Recently, Eveleen Power of Dungarvan, Waterford, Eire, wrote, “I now have two art studios — one next to our home and a new one in town with nine other artists. How lucky I am. But I don’t know whether to bring my really good easel into the new one or leave it in the old one. I can’t decide which studio to have what medium in. My home studio has a sink so I’m thinking of just keeping that for watercolours, acrylics and water based mediums. Should the other one just be for oils? What would be some advice in this situation?”
Thanks, Eveleen. Dividing media between studios is not a bad idea. In one you might wear your watercolour hat and in the other your oily one. But it’s not the “really good easel,” or even the isolating of media from one space to the other that will make your work greater. It’s what you bring on the commute.
State of mind is all-important. The British painter David Hockney said, “People have asked me, ‘Isn’t it boring in Bridlington, a little isolated seaside town?’ And I say, ‘Not for us. We think it’s very exciting, because it is in my studio and it is in my house.'” The home studio need not be either big or fancy. “Small rooms,” said Leonardo da Vinci, “set the mind in the right path; large ones cause it to go astray.” Many significant artists treat the home studio as a secondary venue. “A studio,” said Joaquin Sorolla, “is a good place to smoke your pipe.” That said, the studio need only be a sacred place where work and imagination gently collude. “A space,” said Rainer Maria Rilke, “for the spirit to breathe.”
My observation of folks who decide to hang out with others (I’ve never tried it) is that they end up with social venues where interpersonal aggravation sets in, interest flags and quality becomes intermittent. There may be exceptions, of course, and it’s certainly something that might be tolerated once a year or so. But it’s a great loss not to work down at the bottom of the garden with the fairies.
PS: “The only thing that makes one an artist is making art. And that requires the precise opposite of hanging out; a deeply lonely and unglamorous task of tolerating oneself long enough to push something out.” (David Rakoff)
Esoterica: My best advice is to teach yourself to work pretty well anywhere. The mere act of making this decision builds your capacity for growth. In the heady days of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, sweet-spots appear like volunteers in a rambling garden. You can do it on a beach, on a heath, in a park, in a car or boat or on a friend’s patio while he’s trying to be a banker. Your home studio may be a pretty important place — the center of your universe — but the world is loaded up with other sacred spots. “Capto omnes” (Kjerkius Gennius – 36BC) “Grab them all.”
The sacred space
by Jan Boydol, Calgary, AB, Canada
“To have a sacred place is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room or a certain hour of the day or so, where you do not know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody or what they owe you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation.
At first, you may find nothing happens there. But, if you have a sacred place and use it, take advantage of it, something will happen.” (Joseph Campbell)
Home studio is best
by Andre Satie, Ensenada, Baja, CA, USA
My father was a sign painter. When I found myself a single mom needing to support my kids and self, I became a sign painter too. At times, I’d find myself lettering a gorgeous logo, which I had designed in the studio, on the plate glass window of a business establishment on a busy street. I got used to creating my own sacred working space while answering remarks like, “you must have a steady hand to do that” …. “That looks like a good job for a woman” …. “Would you like to have a cup of coffee with me?” And, of course, “My Aunt Maude could really draw” …. I’ve had many art studios since, and my favorite is the home studio, where I can glance over at a piece in process from time to time while going about my “other” business.
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On hallowed ground
by Mike Barr, Adelaide, South Australia
Many of us can only wish for a palatial studio — the type that is paraded with some pride in magazines and other media. It almost becomes an end in itself in some cases.
With room at a premium where I live, I have had several ‘spaces’ to paint in and at the moment, depending on the weather, rotate between back and front porches or the dining table.
My best work has been done on the back porch or the confines of a tool-shed studio at the back of the garden.
Actually, the sacred space is in front of the canvas where ever that may be. The immediate confines of an artist at work is indeed hallowed ground.
I speak for the millions of artists that don’t have the studio of their dreams and despair thinking that not having a ‘proper’ studio makes them less of an artist. We have to gather equipment before we can begin, a task that sometimes seems too hard. We pack up again to allow other things to happen around the house, but the time we did have at the easel was sacred and we produced the best we could.
Do not despair. Many studios that we could only dream about produce mediocre work, perhaps because the studio is the sacred place and not the vicinity of the canvas.
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Getting the noisy ego out of the way
by Julia Burns, Brighton, UK
An obsession with finding and equipping the right or perfect studio has nothing to do with painting; I have made good and bad paintings in tiny and spacious studios in my house and in group studios all over Brighton, Great Brittan. I prefer working at home as it is cheaper, warmer and less disruptive, but studios outside my house had the advantage of the journey to and the ability to leave work-related mess outside of the domestic. I can honestly say that studios have never really affected my practice but the search for the right studio has certainly taken up painting time. It is probably easier to procrastinate about light and where to put one’s brushes than getting on with the difficult task of getting the noisy ego out of the way in order to paint with any honesty. Painters paint. I know a few people who have perfect studios and never make any work. The places look fab though, like film sets of studios!
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Studio moved up from the basement
by Betsey Mulloy, Reston, VA, USA
My husband and I have been reading about Celtic Christianity and its concepts of “thin places,” where heaven and earth come very close to each other. We decided to try to make our home as “thin” a place as possible, so that our spiritual and creative lives can flourish and so that guests will find a real sanctuary here.
One thing I did that made a huge difference: for years I’ve painted in our basement (with good but artificial light), but I began to realize that I was becoming a mole. On top of that, I had to tend to other important parts of my life as we all do: keeping up with correspondence and bills and art business, reading, writing and preparing teachings, even playing the piano (taking lessons again after several decades!). I realized that as I was doing these different things I was ricocheting around my house from basement to “office” (unused bedroom), to livingroom, etc. growing more ADD every minute.
In the last month I finally saw that our current guestroom (big, with natural light) might just possibly accommodate everything, and that all I needed, figuratively speaking, was a swivel chair. So I have moved in and I love it! Even in a marathon preparation for a show I’m not missing the character of the day outside… and my old “office” is now being fitted up for guests.
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Different studios, different work?
by Luann Udell, Keene, NH, USA
I read recently (in Readers Digest, of all things) that walking through a door causes our brain to “drop” all the information from the room we’re leaving, to make room for new information we’ll gather from the room we’re entering. Hence, the daily amble around the second room, thinking, “What the heck did I come in here to do??!!” I wonder if different studios really would foster different work?
If this were me and my predicament (two studios), I’d use my favorite equipment and tools to produce my deepest, best work in solitude. I would never clean it, either!
Then I’d use my more “social” studio for display, demonstrations, classes, open studios and other, more public events. I’ve noticed that groups of artists in one location generate ten times the number of visitors and buyers.
by Brian Care, Toronto, Canada / San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
For over 7 years I shared a large studio/gallery space in a former textile factory that evolved into a very commercial art and design centre. I taught classes, sold my paintings and tried to create.
It became increasingly difficult to do the latter until I realized that I no longer wanted to teach and I resented every interruption from a potential buyer. One day I took my own advice I had been handing out for years as an educational consultant and allowed myself to take control of the situation. I cancelled my classes. I gave my art pieces to another gallery to sell. And I moved out. I went home and shoved all my equipment I could into the guest room shower. For years I had lusted after the rundown gatehouse on the estate property where I live. It is literally just across the rose garden from my little house. After making an arrangement with my accommodating landlords, a two-month renovation began that involved replacing the roof and knocking out most of one 50 cm thick stone wall, installing wiring and plumbing. The entire interior of the 2 x 8 metre space was painted white and cabinetry designed and built. One end is a daybed surrounded by bookcases… my place for thinking about creating. The other end is storage and in between is a polished concrete work table with a roll-out tabouret underneath and space for my easel.
It has become a very special place, free from interruptions, regular classes of students and away from the temptations of socializing (procrastinating) with my fellow artists near my old studio. It is a place where I look forward to escaping. A place my dog responds to happily as in “Do you want to go to the studio?”
And it is great to go along with him to work down at the bottom of the garden with the fairies.
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Free from influence
by Marie Martin, Fountain Valley, CA, USA
Six years ago I decided to make the leap into a studio for one reason really — to be free of others’ eyes. I had been painting in a local community college class that allowed tremendous freedom to come and go. But I began responding to others’ comments in the most unexpected way! I welcomed an intelligent critique and could absorb the occasional ungracious words of a few clumsy commentators. What I needed to run from were people who LIKED my art! I found that if someone said, for instance, what a lovely color blue, I would be influenced to use that blue in ways that didn’t necessarily express my intent. I needed to get away from influence; good or bad. I very much needed to fly on my own, make my own mistakes and learn from them at my own speed, in my own time. Some days I go there to simply meditate and soak in all the art objects: paints, brushes, canvases, books. Some days I journal or nap. But it all takes place without others’ influence — and my imagination is free to soar. Sacred Space, indeed!
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More production in Artist Colony
by Inez Hudson, Naples, FL, USA
I am one of 13 artists who enjoy the use of 3 empty suites, in a unique commercial area. We call ourselves an Artist Colony. Each artist takes one day and works their “suite space” for the whole day. Our requirement is that we must be creating while we are open. Wow, we are forced to create! I was thrilled to have that as a requirement. The only phone is my cell. There is no computer or office work to be done. No husband, cat, or TV to distract – just listen to music of my choice and paint!
Each artist has their own working area within the suite. I purchased an inexpensive, yet attractive, wooden easel to use in the studio. However, I couldn’t afford to purchase a duplicate set of oils and brushes. Most painters have a tremendous volume of brushes, so that wasn’t a problem. At the hardware store I purchased a sturdy tool box that has a removable tray, for a lowly $8. All tubes of paint fit in the bottom, along with a jar of turp and a small container of liquin. The tray holds oodles of brushes and my palette knife. The outer lid also has two small compartments for misc. small items. A roller cart allows me to carry everything else I may need, without being cumbersome. My home studio remains intact, other than I’m transporting my paints.
I have produced more work in the 3 years under these conditions than I ever produced from my home studio. It is invigorating; gets me in touch with the public and other artists; and stimulates me! I hope she has the same results!
Concentration in out-of-doors isolation
by Robin Shillcock, Groningen, Netherlands
Hanging out together can be fruitful, but once social interactions become formalized, and someone goes around shouting “Coffee’s ready!” it becomes an anchor that drags you down and away from what you set out to do.
Solitude is the only solution if you want to make good pictures, since they require intense concentration, perhaps not all of the time, but most of the time. You also have to cut yourself off from what others are doing and saying in order to concentrate.
Even when going out with friends to paint in the field, each of us isolates from the others. There may be moments of interaction, but usually we stay on our own few square metres of turf, not wishing to disrupt the dreamstate in which a painting is conceived. Over the past decades I’ve taken part in various artist residencies in such far-flung places as northern Israel, Portugal, the French Alps, Brittany and Sweden, some projects involving as many as 30 artists, and it’s always the same: we go out together, and we isolate. The return is undertaken in a quieter mood, a part of our brain still out there, guiding eye and hand, another part trying to assess if what we have done was good enough, while yet another part of the brain wants to concentrate on something completely different.
I had a large downtown studio as well as a small studio home; the downtown studio has been ripped apart for a new cultural centre so I now work in a rather small room, or on one of my balconies. Oils, watercolours, mixed media, illustrations are produced there, sometimes requiring shifting of tables and easels or the rigging of a tarp. Then there’s my much larger studio in the old clapboard schoolhouse in a deserted village on the coast, with a view of the Norwegian Sea. It’s about 2000 k’s away from where I live, and requires a very different approach to life (chopping wood, hauling buckets of water from the well) also because isolation is almost 100%. It’s only reachable by boat or a three-hour hike along precipitous paths, so rarely am I disturbed by visitors. I have spent long periods there, going through weeks without seeing anyone. It’s a bit extreme perhaps, sometimes I miss being able to share with someone great encounters like coming face to face with an otter or seeing a whale, or watching thousands of murre chicks jump down from the cliffs that tower above the village. But it’s bliss where hiking, sketching and painting is concerned and I imagine that nature painters like Rungius and members of the Group of Seven felt like I do when they visited Algonquin on their painting excursions. The school is large compared to my home studio, but I do most of my work out of doors, and use it as a refuge from the frustration and moments of joy if experienced in the field; a place to spread out the work, cook and sleep.
Featured Workshop: Evelyn Dunphy
acrylic painting 20 x 16 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 Sean McCann of Liverpool, England, who wrote, “The creative space is important, but ultimately it is what you do in the space that is most important.”
And also Maxine Wolodko of Vancouver, BC, Canada, who wrote, “If you really want to paint, you will find a space to do it.”
And also Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki of Port Moody, BC, Canada, who wrote, “When I am in a calm productive mode, I never give a single thought to my studio. All my energy is dedicated to the creative passion. When I find myself thinking about cleaning, reorganizing and reconsidering the studio, something worse is going on and my energy is unhappily avoiding creativity.”
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