reminding me of the year we went to visit Oaxaca during Dia De Los Muertos right after Pixar’s Coco was released, a film I had not seen at that time I might add.

I took a lot of pictures and some videos. I traveled with two cameras, two tripods, a gimbal, a drone, and four lenses but found myself using my phone much more than I had anticipated. I can’t say I was lazy as I still carried everything else on my back while hiking. I also started to work on the new script of a book adaption I just optioned. I hope to return soon and thanks so much to the town of Tjørnuvík, LISA, and the Sunda Kommuna for hosting artists in their former school.

Boris Schaarschmidt

The Villa Aurora in Los Angeles

I had the pleasure of making this short documentary about the Villa Aurora in Los Angeles

The magnificent house has been used as an artist residence since 1995 and it is the former home of the German-Jewish author Lion Feuchtwanger and his wife Marta.

See the film on the VATMH Youtube channel or visit my Vimeo channel for a 4k version or a shorter version in German. Enjoy!

December in Ricklundgården in Southern Lapland

After my residency in Upernavik I continued my travels to Sweden to stay at Ricklundgården in Saxnäs. Ricklundgården is an artist residency in Southern Lapland, located on the 65° latitude and about 112 kilometers (or 70 miles) south of the Arctic Circle in very close proximity to Norway. Saxnäs is almost exactly on the same latitude as Skagastönd in Iceland, where I resided during the winter of 2013/2014 at NES for the “Weight of Mountains”.
Lapland [Sweden] Ricklundgarden View DEC2015 (c) Boris SchaarschmidtRicklundgården offers two studios for artists to work. The large Folkeatején which is integrated into the main house and the smaller Annexstudio which I called my home for three weeks. This studio is a little bit to the side and was the old summer house of the Ricklunds. The whole complex is slightly elevated and has a stunning view overlooking the frozen Kultsjön with the majestic, snow covLapland [Sweden] Ricklundgarden Christmas Tree DEC2015 (c) Boris Schaarschmidtered Marsfjället in the back. Days are short so close to the winter solstice but for a few hours every day the sun was peaking over the hills coloring the landscape in dramatic light. The perfect setting to watch my beloved Aurora Borealis at night. Also, at this time of the year most houses are decorated for Christmas and many fir trees in the yards were dressed with fairy lights. All in all, very atmospheric.

Lapland [Sweden] Ricklundgarden Annex Workshop DEC2015 (c) Boris SchaarschmidtThe Annexstudio has more thanLapland [Sweden] Ricklundgarden Annex Snuggery DEC2015 (c) Boris Schaarschmidt enough space to work on a variety of projects. The large studio space has a gigantic panorama window with a view hard to turn away from to focus on other things. There are two comfortable beds installed as bunk beds, a small kitchenette with a microwave and a small oven and a truly cozy living room which was my favorite hangout if I was able to let go of that gorgeous view.

The artist residency was the former home of Emma and Folke Ricklund. In the early 1900s Emma ran a small Inn in Saxnäs which became very popular among artists who wanted to work in the mountains and experience the native Sami culture. That’s how she met Folke who came here to work and eventually became one of the great painters in the region. After the couple divorced Folke moved away but it became Emma’s mission to support artists and let them continue to work in the studio. A tradition she wanted to make sure would last after her passing. After her death a foundation was founded and since 1972 the artist residency allows artists to work in Ricklundgården as they did over fifty years ago.

Besides the studios there is also the main house which is also a museum exhibiting objects from Folke and Emma’s collection including many paintings, sculptures as well as items from the Sami culture. The director Gerd Ulander was so kind to give me a tour and share her insights and knowledge about this place and the surrounding region.

Lapland [Sweden] Ricklundgarden Kata Night DEC2015 (c) Boris SchaarschmidtRight in front of the Annexstudio is a Kåta, a Sami dwelling constructed of wood, where artists can stay and experience a more native way of living. For the more adventurous there is also a small cottage on mount Satsfjället, about a one-hourLapland [Sweden] Marsfjället DEC2015 (c) Boris Schaarschmidt hike away, starting from the foot of the mountain. During this time of the year you need ski to reach the hut while in summer you can simply hike there. Just recently the residency built a boat house down by the lake where visitors can take a rowing boat to go fishing or simply enjoy the scenery.

Right below the residency is hotel Saxnäsgården  offering lunch and sometimes dinner, depending on occupancy if you Lapland [Sweden] Saxnäsgarden Pool DEC2015 (c) Boris Schaarschmidttravel during the low season. They also have a gym, a sauna and a large pool which outside visitors can use for a reasonable fee.  The closest airport is Vilhelmina, about one hour away from Saxnäs either by bus or by car. I arrived in Umeå which is roughly a four-hour drive. Since I wanted to rent a car anyways I was rather looking forward to the drive across Southern Lapland. If you like endless roads like I do this is the perfect trip.

I rented a Skoda Jedi – sorry I meant Yeti – which turned out to be the ideal vehicle for myLapland [Sweden] Skoda Yeti DEC2015 (c) Boris Schaarschmidt stay. My only complaint was that you are unable to turn off the side lights while the engine is running. This is a problem if you set up a time-lapse at night somewhere on a quiet road in the middle of nowhere and want to warm up inside the car. You either have to park further away from the camera or keep the engine off, otherwise the lights will ruin the shot. Luckily the Yeti is equipped with park heating which compensated for that problem. Just the seat heating would not work. -First world problems ;-).

Lapland [Sweden] Saxnäs Store DEC2015 (c) Boris SchaarschmidtSaxnäs is a small town with roughly 120 inhabitants located in the county of Västerbotten. There is a small shop that offers all necessities including gasoline and alcohol up to 3.5%. Alcohol above 3.5% can be ordered and gets delivered twice a week or so. Otherwise you have to go to one of the state owned liquor stores called System Bolaget. The closest one is in Vilhelmina which is also combined with a Coop supermarket that has a great selection, especially fresh meat products which you can’t find in Saxnäs.

Västerbotten is an El Dorado for outdoor activities regardless of the time of the year. Cross country skiing, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, snorkeling, snowmobiling, climbing and much more is possible in the region. All connected by an amazing network of never-ending roads leading through a vast remote landscape, surrounded by the wilderness of Southern Lapland. Sometimes I was just cruising around wondering where this road will lead me ending up after a 20-minute drive through forest at cul-de-sac by a frozen lake with just a few summer vacation cabins.  In one of the very few hotels I picked up brochure called “The Wilderness Road – Mountain Hiking on Wheels” and it truly is like the title says.

Lapland [Sweden] Crossing over Lake Kultsjön DEC2015 (c) Boris SchaarschmidtI was amazed how little traffic there was especially at night during my Aurora hunts. Sometimes I set up my camera in the middle of the road and still saw no car after an hour. If you drive off the beaten paths you hardly encounter any other cars besides yourself. It is pitch black at night. Most villages have a few street lights but once you are passed them it quickly gets very dark. Therefore, most Swedish cars have an extra battery of flood lights mounted to the front of the car. You can see them from far away blasting through the trees reminding me of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. Most of the time I had to park right off the side of the street and walk somewhere to take my pictures. Although there is very little traffic I did have toLapland [Sweden] Road at Night DEC2015 (c) Boris Schaarschmidt make sure if there is a car approaching that they will see me. They drive relatively quickly on the snow and ice covered roads and drivers usually do not expect a photographer with a tripod walking around at night. I usually wear a reflective vest and carry three flashlights to make myself visible way in advance. People always slow down and sometimes even greet me. In one particular case I set up on a bridge overlooking some rapids hoping for some Aurora activity in the back. It must have been 2am and I had not seen a car for about 40 minutes or so but now a car approached. As usual I signaled with my flashlight on the ground indicating that I was Lapland [Sweden] Ricklundgarden view Aurora DEC2015 (c) Boris Schaarschmidtstanding there. As the car came closer, it slowed down and finally stopped right next to me. A young lady, alone in the car, opened the door and asked if I needed any assistance. We had a brief chat about me taking pictures of the Northern Lights and she took off. This was just amazing and shows the level of trust and care for each other people have in this remote area.

Lapland [Sweden] Bridge to Fatmomakke DEC2015 (c) Boris SchaarschmidtA nice half-day trip I recommend is the old church village Fatmomakke, about 30 minutes away from Saxnäs. From the parking lot it is a short hike across a narrow bridge to this picturesque settlement with about twenty small wood houses and eighty Sami huts centered around the old church dating back to the late 18th century. Fatmomakke is one of sixteen preserved church villages in Sweden and a great example of the importance as a gathering place and a hub for the community over the centuries. The town is still used today to celebrate midsummer and other occasions.

Lapland [Sweden] Mount Marsfjället DEC2015 (c) Boris Schaarschmidt

At the end, on my way back to Umeå, I took a long, two-day detour across Lapland. I basically drove a circle up to Jokkmokk in Northern Lapland to visit the Ájtte Museum and back to Umeå along the Gulf of Bothnia. A journey definitely worth it. Hiking on wheels in its purest form although I wished I had more time to get out of the car and hike through one of the many national parks Lapland has to offer.

Boris Schaarschmidt Lapland with Northern Light Coffee Mug DEC2015

Ricklundgården and the county of Västerbotten is simply medicine for the soul. The perfect place to finish this year’s travels. The peacefulness and comfort of this place is unequaled and it was pure luxury to have the chance to work, create, and gather my thoughts in this environment.

Truly yours,
Boris Schaarschmidt

 Lapland [Sweden] Aurora over Lake Kultsjön DEC2015 (c) Boris Schaarschmidt

The Upernavik Artist Retreat in Greenland

From October 29th until December 3rd, 2015 I had the opportunity to stay at the Upernavik Retreat in northwestern Greenland.
The Residency/Housing

After the renovation of the old cooperage the Upernavik city council decided to turn the building into an artist residency as it was always home of the arts and crafts. The retreat is organized by the Museum in Upernavik which has a great selection of native art, historic hunting gear, kayaks, furs etc. and of course art made by former residents of the retreat. The museum is right across from the residency and together with the old church and two other building they form the old town of Upernavik.

The exterior of the Cooperage was kept original with the typical pointed roof but inside it was turned into a small, modern apartment with two floors. Kitchen, work and living space on the first-, bedroom and bathroom on the second-floor, to comfortably house two artists but they should know each other well. The house itself is very picturesque and I took a gazillion images of it. It is one of the closest buildings to the water, on the outskirts of town, which is very scenic with a prefect view all around.

I spent a lot of time simply looking out the window, watching waves crash ashore or icebergs float by in the distance coming from the Upernavik Isstrøm. Smaller Ice sheets often float inside the bay in front of the window. At night you are probably in one of the darkest areas of the village which is a guarantee for great star gazing although the town has pretty bright street lights.

Water is delivered to the residency twice a week and gets pumped from the outside into a tank inside the utility room. You can run out of water quickly if you don’t pay attention so I made it a habit to always turn off the water while brushing my teeth or shower shorter and turning it off while shampooing my hair or applying soap. I never ran out of water myself but should it ever happen, there are blue supply houses all across town where you can fill up canisters 24/7 and refill the tank yourself. Heating is done by oil which is delivered every three weeks or so and electricity comes from the local plant than runs on petroleum.

BathroomWhat needed some time for adjustment was the toilet itself. There is no sewer so the toilet is like a bigger and sturdier camping toilet. You do your business in a big black plastic bag that’s fixed under the toilet seat. An exhaust pipe inside the bowl leads outside the wall and provides ventilation and keeps your cheeks quiet chilly if a storm ravages outside. These refuse bags get picked up three times a week by a guy who comes to the house. After a while I stopped thinking about the whole thing and it does look more or less like a normal toilet. As a tip, keep the bathroom cold and use some M1 mixed with water – it will keep the room fresh.


Upernavik is a hunting and fishing village of roughly 1200 inhabitants, 800 km (or 500 miles) north of the Arctic Circle. It is the main town of about 11 settlements that are spread out on the archipelago on the coast of Baffin Bay. Travelers continue from here either by helicopter or mainly by boat if they want to reach any of the other villages. There are just a few roads on the island and therefore not many cars exist. Everybody walks regardless of the weather. I’ve heard there is one taxi but I was not able to confirm that. During ice time, dog sledge is the main way of transportation for hunting and fishing. In general, many people use small sledges to haul their grocery shopping across town or children use them to go to school. During the winter the sun won’t rise for over two months but during the summer the sun will be up for nearly three months making daylight irrelevant when it comes to plan your day.

My trip to Upernavik

Flights to Greenland are being offered by Air Greenland from Copenhagen with a modern airbus A330-200 and depending on the season you can fly over from Iceland or Canada with other airlines. The first stop is Kangerlussuaq from where passengers are distributed across Greenland. Pay attention when you pack your carry-on since Air Greenland’s allowance and measurements are smaller than other airlines. This does make sense if you continue from Kangerlussuaq with a Bombardier Dash-8 or smaller aircrafts because now your bag has to fit under the seat.

Before my arrival in Upernavik, I spent two nights in Ilulissat. If you are interested in any touristy stuff this city offers all you desire from boat trips to dog sledge rides and hikes, all depending on weather conditions, snow, ice and season.  Ilulisaat is in close proximity to the Sermeq Kujalleq Glacier, one of the fastest and most active glaciers in the world producing around 20 billion tons of icebergs every year which slowly travel down the the Ilulissat Icefjord, a Unesco World Heritage site since 2004. Rumor has it that an iceberg from this fjord hit the Titanic.

Before arriving in Upernavik I made sure to stay connected to internet. I knew it is possible to use the computer in the library or the museum but I like to stay independent. I used my stopover in Kangerlussuaq to buy a USB dongle from the Tele*Post which is right at the airport.
Literally one minute across the street. Although there are Tele*Post offices in Ilulissat and Upernavik I wanted to make sure I got that covered. Important is to bring cash as they do not accept foreign credit cards. With the dongle, internet is slow and cuts out now and then, recharging is tricky since the instructions are in Danish but it is straight forward and once you’ve figured it, it is easy to repeat.

Upernavik itself has everything to live comfortably. There is a big Pilersuisoq supermarket in the center of town near the harbor which carries everything you need including PS4 consoles and games if you fancy it. Getting fresh fruit and vegetables can be a challenge and meats are always frozen but their selection is more than sufficient for all kinds of pallets although I’ve been told that during ice time the selection of goods shrinks rapidly. You can pay with cash, Visa or MasterCard. On the second floor is a small boutique with clothing of all kinds but especially winter clothes. There are smaller kiosks across town and a tavern that opens three nights a week after 10pm.

My Residency Stay

The UpernavikRetreat is a true fortress of solitude and accommodates artists since at least 2002. I had extremely beautiful days and nights where I could see the Northern Lights right outside my window. Right in front of the house is a great location from where you can take pictures of the Aurora Borealis or simply enjoy them.

Depending on the current, the ice floe changes every day and the light varies constantly. Not one day was the same and I really enjoyed my walks across town with theUpernavik Refugium Iceberg 1 NOV2015 (c) Boris Schaarschmidt snow squeaking under my boots followed by dog puppies. Everybody is extremely friendly and not shy to just chat with you about your work. At night you can hear the dogs howl followed by complete silence.

After mid-November the sun disappeared and it got gradually darker. Before that, the sun was always lurking behind a mountain. So the last time a saw the sun’s sphere was actually in October during my sightseeing in Copenhagen on the way to Greenland.  Although a good portion of the day is dark, there is constantly the feel of twilight for a few hours and my inner clock was either telling me, “Oh, so late already” or “Did I wake up early?” but when I checked it was midday most of the time.

As the darkness crept in so did the weather change. A massive storm kept me inside the house for three full days, making the whole house shake and the walls tremble all day and night that I thought about my last will. The freezing gusts cooled the house down that on the second day I literally sat in my full snow gear in front of the computer, still freezing although there are five radiators on the first floor. On the third day the temperature warmed up and snow-ice turned into rain. The wind was pushing so hard against the windows that water seeped into to house through most windows as well as from the ceiling on the first floor, which did not make much sense to me. I have never seen the Pilersuisoq supermarket so packed as on the day after the storm, and just like magic, it was filled with newly arrived Christmas decorations, starting the season officially.

The weather stayed overcast for seven days accompanied by snow fall every day making that little light there was almost disappear. But this was all very enjoyable and part of the experience. The “bad” weather eventually passed followed by yet again clear artic nights with an amazing moon up in the sky all day and night shining as bright as the sun (with the correct stop and aperture) and of course Aurora Borealis, ice bergs and crisp white snow.

Anders from the Museum was so kind to organize a screening of six of my short films in the town hall, followed by a Q&A. The films were very well received and it was a lot of fun for me to see them screened for the first time in the Artic. At the screening I also meet Karl, a fellow Northern Lights enthusiast who shared some of his favorite viewing spots in town with me. He himself took some really impressive images of the Aurora Borealis and it was really nice to meet someone who is as excited about this natural phenomenon as I am.

Thanks to Samuel, on December 10th, my short films HALEEMA and ELDUR Á HIMNI were aired on KNR, the national Greenlandic television, including an interview with me.

Boris Schaarschmidt in Kangerlussuaq DEC2015I had a very creative time and was able to re-write my German feature length script MAUJA and to work on a first English draft of my feature film IMMEMORIAL. I also took thousands of images and experimented with time-lapse again. Besides all that, I lost 10 pounds due to my excellent cooking skills.  😀

Thanks for a great month Upernavik!

Boris Schaarschmidt

Eldur Á Himni exhibition at Villa Aurora in Los Angeles

Eldur Á Himni [Fire In The Sky] was very well received during my solo exhibit at Villa Aurora in Los Angeles.

We had a full house on May 31 in the beautiful Pacific Palisades. Visitors had the chance to take a look at some of my favorite images of the Northern Lights followed by an outdoor screening of the film. Here are some impressions from the evening. Enjoy!




20140216 Boris Schaarschmidt [Selfi] Fire in the Sky