Studio tips

27

Dear Artist,

A subscriber wrote to say, “I’m in the process of planning a studio to be attached to my new home. I’m checking on what to build; either one of those glazed patio enclosures that are usable all year around, or a traditional frame room with skylights and windows onto a wonderful view. What do I need to think about? I want to get going on it. I can’t wait.”

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Georgia O’Keeffe in her studio, 1960: “To create one’s own world, in any of the arts, takes courage.”

I think it’s a good idea to think of your new studio as a place where you are going to be a bit of a pope. Realize that this temple needs to be like no other. Indulge your fantasy. Within your finances, plan to get what you want. Leonardo recommended small spaces in order to discipline the mind. I think bigger is better — more fun to fill up. Do you crave efficiency, or do you want some pizzazz? Is it a workshop that you want? How much comfort? Remember, if you make it too people-friendly, people will come around. Sound-proofing, insulation and ventilation are factors to consider.

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David Hockney in early studio ca.1960s: “Most artists work all the time… especially good artists… I mean, what else is there to do?”

Plan to fine-tune your immediate work area so everything is handy — power, palette, radio, telephone, easel-light, etc. Peripherals worth thinking about may include projector-pod, light-table, project-board, doggy-door. Reinvent yourself through your uniqueness and peculiarities — it’s your personality, remember. I think it’s good to have only two chairs — a working chair and a contemplating chair. Make sure there’s a secondary easel that will honor the produce. North light is best but not necessary. Incandescent light of high candlepower is. If put-away neatness is important, think out your storage carefully but don’t build it in — make it possible to change both your mind and your media. This is the place where you can grow. This is the place where you can really start to live.

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Joan Miro’s studio in Mallorca, Spain, 1948

One other thing: Leave room for later expansion. For example, at my place, after two years of confusion I added a separate office in order to try to purify myself.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: ” I think of my studio as a vegetable garden where things follow their natural course. They grow, they ripen. You have to graft. You have to water.” (Joan Miro)

Esoterica: If you care to, please give us your own studio findings and systems. For us artists, the workspace is our most important space. Sometimes minor items make a big difference. It’s valuable to know what others have done.

This letter was originally published as “Studio tips” on November 29, 2001.

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robert-genn_studio

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“All is well with me. The rain doesn’t reach me, my room is well heated, what more can one ask for?” (Paul Klee)


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27 Comments

  1. Ole Pathfinder on

    After discovering the depth of my interest in painting and noting that I had head space in the attic with a nice dormer window, my wife and I finished off a painter’s studio/arts & crafts room there. We have about 400 SF of space divided fairly evenly between her creative pursuits and mine. The point being, always look around you at what exists and try to think outside the envelope. Making something to share, that is adaptable for more than just one’s area of interest has certainly made it more enjoyable for us. Being creative can also lead to economy. By being our own general contractor and keeping it simple, very focused as to purpose, and with careful shopping, the space cost us just a little over $25 per sq ft. A building addition adding to the foot print of our house would not have been possible for subdivision covenant and economic reasons. If you are a creative person, turn that creativity loose.

    • After renting studio space for several years I’m now working out of a 12×20 studio on our own property. It’s separate from the house — about 70 feet away — which definitely eliminates household distractions.
      Previously, I had a 30 minute drive to get to the studio I had been renting. When I moved into my own studio three years ago, the commute was eliminated and as a result my productivity has increased dramatically. Whereas before, traffic snarls and poor driving conditions would sometimes discourage me from going to the studio; now I just walk a few feet and I’m “at work.” I find I’m creating three times the number of pieces annually than I did before.
      But that’s not the only benefit. Before, I was reluctant to stay on in the studio after dark due to safety concerns (it was in a large building in a rather isolated location and I didn’t feel safe being there alone at night). Now I can work as late as I want. Since I’m not having to drive to my studio, I’m spending far less money on gas. Wear and tear on my car has been reduced significantly. Because I have more storage space, I can take advantage of sales on art supplies, which lowers my costs even more. So for me, having my studio at home makes good economic sense, and besides that, it’s truly my sanctuary!

  2. Exactly… Go big and stay home. My first studio was under the basement stairs… Now it is 30×30 feet plus and wired for everything. Of course the main studio is still outside. Thanks Robert”

  3. Bridget Syms on

    Make it warm, it’s hard to paint with a hot water bottle shoved under your sweater as I can testify, and the other essential, a comfy dog basket for your best friend.

  4. Caherine Stone on

    I am in the process of “down-sizing” my studio, actually. As a teaching artist and an experimenter, I have collected too much stuff and the studio has become a storage unit with very little usable work space. I am giving my 12 x 20 space to my husband for a workshop and taking his 12 x 12 space. I agree that comfort (heat and air), light, and storage are the most important..but be sure you keep what ever size space you have a working space. If you have to clean up every time you want to start a project, it becomes a burden. I hope my downsizing and purging will give me a fresh start with only the things necessary for inspiration and creativity.

  5. make it YOU . You are going to be spending a good part of your artistic life here . It will develop your personality as time goes on . I look forward to getting into my space every morning . My space is 10×17 , not too big , but great light and comfortable for me to create in total comfort .

  6. The advice against building in cabinets is good. I use a couple of kitchen islands that are on wheels and small hospital-type rolling tables that I can move around the studio.

  7. Becki Heaedahl on

    When we bought our current home 10 years ago it had three small bedrooms on the main floor and a full finished basement. Two bedrooms faced the back yard. We knocked out the wall between for my studio and added a small covered deck and door to the back yard. The deck cover is clear lexan so I still get the light. The studio is 10×20 and always too full. But if it was bigger it would still be full. I try to keep designated areas – computer corner with business stuff, scanner and printers; painting (watercolor); storage; flat files; work table for mixed media and framing; music; and the doggie door! And a big chair for reading and thinking. It is usually a mess and I keep purging but I love it. Cozy. As long as I don’t trip over things or a dog ( 2 big girls) I am happy in here or on the deck!

  8. My current studio space is about 300 sq ft with flouresent fixtures with both warm and cool bulbs, a small north window- just lucky on that. I have 30 steel flat files all on wheels to store my paper and stuff, one fixed piece with drawers and shelves, some book shelves, my desk and computer, a lightbox that I rarely use and a projector also rarely used. Two 3 X 4 foot tables (fold up kind) in the center of the room, coffee pot and radio and Thank God AC/Heat as I’m in Florida now. I love coming in here. Floor has that garage paint on it so I can merrily splash away! Patsy Heller FL

  9. During my long career I have had several less that ideal studios… one was too cold in winter and too hot in summer, one was too noisy, then nine years of cruising in a liveaboard sailboat taught me to paint small…

    Now we live in a Swedish village, where we bought the old IOGT hall with adjoining flat. It had been used as a cinema, so there are no windows (making it cool in summer and cozy in winter). Modern artificial lighting is amazingly good, and I can paint from four thirty in the mornings with wonderful light. Since there’s plenty of room, I can paint very large canvases, aided by an enormous easel I designed and had built by a local mechanical workshop. The working area of the studio is on the former stage, while the rest of the hall is used to exhibit my artwork. A couple of studio flashes are permanently mounted on wall brackets, for repro photography. A large drawing table for sketches, matting and clutter, and a computer / printer corner to take care of the business side…

    What I like most is that I live in the same building, so I get the pleasure of a ten second walk to work, meals together with my wife, the dog comes by to get scratched…

  10. A studio is one of those rooms that seem to fill up with stuff. Artists seem to be accumulators of stuff. With that said, my studio is a converted bedroom about 10′ x 12′ with a closet. Since I only work in watercolor I don’t need a large space to work. My closet contains my paper and storage for completed pieces. I have two tables to work on, a tall bookshelf filled with books . I do a lot of sketching so I am trying out various sketchbook formats. And I have a couple of storage drawers filled with the Watercolors I usually use. I have a north facing window and LED lighting. I also have a small desk for my PC and printer. The thing about having a small studio such as mine is that you have to be organized otherwise all of this stuff would get out of control.

  11. Hi Sara, I hope you don’t mind a little shameless self promotion, but this article on studios hits close to home on a studio item that I’ve designed and offer to other Artist to help organize a studio. It’s a brush cleaning station of sorts, a Dual Paper Towel Holder with a brush wiping pad area. It’s a handy addition to any studio, after using this I wouldn’t care to be without it. Check it out on the paper towel holder page. http://www.RobertWhistlerFineArts.com

  12. We are building our dream home, and I get the second floor under the eaves as studio space, a guest room and bath which I plan to take over for framing and office work and two huge closets. I agree that built ins are not a good idea. I have enough storage pieces and I want flexibility to change things around.

    Can’t wait to move in to my new space.

  13. Several years ago we decided to invest the money I was spending for studio rent and build my own studio. We had a garage attached to our home that was perfect for a studio conversion… already insulated and with drywall and skylights. We enclosed and completed this space, added large window, lighting, heat, a/c, upgraded electrical, etc. We then built a separate garage for my husband’s needs. It’s been wonderful being able to go to work at any time of day I please and not worrying about driving in snowstorms, etc. After working in the space for a few years though, I would change a few things: more lighting (I’m working on adding more currently), an a/c unit that’s not as noisy, some kind of fixed storage, such as a closet (may still add). But most importantly, I would have made the studio the separate building (instead of the garage). We did it the way we did in order to have easier access to plumbing. But, I find it very distracting at times to be working so close to my home. A short walk to a separate building would make a difference for me– less distraction and a more official place of work. Also, I’ve found my studio space can be a bit of a pass through for the home because of its location in relation to the home and the garage. Maybe I need to set more rules for the other members of my family about that! Otherwise, having my studio nearby has been wonderful and I’m glad to have it here.

    • My experience exactly, although it’s a great space it’s a walk thru and gathers cast offs from other members of the household. To make matters worse I was teaching small classes in my studio for 6 years and have now moved to teaching them at a local gallery. Although I now have to share class fees, it has given my space back to me. For the last few years as my teaching schedule increased I began to feel my studio wasn’t mine. Filled with the energy of my students and not my own creative energy. Painting block! It’s now taken me a month of reorganizing my space (all storage on wheels) to begin to claim my space back.

  14. Jan Christie on

    I’ve had to downsize and now my studio is my tiny living room. Concern about it being ‘messy’ is definitely contributing to my ‘artist’s block’! I wish I could be more like Emily Carr and not give a hoot about it — afterall she had her chairs winched up to the ceiling! I know I need to be grateful and stop making excuses.

  15. My studio has different work stations for different needs. One desk area has my computer and printer and the shelves near it hold business related items. Another area has a table with a big drawer that I use for sketching, planning paintings, card making and watercolor painting. Its shelves hold the supplies for these activities. My primary easel (and secondary easel) holds key floor space and the table and shelves by it hold my paints, brushes, mediums, etc. Finally, I have a large table area for matting and framing, packaging artworks to mail, varnish finished works, stretching canvases, etc. it is an old dining room table that I have covered with two self-healing cutting surfaces. Tucked into corners are a cart on wheels to move equipment and a large drawer cabinet on wheels with a big paper cutter. Each of these stations has color correcting lamps and the tools I need right within easy reach. I also purchased multiples like x-acto knives, scissors, pencils, erasers, etc-because when I’m in the thick of it I don’t want to have to go searching for things. I have a restroom with a double sink and a long counter and an attached storage closet. My studio has been created, funded, and tweaked into my version of “art heaven” over quite a few years-but if I was starting over from scratch I would replicate it. One last need I have included-a good radio/CD player-long hours alone broken up with some music and human voices is a good thing.

  16. I wish that I could close off my paint materials… paints, rollers, other tools,. Right now I have open shelves and although I use some baskets, I find the clutter annoying.
    Enjoy your new space… very exciting planning this.

  17. One of the best parts of this discussion are the two small photos near the bottom. Enlarge them and you will see both Sara and Robert at work.

  18. We are about to leave the house we custom built 7 years ago, with the 10’X20′ studio made by using one end of the attached double garage walled in, insulated, drywalled, in floor heat, and 2 sun tunnels in the ceiling, with 2 regular windows for light. Room to paint large or small. But soon I will have a basement room as wide as the house we go in. Because my wife dislikes the smell of oil and solvents, this will be mainly a watercolor set up, and oil will be plein air only. Then in 2 more years we retire, and another studio, likely a 2nd apt bedroom, will happen. Downsizing my art has been a goal of a year of working with a mentor. All the comments and advice from this column will be used by me.

  19. I paint with pastels and the handiest thing in my my small studio are well made stackable pastel trays. I can set up hundreds of pastel sticks on my work table and put them away again in less than a minute. That way I always have work table space and the cats won’t be walking around on the pastels when I am not there. It’s a basement studio and painting the bare wood ceiling white helped a lot with light and ambiance, too. I would love to have a big window with north light but two advantages of a basement studio are the quiet and no distraction from a window with a good view. Also I do not have a computer in the studio. For me it would be too distracting. When I feel frustrated that my studio is not as large as I’d like I remind myself that many millions of families live in a space as small and not nearly as nice.

  20. This is timely. With huge help from my carpenter partner, we expanded my 150 sq ft basement studio to 420 sq ft, by knocking down a wall and making used of the full width of the house, so now have light coming in at both ends. I splurged on good track lighting for LED lamps of high colour rendering index to mimic daylight. I’m excited and nervous to have freshly drywalled white walls and dying to hammer my signature nail grid for working on walls. Mess it up a bit. I’ve worked in pretty small spaces, so this feels like a substantial step up and investment in my painting, even as production has slowed for various reasons. It is an act of faith! Studio space has defined and solidified my commitment to painting! Lovely discussion, thank you all!

  21. My studio is steps away after walking through the garage. No commuting and I can pop back in the house if need be. My water and sink are in an enclosure with no door and after a few years I had a closet built to house all the brushes, paints, inks paper, etc. Then I have a corner to hang finished works and I have sold pieces right off the wall and during the annual art tour in our area. I prefer few windows as the light during the year moves around and hits work on the walls making it difficult to see at times. I paint mostly using cold florescent light mixed sometimes with some warm spot lights. All of my flat surfaces are plywood or hollow doors on collapsible saw horses. That way they can easily be moved or broken down completely.

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