Studio reflections ex 1.3
This is about my relationship to/with my studio, and as I’m very lucky to have one I have no trouble seeing it as vital. It was rebuilt during the pandemic, having sprung a leak, and for six months I was crammed into a tiny space in the next room which already held furniture and my computer. The light was reduced due to the old French windows suddenly becoming external doors and, not being up to the job, they were boarded. My easel occupied a minute space between the table and the window with barely two feet into which to move back from it. Some of my painting equipment was indoors with me in trolleys, but the rest was in two tents pitched in the garden. Getting this space back was totally liberating.
Unlike some, this space is where I work almost exclusively due to various limitations that make working anywhere else problematic. It opens onto the garden from one direction and into the room housing my computer from another so that, angling the monitor in a certain direction, I can see an enlarged version of any visual material I might be using for reference. And it makes searching, contemporaneous writing, and distracted Facebook faffing, that much easier.
I learned many years ago about the importance of setting conditions for framing an activity. For some, it begins with the work clothes or maybe the uniform that transforms them from the mum or dad cooking breakfast to the police officer, the hospital consultant, the athlete, or the engineer. We’re ready.
But working from home is a challenge many will have experienced lately. The setting conditions are domestic and so are the distractions. Writers know this, and Stephen King, a prolific novelist, advised that ‘you can wait for the muse if you like but you’d better be at your desk when he turns up‘. Or words to that effect. What he meant was that you need to be in work mode at work time, and to have a structured work time to keep you on track.
For me, it’s always been the desk and the keyboard so I needed something different for painting. It turned out to be an apron. Put that on and I’m in painter mode, painter mood, and painter operandi. I can add my studio space to that cognitive framing process now – it’s what I do in there with its lovely light and its sense of being outside while also inside. My cats are there too but unlike the earlier crammed-into-one-room experience, they’re not walking over the palette or nudging my elbow when I’m trying to paint a straight line.
As recommended, I watched the video of Uri Aran in his studio. My first thoughts? That place is looked after – there’s no dust, white things are white, the floors are clean, there’s no mess, and everything is arranged as if it’s in a gallery. And it’s the size of a small warehouse. Whatever his toolbox of actions for ‘how to solve the day in the studio’ might be, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t include going round with a feather duster and a mop.
It’s really quite difficult to see how a man with that kind of space and inherent support structures can have much relevant advice for people working out of under-stairs cupboards, or a loft conversion with no running water. My situation is very privileged in comparison with some fellow students, but it’s the primary school dugout next to his Etihad of a room.
I have found two points I can agree with – organisation and design – and this is because I’ve been able to influence the second in the interests of the first throughout the build. The size of the windows and doors, how many open and how wide, the number of sockets, the floor covering, and significantly the roof. Evidently glass roofs are ‘out’, solid ones ‘in’ so the structure becomes a ‘room’. I wanted light, lots of it, and I stuck to my glass roof guns. It might be a bit bright at times but that’s barely an inconvenience. Most things are on wheels so I can dance them round the space to where I need them; easel, hair dresser trolleys, and a little radiator for cooler times. This is a place I can work in.
Which brings me to Valerie Mrejen’s short piece, ‘Start Working’. This is the art equivalent of that internet document on how to give a cat a pill; so many blind alleys with no productive end result; and like the cat/pill advice, it contains many painful truths. Oscar Wilde is probably the Dog equivalent. That was a one liner – wrap pill in bacon. Wilde is reputed to have written that he ‘spent all morning putting in a comma, and all afternoon taking it out’. Lately I find I’ve reached Dog Pill stage.
Stephen King. I believe the quote I paraphrased comes from King’s 2012 book, On Writing (Hodder Paperbacks) but as I lent my copy to someone who seems now to have adopted it permanently, I can’t check that.
Mrejen, V. 2012. Start Working. In The Studio, documents of contemporary art. Jens Hoffman, Ed. Whitechapel Gallery and MIT Press.