Studio vibes


Dear Artist,

Having recently set up a new studio in a new locale, my friends are calling with the same question: “Are you feeling creative in your new space?” Pregnant with myth and mystery, a new room can ignite all the original dreams and fears of even the most seasoned studio-hopper. Without sounding too superstitious, the question can feel a bit blasphemous. While we all may swim in the mystery of creativity’s delicate alignment, and tremble at the juju of a new space, it’s the occupant that determines a studio’s potency. Studio vibes — ineffable, designed, cultivated or summoned — are, in the end, artist vibes. They’re germinated by sweat.


Lee Krasner in her studio

Like a stag and his starlings, we need our studios to meet the basic requirements of interdependence: the artist signs a spiritual contract to provide all the elbow grease, hours and risk-taking, while the room need only offer a bit of sanctuary and, if we’re lucky, ventilation. And while studio magic is very real, it’s important to claim responsibility for where the initial spark may or may not be coming from. When changing spaces, or even just tweaking your current set up, here are a few ideas:

For new vibes, instead of replicating known systems, mix up, reduce or reinvent physical elements. Do it quickly, without much detail or over-thinking, then get back to work.


Joaquin Sorolla in his studio

easel or table
contemplation chair or dreaming sofa
secondary easel
a long view
diffused light
direct light
your heroes’ writings
no one else’s writing
reduced clutter
new talismans
bird feeder
windowless view
minimal storage solutions
cleared work area
small or expansive space
reduced need

Now, begin again.


Helen Frankenthaler
in her studio



PS: “Take one step backward into the unknown.” (Adyashanti)

“To begin, begin.” (William Wordsworth)

Esoterica: My hunch is that, at any given moment, somewhere on the planet, an artist is clearing a space for herself with the ambition to work. She will arrange a few totems, draw her blinds and squeeze out a palette, her studio the mere physical embodiment of an inner established workspace. Last evening, I listened to a handful of creatives swapping techniques for studio vibes. “I saged after too many visitors,” said one. “Not enough activity has left the energy flat,” said another. I went back to a furnitureless room begging for my silent, solo perils. All my hopes and dreams are offered there, in exchange for what has only, ever, been required.


The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are now available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” (Alan Alda)



  1. This comment has nothing to do with today’s letter . I just want to tell you, Sara, that my favourite letter of all time is the one about Ullapool Scotland. I’ve read it many times AND I am finally going there in early May. I will sit by the sea and dine on fish and chips and think of you and your friend Louise.

  2. I wonder what happened to those Krasner canvases. She was serious, wasn’t she.
    Who is the male painter in the last photo? Alan Alda?

    Good luck working in your new space.

    Beth Mahy, Dallas

  3. Robert also wrote a letter about studios back in the day, and my reply was, “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. ” In 1987 my studio was in the back room of a double-wide mobile home, until it was destroyed by a tornado and I had to set up in an underground storm cellar in the lot next door while our new house was being built. My productivity doesn’t seem to have been interrupted during all that. Since then I’ve had this nice studio, designed by me as part of the house, but now my “burning desire” is sputtering. I hope I’m not recovering from the creative “disease.” Maybe I need to go back to the storm cellar.

    • Don’t worry Warren, a worse ill is to have that burning desire and find that you are locked away in yourself. That you can do nothing with it, the horror of stasis, my current malady, body broken and head like a tin bucket with one marble rattling a disturbance. The burning desire becomes a internal burning down. That you can, will most likely manifest in that you will. That you can’t won’t manifest Jack shit. I have every reason to believe that your creative disease is incurable so don’t be afraid of a temporary remission my friend. Paint the next one for the metaphorically handless, call it desire, then burn it in your yard. (Some of the gods need waking up!)

  4. I’m enjoying the diversity of opinions and comments. I understand Warren’s opinion that is about focusing on the painting, not the studio. But a few months ago I set up my first real studio. A small space, second floor room with a small north facing dormer window. In a short time it is wonderfully chaotic and all mine. My spirit lifts and I get inspired every time I enter it.

  5. Ronaldo Norden on

    Here,s a question that’s related to studio finess?
    How should an artist feel if someone entered their studio/sanctuary uninvited and goes about having a look?

  6. Ronaldo Norden on

    Here’s a question I would to put forward to other artists
    Regarding one’s studio.
    How would you feel if you learned that someone has been entering your studio uninvited
    To have a look around?

  7. Gabriella Morrison on

    Uninvited people in the studio have no business being there. It is personal space and place, where the detritus of one’s thoughts are lying about and must not be shared with others unwittingly. Sort of like a huge diary room. Keep it under lock and key, and keep out the philistines!

  8. Love the Adyadhanti quote. Stepping backward into the unknown. Perhaps the most important and brave trail blazing idea. Just those words give rise to unimaginable riches.

  9. A studio must first be a safe place. In a previous letter Joseph Campbell’s saying “to have a sacred place is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room or a certain hour of the day or so, where you do not know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody or what they owe you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be.”
    You can choose a place for its atmosphere that resonates with your character. The Romans had tutelary (protective) deities that guarded such places. They were the Genius Loci or spirit of the place. In building design it is called the phenomenology of architecture,

  10. This letter is incredibly timely! I had to move from my second-floor studio in a former mill, directly on a creek, in a very narrow little Swabian valley. It was my “sacred space” for almost 4 years to the day. My landlord claimed the space for himself to install his new offices there, and I had to find a new space. It was a bit traumatic, sad, scary because I’ve been so happy there, had accomplished so many things. Today, I gave my landlord the keys – and said goodbye – because I have found a new studio (only half a big, street-level) only 3 kilometers downstream. While I wept to leave the old studio, my heart now fills with joy at the prospect of entering my new sacred space, creating new works, and getting to know my new genius loci. All this has happened in the space of 3 months – deconstruction, reconstruction, chaos, and finally order. I realized that dealing with all the chaos, the actual process of making this change happen, was supremely therapeutic. I am now fully ready to embrace and celebrate my new studio – and all the magic it promises! Thank you for your beautiful blog. Gabriele

  11. I live/work in a 750 sq ft *studio* room- with a half-bath- no shower- and no actual kitchen- but fortunately- 11 ft ceilings. I have a sink and refrigerator- 4 ft of counter space- a microwave- a toaster over- a toaster- a coffeepot and a hot plate. Last year my rent finally went up by 1/3 for an *inadequate* living room- and I can’t afford it at least some of the time. And I do everything in this room- which I’ve been in for 10+ years and living in for 7+ years. So- new studio space? Awakened inspiration? De-cluttering? Whatever.
    I eat- drink- sleep- and everything else- my creative experience. I can’t afford to move- and in Denver- there isn’t anywhere to move to- because of city and even metro-wide gentrification. I’m actually OK with not having a separate studio- as I work at all hours of the day/night and have no further interest in wasting travel time. The amount of room does limit what I can actually accomplish- but it hasn’t gotten in the way of my creativity. If you’re obsessed/compelled to make art- you just figure it out and do your best to continue. I’ll go another day until I can’t go another day.

  12. Noni Williams on

    Such beautiful writing people! Thank you kindred spirits. In 2005 we moved into a new home where I got my upstairs studio, sink, windows, etc. then last April my husband had a devastating disease and my all had been put into his recovery. I have mostly been able to “visit” my place. It looks like soon maybe I can again, God willing, put hand to canvas. Thanks again for your inspirational words.

  13. What space will be best for creating is something I have be wrestling with for a while. I have wonderful plans for a studio just outside my back door where vaulted ceilings and huge north windows will give me just the right atmosphere for my work. At present I work in a den just off the kitchen where it is convenient to get water, or care for my dogs or start dinner.

    I lost my beloved husband last November and have been surprised that he continues to inspire me even now. He was my biggest supporter and encourager. But the progress is oh, so slow now. I have been thinking more and more of building that specifically creative space where I can close the door and keep out the distractions of the world.

    Thank you for an insightful exploration of the subject!

  14. Good timing- read this as I was reorganizing my studio, and cleared a spot for a big wall easel I’ve been wanting to build. The photo of Lee Krasner painting on her wall did the trick. Thanks for the inspiration.

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