Here on the sleepy lagoon it’s a good place to practice the “be here now.” Limitations become advantages and new and unfamiliar phenomena become fresh challenges. I have only this — and this day to do it. Come to think of it — this goes for pretty well any space.
Over the last couple of weeks there’s been a few artists who have written and described the space they’re in, what they’re doing, and what their windows tell them. Some letters were pure poetry. We included a couple of these in the last clickback and the one before. There was a sense of contentment, inner peace and centering. There were others where that was not the case. Whether it’s under a grass parasol, under the basement stairs, or under the bright lights of a creative office — these are our studios and we’d better be happy in them.
I’ve looked at the “be here now” as a special place where we learn to unfold a private quilt of our own making and design. It’s less a physical space than an attitude. At the same time it’s a linear thing, like the frames of a film, where every frame makes a contribution to the eventual whole, and every frame asks for full attention. This is its unique delight. Not everyone is capable of the steadiness or perhaps the obsession required. But it’s the key to our lives as artists, the blessing that carries us from dilettante to professional, and it’s the greatest indicator of who we are.
If you’re inclined you might drop a note and share with others your space, what you see from it, and what you’re currently doing in it.
PS “Art is viable when it finds elements in the surrounding environment. Our ancestors drew their subject matter from the religious attitudes which weighed on their souls. We must now learn to draw inspiration from the tangible miracles around us.” (Umberto Boccioni, 1882-1916)
Esoterica: Many of us hunger for an important space that we can fill. Many of us have such a space. Currently I’m reminded of the value of the minimal. “A rain-tight roof, frugal living, a box of colors, and God’s sunlight through clear windows keep the soul attuned and the body vigorous for one’s daily work.” (Albert Pinkham Ryder, 1847-1917)
If you would like to tell of your own situation, please do so. We’ll publish a selection in the next clickback. I’m at email@example.com If you would like to comment on or criticize any of this please do so. In the next while we are also continuing our look into the current effectiveness of selling art online; what’s working, what’s not. We have some new correspondence on this business currently archived and ready to release — you can add to it if you wish. If you haven’t already you can check on some of what has been written to date at Online Galleries
The following are selected responses to this letter. I apologize if your letter is not here. There were more than could be comfortably included — I’m always having to remember that we have work to get on with. These ones were chosen not because some of the writers were merely famous, but that they showed a variety of personalities and approaches. Thank you for writing.
Life is good
by David Oleski, Pennsylvania, USA
I live and work in one giant room. I can wake up, shower, have breakfast and an espresso, feed my cats and get to work on my next painting without leaving this one room. This studio is part of a 150 year old brewery which houses three different restaurants, two bars and employs about 50 people, and it’s located in the middle of nowhere amidst the rolling green hills of Pennsylvania’s Lancaster county. I’ll take a break by walking down three flights of stairs to the main bar to read the morning paper and say hello to whichever pretty young waitress is working that day. Once my painting session is well under way, I can take a short walk and be caught in the hustle and bustle of a completely different world, and when I return I have a fresh eye and a welcoming chorus of cats. My computer connects me to the outside world, both through my website and my ability to order supplies, and my materials are delivered to the front lobby of the building. With hardly any input from the outside world, I maintain my own course of study in the silence and solitude of this one room. The windows look out over a tiny town, and other than to see if a delivery truck arrives they primarily serve as a source of sunlight. At this point, my subjects are fruits and vegetables and flowers. At any given time I have a bouquet on the windowsill and a counter covered with tangerines, plums, tomatoes and every kind of apple. Later this week a young woman may be sitting for a small portrait. Life is good.
by Judith Jones
I have been in my new studio for only 6 months, and only now does it seem like home. The view from the window next to my easel is of the side of the neighbor’s garage. He grows grapes along that wall. The shapes, colors, and the rhythm of line, ever changing in that vine are fascinating. The window behind me looks out over my garden, to the fields and then the mountains, all gray at first glance, but then, oh so much winter color, and birds, birds, birds. Yet I am now painting interiors, comfort places with fires and family portraits.
Painting from the outside in
by Leni Friedland, Mt. Sinai, NY, USA
My studio is in my basement, approximately 18 feet by 12 ½ feet. The floor and walls are done in yellow and white. I love my space and fill the walls with photos and cards of artists’ work that moves me. I cannot see outside from the basement window in my room. Most of my painting is done from photographs I have taken or, the ones I love the most are done from the creative exploration of my mind. I love color and always challenge myself by trying new combinations, new mediums (presently using acrylic on canvas after painting with watercolor for six years) and different compositions of either just color or some recognizable form. I say I paint from the inside out as opposed to looking at something and trying to render a likeness on my terms which I consider painting from the outside in.
No big deal
by Shirley Erskine, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
My best “studio” is my state of mind at the time of creating. I have done some really good work under the worst circumstances and some pretty awful stuff in a well organized, pristine studio. My current studio space is the whole lower portion of the house and has wonderful lighting and amenities. I have no view, except for the bottom of a rose bush that I can see outside the high window. The house was previously owned by a professional seamstress and she had very good and well spaced lighting installed. It was this room that sold us the house. I am happy in this space and cannot hear what is going on in the rest of the house and can play my eclectic mix of CD music as long and as loud as I want without disturbing anyone else. I have found that I do not need a view. I paint from a theme and from my inner emotions and senses. The isolation of being in the “basement” has been a boon to my creativity. I have been producing happily. No outside distractions!
I have worked in a 15th Century Monastery in the Azores, a one room studio in Mexico, an outside co-op studio, on location all over Europe, and I also had the complete upper floor of a “well windowed” house as a studio. But I really like the isolation of being in my underground capsule. It is like being in bed, pulling the covers over my head and shutting out the rest of the world. Only in this case I am creating works that are definitely “above ground”. As long as this sense of contented isolation and security lasts, so will this studio. One can always change their working space. We can take our talents and ideas wherever we go: like packing them in a backpack and trudging off in another “studio” location. No big deal!
Where this dream will take me
by Eric Beggs
I’m sitting in my 31 foot Airstream trailer, a 1971 model I’m converting to a mobile production facility. I’ve installed a computer bay in the front area replacing the kitchen with a 4×5 vertical copy camera and the couch/bed with 15 feet of countertop for computers, scanners and printers. I’m in the countryside near Austin, Texas, about a mile from McKinney Falls State Park. At night I can step out the door and hear coyotes howling. I’ve set up a bird feeder by the trailer hitch and can see all the activity over the monitor as I work. The computer system is geared for eventual video production as well. When my fiance finishes graduate school, I’ll be ready to take the “Camp Studio” on the road and spend more time at desirable locations producing prints and video in the field. I’m a photographer by trade but often delve into other related visual fields. I work in pinhole, panoramic and stereo formats in B&W, infrared and color. I shoot up to 8×10 formats and have recently been experimenting with Zone Plates which produce a wonderful, ethereal soft focus effect. I’ve been fascinated with clouds this past fall and plan to paint cloud forms on the ceiling of the computer bay, with glow-in-the-dark stars for night viewing. I was outside painting the darkroom sink today for the lab which is nearly finished in the rear of the Airstream, when I looked up and saw a large flock of crows rising from the newly plowed fields. It was a vision of dreams realized to me. I’m excited about scanning images from my collection and producing large format digital negatives which can then be printed on handmade emulsions using palladium, gum dichromate and cyanotype chemistry. I’ll also be able to print up to 20×24 B&W prints from 4×5 negatives. I’m interested in microphotography, stereography and kite aerial photography, large prints and digital enhancement. I’m having a wonderful time designing all the details which make working in this funny little aluminum tube a convenience and a pleasure. The darkroom is a seated affair, since the headroom is only 6′ 6″. I built a custom sink 34 x 88 inches to accommodate 20×24 trays at a height of just 30 inches and the enlarger baseboard is set at 28 “for comfortable printing. The vertical print washer has been lowered to floor level for ease of print handling and the windows are blacked out in a way that they can still be easily opened for toning, views and fresh air when I’m not printing. So, this is my dream in process. As I put another coat of paint on the sink or pull wire for the phone system, I wonder where this dream will take me, what will be revealed and how I will change from the experience. I’m looking forward to seeing around the next bend in the road, as I so often do on my bicycle tours in Ireland.
Looking for “me”
by Mary Jean Mailloux, Oakville, Ontario, Canada
I have a map of France pinned to my cork board walls (A country I’ve lived in and love). I have a large desk, an easel, a small basement window through which I witness the changing seasons and watch the roses bud and bloom from below. I watch the snow fall and mount and melt and see the blue sky on sunny days like today. I have shelves for paints and brushes and a tabouret on wheels and I wash my brushes in an enamel chamber pot.
The computer screams for attention everyday. It invades the space reserved for visual breaks. My children and husband also use the computer so my space isn’t private any more. This is a dilemma, because I don’t feel I have the privacy to lose myself in thought and idle dreaming. My studio has also become the family office for our home businesses. May I confess at this time that I feel a little schizophrenic about all this. I’m a person who loves to have people around. I love to chat and share my breakthroughs. On the other hand I need quiet periods where I can concentrate and visualize. I’m afraid I will never be a successful solitary painter. It is now the computer that competes for my attention.
I have begun a series of paintings and drawings based on sketches I did of my father. It’s hard to stay with it. One per day is my goal. I’m learning to accept that it doesn’t have to take a month to do a good piece of work. (Not saying every attempt will be a masterpiece). I am in search of the artist—me.
by Julie Rodriguez, San Pablo, CA, USA
My studio is a single room in our home. It is the smallest bedroom upstairs but it is exclusively mine. Its western window looks out on to the sunset when I arrive from my day job. It’s a warm sanctuary. Though one hardly needs more than the beauty of the earth on which to look out, my studio also compliments the setting with a small corner shelf upon which sits a candle, a few fossils and natural crystals. This last weekend I added a miniature Victorian conservatory that I constructed out of a small glass case and includes a miniature garden bench, gazing ball and a pebbled path through the garden: a magical retreat that only requires a glance to travel there. Quiet music and warm tea completes the space.
This room feels different than any other room in the house. What goes onto paper comes from within, though the inspiration comes from elsewhere. I have begun a new project and appearing is the face of a man, with eyes closed as if letting the rays of the sun fill him. The figure did not appear with intention. Its development will come from the same space. I long for the time to be able to do this throughout the day.
Living with intention
by Kathleen Valentine, Gloucester, Massachusetts, USA
Living with intention requires skill and discernment. We gain knowledge of the selves we have long neglected. We take pleasure in finding new fascinations, uncovering previously unexplored passions. We find ourselves looking forward to time alone when we can allow ourselves the luxury of following a thought to its very end and savoring the intense satisfaction of knowing what opens us to bliss. Thomas Merton says, “Love is an intensification of life.” Living life in full awareness of our days, committing ourselves to intensifying our awareness of our own passions is a process that leads us in to a loving relationship with our deep selves. I think about this on these gray days for they remind me what a gift is waiting for me. Choosing intention is choosing love — not falling haphazardly into a tenuous condition which leaves us feeling confused and fearful of its loss. We learn to love and appreciate the one person we will be guaranteed of having a relationship with for the rest of our lives. Learning to savor the exquisite mystery of gray days gives us the gift of self-knowledge, self-appreciation and a passion for life that lets us blossom in love.
by Radha Saccoccio, NY, USA
My studio space is in lower Manhattan, SoHo, very close to the Hudson River. I share it with another artist who is rarely there. We have a partition to allow solitude and prevent interference. The highlight of the space is the windows with a view of the Hudson and that also means sunsets, which can be fabulous inspirations of color. I have been living in NYC since 1989. I found early on that the sky and the river were important for attending to my need for nature. The sky is most available and an incredibly ethereal contrast to the solid gray masses of buildings. And to have both the sky and the river, it is like the access to an internal heaven, also paralleling the nature of creative inspiration and freedom. The flow of the river has a calming affect. There’s boat activity, and the sky above with the interaction of color between the two. I have always been comfortable in solitude especially with nature and my creative process is meditative, so I feel blessed with the luxury of this view between buildings that is part of the life force in my studio. It took me about eight months to find this space. I am glad I did not settle for less. There are too many spaces in Manhattan that are windowless, and a window may be blocked by an adjacent building. I would wilt under those conditions. I was told recently that I was a tree in my last life. That explains a lot!
Frame by frame
by Renne Rhae, Palm Coast, Florida, USA
I find that painting and writing play an intricate duality in my creative process, they seed and nurture one another as a balanced stimulation. Often a written thought process, as I call it, will blossom into full color images much like a feature film, frame by frame, and a painting is born. The golden rule of the artist is to see, observe and remember. That’s the way I see Life. If we take the time to observe life as we live it, we not only live fully in the moment, we also get to experience, with awareness, the unfolding of our own growth, frame by frame. We get to witness the events and circumstances that have paved the way for who we are now. Keeping a journal helps me remember while processing the observations. Seeing is the hard part and sometimes I don’t get it, so the subtle lessons come back in many different and somewhat nagging ways.
by Susan von Borstel, Garden Valley, California, USA
The analogy of “Be Here Now” as a movie is useful. Beautiful frames for a satisfying result… a reel with frames unpolluted by such fears as the public’s tastes, financial issues, laziness, painter’s block. The sound track would be the little director’s voice in my ear that knows the best way to stage each scene with background music made of trust. I am the enthusiastic actor at the premier, an excited witness. Lately I have been experiencing quick flashes in my mind of brilliant passages, like the best four square inches of a Sargent or a Sorolla. I want to capture and analyze them but with that wish they disappear. I think the best action is to thank them. Yes. Then when one serendipitously appears on my canvas I will notice and preserve it’s beauty at once noticing from whence it came.
by Cassandra James, Austin, TX, USA
I’m currently in the midst of the last few paintings for a show in Tampa. I have 2 weeks left to paint and as usual, too many images in my head that want out. My studio is the renovated back-end of a carport with a bank of closets/bookshelves on the street side, a bar-sink for cleaning brushes, a 15-drawer flat file, two tables and 3 easels. The East and North sides of the studio are floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a 30 acre hilly canyon full of red oaks, juniper, a few homes and white-tail deer, 20 minutes from downtown Austin. Yesterday I hung a wren house just outside the studio window which I know for certain will be occupied this spring. This has been a spectacular fall, and now these cool, but sunny winter days are a delight. It’s been a wet winter and the rye grass is flourishing, so there is a patch of brilliant green here and there in a carpet of burgundy leaves and gray & white tree trunks with upper branches so fine they appear to be moving. I’m digging a new garden bed and must make myself come inside in the late mornings to clean up, have lunch, nap and get into the studio by 1:00 — fed, rested and in it for the long haul. I’ll start a new painting today (34″ x 66″) of a waterspout (one of 3 in a series of sequential images), hit my stride about 4:00, and give it up around 7:00 or 8:00. This is the weekday pattern. Once a week I go out for lunch and run errands, but try to get back in the studio by 2:00 latest. Weekends I stretch & gesso canvases and clean house. That’s pretty much the routine.
No one minds the noise
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, Florida, USA
I am in an old storefront on Main Street. My building was built around 1900; a 20′ x 60′ open space with high ceilings and an interesting facade. It was a restaurant called “The Chili Bordello” back in the early 1980s, and had been vacant for about eight years before I moved in ten years ago. The walls were covered with red velvet wallpaper and there was a truly disgusting red shag carpet wall-to-wall. The windows were painted gray. It was dark and smelly and the price was right. Over the years, the chandeliers were replaced with track lighting, and the concrete floor has been covered with linoleum and a few nice carpets. The paint’s been scraped off the windows and the walls and ceiling have been replastered and painted white. It’s a lovely space, and very comfortable. The afternoon light pours in the windows. My assistant Kim works here during the day, stretching canvas, framing paintings, dealing with the constant stream of visitors and phone calls. I arrive in the early evening, usually. Tonight we had band practice here. I play the drums. The local newspaper described our music as “suburban tribal pop.” We practice here because no one minds the noise. The guys all left around eleven, I straightened the paintings on the wall, then I began my night’s work.
I love this place. I feel completely safe and private here. I have everything I need right within reach. I always spend the month of January doing some studio improvements. This year I’ve replaced the white vinyl miniblinds in the front windows with real wooden blinds, and I’ve ordered some new furniture that I hope will help to solve the clutter problem; map chests for paper storage, and cabinets and tables for books, art supplies and music equipment.
I know I can paint anywhere. For years I worked in an unheated, unairconditioned shed out in the woods. But the more I value my work, the more important it is for me to work in a studio worthy of the paintings. Somehow it feels right to spend a little time every now and then giving some attention to the space. When my outer world is ordered and beautiful, the paintings flow.
A spiritual state of man
by Yaroslaw, Olga Knyaz, Moscow, Russia
As to the lagoon of inspiration it may be a material place or it may be a spiritual state of man. What I remember before now about myself the inspiration comes with a spirit of creativity. The creativity comes when is present the moment of investigation and new decisions to investigate. Except this, must be present the stimulus to investigate. The stimulus are different for different peoples, You know, of course these.
You may be interested to know that artists from 71 countries have visited these sites since January 1, 2001.
That includes Sarah Van Snellenberg of Vancouver, BC, who contributed this poem:
The Waking by Theodore Roethke
I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go
Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.
This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.