Thank you for a year of such wonderful stuff in my inbox. Fran and Ann (not their real names) tried working together in the same studio. The honeymoon lasted a week. Fran thought Ann was cloning her work, and Ann thought Fran was poaching her paint (and her customers). They parted after three months and, believe it or not, the dispute has fallen to the Cookie Monster of litigation.
More recently, Cecile (not her real name) wrote, “For financial reasons I’m going to share my beloved retreat, my secret space, my crucible of creation where I have been working without anyone’s judgment but my own. My new roommate will be using it during the day and I’ll now use it at night. I’m worried that my meager and amateurish production will be there in daily view of a full-time artist living successfully from her work. What are your thoughts?”
Thanks, Cecile. Your system can be a morceau de gateau if there are a few ground rules. You can achieve privacy by establishing times of use and reasonable tidying up. If you’re concerned about influence, embarrassment, or merely the care and tending of fragile growth, work can be stored or faced to the wall. I know this might seem totally goofy, but if clientele are to be entertained, there shouldn’t be any evidence of another artist.
Sharing a space this way can have real benefits. One night-and-day couple, Federico and Daryl (their real names), leave each other gentle notes of encouragement and praise. Without daily face-to-face contact, the bond is kept, and the well-considered missives are a source of study and profit. Former lovers, they meet occasionally for Italian food.
The production of superior art requires a personal sense of uniqueness and an inclination toward rugged individualism. A persistent ogre in shared spaces is the coffee klatch where people come and go, clutter personal directions and generally waste each other’s time. I’m sorry, but creative production soars and careers are built in solitude. The lamentable in-your-face hook-up of Fran and Ann, both reasonably successful painters, has turned them both into Oscar the Grouch and poisoned their art for the near term at least.
PS: “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.” (Kahlil Gibran)
Esoterica: Some artists work perfectly well in a community. Some would never work at all if it were not for “Free Thursdays at Thelma’s” (her real name). Thelma sets out coffee and cookies in her large home-annex studio in Ottawa. Folks let themselves in as early as seven and don’t leave until as late as four. They bring their own lunch. Sometimes they have a guest demonstrator. A talkative member was once voted out. “We go for hours where all you can hear is the swizzling of brushes,” says Thelma.
Rules for getting along
by Ellie Siskind, Indianapolis, IN, USA
In 1983 I agreed to share a studio space with a woman who is a printmaker and I am a painter. Shahe is 16 years or so younger than I and from Oklahoma, I am from Kansas. She loves opera, Opera makes me howl. I love bluegrass and country, she can’t abide them. We shared for seven years and are still very good friends. We each did work that is professional.
Here is how we problem-solved:
Problem: visual cross-fertilization — We had the landlord place a visual barrier between our two sides of the studio, leaving a shared space 1/3 the length, where she had her press and I had storage shelves built (space 30′ x 60′).
Problem: music — neighbor played NO MUSIC when other was present.
Problem: unwanted observations — No comments unless asked for.
Problem: She smoked — I didn’t. No smoking in studio.
Problem: Noxious fumes from acids used in etching — she agreed to install a ventilating system before I agreed to move in.
Confidence in your own work and willingness to take risks are part of being a professional artist. We learned well.
Husband and wife in the basement
by Lindell Stacy-Horton, Oregon, USA
My husband is a teacher of music in a small public school district, and he is totally burned out to the point where he is counting the days until he can retire (I think it’s down to 4 years, now, alas!). Over five years ago he stopped drinking alcohol, as well as smoking cigarettes, cold turkey, and very soon decided he needed something else to focus on. He resurrected his boyhood passion for slot cars, and has built over a hundred so far, and he has a great huge track in “his side” of our wonderful daylight basement. It is one big room, divided by several large pillars, but otherwise open. My side is where I paint, stretch canvas, build papier mache sculptures, and we share the sound system.
Most of the time, it works great, he goes off to school and I go downstairs to do my thing. The problems arise when he runs the little cars on his track. They make a dreadful (to my ears) racket, not too loud but annoying as hell. I am reminded of the old saying, “Be careful what you ask for, you’re liable to get it.” Once he is home all the time, when will I paint? I have considered moving my studio to another location, but that seems too expensive, and pretty harsh, since the reason we actually BOUGHT this little hundred-year-old Craftsman bungalow was so I could teach my violin lessons and paint here, thus avoiding the studio rent I was paying. I have tried working with other artists, but find it, well, challenging. I’m pretty solitary.
I think the head phone idea is a good one for us. Are there any suggestions we have not though of? We are gradually working out schedules so we allow each other our space, which also is working, sort of. He is a very good sport about it, and I am trying hard to suck it up and just deal with it.
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A harmonious arrangement
by Anne Campbell, Nanoose Bay, BC, Canada
I inherited a large studio space in downtown Kenora, Ontario. It was upstairs over commercial tenants and consisted of a very large room, a small kitchen and a bathroom. When I first took it over there were just 2 of us and we each had a key and came and went as we wished. Occasionally together, but just as often alone in the studio. We both enjoyed both kinds of time and eventually started meeting every Wednesday for supper before going up to the studio.
As rents went up we added a few more until there were about six of us, still under the same informal arrangement, and still meeting for supper every Wednesday. We all enjoyed the gatherings and supported each other as we worked. A few of us used the room alone and liked that too. The only rules were simple: pay the rent on time; turn off lights and heaters when you leave; and the last was that the art books were there for everyone to enjoy, but not taken home.
The place was too hot in summer, and often cold in the winter but it didn’t dampen our enthusiasm and we became good friends as time went on. The landlord fixed the important things like wiring and bathrooms, we looked after other things ourselves. There was very little friction, just a couple of personality issues that were solved before too long.
Fire takes artist’s studio
by Vivian Ryan
On Christmas we got a call to say that my studio had gone up in flames. The reality of the situation is gradually sinking in. I am a textile artist for the most part and lost my extensive library, all of my recent work, all but one of my machines and a huge list of fabric, beads, wool, leather, paint, face mask, the stuff of textile art. All gone. No insurance. My neighbour, an artist, was quoted in the news saying that I had lost my life’s work. The funny thing is that there had been a similar fire not far away and I had taken some things home that I really would not like to lose. Sadly I took them all back to clear our apartment for Christmas. I am pretty sure there is a lesson here.
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The ‘open door’ system
by Marjorie Moeser, Toronto, ON, Canada
I shared studio space with another painter for many years without any problems other than we outgrew the space, as we both continued to produce more and more paintings. We bounced ideas off each other. We gave constructive criticism when needed. Presently we both have separate studios in the same building along with other artists… 10 of us in total. And, although we each have our separate spaces (studios with doors that we can lock if we wish), all of us operate with an open door policy that works well. If our door’s open, we welcome visits. If the door’s shut, no interruptions please! As a group, we often meet in one or the other’s studio and have lengthy, stimulating discussions on almost every topic you can think of, and more often than not we get input from one another about a specific piece we may be working on. NO ONE is afraid of ideas or styles or techniques being stolen. Thank God, we do not suffer from that paranoia. Truth be known, I have never feared sharing ideas or my techniques with other artists. In fact, I rather enjoy teaching what I know. And, after all, doesn’t the cream always rise to the top?
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We get to close our doors
by Stefanie Graves, Paducah, KY, USA
My husband and I shared studio space from the beginning of our moving in together in 1996 when we both had day jobs. He did both pottery and batiks at the time and I painted watercolors. We mostly did our creative work on weekends, and I remember being intimidated by his presence at first. Then I went to part-time work several years later and had the studio to myself during the day, I found a lot of freedom in that. Fast forward six more years and we moved to Mexico where, by necessity, we once again shared studio space, in much more cramped quarters. I had to steel myself against his presence, to focus on my painting and learn not to worry or think about his being in “my space.” We learned each others’ working habits and developed rules of “play.” No up-beat music to upset the focus on the creating of art. Constructive criticism welcome when handled gently. We became each other’s best sounding board but it took time. We also became each other’s best motivating factor — if one of us was in the studio it spurred the other to work.
We’re now back in the States and living in a house with separate studio space for the first time. I have to say that it’s a wonderful thing. I learned a lot from sharing space with my husband but I enjoy even more the ability of doing my own work without worrying about distractions. We get to close our doors, listen to whatever music pleases, or just have the quiet as solitude. My cats are my companions now. You can have a shared studio, I’ve learned. But it takes adjustment and a fair amount of compromise. Isn’t that life?
Working with others? — not permanently
by Collette Renee Fergus, New Zealand
I usually paint alone and enjoy the solitude even to the point of having no music playing as I like the silence at times. I do, however, occasionally join a friend in his studio and we paint together for a day. We share tips and ideas on technique although not often and generally just get on with what we are doing in our own space. Having completely different styles helps I guess, as we don’t then get influenced from each other’s work. Being able to talk to another artist and hear that they do stuff like you do, feel what you feel and can understand where you are coming from is magical.
I don’t think I could work permanently with another artist, though. Your letter clearly points out the pitfalls of such an arrangement and my experience of sharing an exhibiting space with a group of artists in a cooperative where we shared the bills, the workload and the takings was more than enough to make me see that artistic temperaments are not always going to work well together!
Get your own space
by Susan Holland, Bellevue, WA, USA
I shared my pleasant studio in Issaquah, WA, with a handful of painters and a shared model for regular workshops for years, and it was a very amenable arrangement, with others bringing their gear (sometimes leaving it in a corner of the studio for the next session — not a problem at all), but the studio was MINE most of the time.
This is a great deal different from having the studio being the main workspace for more than one artist. In my experience, making art is as intimate as making love. One doesn’t need a menage a trois if one is interacting with one’s one and only. And the magic of the moment, of the hour, or of the year, is marred by the intrusion of a person from “out there.”
It’s not possible for people who don’t make art from their bones to understand this, I have found. Explaining it to a non-artist will only result in puzzled faces wondering why a hobby can be such a PROBLEM to the hobbyist. Really. Unless you have created awe (i.e., made a name for yourself so that people feel a little star struck) you are just an eccentric who dabbles. So, my conclusion is that you shouldn’t expect others to “get” that you need that exclusive space where things are conceived and nurtured. It would be great if the two artists were Siamese twins and never knew individuality. They would know nothing else but collaboration. Short of that… I say, plan to find your very own space and guard it as the main tool you have to do your calling.
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Building a happy environment
by Kit Hevron Mahoney, Denver, CO, USA
I began sharing a space with now gallery partners John K. Harrell and Anita Mosher at least 10 years ago. I have never had so much fun, laughter, support and friendship as we have experienced. Our space has become a refuge for each of us as we have experienced what life throws our way… fires, death of close ones, divorce, financial crises (not art-related). Each of us has been supported by one another through the trials that life has thrown our way. Everyone respects each other, their space and things. We share ideas, growth and become powerful when 3 heads are combined to find exponential new ideas and creative endeavors.
Eight years ago the 3 of us signed a 5 year lease (we are on our 2nd 5 year lease now) and opened a working studio-gallery, Brushstrokes Studio-Gallery, LLP, here in Denver in an historic neighborhood in Washington Park. We have had nothing but great success in our business venture and continue to thrive in spite of what the news and economists tell us is happening in the world around us. Instead of petty jealousies we revel in the sale of one another’s work and successes, each of us knowing that there is enough for everyone and that the sale of one has not taken away from the other. We continually brainstorm to find new ways to market ourselves and keep our business successful.
In our 8 years together at Brushstrokes it has been like a marriage, and there have been tense times, but we have all learned that when we talk and communicate about what is bothering us we are able to transcend the difficulties. We all have experienced “bad” partnerships in the past which gave us the wisdom to know what we wanted to be successful in this partnership and business. A good partnership requires honesty, integrity and trust which only happens with open communication and a willingness to listen and allow one another to be heard and express their ideas. Passion, along with determination and dedication to honor one another and the business is also required.
We share not just a space, but friendship, creative growth and continue to stay open to one another’s ideas. Our great energies combined has created a space that we love to be in but our customers and collectors continually give us feedback of how they love to come through our doors!
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A Moment in Time
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 Sharon Alama of Boston, MA, USA, who wrote, “Years ago I shared several art spaces/offices with a colleague and friend. We loved it. We got along very well. We both did graphic design, advertising and later fine art. Rarely did we have a ‘hissy fit.’ As years went by, he would come in early and I would come in later in the day. When our time overlapped, we still had a great time. I must say that I do get more done now that I work in solitude, but I do miss having a trusted observer nearby to get a ‘fresh eye’ on my work. He’s retired now and we still are close… pretty unusual, I know.”
And also Sarah Hollier of Lennox Head, Australia, who wrote, “We can tell when silence descends that everyone is concentrating on their work and also we all seem to be able to tune out of the chatter when we need to.”
And also Nev Sagiba of Katoomba, Australia, who wrote, “Do not share your space with a relative or a parent. I recall as a 10 year old repeatedly being told to ‘clean up my mess’ by a non-empathic, non-artistic, non-creative parent. Eventually I stopped painting altogether. It’s best to do art alone. It’s a private matter!!!”
And also Nick Vladulescu of Guelph, ON, Canada, who wrote, “I wish you all a HAPPY NEW YEAR and many other positive things from Roumania.”
(RG note) Thanks, Nick. And thanks to everyone who sent seasonal greetings and wishes for the New Year. We’ll do our best. It’s my sincerest wish that everyone has an enriching and positive 2010, and whether you’re in a crowd, in a pair, or alone with yourself, you’re able to nicely get along with the other guy.
Enjoy the past comments below for Sharing studio spaces…