Silversmith Bob Gould and painter Melanie Peter wrote yesterday, “We have the luxury of designing a shop-studio from scratch. The plan is for a two-story rectangle approximately 18 x 24 feet. The upstairs painting studio is for individual use and for teaching classes in portraiture and still life for up to four students. It would have a shed roof sloping up to the north to around 12 feet off the floor. Walls and ceilings will be white plaster. Could you suggest specs for the proverbial ‘north-facing window,’ in construction terms. We are thinking of a six by six foot window high on the wall, made up of small panes of glass. The model would pose on a model stand around ten feet from the north wall, with the artists at easels between the window and the model. How does that sound?”
Thanks, Bob and Melanie. My choice would be to have the windows larger than you suggest and have them go right down to the floor — perhaps through the two levels of your shop-studio. This is important in the lighting of feet and reclining models. You can pull down blinds to lessen intensity and sharpen light-focus when needed. There are also times when you need specific incandescent lighting so it’s good to be able to block out the soft fill of north light. Small panes are fine. If you are in a cold climate you should install double-glazing so your live models won’t go on strike. In ideal studios there’s room to swing an ocelot. For model set-ups, consider “theatre in the round.” Often, against the light, or edge lit, creates exciting notan and gives alternate opportunity for mystery, chiaroscuro, as well as graphic soundness. You might be surprised at the value of a big lazy-Susan. Expendable carpeting keeps a relatively unspotted mind. Consider putting the silversmithing department on wheels. There are times when working hard against a window will be desirable. Install an exhaust fan on both levels. Don’t forget the kitchen sink.
Give your dual space some personality. In keeping with your upstairs-downstairs situation, consider, for example, one of those pre-built spiral staircases going up — and a fireman’s pole coming down. The latter can be plugged when the floor-crawlers arrive.
PS: “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.” (Kahlil Gibran)
Esoterica: Your studio is the greatest and most important space you will ever inhabit. It will be a place of love and joy. In it you will reach higher highs and lower lows. Alexander Liberman said, “Art is solitary and the studio is a torture area.” At least you can make it unique. I’ll swear on a stack of early editions of Martha Stewart Living that you will get a few ideas from our community.
Learning to adapt
Khaimraj Seepersad, West Indies/Caribbean
I’ve found that north light is valuable for training students and after that one adapts. (Most of the time ventilation is more important.) I work in a 10′ wide x 10′ high x 20′ long, all white studio and though I finish in daylight I paint under a 48″ fluorescent daylight bulb. I found the North light or South light illumination too restricting and since I tend to work all day or all night (isn’t sleep a pain?). Gathering my information outdoors with a pochade box is normal for me. I wonder how many of the Old Masters simply adapted as well.
(RG note) There’s additional information in the setting up of a new studio at http://painterskeys.com/studio-tips/ This previous clickback contains studio input from Warren Criswell, R Kevin Obregon, William Band, Cora Jane Glasser, Kelly Borsheim, Grace Cowling, Linda Saccoccio, Gordon Pruit, Nils Marling, Deborah Putman, Christy Mitchell, Cassandra James, Jo Reimer, Michael den Hertog, Judith Madsen and Claude Courvoisier.
Dumb waiter in studio
Bob and Melanie referred to their studio as being two stories. My suggestion is to install a “dumb waiter” system to help facilitate moving supplies and stuff to the upper floor. I know it’s a must-have on my list if I will be in a position to have a studio above ground level.
Higher windows in studio
Boguslaw Mosielski, Barry’s Bay, ON, Canada
I (and many other artists I know) prefer to have windows approximately three to four feet above the floor right up to the ceiling and filSling the full width of the wall. Having windows 4 feet above the floor reduces glare and the reflections from the wet paint on canvas or paper, a factor that has irritated me when I had low windows in my studio. Having windows higher off the floor also gives the opportunity to put extra shelving and cabinets under, so much needed in the studios and having shelving and cabinets against the wall keeps them out of the way from the working area. When the model is placed ten feet away from these windows one doesn’t have to worry about having a proper lighting of feet and on reclining models. Wall-to-wall windows give an even lighting, reducing shadows of brushes and hands on the canvas.
Secondly, I would strongly advise against circular staircase (pre-built spiral staircases). They are very uncomfortable if not outright dangerous, especially for older people attending classes. In addition, it is difficult to take furniture and larger canvases or panels up or down on them.
Cottage studio for painter
John Adkins, Albertville, Alabama, USA
My studio is a Williamsburg cottage-like structure that measures 24 x 24 feet. The downstairs is divided into 4 areas, a kitchen, full bath designed underneath the stairs, a tool room or workshop, and a gallery room with daybed and trundle. Upstairs is all painting space. I have a 6′ by 8′ skylight and wall of 3 windows on the north side of the building. The roof has a shed type roof in the middle of the upstairs section. I also have frame storage and bookcases built in for my art books library. I have space for a large chair with ottoman, a Santa Fe II easel, a hospital table that adjusts for still life, and counter with sink and storage space. If I had it to do again I would build it a bit larger by 10 to 15 feet — a better proportion to work in. The downstairs doubles as a guest house. I sell all my art in galleries so I use the gallery space for collections and to preview my work before sending it off. People love to stay in the studio; it is separate from our home by about 100 yards and it is very light and homey.
I would advise you to think bigger. I also found you need a way to shade the skylight for painting on a clear sunny day. I have two daylight adjusted florescent lights with a total of 8, four foot tubes for night time painting. I love to paint at night. Some of my most productive time is between 9 PM and 2 AM. Good lighting is a must. The large sink upstairs and a small refrigerator come in handy and save me lots of trips on the stairs. If you could design the studio space on one level that would be an even greater plus. I am now 51 and I wish that I had all my space on one level.
Store-front art studio
Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA
My studio is a renovated store-front on Main Street. My windows face west, and the nicest light is the sunrise softly reflected from the windows of the tall buildings across the street. For me, the greatest challenge of studio design has been to find a way to function within the paradox of private/public space. Although I am literally in the very center of downtown, my studio is more private and intimate than any room in my house. I have lots of visitors, and over the years I’ve experimented with ways to make the personal nature of my studio space clear. People who aren’t artists seem to not understand exactly what a studio is. It’s not a store. It’s not a factory. It’s not a theme park. So along with the easels and the paints and the unfinished paintings lined up along the wall, I have a comfortable couch, a rocking chair, nice area rugs, lamps and fresh flowers. This stuff not only makes my studio a wonderful and comfortable place to work, it signals visitors that they are in my personal space and their company is not so invasive.
Ups and downs studio
Angela Treat Lyon, Hawaii, USA
One of the most important things I have learned from having built studios of my own was to make sure to leave lots of room for large pieces to come downstairs after having been created. Leave your stairwell plenty wide, and if that isn’t possible, make one of your upstairs windows one you can lower large paintings from.
Cat in the studio
Jamie Kirkland, Salt Lake City, UT, USA
Artists are an unruly bunch and are not likely to adhere to the desired placement between the windows and model. You need some sort of incandescent lighting and a black-out curtain. I suggest at least one or two strong spotlights. Clear definition of highlight, half-tone, shadow edge and cast shadow on the many facets of the human figure is a real help for the beginner. This type of lighting would allow artists as they are wont to do to prowl for composition. It also allows for more options for set-up without staring directly into open windows when you come to class late and all the good spots are taken. Also, get a studio pet. My cat, Thomasina, likes to sit on the table next to me while I paint. She rolls around upside down on the table insisting that I stop what I am doing and notice her. Sometimes she sneaks up and howls in my ear when she is ready to sit in my lap. She follows me to the sink to clean my brushes. She is really good company.
Converted garage painting studio
Alice Smith, Kent Island, Maryland, USA
Currently I am in a 24 x 24 converted garage studio. I have north light from one set of sliding glass doors. The most important lighting element however is the ceiling fixtures. My ceiling is 10 – 12 feet high. I have 5 florescent fixtures with 4 bulbs each. I put alternating warm and cool bulbs in them. The high ceiling allows the light to be diffused nicely. Working in there after dark is just as easy as working in the daylight. I keep incandescent spot lights for certain situations. This is my 4th studio and by far the easiest to work in. My worst one had north facing skylights, which were troublesome and seriously over-rated. It is by far easier to control electric lights than depend on fickle mother nature. The suggested spiral staircase might look good but I doubt that it will be fun carrying canvases up and down it. Inviting students to use it is inviting trouble.
A room of your own
A studio of one’s own is a necessity. When my husband and I moved, we gave up a big studio and turned two bedrooms into “his and hers” studios. They’re small but they work and it’s wonderful to be right next door to the person that is most important in your life, and to check back and forth as to what is happening. A room of one’s own… yes, it is a good thing.
Multi-pane window problems
Stew Turcotte, Kelowna, BC, Canada
When you use sealed units, it might be cost advantageous to use full panes rather than the small windowpane look. All of the millwork might cost more than a single sheet of glass. It also causes more cleaning problems. It also cuts down on the insulation quality of the window if there are a lot of mullions going between the outer cold air and the warmer inner air. Ditto for hot weather and heat gain in the summer.
Carpeted wall in studio
Rosemary Dodd, Gainesville, GA, USA
I have had one of the walls in my studio carpeted. I attach the rough (what I call the crow) side of Velcro to the corners and sides of the back frame of the canvass… relatively small pieces work just fine. Then I can place the canvas against the carpet at the height that suits me and if necessary to reach a section I just take it off the wall and replace it in the desired location. Thus, no stepladder is needed for large paintings. The wall is obviously very stable and keeps the canvas straight up and down which I also prefer for oils and acrylics. I took Velcro with me when I went to the carpet store to test its “grab & hold” because it reacts differently on different carpet. Also I chose a nondescript gray that never interferes with what I am painting. The other idea that comes to mind is having a large enough staircase to be able to get large pieces up and down, and a door large enough as well to come in and out. I’m sure you remember that Cezanne had a floor to ceiling “door” on one end of his studio — just wide enough to move a very large canvas inside or out.
Nothing to do with it
Patty Grau, Redondo Beach, CA, USA
You know, I’ve either had a family, a job, something has always been in the way, but now I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this place, a large studio, you should see the space and the light for the first time in my life I’m going to have a place and the time to create.
no, baby, if you’re going to create you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on welfare, you’re going to create with part of your mind and your body blown away.
you’re going to create blind, crippled, demented, you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your back while the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment, flood and fire.
baby, air and light and time and space have nothing to do with it and don’t create anything except maybe a longer life to find new excuses for.
“air and light and time and space” (Charles Bukowski)
(RG note) See the “Studio” entries in our own Resource of Art Quotations. The Resource of Art Quotations is visited by artists, scholars, students, instructors, and art aficionados of all stripes. As I write this there’s an average of seven visitors going there every minute — 24/7. It’s the largest of its kind anywhere and it’s totally the work of Painter’s Keys volunteers.
Springtime in Florence
Liz Schamehorn, Santo Sprito, Firenze, Italia
I arrived in Florence yesterday. Today I saw Michelangelo’s Crucifix and Pontormo’s Deposition, amongst too many other things to process. This place is magic — the weather, the history, the gelato. I’m here by the Ponte Vecchio sending emails. Will paint while I’m here. Last time I did a series on site. Going to Zecchi’s paint store tomorrow for some acrylichi. Ciao tutti
(RG note) Go ahead, drop Liz an email. Next time she comes to an internet café she’ll think she won the lottery.
Let Me Into Your Heart
oil painting on canvas, 15.75 x 15.75 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, 2004.
That includes Jamie Lavin of Gardner, KS, USA who wrote, “I need a fireman’s pole even though our house is a rancher and I paint in the basement.”