Yesterday, Teressa Bernard of Vancouver, BC, Canada, wrote: “Even though I really love my new space, it’s taken more time than I thought to get acclimatized and to feel like painting. It’s almost like I left my creativity behind in my old place. Do most painters experience this when they move?”
Thanks, Teressa. Apart from using the changeover as a procrastination tool, it’s a good idea to get things right in the new location.
Some of us have a greater tolerance for this change. Some plein air wizards can get immediately creative in a field of cabbages. Others spend so much time setting up and complaining in fine places that sunset happens first. It’s good training for artists to go to work in a variety of places.
Back in the new studio, lighting, elbow-room, Feng Shui considerations and lack of accumulated clutter can annoy the muse and send her packing. Seemingly inconsequential changes like the placement of furniture can be blockers as well. (I knew a woman who left her husband because he moved their dining-room table. To be fair, there was another factor — he was a regular user of tomato ketchup.)
Easel placement and time-and-motion considerations for palette, equipment, etc., are vital. You need to keep moving things around until they feel right. Here are a few ideas:
Try not to have your back toward a door.
Move sound-volume controls to close at hand.
Consider increasing the amount of general lighting.
Get a speakerphone. Get comfortable.
You also need to make clear lines in the sand for the new neighbors and your habitual drop-ins. It’s okay to be peculiar, and it’s important to understand our own peculiarities. Like “The Princess and the Pea,” many of us are HSP (Highly Sensitive Persons). We need to find and zap the aggravating peas.
If all else fails, try squeezing out. Get started. While it’s best to get things about right, the onset of the creative process can draw you past an imperfect environment. Decent work trumps all.
PS: “As I was sitting in my chair,
I knew the bottom wasn’t there,
Nor legs nor back, but I just sat,
Ignoring little things like that.” (Hughes Mearns, 1875-1965)
Esoterica: Your studio is a sanctuary, a workshop, a classroom and a throne room. Your easel is its central altar and you are its high priest. Like the dog who circles before lying down, you need to enter in a circumspect manner, take your place as a central character and please yourself. The studio is more of a fetish than most artists let on. Get the feeling right and you’ll thrive.
Afraid to mess it up
by Yvonne Sovereign, Sanford, NC, USA
I moved into my new studio space a couple years ago. I can’t tell you how much I love it; I went from a small room in my house to converted space in the separate garage which is across the parking area and is the first thing people see when they pull in the driveway. It is 24 x 24 feet and the space is wonderful. It did take a while to get used to and completely comfortable in. It took me over 6 months before I actually started hanging my paintings on the wall, and as little as 2 weeks ago, I again re-arranged the furniture to be more productive. I think in a way, I was afraid to “mess it up.” It just took a bit of time to make it fully mine and truly it is my sanctuary.
by Valorie Preston, Ottawa, ON, Canada
I move between studios every year. A dedicated one-room building for the summer and a smaller cut-up space with 3 small rooms (that doesn’t give room to get away from the work and put it to the viewer test) for the winter. I moved from a larger space 2 years ago and I still haven’t made the space workable. So this year I organized my summer studio with everything hung that could be hung and separated an oil station and an acrylic one. I found I could quickly get to work once I had done that. It just gave me space to be creative. Still messy but organized. I will have to look for another studio for this winter and I will need to try to find a similar space to my summer one. I am very influenced by my painting environment. Small work in a small space.
by Elfrida Schragen, Canada
There may be another factor at play in the inability to “get going” in the new studio space. Having wished for a studio, then actually getting to design and prepare one had two effects on me. My creative energy was refocused. In setting up the studio it was all about space, color, objects, and placement. Once it was finished there was a huge let down. Any painting I might create didn’t seem as big or as important as what I had just completed. It was indeed hard to get back to it. Only after a rest, a short passage of time, and some outdoor landscape work, was I able to put the studio in the background and start focusing on my painting again.
By appointment only
by Corrie Scott, Hastings, Christ Church, Barbados
My studio is my haven, my space and as you said we need to ‘make clear lines in the sand’ with drop-ins and neighbours. My studio is very bohemian and extremely comfortable with divans, big cushions and lots of space for painting at easel or tables as I often have more than one painting on the go. I remember reading in a book about an artist who puts a sign outside her studio which says ‘Please do not disturb me as I am painting…. and that includes YOU my friends.’ Loved that one and have used it at times and put it on a chair at my studio entrance to stop anyone interrupting my dreams (creative and snore wise!) and process of my work. For many years people just came as they pleased and in the end I now have my studio as a place that visitors and friends are welcome, but by appointment. Works for me and I keep my friends this way.
The perfect space?
by John Salvi, Monmouth Beach, NJ, USA
I moved into what was going to be the perfect answer to all my problems — a 450 sq. ft. studio flooded with natural light, eleven ft. ceiling, five minutes from my home, 24 hour secure building access, free parking, state-of-the-art interior lighting, slop-sink and bathrooms down the hall, other artists toiling and interacting all around and — NOTHING happened? I found myself overwhelmed with all that glorious space where, finally, I could tackle those big paintings I had in mind. I wound up painting in a corner on a small easel. Did meet some other artists who have become great friends but the painting just never took off. Took me three years and several rent increases to give it up and come back to my too small condo space and paint. I hauled all of the new stuff: four drawer flat file, 4’x8′ work surface and saw horses, shelving and cartons, crates and — well, you know how it is. Now, I’m realizing I had to leave home to find out that I needed to be able to paint wherever I am and whatever the space considerations. What I’d visualized as ideal was just not what I needed. An expensive lesson but one that informs my decisions today about what, in reality, works best for me.
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No reason to go out
by Russ Hogger, Edmonton, AB, Canada
My wife and I moved into our new house six years ago. Although I had a studio in the old house which was just big enough, it doesn’t compare to the studio that I have now. On account of my wife’s mobility problem getting up and down stairs, I was allowed to commandeer the whole basement for whatever purpose. Moving in to my new space was easy. I painted the walls and put up shelving for my books and stuff. No new studio blues for me. I am not a plein air painter. I have no reason to be one as long as I have my trusty digital camera with me wherever I go. My studio is the place where I like everything to come together and make it all happen.
Modifications beget paintings
by Michael Abraham, Delta, BC, Canada
I was happily reminded of how many changes and adjustments were made to my studio over the past twelve years! I have added a skylight, closed off a window permanently, added two windows in other areas, turned a door into a window, added another skylight, removed the garage door and put in sliding doors, fenced off the front of the house (for privacy with the new sliding doors). I have built a desk, another desk, removed all the furniture, then slowly added things back, built a book case, then removed it, rewired the studio for speakers, there was a large TV in the corner, then small, then computer, then added an electronic piano for musing in sound as I take breaks, which I have also moved twice in the past year. I think I have had about six different sofas and twenty different chairs that have come and gone. I now have a bed in the corner, the third one, with storage and cabinets below, and just a few chairs sparsely placed… I can nap, stare at my work, read, or I can remove the mattress and use the raised bed box as a table for varnishing or stretching linen, so I think I like this bed thingy now.
For all the time spent in non-production mode, I must say I have created about ten solo shows in this space, and live solely off my art. The righting of the space has allowed for all the ideas to flow, so I am never too hard on myself for shuffling things endlessly. My wife gets a kick out of it though! The saying goes, “Where there is motion there is life.”
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A sacred place
by Fleta Monaghan, Asheville, NC, USA
I had the same difficulty in adjusting to my new space about four years ago. It took me about three months to make the adjustment and feel ready to work. The following year I moved to the adjoining studio, and did not want to go through another three months of dithering about. Some of the things that helped me adjust much more quickly with this second move were some starting practices I developed and some furnishing set-ups. I have a little love seat that is large enough to spread things out a little, but not big enough to stretch out for a nap (it is a little sofa bed, if a nap is really needed). I put wires on all my paintings before beginning to paint so I can hang them on the wall while in progress. With the work hanging up, first off, I can look things over with fresh eyes. A cup of tea, a candle, some music can help set the mood. Making my list of work for the day, looking forward to the next show and writing down notes or lists can really get me going in a positive, productive way.
It is such a wonderful thing to have a studio to go to, and so necessary too. It is like a sacred place. Getting that all-important spot to paint in the studio established first off is important, and for me, a place to write, look at the work and plan is important too.
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Little details save time
by John Fitzsimmons, Fayetteville, NY, USA
I recently built a riser that fits on top of my rolling tool box. This riser has a series of holes along its back to hold paint brushes vertically so I can easily spot the one I want. Its extra height brings the palette closer to me so I don’t have to bend over. The glass palette is easy to clean and the white laminate under it reveals the colors well. I have a few extra holes in the top surface for things like palette knife, scraper, etc. The top has a jog to accommodate my solvent container at a lower level, keeping it out of my arm’s way.
The next level down is a clear sliding shelf that is my “ready” shelf. This is where I hold the tubes of paint I am working with right now, saving my digging around in the drawers over and over. Under that is an area for things like mediums, mixing cups and mini-palettes. I keep a small waste container for palette scrapings that I toss out when it gets messy. The mini-palettes are things like plastic food container lids or small scraps of Sintra plastic, that I transfer mixed paint to and bring with me to a painting. This avoids wasted movement to and from the palette.
Below is the rolling steel tool box that I have had for about 30 years. These tool boxes can store an enormous amount of materials and I have a similar one set up for my drawing area. To better organize my tubes of paint, I added wooden trays that slide in and out. This adds “floor space” to the drawers, avoiding piling up tubes. On the bottom is a large compartment where I store gallon containers of gesso and solvent. On the side of the riser are a few screws sticking out, I hang rags on these and my palette scraper. I use a rag until it gets messy, then hang it up to dry for a day and keep rotating them until they are too stiff to use, then I toss them in the trash on trash day.
All these little details save little distractions and little amounts of time but added together save a lot of time and a lot of distractions.
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La Petite Maison
by Kittie Beletic, Dallas, TX, USA
Having a new studio is such a luxury! I’ve recently downsized from 2200 square feet to 300. The first space was shared and incredible. It was in a public place so there was a lot of stimulation (and interruption). It had a big kitchen and I kept a bed there for overnights. I loved it and at the time, couldn’t imagine creating anywhere else. Financial responsibility was the reason for moving. Things went into storage and for months I tried to work out of my house. I found it so hard and was constantly tripping over things and drinking out of my paint water! One morning as I sat in my writing chair I noticed for the first time that my carport (where I never parked my car) was well built and sturdy. I imagined it enclosed and immediately the studio muse rose inside of me. How would it look? Who could build it? How could I afford it? The details are important to that story but not pertinent to the point of this writing. Suffice it to say, I started imagining and things fell into place. La Petite Maison is the most charming little place and I’ve minimized with glee! It took a month to put my creative energy fully into it. Although I’m sure this is different for every artist, the sooner a creative begins, the better. It takes time and activity to develop a relationship with your surroundings. It is a joyful time where you have the opportunity to get to know yourself as an artist again, shake the dust off the old mediums and even learn some things new!
Fighting through difficulty
by Charles Peck, Punta Gorda, Florida, USA
After the hurricane of ’04 in southwest Florida leveled my studio, I went 4 years without a studio. I only could do plein-air, mural work and paint in my little Pearson Vanguard sailboat which I made work but is anything but ideal for a studio.
In November of ’08 I managed to secure a small downtown studio and though I did have some good output months I just couldn’t find the swing. I fought for many months to get back into the groove. The only thing that helped I think are the regular plein air sessions that started to build a decent body of work and then after I was able to get enough (?) up on my walls and stacked against the wall it seemed easier to just start goofing around with new ideas and adding color washes, glazes and areas to existing work. I have not been able to explain to myself the difficulty I had getting going this time for I have had much experience with new studio settings in new towns in the past (some very make-shift) and no trouble just getting after it. I think plein-air has been my savior this time and now my studio work is not just commission work but real work. My studio time is profiting from my plein air though I still don’t find much use for working from photos other than commission work. There has been some sort mental something I had to fight through this time and it seems to be becoming a thing of the past though I still can’t put my finger on the cause.
Girl with golden earring
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 Joe McAleer of Bonita Springs, FL, USA who wrote, “I have felt that there has been something wrong with my working space recently. After reading this letter, I’m inspired to do some late spring cleaning.”
And also Trish Booth Pieterse who wrote, “Dust it up and get to work. No excuses.”
And also Leza Macdonald who is moving to Oliver, BC, Canada who wrote, “After your letter I could not sleep last night so I spent the time designing my new studio. Two fold up chairs, portable easel; small table all placed about 10 feet from the lake. Two cats running around. My back will be towards the world and my easel will face the future.”
Enjoy the past comments below for New studio blues…