3 months ago, in September 2019, I moved into my dream studio. It’s 550sq ft with big windows and white walls. I’ve been painting at home for almost a decade so this feels rather miraculous.
I’ve looked a few times before for studio space, but it’s always been too expensive, impossible to travel to, miserable as hell, or no larger than my 10×10 ft spare bedroom so not worth the added cost. Instead I’ve made what I have work for me and my space at home developed alongside me, starting with clearing anything which didn’t belong there. At first I had a desk from plywood propped on cupboards and then, when I wanted more space, I cut that to become a trolley and created a painting wall so I had space to move around.
(I’ve never liked easels – allowing myself to get rid of my easel was a big sigh of relief, even though it’s what ‘proper’ artists use. Or so I thought!)
But as I wanted to work larger I could only work on one painting at a time, and with sloping ceilings they ended up propped everywhere with nowhere to dry. And this time was different. Here are a few things I’ve learnt so far:
Things happen at the right time
I’m actually glad I didn’t find anywhere suitable before. When my children were a bit younger I needed to be at home and working there allowed me to grab extra moments in the evenings or continue while they were doing homework. Now, I need better time discipline and a real structure to my week to get to the studio. I’ve been working long enough now to have this, and to allow for flexibility, but if I had an external studio a few years ago I know it would have felt waste. Which brings me to….
Don’t get me wrong – it’s still a big cost. I’m in London, so this is pretty big. The studio in a location with other creatives – you know, people running proper businesses. Exporting things, seamstresses with retail display shops elsewhere, vans making deliveries….
This could be a big cause of Imposter Syndrome but it’s encouraged me to raise my game. As my Dad said “are you selling enough to make this worthwhile?” (thanks!). So, what do I need to do to make that happen? I’ve applied for bigger art fairs this year and will be showing at Manchester Art Fair in October for the first time and Contemporary Art Fairs Surrey in March 2020 again.
I am also developing plans for some exciting workshops – some ideas which have been brewing for a while, but I’ve never had the room before.
Any problems? For the first 2 months I panicked each time the rent bill arrived. Plus all the moving in costs I had invested! Now, I try to think I will only be moving on when it’s time for something bigger still! This is what I need to grow, I ask others to invest in me by choosing my work, it’s only right that I do the same.
It took me a full month to move in. Walls and storage needed building and there were multiple trips to IKEA. This is all on top of the rent and I blew my moving-in budget, but it felt OK because I’ve been working long enough now to know what I need:
- I have hidden vertical storage for panels, packing and finished work because I know I like to have this out of sight. It’s my attempt at being tidy 🙂 or rather – I know having a place to hide the mess is an essential luxury.
- I have removeable hardboard covering the working area of the concrete floor. Underneath it is foam underlay – to help my knees while standing for long periods and for insulation. I will paint this, and it’s an easy re-fresh.
- I’ve only moved in what I need, because the whole purpose is to grow, but I have a long desk for clean work or smaller pieces.
- A moveable trolley with castors is essential for all my painting bits. We made this ourself with fence posts for the legs, wooden battens with metal L-brackets to support the surfaces which are just plywood.
Any problems? It’s unheated so I’m now the proud owner of a padded boiler suit (not sexy) and I need a thermal mug to keep my tea warm. The dog doesn’t like it because it’s too echoey. No internet means less live-streaming, which I enjoy. Instead I’m trying to record short snippets as I go to upload later (but see echoey above!) The travel time can be unreliable and is time wasted and I’m still working that part out…
And what about the actual work?
The first thing I noticed was that when I could see it all together, it felt busy and a bit heavy. I know people tend to buy works in isolation, but it’s important too that it feels coherent and makes a clear display, wherever it’s to be shown.
Previously it was only possible to see a lot of paintings once they were displayed at art fairs (it’s one of the great benefits of doing them). Seeing it as a group like this has allowed me to understand what impact I want it to have, spot patterns and identify how I want it to develop.
I’m embracing a messier, more fluid approach with liquid paint. Previously there was simply not room for this, or the drying time required with more than one painting in progress.
Any problems? With so many pieces on the go (38 at last count!) I’m finding it’s too tempting to just sit and look at the big ones, or flip between them. On Friday when it took me forever to get there, I was on a rush and tried this which worked really well:
STUDIO TIP: Set a timer on your phone for 10mins. You have this long and no more to get set up and review what you did last time and choose a painting to work on. Re-set it for 20mins and work on that painting without stopping. I found that when the timer went off I was disappointed and keen to keep going but a short pause stopped my moves getting tired and gave me a short time into more considered thinking.
This is a pattern of work I recognise, the flipping between intuitive action and more considered thinking, but I’ve never done it quite like this before, actually using a timer. I enjoyed it!
The space is so big that ‘normal’ size paintings can seem inadequate. But most of us don’t live in huge modern loft conversions or barns…! Do I want my work in large corporate spaces? Maybe. But I love what original paintings bring to a home, so I will still be working at a human scale..
If you are an artist I hope this has inspired you and reassured you. Maybe given you some ideas for your own space or set intentions for your dream studio. Dream, and it just might happen….