Sandy Triolo of Silver Spring, Maryland, 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.”
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. 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.
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.
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. We’ll publish a cross-section in the next clickback. Thanks for writing.
The following are selected responses to the above letter. I apologize to those whose letters were not included. There were many excellent letters, among them some from artists who said that a studio was not the most important thing in their world. Many suggestions were similar — for example, six artists urged the inclusion of Ott lighting. All letters, including off-topic ones, are archived for possible future use. Thank you for writing.
Size isn’t everything
by Warren Criswell, Benton, Arkansas
Give your studio a high ceiling. Otherwise it will be difficult to light. Either that or don’t do dark paintings. I know because I have a low ceiling and make dark paintings. It’s a problem of reflection. On the larger question of studios, I agree that they are very important, and in a perfect world we would all have studio-temples. However, the studio is less important than other things, like the burning desire to paint. If you don’t have this disease, you can’t catch it from a nice studio. If you do have it, you will paint in whatever dump you happen to find yourself in. Thirty-some years ago I had a studio that fit onto the steering wheel of an old bus we were bumming around the country in. Then I set up in the back room of a mobile home, which seemed spacious compared to the bus, but then a tornado blew away the trailer and I had to move into a 6′ x 8′ storm cellar. Technically speaking, I don’t know that the work I’m doing now in my larger studio is that much better than what I did in the storm cellar. Bigger, yes. But, size isn’t everything. Sure wish I had a higher ceiling, though.
Gone to the dogs
by R. Kevin Obregon
I just had a 12 x 16 foot loft barn built in the former dog-run of my back yard. It’s as close to what I want for a city-dweller within my price-range. The men who were putting it together looked at me kinda funny when they saw the order called for four huge skylights and six window boxes (for my pansies). I guess they were used to more perfunctory set-ups and with less fanfare. I have my compressor for my air tools, radio for my home-grown (music, that is), tarp for my plein-air tendencies, fan for the ever-present mosquitoes and sawdust, shelves for works-forever-in-progress, milk crates for all my found art, flat rocks I collect from wherever I go are all around for all my steps in between. I have a pile of interesting sticks I also collect outside the front door. I am in the process of making a drum to be suspended from the high 11′ ceiling and to be lowered when the “Iron John” feeling arises. Now, the dogs are finally interested in that space.
by William Band, Georgetown, Ontario, Canada
I have one small studio on the main floor with northwest light which is ideal for painting. Downstairs I have another room with twenty halogen bulbs, and twelve fluorescent bulbs (I almost have to wear sunglasses). This room is void of furniture, no chairs and walls only for paintings. My mess is shoveled into a long narrow room at back of the gallery room. This room is for damaged frames, books, and other art stuff.
by Cora Jane Glasser, New York, NY, USA
I bought an old house and created a studio on the top (attic level) floor. It is one big room, with windows all around and skylights. It feels like a big tree house. I spent some time and money putting in good lighting, plumbing for a sink, and air conditioning. Storage is always a problem. I found that clipping batches of work of similar category to large pieces of foam core or art board allows me to stack everything against a wall. I have an “A” frame ceiling, and think that eventually I will need to build little lofts for additional storage. Recently, I discovered the medium of encaustic painting, and will be setting up a work station for that, with the proper ventilation. This is the best and roomiest room in the house. For your reader, my best advice is to think of the studio as a place to live and grow and change, to feel the full range of emotions, from joy to despair. Like with a painting, the technique is important, but the emotion is essential.
A real showroom
by Kelly Borsheim, Cedar Creek, Texas, USA
When I hired an architect friend to design my studio, we had limited space (due to the presence of decent-sized oak trees that I could not bear to get rid of). I also had very specific things I wanted: a loft (separate office and guest room since our actual home is tiny), lots of light, a fairly high ceiling, and a spiral staircase (for romance). I also needed a sink with lots of counter space and storage, a small darkroom/storage area, and a connecting hallway area that could be used as a gallery or to hang paintings on while they dry. And I needed room for a wood-burning stove. My friend recommended putting in a small bathroom. We agreed with his idea that it would be better for the guests and not take me away from working so much (to have to “travel” to the opposite end of the house). 6 years in hindsight now and that was still a good decision. The architect had a bias against spiral staircases and offered other solutions. The traditional stair designs took away too much prime real estate and a space-saving staircase design was decided by me to be unsafe, so I compromised on this. I found a staircase that went straight down at the top and then turned into a spiral half way down. Bottom line: I love the space we got (my husband calls it “Kelly’s house.” It is slightly larger than our living area). It is beautiful and full of light, a real showroom.
A happy place
by Grace Cowling, Grimsby, Ontario, Canada
Microwave stands are excellent for cupboard and drawer space, one stacked on the other. My easel is a viewing stand for when I sit in a treasured rocker and put on my critic’s cap. I’ve just invested in a clamp-on true-color Ott-Light although I have halogen track lighting in my loft. The opposite end is for business, a desk/computer, filing cabinet, paper storage shelves and mat cutter. Voila, a happy place.
(RG note) Ott technology can be found at http://www.ott-lite.com
Surrounded with peculiar things
by Radha L. Saccoccio, New York, NY, USA
I collect things, both natural and man-made and unconsciously arrange them often like an altar. In my Manhattan studio I have a window which is essential and a view of the Hudson which is a bonus, a restorative element of nature. On the wide sill of the window is where my main altar arrangement is. There is something calming and centering to have this there. Some pieces that form this arrangement are an amethyst colored crystal ball, seashells, pebbles, an incense burner, a couple of candles, a small statue of Ganesha, etc. On shelves I also have objects that I relate to for some reason, along with supplies. I have a couple of worktables and an easel. I also use the walls to work on. Photographs and art images are on the walls and shelves for inspiration, but very selectively chosen. It is a peaceful space that evokes what makes me tick and where painting is done as a meditation.
by Gordon Pruitt, UK
Drying time for all media can be sped up with the installation of a small bank of radiant heat lamps. I have such a setup which is hung over a table. I put the equipment away during the summer when direct sunlight at the side of my studio does the trick.
by Nils Olsen Marling, Denmark
It’s handy to have a quickly mobile projector pod so that images and sizes can be superimposed to give an idea what you’re doing and to plan and layout paintings. A weighted pod providing several projector heights is made to roll on castors. Two projectors, one above the other, are also useful. While there are a great many artist-specific projectors, both opaque and transparency, the standard is still the Kodak Carousel. Here in Denmark I have purchased several second-hand ones. They have a range of useful lenses — zoom, wide-angle etc. Some artists here are using LCD computer projectors which can screen and blow up virtually any digital image including everything on the internet.
by Deborah Putman, Surrey, BC, Canada
I find that halogen light is cleaner. Full spectrum halogen is the best. The incandescent light bulbs create a yellow glaze over your painting pigment colors and can be very deceptive. I have areas of the studio where there are incandescent only or both combined to see the difference. This also gives me an idea of how a painting will appear under different lighting in a client’s home. I have a halogen spotlight that illuminates my secondary easel. This is where I place a painting to present it to clients. It serves to show the painting in the same lighting under which it was created, and shows the pigments in their intended values and hue. As colour is very important and critical to the communication of my concepts, lighting requires careful consideration in all stages of my painting process.
by Christy Mitchell, Comox, B.C. Canada
I had a small bell attached to the main entry as its gentle tinkle was less disturbing than a harsh knock. There was also a note attached to the door, “Knock only if bleeding profusely!”
Need more room
by Cassandra James, Texas, USA
I disagree with the suggestion to keep everything in the studio flexible. One of the best things I did was a solid wall of floor to ceiling closets where I can store books, materials, props, lights, CDs, etc. Serves to insulate the studio from outside noise, heat and cold, too. Storage is out of sight, but accessible. I can move big paintings off the easel and hang them in front of the closet doors for review. Something that wasn’t mentioned was a water source — a bar sink in my case, with a long countertop where I can lay out brushes to dry. I failed to put a trap in that drain, which would have been a good idea. I put in traditional double-pane sash windows, but now find where they meet in the middle of the frame to be really distracting from my wonderful view. I would put in solid pane windows with a crank at the top or bottom next time. Allow 3 times as much as you think you’ll need for canvas storage. Packing materials and crates end up in this rack, as well as a few paintings, and I need much, much more room.
by Jo Reimer
Dream Sewing Spaces, Design and Organization for Spaces, Small and Large… was written by a kitchen planner, Lynette Raney Black and published by Palmer & Pletsch. The book focuses on details for designing a great sewing room, but it’s also useful for the artist. Ms Black uses her knowledge of kitchen design to help one plan details such as the ergonomics of cabinet design… planning work triangles, heights of counters, artificial light and it’s placement, storage inside drawers and cabinets, pantry storage of seldom used items. She advocates using modular kitchen cabinets for studio furnishing, including building moveable tables out of cabinetry. The book is full of color photos of studios, including mine, as it was set up when I still used it for sewing. I didn’t use the book to plan my studio, but did use the author’s services and methods. It’s available from Amazon.com for $13.96.
Unfinished studio karma
by Paul Constable, Saskatoon, Sask., Canada
The karma of the space effects the quality and quantity of the work. I’ve been finishing my studio for years. I have about one third of my basement, generally poorly lit, except in my working area. I stand at my homemade easel between a corridor of boxes, tables, canvases and storage units that I have dragged around for years. A large carpet cushions my feet and keeps the cold from coming through the cement. I have worked in this manner for 10 years. I have painted in even worse places and conditions than this, but a studio shouldn’t be about endurance. In the beginning, the space was fine. I accepted it as a temporary situation and I found reasons not to finish the room. The plans have been drawn up for years, but the dream of the ideal space was coming to an end and the love of the space was fading. I found it harder and harder to motivate myself to go down to my studio. The amount of work to be done was overwhelming. Where do I start? Then I thought, treat it like a blank canvas. Make a mark. Just start. So two weeks ago I boxed all my art stuff up. There’ll be no painting until my room is completely finished.
by Michael den Hertog, Vancouver, BC, Canada
One feature of my studio that gets a lot of interest from other artists is my easel. For those artists who prefer to work standing up, and particularly if you work on large canvases, consider wall-mounting your easel. You save a considerable amount of floor space, your work stays rock-steady (always a problem on really big paintings), and when you stand back to view your work, you see it in approximately the same context as if it were hanging in your gallery. Just about any standard wood easel can easily be altered to fit on the wall, most just require removing the stand components. I worked for years on a medium-sized OPUS wood easel simply attached to the wall with four toggle bolts through the drywall, and it worked like a charm. I liked it so much that when I moved into my new studio, I had a 10-foot easel custom built and lag-bolted it into the framing studs on my painting wall.
by Judith Madsen
In my studio, because we have two shows a year I have everything on wheels. I lucked into these $20 school tables with shelves under the top — about 6 inches deep, and the tables hold 1000 lb. I had them put on a platform with $100 wheels and these tables go everywhere — 3 x 6 feet and waist level to paint — I like to stand up. I have one to paint on and one to frame on; usually I put them parallel to each other so that I can go back and forth to works in progress. I also recommend spending the money on Ott light-bulbs. They are expensive but worth every penny.
I found helpful to add some feng shui principles to my studio. Plants for example who clean the air in terra cotta pots. My studio being my covered sundeck and communicating with my bedroom on one side and my office on the other side. “The secret of life is in art, yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift.”
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