Living in my studio
Is this the bit when I finally admit that I do – in fact – have an art studio but that it happens to be my house; that I live in my studio rather than the other way around, which used to feel like a house with constant art-mess? For years I kidded myself I wanted, or needed, a separate studio in order to feel “real” as an artist; heaven know why, it’s a defunct belief system we’re sold along with many others. At exhibitions, people would ask “where’s your studio?” and I would squirm as if to own-up to not have one was to remain unvalidated as an artist; just like not having an art degree (since I don’t have one of those either). I would imagine myself hearing a drop-off in their enthusiasm, as if my paintings had just lost value because I painted them “at home”; that, despite what their eyes were seeing, my work had now been down-pegged to nothing more than the product of a hobby in their mindset. You may laugh but I know I’ve been turned down from at least one prestigious gallery on this basis; like I wasn’t serious enough about my work. I accept now that these are just ridiculous symbols of worth we dole out to each other like pretend money in a game of Monopoly and I want nothing to do with them. They mean nothing in the reality where painting is what I do, must do, almost every day of my life. And why would I want to be separated from my art by sticking it in a shed?
With canvases propped up almost everywhere in my house, I find I work on these almost all the time, with my eyes, even without knowing it, or quite literally when inspiration strikes out-of-the-blue. I require nothing to motivate me; I’m the most self-motivated person I know but I hold to no strict timetables and refuse to wear a watch. “You need to put your work away” those of us who work from home are repeatedly advised; “keep a strict demarkation line between work and pleasure and where these two activities are performed”. I realise, these days, there is no such line since my work is my pleasure (as it should be…); surely such compartmentalisation applies only when it isn’t!
Mine is just an ordinary modern house; we’ve raised two kids here, we have a large dog. You may think oil paints in that mix would be a complete disaster but I work without chemical thinners and I’ve learned to be very tidy in my practices. With one away at uni and a daughter who is as artistic as me, there’s been a level of succumbing to the living-studio that is quite palpable in recent months. Painting several of my biggest room spaces white was probably the first clue that things were heading this way; and it certainly works better with the eye and as a way of keeping work-spaces light all year round. Then the massive project of decluttering my house down to almost minimalist-living (I said almost!) has certainly helped; suddenly whole swathes of space have opened up in which for me to prop my easel and my work in progress. Unfinished canvases have become part of the room scheme, not an obstacle to it; my house has developed the sort of bohemian flare that I see interior mags try to emulate, only mine is for real. As this has materialised before my eyes, I have found myself laughing at how I once believed so fervently that I needed that separate space in which to work. Not even the long dreamed-of studio shed in the garden that I kept telling myself I had to save for feels desirable any more. I realise I have more than enough room to manoeuvre right before my very eyes now that I’ve got my priorities straight!
How else do I get to ebb and flow with my work whenever it pleases me; to write then paint then write again or to pick up a brush and tweak something on a whim day or night. To light a roaring fire in the grate in winter, to stop to throw food and spices into a pot for later (a remarkably similar act) between bouts of throwing paint onto canvas. To cuddle my dog, hold conversations with my dog, to take him for a walk to clear the head. To move my work under the tree in the garden on a sunny day (where I did all of my painting from July until a week ago) or to spew half in and out of wide open French windows, to take inspiration from the flower borders, the birds and the afternoon sun. How could I want it any more perfect than this?
If I’m honest, I couldn’t create a thing in one of those shared studio spaces, those painted brick industrial conversions, not even one with separating “walls” and the occasional shot of daylight. I thrive on unlimited daylight, comfort and warmth. I like to sing, to play loud “quirky” music, listen to audios of people talking, to talk to myself when I paint. I put on voices or hop-gallop around the room with elation if the mood takes me but I only do these things in private. Who on earth thought up that art should be a social pass-time, collaborating and cohabiting with other artists? It makes me shudder if I’m honest. This is the year I’ve admitted to being a hook-line-and-sinker introvert more than any other of my life – and without apology – I embrace that fully about myself; its what makes me tick.
If I had to go to a studio to paint, I would have to get in a car to “commute” or make actual effort to be there, to plan ahead for it; who wants that? What is this twentieth-century-overhang idea that work must take place outside of the house; when did we start that one after eons of skilled crafts pursued in the vicinity of our own front doors? I’m not a factory worker and who, these days, can afford the rent on such a place; it would make a slave of me, forcing me to take commissions I’m currently able to turn down and keeping me from the natural rhythms of my work due to the pressing need to be commercial.
I’ve turned the table on all these things by appreciating what an enviable position I find myself in doing what I do from home. All these years I’ve been merrily dreaming up such a studio space, my husband has been longing to work more and more from home. Now I find myself thinking (tongue in cheek) “no you can’t do that, this is my work space” but really I see how we could both be here and there would still be space enough to do our own thing and meet up in the middle without feeling claustrophobic. In fact, at times when he works at home already, the fact he does completely different work means he doesn’t interfere with my wavelength; I remain in the pure stream of my own creative inspiration in a way that I know would be a struggle, probably impossible, if other artists worked close by.
These preferences just happen to be the ones that best support my creativity and its typical of so many introverts to be like this – to require personal space and even complete solitude . Yet we’ve been made to feel like we should conform to other people’s way of working, whatever our type of work happens to be, for the longest time. I say “enough of that”, this is my way, the only way that I can produce what I do and its time to own it fully.
It can be so funny when you realise that you’ve been chasing after ideas of what you aspire to like a dog after a clockwork hare or that, to quote my father, “you couldn’t see for looking”. In the aftermath I look back and see that, although the idea of a commercial studio space had long since disappeared, I had still clung on to the idea of building an outdoor studio or of moving house to somewhere more “suitable” to create a separate workshop in a barn or similar. Such a place would require massive investment when, in reality, we aspire to move somewhere more manageable and in keeping with our ever-simpler lifestyle. Therefore this thing had applied immense pressure to my expectations of the future, feeling like so much unfinished business on my to-do list and an ever-present feeling of “how on earth…?” whilst raining on the parade of the circumstances I already have and which honestly do work for me so perfectly well. Its like when you spend your life assuming there is something wrong with you, that’s missing or that needs to be fixed. In focussing on this art-aspiration (which turned out not to be mine), I had been kept from my enjoyment of the way things are right now!
So, what do you do when you realise you have everything you ever wanted already; that there is no outcome you have to keep chasing after upon which your ultimate fulfilment is supposedly conditional? You appreciate it…throughly…and you get back to doing what you truly love!