The American architect and author Anthony Lawlor looks at rooms as containers for the elevation of the human spirit. The kitchen, for example, is a sacred place where raw foods are transformed by the alchemy of heat into sustenance and delicacy. Bedrooms are sanctuaries for the mysterious transformations of sleeping and loving. Bathrooms are closed retreats of personal cleanliness and hygiene. Apart from perhaps the nursery, nothing compares to the remarkable container known as the studio. Here is a sanctuary where mere materials are transformed into objects of beauty. Like the laboratory, the studio is a domain of imaginative possibilities — as near to “creation” as mankind is likely to go.
At the center of most studios is a piece of furniture called the easel. Whether simple and humble or complex and magnificent, it is at this unit that the creator sets her forces in motion. You might pause to consider how blessed are we who daily stand or sit before the easel. Ideally, it should be a strong object, so it can be pushed hard against, or be made to hold rock-steady during our more delicate passages. The easel needs to be well lit from above so those born on it can be properly examined, pampered and reconsidered. The easel is an altar to productivity.
Traditional altars have been places of worship and sacrifice, and the studio easel is no exception. He who would do well at one must respect and honour the gods of quality, truth, composition, imagination, pattern, perspective, story, drawing, colour, fantasy and flair. To stand or sit at one, even in play, you need to prepare yourself for labour. The easel is also a place of sacrifice. Substandard passages or whole works are summarily struck down at this often troubling altar — but rebirth is its usual fruit. Both honour and responsibility go with your easel, your altar.
PS: “For thousands of years, much of humankind has believed that only special places are infused with the sacred and that you must get away from the everyday in order to find it. Not so, everything is infused with the holy — from chairs to clothing to kitchen stoves.” (Anthony Lawlor)
Esoterica: While I’ve built, bought, worn out, and rejected countless outdoor easels and boxes, my studio easel is home-built and has been with me for a lifetime. My dad and I built it in 1974. I’ve sometimes looked at more sophisticated cranking and tilting models, but I’ve always come back to this one. Maybe it’s the spirit of Dad in its rugged design, the Luddite way it holds onto my paintings, or the patina from my cigar-smoking days that keeps it in its place. But maybe it’s the tradition. I’ve made a lot of art on it, and rejected a lot as well. It’s been a life together — this easel and me. I guess you could say I’ve fallen in love with it.
This letter was originally published as “Your easel, your altar” on June 22, 2012.
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“Since every building and designed object is made of memory, every place can become a memorial for re-membering our lives and the world around us… a place to recollect the fragments of our lives into a revitalized whole.” (Anthony Lawlor)
A 3 day Non-Objective Painting Workshop with Cat Tesla and Julie Schumer
in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Explore and develop your personal voice in the inspirational environment of Santa Fe. We will explore composition, color, value and how to work on multiples at the same time. Find your own signature with different mark making tools and learn how your marks enliven your paintings. Learn how to harmonize any palette, move from analysis paralysis to painting success and to trust your artistic choices. This intensive 3 day workshop is perfect for the beginning artist who has some experience using acrylic paint.
August 14, 15, and 16
9 am to 4:30 pm
$950 Bring a friend and save $50 each
I grew up on a farm in Ohio, and that experience gave me a love of nature and the seasons and a deep belief in personal independence, as well as a love of experimentation. These have been the foundations of my work as a painter. I believe that learning in art or any subject is lifelong, and that the most important lessons we learn are through our personal interests and experimentation. After my husband’s death in 2018, I visited Israel the next year, and was inspired by the amazing landscape colors, and especially the old city of Jerusalem, with its crumbling walls, and its deep religious importance. I found my way out of grief by painting the Eight Gates of the old city.