Living in a tent city in a public park in the middle of winter had its benefits. Besides the persistent action in the next tent, one got to learn the relative warmth of sleeping bags, use of ear plugs, and how to handle a fire extinguisher. Then there was the pre-dawn police lecture on lawn care.
A subscriber wrote, “Six hundred occupiers are now in jail, but not one single shiny-suit banker, and now I’m under the basement stairs, looking for a better painting and a better year ahead.”
Sounds like a plan. No matter how modest, that studio is both the workroom and the playroom — and with the addition of a computer, the situation-room.
But the main idea in the studio is to raise quality beyond the 99 percent of average artists out there, and join up with the top one percent. It doesn’t take much of a studio. “The studio is less important than other things, like the burning desire to paint,” says Warren Criswell. “If you don’t have this disease, you can’t catch it from a nice studio.”
The studio is where you catch the disease, all right, and you catch it by following your nose around the place. Not entering the studio is worse than sneezing in the rain outside the MOMA. You have to pretty well show up and get inside. In the words of acclaimed author Annie Dillard, “You need a room with no view so imagination can meet memory in the dark.”
The studio is an extension of the sandbox and the kindergarten playroom. It has a dynamic unlike any office or factory. It’s a room at the service of a dreamer on her way to becoming a master. Wandering from project to project, she moves in a private soup kitchen where there’s always something on simmer. With something to get on with — something to finish, something to start — even the tiniest of workrooms has within it the building blocks of talent. Stay out on the streets at your peril.
PS: “All is well with me. The rain doesn’t reach me, my room is well heated, what more can one ask for? There’s no shortage of work, either.” (Paul Klee)
Esoterica: Today, in anticipation of the New Year, I’m tidying up and reorganizing the studio. Throwing out is hard to do. And it’s so easy to be delayed by those half-finished dreams that one discovers under other half-finished dreams. “I’m going to be neater this year — and better at prioritizing,” I say out loud, but no one around here believes me. So I’ll wish you well in your studio in the New Year. I sincerely hope you get some value from my letters. Today’s advice is — you guessed it — you need to occupy your studio. “Here in a little lonely room I am master of earth and sea, / And the planets come to me.” (British poet and critic, Arthur Symons)
Anything is possible in the shop
by Darney Willis, Siloam Springs, AR, USA
When I was a young boy my father had this amazing room on the end of the carport called “the shop.” When something I was using or riding or inventing broke I would take it to him. Fortunately, we didn’t have any money to replace it or have someone repair it, so Dad would take it and me into “the shop.” This was a magical room where anything was possible. So ever since then when I walk into my or someone else’s shop or studio I am immediately aware of a magical place where anything is possible. Thanks, Dad.
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Fine tuning studio dynamics
by Jolene Monheim, Great Falls, MT, USA
I love my studio now… but, it took me several years to create a space that finally worked for me. I initially occupied it with lots of “stuff” before I learned a simple system that allowed me the freedom to find a creative flow. I did a lot of subtraction, clear focusing on structure, and an intuitive feng shui. For years I fought routine and structure, feeling that they were limiting me, but now I have a playground, with clear times for housekeeping, building, and image creation. I still fight it, and will drift off into ADD, lassitude and sloth, but it’s clear to me that the fruits of order, showing up, and following my bliss, feed my soul and keep the meaning making in me alive and radiant.
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Working in imaginary space
by Susan Warner, Vernon, BC, Canada
An art studio occasionally has to be “in your head” or imagined. I share a second bedroom in a 1200 square foot Condo with a Photographer — my husband! Half of this room is my art and supplies and the other half is his photography. In the center facing a window is our computer, printer etc. All squeezed into a 12′ X 16′ space. Shelves to the ceiling on each side.
So I paint in our Dining room, anything from 12 x 12 inches to 6 x 6 feet. The easel and supplies are put away when we have company. The art “studio” doesn’t physically exist in my Condo. But it does exist in my head! I have found a way to work on large pieces and even several at once, easel and table both. Fortunately, my husband appreciates the creativity involved and happily has his meals elsewhere, any spot will do. He also enjoys watching the process as the piece unfolds. Of course I would love a real studio, but I am not hindered by the “imaginary” space and am very productive in spite of it.
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The passing on of inspiring messages
by Joe Murray, Jefferson, IA, USA
Happy New Year Robert! Most of us have read or heard the comment that some people come into our lives for a reason, season, or a lifetime. Naturally, the most important of those is the people that come into our lives for a lifetime. For me, you have come into my life for a lifetime. I have garnered a lot of wisdom from your unvarnished experiences in life and art. You are the breath of fresh air that artists need to breathe in whenever you speak. Do you make mistakes or errors? — Hell, yes, but who doesn’t? Beneath the surface of it all is a man that really has been introspective enough to discover what the artist is all about philosophically and emotionally and, most importantly, lets all us artists drink of his knowledge with his writings, workshops, or whatever. I remember one of your articles was about this Canadian artist that lived in a remote area. You had visited his studio to find out what made him tick and just to visit with him as a friend. I think you asked what the initials EMTD meant that were on his wall or near his easel. It meant — Enthusiasm Makes The Difference! That is now on my studio wall and I look at it every time I get a little depressed or those sullen negative thoughts creep into my mind during the life cycle of a painting. That is just one tiny snippet of how important your messages are to us. So, Robert please keep your inspiring messages coming to us. I don’t know too many artists that cannot utilize to great effect someone who tells it like it is without commercial rewards. You are a gem and I love you! (not romantically, ha!) Happy New Year Robert and Keep on Keeping On!
(RG note) Thanks, Joseph. And thanks to everyone who wrote personal notes. I spent Friday morning not occupying the studio just reading every one. The painter you mentioned who lived the manifesto of enthusiasm, Bruno Cote, of Baie St Paul, Quebec, has now passed on. I was just musing how I knew him all my life but only met him once. Art is like that. Fleeting, but precious.
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Turning off the switch
by Pat Stamp, Callander, ON, Canada
Even though my main art practice is in clay I get a lot of inspiration from your letters. Yesterday I flipped the breaker in my studio and won’t go out there until April when it becomes more economical to heat. After a couple of weeks of rest I will begin to miss the routine of the studio. After 36 years I am still in love with the process. In the meantime, I will find a corner to paint and write and put my creative energies toward other pursuits.
Studio in a tent
by Louwtjie Kotze, Randburg, South Africa
We are currently on our summer holiday in a little picturesque coastal town called Stilbaai (Still Bay), where I sit and paint to my heart’s content in the tent adjacent to our caravan. Because we travel much during the year, I always have my small table, easel and painting paraphernalia wherever I go. On windy or rainy days, I paint while listening to beautiful music. On sunny days, I lie on the beach. There are the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets and all kinds of situations and scenery to paint from – what more does an artist want?! This is as close to heaven on earth as you can get!
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The mundane and the constant interruptions
by Gail Caduff-Nash, Mountain home, NC, USA
I often think, when reading your articles, that it’s lacking a certain women’s touch ;) And on the subject of studio space, the way a woman has to deal with this is by far tougher than how most men do it. If she has family there. If she’s the mom. If she’s the main bottle washer and housekeeper and keeper of all live beings there. If there’s a phone there. If the trash must go out. If kids are there, or even the Mister is hanging about.
And there’s laying claim to the actual space without it becoming a nook for stacking stuff. Or the spare room when it has a guest in it. Or having brushes waiting to be washed by the sink. Or finding anyplace where spilled paint is not an issue.
My winter ‘studio’ ends up in the bedroom because the other is not heated. He goes to sleep early, making my painting time limited. It’s tucked between dressers and the laundry baskets. It has one north facing window. The supplies are kept elsewhere to keep it simple. I have a sign for myself that says “Keep it simple, stupid” because of my tendency to clutter and confuse. And then the cat jumps onto my palette !!! and the dog wants out and the phone rings. Sigh.
The best reason for an official studio is to just get away from all these distractions. I can only paint with distractions when I’m fully committed to a piece and have all the planning done. But the initial part where I’m really trying to stay in my head and think things thru’ is defeated too often by the mundane and constant interruptions. And dinner. What’s for dinner? I’ve sometimes thought about joining the occupiers of the streets — it’s probably quieter there. I could get some real work done.
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Problem with a commission
by Barrett Edwards, Naples, FL, USA
I’m having a wee bit of difficulty deciding how to handle a commission issue. As briefly as I can make it, I was commissioned to do an oil painting by my second cousin, whom I barely know. She was specific as to what was to be included (a landscape featuring certain birds). She specified the aspects of the landscape she wanted to have included, so I did a quick sketch on a napkin and she said that was what she wanted. I followed through, shipped the painting and she paid for it. Two weeks later she emailed me saying the painting wasn’t at all what she wanted — she wanted the birds to be much, much larger, taking up almost the entire canvas. She asked for a “re-do.”
I apologized for the misunderstanding (the customer is always right) and then explained that this would require an entirely new painting (which is 20″ x 30″). She said to let her know “what the extra cost would be.” I have now painted a new painting — without all the landscape aspects she had originally requested — emailed her a photo, and received her enthusiastic approval, along with instructions to “ship it and let her know the costs.”
In the email that showed her the finished second painting, I had noted that I would leave the compensation for the new painting up to her but that I felt that this constituted a new commission. She has neglected to respond to that aspect, tossing the payment ball back to me. I’m flummoxed as to how to handle this; I spent a great deal of time on this second painting, as well, and feel I should be compensated, although perhaps not for the original commission price. Might your clever mind offer some guidance for me?
(RG note) Thanks, Barrett. I had the same thing happen to me and I ended up giving the second attempt to the customer at no charge. I requested the first one back and sold it after a while through my regular stable of galleries. In your case, you might not feel your first work has sufficient general appeal to be sold through galleries, so if you have to put a price on the “second try” there is a general convention that it’s 50 to 75% of the first price. Even though some commissioners are way out to lunch on what they think they want in the first place, there’s no point in allotting blame. It’s better to be gracious.
We are not alone in the predicament
by Jim Lee, Colfax, CA, USA
I was sitting in front of our wood stove watching the flames burning and telling my wife I wanted to start a new painting but was not inspired by anything special, so went into the studio, small, dark and lonely–to check my e-mail. Your blog was at the top of my list. It made me realize I am not alone in the dark and size does not matter! There is plenty to paint! I just have to begin! Happy New Year! Here is to a great New Year for us all!
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Enjoy the past comments below for Occupy art studio…
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 Robert Sesco of Charlottesville, VA, USA, who wrote, “The studio is ancillary. The artist’s drive is the key.”
And also Claudia Hershman of Huntington Woods, MI, USA, who wrote, “I love my studio. It’s bright, well organized (I spent a week this summer getting everything in place, with labels and finding out exactly what I have) and welcoming. I feel so happy when I am there, no matter what I am doing, and understand the Paul Klee quote entirely!”