A Fancy Studio Won’t Make You a Better Artist…

October 29, 2013
10th Avenue as sketched from the picture window on the Highline

10th Avenue as sketched from the picture window on the Highline

and not having a studio should not prevent you from becoming one!

I recently moved, and one of the first things people ask me is “do you have a studio in the new place?” This is prompted by the fact that for the past 6 years I have been painting in a small, unheated, unelectrified shed during the warmer months (no, I did not LIVE in the shed, I just painted there :)) In winter, I would typically paint in my car, unless it was warm enough to do a quick sketch outside, or I would simply use the studios where I teach when they were not occupied with classes.

Although there is an extra bedroom in our new space, I’ve opted to share it with the rest of the family as a media room. Why? Because where I work doesn’t matter to me, I don’t need a dedicated space, fancy lighting, or a state-of-the-art easel to practice drawing–give me a stick of charcoal and a paper bag, and I am all set!

I don’t care much for working from photos, I prefer to work on location whenever possible doing sketches in watercolor or pastel, or paintings on small panels in oil or acrylic, so having a mobile studio is far more useful than having a dedicated space in my home. Occasionally, I will create large pieces from these studies, and if I have to do those I am fortunate that I can usually find a studio that is not being used for an hour or 2 where I teach at the Visual Arts Center of NJ. My students enjoy seeing these pieces evolve and it also puts a bit of distance between me and my work which helps me to stay objective.

Getting out there and painting is what will take your work to the next level. A state-of-the-art studio is nice to have, but it isn’t necessary, even if you are a professional. Develop your skills and talent, and you can work anywhere!


Not For Sale

October 14, 2013
Watercolor Sketch in Moleskine watecolor notebook, Frelinghuysen Arboretum, Morristown, NJ

Watercolor Sketch in Moleskine watecolor notebook, Frelinghuysen Arboretum, Morristown, NJ

One of the challenges all artists face is what to do with unsold work.  While there are always pieces that are special,  adding to one’s own private collection is not typically the goal of most artists who sell their work professionally. If you teach, as I do, you can multiply the collection of small studies an demos that accumulate rather quickly.

I’ve found the best way to manage is to paint fewer paintings and to do more work in sketchbooks. Switching to watercolor as my primary medium for sketching has made this very easy to do. I simply carry a watercolor kit–Winsor Newton Field Box, Moleskine Watercolor Notebook, pencil and small bottle of water–with me wherever I go. I keep it in a small backpack in my car. Whenever I see something that interests me, I pull over and paint for a half hour or so. I also take it with me whenever I am in the city and can squeeze in an hour or so of sketching on my way to appointments, workshops, etc.

Since beginning this process of sketching on site in watercolor in April of 2013, I’ve already filled three and a half Moleskine notebooks! Each one is a small diary of images that bring back very clearly the other things going on at the time–it becomes a very personal process.

I’ve had several people ask me if I would ever sell my sketchbooks or produce ones specifically for sale. My answer is no–the whole point of doing them is to get away from doing work that is primarily for sale. The sketchbooks I carry with me are filled with memories that belong only to me, while they are not disclosed on the pages, I look at them and have immediate access to past thoughts and experiences. As for creating ones specifically for sale, that defeats the purpose of practicing–everything we do does not have to be for sale! These days, I reserve my paintings in oil for a few select exhibits at galleries and the Salmagundi Club, or for commissions (which I rarely accept). I prefer to derive the majority of my income from my teaching, I believe that taking this approach keeps me on track to becoming a better artist, which means more to me than commercial success or public recognition.