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Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Artist's Studio

The studio of British artist, Francis Bacon
An art studio in the laundry room?
Why not? It's called multi-tasking.
Whether you realize it or not, as an artist, before you draw the first line or paint your first stroke, you must create something far more important than any one individual piece of art. Your first creation as an artist is your working environment. For the beginning artist it might be something of an overstatement to refer to this creative sanctuary of soul-searching solitude as a "studio," but even if it's merely one corner of your bedroom or the dining room table between meals, every artist must create and organize someplace to work. The requirements for such a working environment are largely of the common sense variety. Ideally this area needs to be a dedicated space, large enough to accommodate you, whatever art furniture you've managed to accumulate, a comfortable seat, adequate natural and artificial light, storage, as well as peace and quiet, free from undue distractions (no television). A separate room would be nice but not absolutely necessary. Also, given today's art world, a desk with a computer tethered to the Internet is more and more a prime asset.

The primary considerations in designing and building a modern-day art studio are:
(1) The artist's personality. Are you a "Messy Bessie" or a "Neat Pete," as I mentioned a couple days ago? Are you more comfortable in an office-like setting or a workshop?

(2) The media you customarily use. If you paint with watercolors, even large ones, your work area can be more modest than if you do even medium size canvas paintings on an easel.

(3) It used to be artists felt they had to have huge windows delivering natural northern light. Now, few artists work from three-dimensional models so it's not so much the light, but the capability of controlling light that's important. Too much light is as bad as too little. Fortunately, the quality and sources of artificial light are much more customizable today than in the past.

(4) Creature comforts are important. A small refrigerator, a sink with running water, and a bathroom nearby constitute near necessities in most working environments today. Heating is a must, air-conditioning almost a must.

(5) It almost goes without saying any area you choose to use as a studio will be one converted from some other purpose. If you're lucky, you might have available an unfinished attic or basement but both those areas come with multiple problem which need to be solved creatively.

(6) The studio should be at least modestly attractive. There was a time when artists felt their studio walls should always be white. Perhaps, but there's a lot to be said for neutral colors as well, warm or cool grays, or lighter earth tones work just as well. Avoid the bright primary and secondary colors. Let your accessories and, indeed, your art be the center of interest as to color.
Beyond these guidelines, anything else could be considered in the realm of a luxury depending upon your financial wherewithal and space available. In any case, your work environment is, in fact, a vivid picture of how serious you are in being an artist.

The "cubbyhole" studio of a watercolorist. (The black cat in the chair is optional.
Studio of Adriaen van Ostade, 1663,
Even the most successful artists today usually prefer to work out of their homes. The practice is convenient, comfortable, economical, and includes certain tax advantages. It’s also traditional (left). Artists have been living “over the store” for hundreds of years. The only difference between now and then is that the studio (or “workshop,” as it was called) occupied a significantly larger proportion of the dwelling. Perhaps, more accurately, you could say that the artist’s home was in the workshop, which was literally quite accurate. An artist during the Renaissance had few creature comforts and still fewer of the ready-made supplies we take for granted today. Even a painter’s workshop would find the master and his associates involved with wood, plaster, and various metals, as well as grinding pigments, preparing canvases or panels, and perhaps producing engraved prints of the artist’s work. So, the next time you feel depressed in your cramped little 21st century heated and air-conditioned cubbyhole, consider the Renaissance artist for a moment. Then get back to work.

My own studio and computer work center.


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