My office -studio- guest quarters
This is the time of year to be making resolutions. Perhaps yours is to make a permanent place to paint. Let me share with you some solutions I have learned over the years.
Make a spot where you can leave work out. If the space is limited, use an easel. But don’t put it away! When you do, it is too easy to fill your time with other things to do. Have the place one where you can study it from different distances. A mantle will work. In my country kitchen. when the kids were growing up, we ate at a round table. My workspace was built into a corner and at mealtime I always sat facing that corner.
Secret #1 If you possibly can, get some cork that is sold on a roll in building supply stores. Have the size you need cut. Apply it to the wall with linoleum paste and paint it a white or off white with flat latex paint. You can easily pin and unpin paintings and no tape marks on your walls.
Here is the wall in my studio. I see it when I come in the sliding doors. The photo is taken from a desk area where the phone is and where I write and pay bills. On the phone, walking in or out, I am looking at the paintings. (If you go into my gallery on this website you will see a number of these paintings finished.)
We need storage for paper, for paintings in progress, for finished paintings, framed and unframed. For paints, pencils, etc. I have seen a number of people take a closet and dedicate it to their art supplies and paintings. It works well. There are many storage units on the market that can be adapted for the space and your needs.
Secret #2: If you are have custom cabinets made, first have them measure YOU. If you stand, as I do, hold your hands out where they are comfortable holding a brush. That is the height of your cabinets.
Secret #3: If possible, make the cabinets big enough, front to back, that you can put a full sheet of watercolor in lengthwise. I asked my husband when he was planning my cabinets how deep the cabinets would be “32 inches,” he said. Well, what is the inside size of the drawers? . 28 inches. No no no…. watercolor paper is 30 inches. The interiors are 31 inches and my paper fits beautifully.
There is a lot different kinds of lighting sold for artists and I am not going to get in to some of the controversies that surround it. You do not want to be casting a shadow on your work. You do not want glare.
You will note in the top right photo that I have (two) large lights that I found in a flea market (the second is to the left, out of camera). These had been in the Albany, Oregon gym. The bulbs cost more than the lights! They work great: the room is full of light at night and no cast shadows on my work space.
Secret #4: This is a NW secret: forget about north light! I don’t think we can have too much light. The window you see to the left of the paintings is my one due north. There are two big windows to the left of the photo. They are due west and, in the top interior shot, you see some late afternoon light across part of the workspace – but there is still room to work.
My REAL secret is the clerestory you see in the first photo facing due south! Note it is narrow and high. We step down two steps from the door level, making the studio a tall room. In the snowy day photo, look at the natural light on my workspace (as well as a number of projects!). The low angle of the sun comes directly through the clerestory windows and bounces onto the angled wall. From there it infuses the space with a beautiful even light.
In the summertime, when the sun is at a high angle, it does strike the work surface between 11 and 2, making it too bright to work. But — who is painting inside at that time during one of our gorgeous Northwest summer days?
The counter is white formica. I clean it with Windex and paint directly on it. The floor is white linoleum. It is Mexican tile in the office area, but I wanted the softer floor and one on which I can drip and spill paint. This is a messy business!
My studio wraps around a little 8′ x 12′ building that was my original warm-and-dry cabin which I loved so much when vacationing here, that I moved up full time the next year. It was four more years before we got around to building the studio but the time was well-spent in deciding how best to meet my needs. I sit at my computer desk in the little cabin, looking through its window and out the window of the large office to the sun on the water and the distant island. And can hit the Save button and go around the corner where my paintings are calling to me. I hope these will give you some good ideas for your workspace, big or small. Feel free to ask me any questions you might have.
© Caroline Buchanan, 2009