The American architect and author Anthony Lawlor looks at rooms as containers for the elevation of the human spirit. The kitchen, for example, is a sacred place where raw foods are transformed by the alchemy of heat into sustenance and delicacy. Bedrooms are sanctuaries for the mysterious transformations of sleeping and loving. Bathrooms are closed retreats of personal cleanliness and hygiene.
Apart from perhaps the nursery, nothing compares to the remarkable container known as the studio. Here is a sanctuary where mere materials are transformed into objects of beauty. Like the laboratory, the studio is a domain of imaginative possibilities — as near to “creation” as mankind is likely to go.
At the center of most studios is a piece of furniture called the easel. Whether simple and humble or complex and magnificent, it is at this unit that the creator sets her forces in motion.
You might pause to consider how blessed are we who daily stand or sit before the easel. Ideally, it should be a strong object, so it can be pushed hard against, or be made to hold rock-steady during our more delicate passages. The easel needs to be well lit from above so those born on it can be properly examined, pampered and reconsidered.
The easel is an altar to productivity. Traditional altars have been places of worship and sacrifice, and the studio easel is no exception. He who would do well at one must respect and honour the gods of quality, truth, composition, imagination, pattern, perspective, story, drawing, colour, fantasy and flair. To stand or sit at one, even in play, you need to prepare yourself for labour.
The easel is also a place of sacrifice. Substandard passages or whole works are summarily struck down at this often troubling altar — but rebirth is its usual fruit. Both honour and responsibility go with your easel, your altar.
PS: “For thousands of years, much of humankind has believed that only special places are infused with the sacred and that you must get away from the everyday in order to find it. Not so, everything is infused with the holy — from chairs to clothing to kitchen stoves.” (Anthony Lawlor)
Esoterica: While I’ve built, bought, worn out, and rejected countless outdoor easels and boxes, my studio easel is home-built and has been with me for a lifetime. My dad and I built it in 1974. I’ve sometimes looked at more sophisticated cranking and tilting models, but I’ve always come back to this one. Maybe it’s the spirit of Dad in its rugged design, the Luddite way it holds onto my paintings, or the patina from my cigar-smoking days that keeps it in its place. But maybe it’s the tradition. I’ve made a lot of art on it, and rejected a lot as well. It’s been a life together — this easel and me. I guess you could say I’ve fallen in love with it.
Your easel, your altar
Laboratories of alchemy
by Peter Trent, Hawkesbury, ON, Canada
If we are to refer to the various rooms in an abode in other terms maybe we should then refer to our studios as Alchemists Laboratories as they are, indeed, places where chemical matter are turned into gold! Now I will have to desist from referring to my trips to the basement, where I have been consigned, as going to the Lab. Perhaps I’ll find a more positive affirmation rather than the current; “I’ll be down in the dungeon!”
On the stream
by Mona Youssef, Ottawa, ON, Canada
There, where an artist elevates his/her human spirit, where raw ideas and imagination are transformed by the alchemy of self-visualisation into self-expression, sustaining oneself for survival, and where the mysterious transformations of inner feelings and personal emotions are freely painted on the dead canvas, retreating and cleaning the very private closed-in and hidden hygiene of some days, for months or for years!!. Why Niagara Falls has come to my mind now! Probably, because of the powerful waters that keep on pouring down with no limitations and none stop day and night, who can stop it or who can stop an artist from such actions, yet, from all the walks of life, people still come to watch the outcome or the down-come!!! Keep your easel on the stream.
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A sculptor’s workplace
by Father Vincent Crosby, Latrobe, PA, USA
I read your thoughts very early in the morning when I arise for prayer and meditation. I am a monk and a priest and in my monastery where I work as an artist. Every day I go to my studio I feel privileged to be able to create beautiful things in this holy place. Understandably, I was excited this morning when I opened your letter and read the title “your easel, your altar.” I found your words inspiring but also a little disappointing. Whenever I tell people I work as an artist, almost always the first question is “Oh, what do you paint?” I then have to explain that I am not a painter, I am a sculptor and a fabric artist. It seems that in most people’s minds the word “artist” is synonymous with “painter.” The truth is that there are very many artists who don’t work at easels. Everyone’s “altar” is different but the same sacrifice is offered nonetheless.
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Guard your own haven
by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA
It’s funny that you should post now… just after I have recently visited three area artist’s studios, whose spaces are each holy. When I say holy, I am referring to the meaning of holy, which simply put means “set apart.” Each of my artist friend’s studios has a unique flavor and reflects not only the art they create in their studios, but also their personalities. The one common denominator was that their studios were all warm, inviting and were obviously reserved only for the function of creating art.
So as I have reflected on my own studio, I have realized that I must better guard my own haven for creating art. No more using it as a dumping ground of items that don’t have a better place to be stored. No more extra furniture or file cabinets. Basically I know if I can eliminate about 1/3 of material and furniture that currently is in my studio, I will be more apt to truly enjoy it and be more productive at my easel. Now could someone just provide me with an extra storage room for all of this stuff?
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Return of the spirit
by Kristin Vignal, Prince George, BC, Canada
My easel and I go back a long way! In 1960 my dad bought me oil paints, a pad of canvas paper and an Ancobilt easel. Dad introduced me to the world of turpentine, linseed oil and the glorious texture and colours of oil paint, and taught me how to mix colours and apply it with brush or palette knife. It was a very special thing that my dad and I shared way back then. As I grew older my easel survived many moves, marriage and family. It was most often neglected during those busy years, but waited patiently for me to return to it. It is once again my best friend and rejoices in my small moments of triumph when a painting comes together or silently commiserates when things go awry. I would be lost without this link to my past and the old smears of dried oil paint on the support shelf are like the spirit of my dad watching me as I stand before my easel.
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Looking for the Holy Grail
by Barbara Youtz, New Harbor, ME, USA
My friend Liz, who quit painting at 92, used to paint on a TV tray next to her car trunk. Liz turned out the most wonderful watercolors. Bill, who was a little younger at 91, used a folding arm chair with cup holders for his water, and balanced his paper on his lap. Bill’s paintings were the envy of everyone in our group. I used my very expensive heavy easel and turned out paintings that were sometimes pleasing and other ones that would fit into the category that my friend Barbara calls “Looser Paintings.”
What I finally realized is that Liz and Bill brought not only their well honed painting skills to their painting sessions but also easy to transport gear… that is lightweight and simple. This knowledge came only after I developed torn rotator cuffs in both shoulders and noticed that several of my painter friends, (mostly older women) suffered from the same ailment.
But where there is a will there is a way and since Liz and Bill had about 20 years on me, I decided that my physical limitations would not stop me from painting. So as a senior who loves plein air painting, my quest was to go in search of the Holy Grail of easels, which I have yet to find. When I do, I will set it up in some magnificent scenic place, surrounded by kindred spirits, with the sun shining warm upon my back and paint my brains out, at my altar to the paint gods – my easel!!!
by David Solly Sandler, Perth, Western Australia
I have been told that when an artist sells you a painting he is not selling you the copyright to the painting and that the artist still owns the copyright to the painting and he can sell this copyright to a third party. Is this correct?
I know what I like and try to understand how art experts judge the best painting in a competition. Are there clearly defined standards for judging paintings? Would judges all around the world judge more or less the same?
(RG note) Thanks, David. In most instances the artist owns the copyright to his or her work even though someone has purchased it. Your second question is a wall-banger. Jurors and art experts, while they may run in flocks and be birds of a feather, cannot be relied upon to have consistent, universal standards. Some are under-educated, some over-educated. There are those, though they may be brilliant, who are also prejudiced by poisonous pedagogy. Still others are commercially minded while others are spiritual and woo-woo. Some are merely political. Some prefer quality and craftsmanship; others dismiss quality and craftsmanship as old fashioned. Some go for art that has a sense of humour; others are not happy unless the work is dead serious. Some clever jurors like work that is clever. Some choose what they like without thinking things through. Still others just have a good eye like you and me.
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Sending jpegs before shipping
by Bev Rodin, Willowdale, ON, Canada
Any opinion on galleries or prospective galleries who want to see every image prior to the shipping of work so that the gallery can cherry pick every single piece?
(RG note) Thanks, Bev. If this happened to me I wouldn’t be against sending a few jpegs. While it’s not always possible to make a judgment from photos, dealers and gallery owners need to connect with the art as well in order to be enthusiastic advocates. With the expedience of the Internet and the current high cost of shipping, this system is enjoying growth.
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Cutting edge not so sharp anymore?
by Wietze Adema, Grand Rapids, MI, USA
Is painting dead in the era of post modernism? In NYC this week checking out the art scene, concentrating on contemporary art, I was primarily interested in painting, but painting seems definitely in the tiny minority — lots of layered collages and some “bare bones” colored non-images. Most of the stuff was in the dark performance category, via video. The cutting edge stuff was bleak and extremely minimalist. It seemed bizarre, desperate, obscure, incomprehensible and in some cases, a reaching for extreme psychic expression. After seeing this, I wondered, is this the future? I mean, how do we stay relevant, by rehashing stuff that’s all been done before? At least my visit to MOMA was more exiting — higher quality and not as dark and depressing, but not cutting edge. Has painting the exterior world reached the end of the road because now there’s only the interior left?
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acrylic painting 90 x 78 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes >Alison L. Webb of Asheville, NC, USA, who wrote, “One of my art teachers said, ‘A studio is where you put something down and find it in the place you left it.’ ”
And also Gary Eddington of Baltimore MD, USA, who wrote, “In art school we learned of the magical language of marks on paper, color, design and form. Now there is fine art, form. I sometimes think life is just a worship of the female form. I just saw the Degas show in Paris and I’m on board with that. Seeing the art Nouveau was also, for me, very sensual and seductive. Grace is a worthy goal of art; I see grace of form as a key to the longevity of a piece.”
And also Cindy Klong of Rancho Santa Fe, CA, USA, who wrote, “I use my mom’s easel and several tools she used before she passed away. I feel her presence when I use them and it’s a warm connection.”
Enjoy the past comments below for Your easel, your altar…