My entire house is a live-in studio, of about 900 square feet. The front room doubles as a viewing and drying area, the kitchen is also my winter wood shop and storage, one bedroom is filled with storage shelves, a design work table, and computer station, the other bedroom is my painting studio, 10′ x 13′. Sleeping area is a lofted futon in an alcove, with painting storage underneath.
It can be very charming. I share this space with three cats, and my house is surrounded by a garden and the “pocket” forest I planted about twelve years ago. The treetop canopy filled in a couple years ago, and I truly have a small forest area, about 80′ x 80′. It’s all located on the east side of Indianapolis, where the surrounding neighborhood is sometimes peaceful, and sometimes very raucous. I control incoming neighbor noise by playing very loud music. Other times, I’m serenaded by birds, cicadas, or crickets. It’s a sonic (and psychic) crap-shoot.
I work within a fairly wide artistic range, and am set up to paint on the wall, on an easel, or on a wedge-augmented table top. I may stand or sit, use large gestural strokes, or use a maul stick for control. It all depends on the work. Lighting is an issue. I constantly adjust lights on and off when working and viewing. I pace around to view from various angles and often stand on a chair and view upside down. I do this a lot. This pacing also sets up rhythmic mental state, as does the music I play. It hadn’t really occurred to me before…….that I anchor myself in this agitation. It acts as a repetitive, controlled distraction, and helps me maintain a broad perspective as I work. Ideally, I’d like to mentally be aware of the (changing) big picture while losing myself in the minutiae of the painting moment. I want to stay alert and aware, while muddling blindly.
My best visual ideas come very quickly and unexpectedly. I like to work in short sessions of focus, usually 20-40 minutes, interspersed with episodic piddling. Focus, piddle, focus, piddle, all day long. Again, it’s rhythmic. I also take in short viewing sessions when not painting. My favorite pop-in time is when I exercise. I break for water, and run into the studio panting. The work looks very different when I’m winded, and I may look around and instantly know where to go next, on several paintings. It’s very beneficial to have my studio in my living space, where I can engage and back off so readily.
I use this space in two very different art-making capacities, which adds a layer of structural chaos to the process. I make my personal art paintings here, and I also run a mural and decorative painting business. The environment is continually fluctuating, both physically and contextually. I must frequently break down and set up for two different activities involving different supplies, working methods, projects, and ways of thinking. They also fulfill a different purposes. I’m very amused by the visual juxtapositions which often occur in my studio space, and have documented these ludicrous pairings, on my blog (www.rocktownindiana.blogspot.com under “studio turf wars” label).
The studio itself is inviting, but is arranged solely for practicality. Even though I spend so much time fulfilling others’ decorative needs, I sport a “default” scheme in my own place, and especially in the studio. Several years ago, when I had a separate studio in the Murphy Arts Center, my current studio was a bedroom. I sewed monkey print curtains for a window in this room. Those curtains still hang, functioning, but well past their ornamentally relevant prime.
Other default studio arrangements are more oppressive, or they would be if I noticed. I have boarded shut the exit door, after a failed break-in attempt made the door unusable. This door previously opened onto my garden, but that was distracting anyway, right? I also have roughly boarded over a smashed window, the outcome of a later successful break-in. I have placed 2” x 4”s over the one remaining studio window (along with most of the other windows in the house). It seemed severe and depressing at first, but I barely notice now. I enjoy gazing through the bars at my forest. Most of the time, it’s weirdly idyllic here, and very conducive to working. However, as I am constantly made aware, anything can happen at any time. This is not antithetical to the process of painting, per se, but I sometimes wonder if I’m harboring an unconscious self-narrative. Am I being practical, or am I embracing the suffering artist cliché, or am I being a Pollyanna?
d) All of the above.
I am happy with how I’ve been able to work from here. My home/studio is brilliant in its functionality. It’s also a thief-targeted shack. Some days I feel so lucky, and other times I feel really stuck. I will be making some sort of change soon, and just today, I finally had a mental glimpse of my next studio incarnation. It’s still in the imaginary stages, but I’ll keep you posted.