Residencies come in all shapes and sizes, offering a myriad of opportunities to artists. Here are some brief suggestions about what you should consider when applying for one.

Time and space away from your normal life can be enormously helpful in enabling you to produce work. On the other hand, isolation and a lack of distraction could be bad for your sanity. For many, residencies can offer the necessary structural and or financial support to make work. For some artists, it's the chance to discover the central focus of their work. Artist Clara Drummond said her first residency in Hatley Park, Cambridgeshire - following a post graduate diploma in drawing in 2005 at the Princes Drawing School - helped to identify her voice as an artist.

Getting a suitable residency and benefiting from it means knowing exactly what you want to gain from it. The choices on offer can be overwhelming – from remote one-person schemes to large scale multi-disciplinary residencies. 

You'll find long lists of residencies online but simply trawling through these can be time-consuming if you are not focused. Before you begin, work out when you are available and how long for, whether you need funding or a stipend, and then consider other practical issues. This may sound obvious but such parameters help. Concerns such as transport, board and lodging, access to local materials, how to get work home, and whether you need specific facilities, are critical issues to consider. Do you want access to a studio or do you require certain facilities, such as a printing press? Do you want a particular geography? Do you want to work in a multi-disciplinary context, developing work alongside other artists in a community or alone? Also consider what you do not want or need. This will help eliminate choices and simplify the application process. There's no point applying for a residency that sounds prestigious or appealing, but doesn't really suit your practice. 

Not least because the application process can be time consuming. Most schemes require an artist statement, CV, images of work and an outline of what you will develop during the residency. Defining what your practice is about and your interests will help you apply. Some schemes are only open to emerging artists, some to recent graduates, some to mid-career professionals. A number are age-specific or nationality based. Turn this to your advantage by thinking about why you are different. How could you make the most of a residency?

Know what the host organisation expects – both in terms of time and work. School residencies, for example, expect a commitment that short term residencies often do not. Former RCA graduate Amanda Couch (Printmaking, 2003-2005) spent 1999-2000 at Leighton Park School, Reading. She had to help after school several times a week in exchange for partial pay, board and lodging. She says, "It was a great experience being supported within the (school’s) art department, with access to materials and a dark room, over a continuous period." But, she added, the schedule, including meal times, was dictated by the school. 

Being alone can seem appealing when living in a big city, but it can also be isolating. Be clear about how much independence you will require, such as 24-hour studio access or your own transport. What about contact with others – be it local or with other artists? Clara Drummond said in Hatley she was able to discuss her work and socialise with the host and founder of the residency, Daphne Astor, and her family. Artist Phoebe Cope on the other hand, whose degree in fine art was at The Ruskin, Oxford, said her year-long residency in Staffordshire (2007) with the Machin Arts Foundation, was tough due to its remoteness. However, she adds, "I got lots of work done. There was no one to bother me." 

Schemes can last as little as a week or two or as long as a year. One to three months is not uncommon. Start research into residencies some months before your ideal start date. Applications for summer schemes can start as early as the previous summer and be highly competitive, though many have spring deadlines. Residencies linked to schools or universities tend to run from September. 

Then comes the challenge of application forms and funding which can both be lengthy processes. Many residencies are open to individuals to apply. Some require an institution to recommend you or you need an invitation. Phoebe Cope was invited to Cill Rialaig project in Ballinaskelligs County Kerry in Ireland for a few weeks, after being spotted in a group show in Kilcock in County Kildare. The scheme is run by word of mouth and operates 10 workers' cottage studios.

Regarding costs, certain applications involve an administration charge, though this shouldn't be exorbitant. Residencies can offer a whole package including studio, board and lodging and even stipend. Others provide a space to create work, leaving the artists to seek funding independently. Some set specific fees but expect applicants to gain funding from national funding bodies. Others require artists to donate a piece of work or commit to community involvement. Certain organisations will match external funding. 

Set out a realistic budget. Amanda Couch warns, "You always spend more than you plan." A recent residency at Meltdowns Project Space in Ramsgate in 2009 provided her with studio space and a materials budget but no accommodation – she rented her London room out and camped for the duration. Others might not be so bold.

Exhibitions can be part of the programme, which can be a good target, while at other times, having no pending deadline can be liberating. Amanda’s Chateau de Sacy residency in 2000 included an exhibition as part of France’s Patrimonie (open house) scheme. But her Ramsgate residency supported by the Fenton Arts Trust - which she did alongside a Live Art Development Agency (LADA) DIY around practice-based research - had no show, which "relieved the pressure". The focus was on research and development. Clara's residency in Akureyri, Iceland, called The Guest Studio, run by The Gil Society, took several weeks to build momentum, but it allowed her time to research and triggered ideas for the year ahead. 

Be prepared to be flexible. The ideal residency might happen only every two years or not exactly when you want. And be prepared to apply to a number of schemes – there can be much competition, but the benefits are invaluable.