My studio is my little space of calm. It is an old renovated stable. It was renovated about 20 years ago and is my favourite place to be. I moved in nearly 3 years ago now (as if time goes that fast?!). It was a dumping ground, full of years and years of rubbish and complete crap. I was told I could use it if I tidied it up. I like to think I’m pretty determined, but this was a bit of a mission. It took about 3 weeks to clear it, then we had to paint the whole space white. It took 4 coats before you couldn’t see the darker wood coming through, but it was SO worth it. I filled it with cosy rugs and a rocking chair, and in the beginning, I placed my computer in there, along with a desk. However, after the first initial summer in the studio, I realised the desk was a waste of essential painting space. As I was gaining confidence with my paintings, they were getting larger and I needed all the space I could get.
Over the last 3 years, the studio and I grew together and have a routine. I go in, fill up my waterpots with water, put on my music (or a podcast), mix a new palette and then we crack on. I work standing up and hang the large canvases on the nails in the walls. I constantly move from the canvas, back to observe it, then back to the canvas. I realised the other day that I managed to do 5000 steps from just working on paintings in the studio. I never realised how much I step back to observe what’s going on!
I do tend to work on the smaller pieces on the floor though, I sit and use my hands and large brushes to work on a few smaller pieces at the same time. It kills my back but it’s worth it! I tried to do the whole easel thing but I can't, it’s too restrictive.
In the summer I fling the studio stable door open. I tend to work in bare feet and can spend hours in there in the height of summer. It’s honestly my favourite place to be.
In the winter I put my heater on, turn the lights on (they’re awful but do the job!) and I know that when the door is shut, nobody will bother me. It’s my safe place.
Fast Forward to March 2020 and everything’s changed. The world is in the midst of a global pandemic and Britain is on lockdown. My studio has to change. My studio is around a 10-minute drive from my home and although I would LOVE to go there throughout this, it didn’t’ feel like it was a necessary journey, that and I do come into contact with quite a few people when I’m there, even if I’m just saying hello! I thought it was safer for everyone else, and me, to stay home. So I made the decision to move a few things back with me. I ordered a pack of new acrylics and some new smaller canvas. I decided that as I was only going to be in the house I should really only paint smaller canvases and boards as space wasn’t really an option. I read a couple of blogs and this seemed like what other artists were doing, taking only what they thought was possible back to their homes.
Turns out, I hate the acrylics I panic ordered and I’m not a huge fan of painting 30cm x 30cm squares.
It took me a week to realise this.
After spending 7 days sitting on a large piece of blue plastic in my study, trying to paint these silly squares and trying to mix beautiful colours with thin and watery paints, I gave up. I had all the inspiration but it just wasn’t coming outright, and I knew why. I didn’t have my trusted tools. Yes, I wasn’t in my beloved studio but all my tools were wrong.
So a couple of days ago I decided to go and get the canvases from the studio that
I wanted to work on, regardless of scale. I also collected my oil pastels, my many packs of charcoal, and my amazing Sennelier acrylics.
Yes, the study isn’t the ideal space for these things, but as soon as I got my usual tools I knew I could make it work, and naturally, my inspiration came flooding out. I can't make a mess like I can in the studio, I cant drop my brushes onto the floor or throw pastels down, but it works.
Whilst doing a little bit of research the other day I found myself getting lost on artist Ian Rayer-Smith’s blog posts. He had written a post about Painting away from comfort and I thought how extremely relevant it was to our situation right now. His words made complete sense. He explained the importance of working in a new and different environment, to not simply continue to work on the same things you would in the comfort of your own environment. This got me thinking. Instead of seeing working in the study as a negative, I should think of it as a new chapter, a new challenge and to see it as an artist residency. Granted, I can’t be quite as expressive and dramatic with my painting as I can be in the studio, (don’t quite have space) but I can still let the environment influence the work I create in this period, and try things beyond what I would normally do. So that’s my plan and that’s my advice to any other artists who might be reading this. Don’t think of your new limited space studio as a negative, see it as your own artist residency.
Take what you want back home with you. If you have the urge to paint a 120cm x 100cm canvas, do it (I have!). I read the blogs where artists told me to only take what I could and plan the smaller works that I could do whilst at home and for me, it just didn’t work. I can’t plan to only paint 6 30cm x 30cm canvases. It’s dull and it won’t work. If I have the need to paint a 100cm x 100cm board, it means there’s a painting within me and I’ll make it work, even if I end up painting in the garden. I don’t have a large house by any means, it’s a little cottage. However, as long as I keep it tidy at the end of every session it’ll be fine and I will manage.
So on that lengthy note, keep smiling and keep creative. We’ll get through this xx