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Monday, October 13, 2014

Promises to Keep

Promises to Keep

In my very fortunate life, I have carved out several studio spaces.

1. My big studio in the house is where many different processes take place.

Beginning this tour is an entire wall of white homosote board, a compressed cardboard building material which easily takes pushpins, and when repainted, the holes from the pins magically disappear.

This is my inspiration wall. Postcards, magazine clippings, photos, skeins of hand dyed fiber, strings of beads, small watercolour sketches, almost anything finds a home up here. From time to time I change it, renewing my sources of inspiration. If something remains too long in the same space, I tend to lose sight of it. The juxtaposition of elements on this wall can jumpstart my creative flow.

Next to this is my father's antique oak teacher's desk, with comodious drawers. Try as I may, this surface always becomes cluttered with new additions to the studio that have yet to find their home. Bags of new art supplies, unfiled magazines, random tools, it all lives here for a time before guilt moves me to put them in their proper places in the studio.

To the left of this is a wall of shelves for antique and vintage original sources material: English sketchbooks, scrapbooks and journals from the 17th through 19th centuries, incunabula, Victorian and German die-cut lithographs, calling cards, early photographs, correspondences and ledgers. These are stored in museum quality plastic sleeves and boxes. This space is sacred. Wet media is not allowed here, nor are beverages or food.

Around the corner sturdy shelves hold thousands of fine art and craft magazines, Dover Books and inspirational books on water colour techniques and collage. This counter space is often piled high with resource books and mags that I am currently using. From this space artwork as divergent as t-shirt designs and altered art collage may be created.

Next to this treasure trove are ten feet of cabinets with drawers filled with ephemera, scraps, materials, French ribbons, tools. I try my very best to keep the counter space here clear for the next piece of work. This is where most of the collage art is created. Tiered bakery displays hold the bits and pieces of current projects. Shallow wooden trays are placed in the Elfa basket drawers below so a project can be stored safely in mid-process. Also stored in the drawers are hundreds of rubber stamps, stamp pads, and a wide assortment of papers, from Fabriano watercolour paper to tissue papers. Blocks and reams of decorative papers, blank sketch books, and stacks of loose sheets are kept in these wire drawers.

Around corner are towering paper files. Oversized ephemera, decorative papers, Japanese origami and French tissue paper, almost anything can be found here. There is no organization or sense of order here. I enjoy the random and surprising discoveries I make when sifting through these files. A handy scanner/copier also lives here, so I can use precious antique or vintage images without destroying the originals.

Across the aisle is the bead and jewelry finding storehouse and work bench, where narrow shelves hold open plastic containers of beads. The beads are grouped according to color families and active containers are filled with the parts of specific series of necklaces.

Frequently used findings live in plastic zip lock bags held in place on the shelf edges by glued-on tiny wooden clothespins. Pliers, snips and other tools for this work are stored in ceramic mugs. The work space here is almost always in use. Although it may seem chaotic to visitors, I know exactly where everything is. Small clear plastic drawer units hold my latest finds: jewelry components and beads that have yet to be filed away.

As in the collage station, an office chair mat covers the carpet here so tiny objects which drop to the floor will not become lost in the carpet. I originally wanted to remove the carpet because I adore plain wooden floors, but the cold New England winters persuaded me to keep the carpet for insulation. Elfa drawers under this work space hold trays of works in progress, display trays, and larger tools.

Completing the circuit of the room are ceiling high wall to wall book shelves, Medieval and Renaissance references are on the left and modern craft to the right of the fireplace.

Below almost every work counter, which run around the room on three sides, are my beloved Elfa wire sliding drawer systems, which accommodate paper, materials, tools, and works in progress. This enables me to work on many pieces without taking up valuable work surfaces. It also allows me to quickly locate tools and materials. The wire drawers contain clutter and still permit me to see and be inspired by their contents.

In the center of the room is a large comfy chair and several stacks of books. A cosy lap quilt invites nesting. Next to the chair is a small night stand, where I may safely place a cup of tea without fear of spilling it onto a rare book or painting. A floor lamp with a flexible neck directs bright light over my shoulder for reading. I occasionally change the direction of the chair so I can face new inspirational views around the studio.

Like most artists, I started out on the kitchen table.

Throughout my life, as opportunity and funds permitted, I progressed from studio space to studio space. This current space has been carefully thought out. It is conveniently located in my home, so I am never far from my work, and can respond quickly when inspiration takes me. But it is in a space dedicated to this special use, closed off with a door, so I can feel private and apart, cloistered like a medieval monk, when I am working. No phone, no internet. The mundane exigencies of my daily life need not intrude.

2. My garden studio, a tiny 8x8 garden shed with skylights, a work surface, a comfy love seat and a small book case, is devoted solely to watercolour painting and reading for inspiration. I use a wicker basket to carry my liquid media to and from the studio in the winter. This tiny space is insulated, and in cold weather a tiny electric heater turned on a half hour or so before I settle in here to work keeps me warm.

A miniscule fountain out front provides a peaceful counterpoint to the many songbirds which shelter in the five acre woods behind the studio. This little garden is enclosed on three sides by white picket fences and sheltered on the fourth from the road by the gabled side of the lavender painted garage. A gate keeps out uninvited visitors. This is my quiet place.

3. My narrowboat studio was originally lined out in wood with large windows that leaked, so over the years it was rebuilt with a steel superstructure like the rest of the boat. This, too, is a small space, measuring 6x10. The walls are "tumble home", which means they angle in to a peak at the ceiling starting at about three feet up.

Because this is a boat, care must be taken with open containers, jars and breakers of paint brushes, and anything stacked. Books are tucked into bookcases under the work counters which line both sides of the studio.

Four large portholes and a hatch in the front let in natural light, and there are several lamps for working at night.

This studio is devoted to (surprise!) small works of art, watercolour designs for greetings cards, book illustration, sketchbooks, miniature architectural drawings.

At present I am moored in my permanent central London mooring at Little Venice, in an ad hoc creative colony of other artists, writers, actors, directors, designers, musicians. Each boat is unique and deliciously decorated. Potted plants and tiny garden plots abound making this section of the canal a hidden secret green corridor.

I realize how blessed I am to have these three creative spaces. I have had forty years as a professional artist and writer to build up my work, my reputation, my career.

During these years I have had many studio spaces, in old mill buildings, in art centres which were always open to the public, in spare rooms of my house.

My muse calls to me, and I answer, wherever I may be.

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