Land Down Under • Pastel • 14″ x 22″

I wasn’t feeling well today so I spent some time online doing something I enjoy: surfing through YouTube. I love starting with one thing and then just following the string. I end up far from where I began but feeling encouraged and creative.

One of the videos I watched today was from artist Brian Rutenberg. He said something to the effect that he doesn’t wait for creativity and he doesn’t believe in luck. He shows up at the studio and gets to work. It’s about the process. It was a long video, and I didn’t finish it, but the part I watched gave me something to think about.

While I believe in creativity, if I waited for it before starting or working on a painting, I might finish three paintings in a year. I know there are days when I’m on fire and the work is good and others where I’m just going through the motions. Even though I might be going through the motions, I’ve been doing this long enough that I can still create something beautiful.

The thing is that for me, creativity is often tied into how I’m feeling physically and emotionally and that makes it hard to produce consistent work. I may finish four paintings in a row; just bam, bam, bam, bam and then have a week where I can’t face going back into the studio.

The only way to grow as an artist is to create art. Musicians practice scales, dancers go to rehearsals, writers reread the work from the day before. These activities are a given, there’s no discussion or decision making involved. However, many artists don’t have a warm-up practice. They need to create one.

Warm-ups should …

  • be structured enough that when you show up you don’t have to wonder what to do;
  • have materials ready to go so you don’t spend your warm up time getting set up;
  • last a set amount of time;
  • not take the place of working on your creative projects; and
  • be long enough to get you out of  the “I don’t know what to do” frame of mind to being ready to start

This is a warm-up I learned to do from artist Robert Burridge at one of his workshops

I work in acrylics and this is how I do my warm-ups. I use white gesso to cover one side of a sheet of 140 lb watercolor paper. Once dry, I fold and tear the sheet into approximately 5″ x 7″ pieces. I do several sheets at a time so I have a stockpile.

When I come into the studio I take about a minute to think of a word – or open a dictionary or thesaurus to find a word – jump, beauty, love, feather, etc.  – or color – just something to base my warm-up on. I set a timer or choose a certain number of pieces of paper. I normally do five sheets a session. I work quickly and focus on how I feel while trying to keep my mind disengaged. At other times, I do a series of the same image, an egg for example. When I’m done, I quickly clean up and turn to the project at hand.

While most of the time I go to the studio with a plan already in mind, having a warm-up practice keeps me motivated on those days when creativity has left the room. Does it help with my creative process or outcome? Honestly, I’m not sure. I don’t seem to do a better job when I do the warm-ups but, then, how do I know? What I do know is it gets me re-engaged in the studio. If I’ve taken a few days off it’s sometimes hard to get started again. This warm-up gets me moving paint around again and I can use that momentum to continue working on the project(s) at hand.

My Art Studio

I think all artists like to see what other artists’ studios look like so I decided to share mine.

Wet Room sink

We have a large, four-bedroom, house in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado. Before our two children left home, I painted in our dining room, but as soon as they were gone I took over their bedrooms.

Meet the Wet Room

The first room – and the largest – has a closet that backs up to the guest bathroom. My husband took the doors off of the closet, put

My studio pal, Vinney, AKA Vincent van Gogh

in a sink and hooked it up to the bathroom. Because this is ordinary house plumbing, not industrial, I have a system to filter paint out of water before dumping it down the sink. I also run a lot of water when I’m cleaning brushes and other things.

My flat files, a long table and a large drafting table give me a lot of room to work and lay wet paintings down. I often paint with the canvas or paper flat on a table and the one in front of the window is perfect for that. That window faces west so it gets a lot of great light in the late morning and early afternoon.

I use halogen lamps in the Wet Room for additional lighting, and also have pole lamps that I can move around and focus on specific objects. This room also has track lighting which I thought would be enough, but it really only adds a soft light throughout the room.

You can see the large bookcase in the photo with the sink. I work best in “organized chaos.” I keep a lot of paint, gels and medium in it along with a box of old plastic containers to use for water. I have two more bookcases in the room. One holds mixed paint and other general

New organizational bookcase

supplies. The other one is new and can be seen in the photo of the flat files. I use it for all of the other art supplies I have like oil pastels, watercolor pencils, watercolor blocks, pastels, plastic bottles with fine metal tips and gold powder. Getting these things out of boxes and drawers not only makes them easier to find, but it has also inspired me to new work in new media and different subject matter.

Moving to the Dry Room

Both rooms are covered with heavy duty painter’s tarp. If you’re thinking about this, it’s critical that it be a heavy, waterproof, tarp. My husband put down some lighter tarp in an effort to save some money. Shortly after, I picked up an almost full quart jar of black gesso that I had never before – or since – left the top off slightly. I picked it up by the lid and it crashed to the ground spilling black gesso all over and through the tarp.

In the center of this slightly smaller room is a very large table. I can work on canvases as large as 48” x 48” on this table. I also have an easel in a corner by the east-facing window. I work in this room in the early morning when I have a lot of light. I have a large drafting table under the window and a long dresser I found on the side of the road with a “Free” sign on it.

We hung picture rails I found at Ikea around two of the walls. This is a great place to hang paintings I’ve just finished so I can look at them to make I don’t want to make any changes. I also keep track of what needs to be varnished here. If someone wants to look at my work, I can put it here so they can see it on a wall.

Once again, we took the closet doors off and put a large white organizer I found at Ikea inside. Along with the organizer, I bought some bright pink and purple containers that fit perfectly in the cubby holes. I have so much in this one organizer. From new paint waiting to be used, to one-gallon buckets of gesso, gels and pastes, I gain a lot of space by putting all of these things in the closet. I use the containers to hold plastic jars and lids. I use the jars to store my extended paint, which will be the subject of a future post.

I know I’m fortunate to have two large bedrooms to work in. Even if you don’t, try thinking outside of the box to come up with ways to make the most out of the space you have. Do what you can to get things out of the way. Don’t forget to look “up” and use the tops of closets. Is there a way to hang things from the ceiling or put some shelving up high for those things you don’t use very often? Can you use the garage or basement? Do you have a baby who isn’t using all of his space? I’m sure he or she would love to share. 🙂

I hope my studio inspires you to get into yours. Please don’t hesitate to ask questions or make a comment. I might be able to help.

Happy painting!

Susan L Stewart