Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Inside My Studio

Ok, I have been really enjoying Inside the Painter's Studio. I have settled into reading just one section at a time, then later I look up the artist on the internet to see more of their work and learn more about them.

Also, while reading the interviews I found myself thinking about what my responses to those questions would be (um, cause the world does revolve around me after all) and even though I have talked about some of these topics here before, it occurred to me that I could answer all these questions too, here on my blog. So I tracked down the book's author, artist Joe Fig, and asked his permission to use his questions and encourage other artist bloggers to do the same on their blogs. He said 'go ahead' (and became my new Facebook friend too!) and here we are. So consider this a tag if you are reading this, just be sure to give credit to Joe, mention the book title and link back to his website and maybe to me too if you do it, k?

Well, here we go:

When did you consider yourself a professional artist and when were you able to dedicate yourself full time to that pursuit?

After finishing college (University of the Arts in Philadelphia) as an illustration major, I tried to work as a freelance illustrator. Which actually meant that I needed to get a job doing something else, and quickly. The job I got led me to doing some other things for a few years, then I got married, we adopted a nephew, then went on to have three babies. So I put aside painting for about ten years in order to be a full time mom. When my youngest started school in 2003, I began painting again during the day and have considered myself a working artist since then.

How long have you been in this studio?

Just over a year. My previous studio was in one of the living rooms on the first floor of our family home. It's a beautiful room, but rather small to work in and was also open to the rest of the house so the kids and cats and dogs were constantly coming through. I was always having to fix up the paw prints in the gesso or clean up hairballs or whatever.

Is your studio separate from your home? Is that what you prefer and does that affect your work?

I have always preferred to have a studio within or connected to my home, and now that I have a family I can't imagine working somewhere else each day. I still have to do a lot of multi tasking and I am able to spend time with the kids even if I am working. Sometimes my youngest daughter will come in and read to me while I am painting and I love that. I have moved around a lot; from Minnesota, to Philadelphia, Connecticut, Utah and now in upstate New York and even when I wasn't painting I always had some sort of workspace within my home. I like being home all day, although I do have to make a special effort to go out for lunch or dinner with friends. Sometimes I forget to be social and then when I do go out I feel like an alien!

Did you have a plan for the layout of your studio or did it develop organically?

It was planned, although since it is an attic space and we were on a budget there weren't a lot of options. Actually, we decided to finish the attic so that my husband could move his office into it and then I would get the connecting living rooms downstairs for my studio. But about midway though the project I decided it should be my studio. My husband graciously agreed and despite a few drawbacks, it is a wonderful space to work in. It even has storage!

Has the studio location influenced your work?

Well, living out here in the country has certainly affected my work. I never painted landscapes or barns before moving here and while I am not a plein air painter, most of my subject matter comes from the scenery around my home. And learning how to see things differently really changed how I express myself.

As far as the actual studio goes, well this studio is a very comfortable and peaceful space, it has a good feeling, which I think is reflected in my work. I also have more room to experiment with different things and to store the work that is pretty good, maybe not good enough to show or sell but not bad enough to toss out. Heh. It's actually quite freeing to not to have to decide right away about what to save or to throw out just because of space issues.

But as much as I like this studio, there are some drawbacks to it, which make me think I may have to set up something else someday. I feel rather cut off from the rest of the house which is nice in some ways but kind of irritating too. I miss being able to multi task easily, like starting dinner while finishing up a day's work in the studio, or to answer the door or let the dogs in and out. Even though I have north facing windows there is not a lot of light in my studio and while I don't depend on natural light to paint by, I much prefer a nice bright room to spend my time in. I would also like to have more vertical wall space (most of the walls are sloped) so that I could have a painting wall and more drying/display space.

Please describe a typical day, being as specific as possible. For example: What time to you get up? When do you come to the studio? Do you have specific clothing you change into?

I get up at 6am, shower, get dressed, then get the kids up by 7 and out the door to catch the school bus by 7:45. I feed the cats, the dogs, and take care of the chickens and other chores, depending on the season. In the summer I usually take a 3 mile walk around the block early in the day and when it's colder, I take the walk around lunchtime. Anyway, next, I have my breakfast up in my studio in front of my computer and I answer emails, maybe write a blog post, then do some social things like reading other artist's blogs and Facebook. I try to get to work by 9am, but sometimes it is more like 10 or even 11am (oops). I work for a few hours and then break for lunch, which I either have with my husband (he works at home when he is not away on business) or I eat at my computer. Then it's back to work until I have to rush out the door to go pick up a kid or three from their after school activities, usually around 4 or 5. Sometimes my husband will pick them up and I start dinner, or if he is out of town I stop working earlier to get dinner started and then go pick up the kids. Usually, everything is a blur of crazy activity from 4pm to 9pm each weekday! In the evening I go back up to my studio to look at what I am working on, and sometimes I spend a few hours on the computer, catching up on the news, surfing the internet and socializing on the time sucker that is Facebook. Other nights I watch some tv, knit and then I read for at least an hour before I go to sleep each night. I try to get to sleep by 10:30 but it's usually closer to midnight. I use the weekends for family activities and also to catch up on things around the house and yard, so I don't usually work in the studio then, unless I have a deadline coming up or if I have been unproductive during the week.

Do you listen to music, the radio, or TV when you work? If so, what, and does it affect your work?

I listen to Howard Stern every morning (if it is a live show) and then for the rest of the day I usually listen to my iPod which has every song on it that I have ever loved or even just liked. I had it on shuffle for years which I enjoyed but about two years ago I realized I missed hearing albums so I have had it set to album shuffle since then. I never work in silence; listening to talk radio or music that I connect to is really important to me. My mind gets to wander off, listening to other people talk or feeling certain lyrics or the emotion of the singer and I can just paint by instinct without over thinking or overworking.

What kind of paints do you use?

I like the quality of certain brands; Vasari, Schmincke, Old Holland, Gamblin, Rembrandt are my favorites but mostly I go with color over brand. My palette shifts every so often and I don't do a lot of color mixing so I like to have a good variety of colors on hand. I have a huge collection paints; probably more than I will ever be able to use!

How long have you had your painting table, and how did you decide to set it up?

I bought this metal serving cart from Target when I was preparing to move into this studio this year because I wanted to have something that I could move around. I keep all my photographic references on the lower shelf along with some supplies that I like to keep handy. It's too small to keep my paints on it (those are in a flat file drawer right behind me) and I just use the top surface for my palette (I use disposable palette pads) and jars of Turpenoid Natural for rinsing my brushes. More about my palette here.

Do you have any special devices or tools that are unique to your creative process?

Yes, I picked up a few soft scratching tools at the art supply store at the Vermont Studio Center when I was there for a residency a few years ago. I have used them ever since and in fact scratching into the paint is a big part of my new work. And Liquin is an important element as well, crucial for getting the kind of glazes that I prefer.

Are there specific items here that have significant meaning to you?

Yes! Almost everything in my studio is important to me! I have a dusting brush that belonged to my grandfather; I use it all the time. My desk belonged to my father in law, our contractor who is practically on a retainer for our money pit and is also a friend/collector built me a storage cabinet which means a lot to me. I have a drawing table that I bought in college 25 years ago and I have dragged it all around the country with me ever since. I love my new project tables so much that I want to just hug them every day. The owner of my NYC gallery gave me a huge flat file when the gallery closed and I love that thing. I have a number of small paintings by friends and fellow bloggers on my walls as well as pictures and art by my kids. I like to work in a homey sort of space, and I like having all my things around me. As much as the classic, white walled, spare artist's studio appeals to me, I really don't feel comfortable working in a space like that.

Do you work on one project at a time, or several?

I work on several paintings at once, due to the nature of applying glazes. I can only do a little bit of work on a painting each day so in order to utilize my time in the studio better, I always work in groups. Lately I have been painting different subject matter and I try to work in clusters with those too, although that has been a challenge since I usually have to put them aside and work on landscapes which are mostly what I show. But going back and forth has been good for me, I think. It is nice to have more flexibility after being so focused on landscapes for the last several years.

When you are contemplating your work, where and how do you sit or stand?

I just review each painting while it is still on the easel, so in that case I am either still seated if it is a small panel or standing if it is a larger panel. If I decide that the painting is right, I put it up on a the wall, on a display shelf while the glaze dries and I often spend more time looking at it there, trying to determine if it is done or if it needs more layers.

How often do you clean your studio, and does it affect your work?

I am a clutter bunny, I like having a lot of stuff around me, yet it is a fairly organized clutter and I spend a little time each day reorganizing and putting things away. Puttering like that really gets me into the work groove and helps me settle in for the day. I feel a bit unsettled if things are really a mess, although I am still able to keep working if I really have to, like if I am on a deadline and am feeling too crazy to tidy up.

Every month or so, I do a more major cleaning, sweeping and dusting the wood floors. Again, I don't need a super clean space but I do prefer it not to be filthy.

How do you come up with titles?

With the landscapes and barns, I usually use a fairly descriptive title like Red Barn with Trees or Yellow Field. I also use song titles or lyrics if I can think of one that seems appropriate; "The Big Pink" was perfect for a pink barn that I painted a few years ago! But I have painted so many landscapes over the last few years and the well is a bit dry concerning new titles so in my recent work, which is more abstract, I have a name for the series, then numbers for each piece. The portraits that I have been doing usually incorporate the name of the person or maybe something that the person is wearing.
All I Have To Do Is Dream, 2009, Oil on Birch Panel, 9x9

Do you have assistants?

No. But before the economy stuff happened, I was much busier and sometimes my husband would help me with putting the hangers on the panels and that sort of thing. When things pick up again, I may hire my teen age son to help me prep panels. I could also use some help with keeping track of my painting inventory and one of my daughters would be perfect for that job, although she is not yet aware of that. heh.

Did you ever work for another artist, and if so, did that have any effect on the way you work?

I have never worked for another artist.

Do you have a motto or creed that as an artist you live by?

When I find myself second guessing what I am doing, worrying about whether a particular piece will be exhibited or will sell, I remind myself that I get to do whatever I want. So I do that. I can't say it always leads to a better painting, but I at least feel good that I followed my instincts and usually that does work out eventually.

What advice would you give a young artist that is just starting out?

A few things I guess. One is to paint from your heart (I know, sounds sappy but you know what I mean) because if you feel it, it will show, and others will feel it too. Two is to keep working; having the discipline to work regularly is so important no matter what you do. Also, learn as much as you can about the business side of art, so much more information about that is available now because of the internet, and it is way better to be empowered in that area, than not.


Melody said...

What an AWESOME post. I absolutely loved it! So interesting reading about how you work. I think next time Joe should include you in his next book. My opinion of course.....

M.A.H. said...

Hey Tracy, got your comment over at my blog. I'm going to have to come back and spend time reading this one! I did the half-ass thing of contacting Joe to say that I appreciated his book, but didn't take it any further then that. (d'oh) So today I sent him a FB message. He probably thinks I'm stalking now.

Gary Rith Pottery Blog said...

my advice to young artists: become a petrochemical engineer, and failing that, a hedge fund manager, otherwise brush up on your barista skills....
HA! I love being an artist and smart azz. The best part about this T is your pics of the hillside and flowers--holy cats its pretty around there!!!!!!! We gotta visit the C.town breweries and you someday :)

Janelle Goodwin said...

Tracy, I loved this post! Thanks for showing us your studio in depth and describing your work habits, materials and how you manage your time. I do have a question! It's about your flat file. I too have a beautiful flat file bought at a flea market years ago. At the time, I bought it for storing my fragile pastel paintings. Now that I'm in oils, I never use it. Can you tell me what you use yours for? (Mine doesn't have the cool book shelf.) Thanks!!

Tracy said...

Thanks Melody, well I do tend to agree with your opinion on that;)

Mary, he seems pretty nice and approachable, just don't starting mailing him stuff and you'll be ok;) Looking forward to reading YOUR interview!

Not bad advice, Gary, thanks. And I have been patiently waiting for you and the missus to come visit us. Anytime!

Janelle, ok, started to answer your question and am now thinking it's a great topic for another post;) I will say that I have TONS of stuff stored in those drawers though!

Lisa McShane said...

Great post! Totally love it. I've been thinking a new, more sturdy easel is a must and after seeing your studio - I think I'll order it now.

I went on a painting trip for 3 days - away! - and returned today to discover my painting studio became a music studio. My son moved chairs, amps and a mic in. Love it.

pattynubs said...

Great post! I checked at the library and they do not have Figg's book yet, but in the meantime I am going to do some soul searching and answer those questions myself. I need to change my thinking from quilting just being a hobby to me being a comtemporary quiltmaker and artist. I think many of those questions would help me clarify who I am and where I want to be headed. Thanks so much!

Tracy said...

Lisa, oh I totally forgot to mention how much I love my easel!! It is sturdy and just perfect for how I work. I actually have a second one that I use when I work on really large panels, but oddly I like the other one much better;) And too funny about your studio turning into a music studio. Who needs an iPod???

Patty, you are welcome and I am so glad that this may help you clarify your direction concerning your work. I found it helpful to think more about some of my habits in the studio as well.

Gary Rith Pottery Blog said...

alright T, gonna use some of these questions meself and write a post :)

loriann said...

Tracy, thanks so much for taking the time to write this interesting and informative post. It 's fascinating to learn about your work habits and studio.
I have always loved your work.

prashant said...

Great post! Totally love it. I've been thinking a new, more sturdy easel is a must and after seeing your studio - I think I'll order it now. Work From Home

Kristine Campbell said...

This was a very nice 'interview' to complete the book, that I also think is great! Nice to see your work too.