Sunday, August 28, 2016

Where's Your Studio?

One of the first questions an artist is asked, after "what do you do?", is "where is your studio?"  The answer to that says a lot about the artist.  It should: there is a lot that goes into the decision.

I've had several studios.  My first was in the basement of my old house.  It was a bit dank and dark, but it was fairly roomy and had running water, so I was pretty happy with it.  I was in the Navy, so that job came first, but the studio was available whenever I could spend some time there.

My second and third studios were third bedrooms in different homes.  "Studio" is a rather ambitious name for something that was little more than a closet filled with art stuff.  But like my basement studio, they were available whenever my Navy work allowed.

After I retired from the military, I went to UNC Asheville to study fine art.  I set up a studio in our 2-car garage.  Half the garage was for the car and half for me.  It didn't work.  The light was horrible.  Our garage opens to the southwest, so I had sunlight bouncing off the pavement, providing incredible glare.  Every leaf in the neighborhood would blow in whenever the door opened.  It was cold in winter and hotter than hell in the summer.  You can't make any kind of art when you're fighting your environment.

During my senior year at UNCA, I had a tiny studio in the art building.  It was maybe 9'x9'.  A closet, really, but it was a dedicated art space with lighting, heating and cooling, and (best of all) lots of other artists around to trade ideas with.  That's where I did my "Old Times" series of 16 paintings.

After graduating, I moved into a studio in Asheville's River Arts District.  Finally, a professional studio!  It was about 30'x20' and shared with two other painters.  One left after a few months and then Christine Enochs and I shared it for about five years.  It was in an old brick cotton mill built circa 1898.  It had seven large windows, about 8' high and 4' wide, that had all the insulation you'd expect of a window installed in 1898.  It also had 15' ceilings, wood floors, and a bathroom.  And bugs.  Lots and lots of bugs.

But the physical description is only a tiny part of it.  The building was full of other artists: several painters, a choreographer, stained-glass window artist, two potters, a flute maker, textile artists, and a wire sculptor, to name a few.  We had a small community within the building that exposed us to all kinds of new ideas as well as mutual support.  We were in a larger community of artists in other buildings, too.  I could go over to the Clingman Cafe and wind up talking with a woodworker or photographer about things I never would have thought of otherwise.  Being in a community of artists is invaluable, particularly when you're just starting out.  Our building was also open to the public pretty much every day, so there was a slow stream of foot traffic that became a flood during the two Studio Stroll weekends we held every year.

I eventually moved out of this studio when I made the decision to go to Afghanistan.  After I came home, I went looking for a different place.  While being in a community of artists was great, having constant foot traffic did not work well for me.  People would come in, spend 20 minutes talking with me, and then walk out.  Foot traffic worked well for the potters, who had inexpensive items like coffee mugs that sold well.  Paintings and other artworks that could cost up to several thousand dollars did not move.  So I decided that it was better for me to have a studio with no foot traffic and no interruptions.

I found one in Riverside Business Park.  This is another old textile mill that has been converted into a small business incubator.  There are lots of operations here: a coffee roaster, a couple of warehouse-type operations, a few artists, two rafting companies, and so on.  My studio was about 650 square feet with fluorescent lights and heating and cooling.  Later, I also rented the adjacent hallway that didn't go anywhere, along with two bathrooms (good story behind all that), that gave me lots of storage space and running water.  There are no windows, but I installed daylight-balanced lights.  Since this is an industrial space rather than an "artist studio", rent is very affordable.  There's no foot traffic, which is a plus for me, but there's plenty of space for workshops, weekly life drawing groups, and other activities.  All in all, it works out well.

Many professional artists work out of their homes, or in studios built on their property.  I find that it helps me to have to actually go somewhere else.  There's a mind shift: I'm going to work.  When I'm at home, I have all kinds of other things that "need" to be done: go to the grocery store, do some yard work, that sort of thing.  So I'm one of those artists that needs a separate studio that's located some distance away.

What would I change about my current studio?  Well, it would be nice to have windows, but that can't happen since it's in the middle of the building.  It would also be nice if it was 10 miles closer to home.  Going to work is one thing, but it doesn't have to be a 20-minute drive.  And it would be great to be in a community of artists, with a cafe nearby, that wasn't overrun by tourists.  I'm afraid that combination of factors doesn't exist, though.  So I'm keeping my studio.  And no, you can't have it.