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How Our Workspace Affects Our Work

As artists we are acutely attuned to our surroundings. The world around us – including the space we choose to work in – can be as essential to our process as our concepts or materials. Our workspace can enhance or hinder creativity, influencing our work and affecting our processes.

To share how surroundings can impact art, three artists with diverse materials and approaches, Mary Buckman, Koo Schadler, and Jim Salvati, provided a glimpse into their studios and shared their thoughts on how their workspaces inform their art.

An Oasis Amid a Busy, Urban California Neighborhood

Sculptor Mary Buckman finds solace and inspiration in her city studio, which she describes as “a little oasis in the middle of a busy urban neighborhood in North Park, San Diego.” She shares the space with another artist whose paintings, along with those of Mary’s husband, hang on the walls of the studio. Mary feels fortunate and inspired to be surrounded by the beauty of their collective work.

Mary has worked on commissions and taught sculpture classes in the studio for twelve years. She has a larger, open space that is set up to display pieces, to teach students, and a smaller room behind an ornate screen where she creates her own work.

As for rituals, upon first entering her studio, Mary turns on classical or French café music, pours herself a cup of coffee, and gets to work. Working in the morning hours helps her capitalize on both her energy level and the calmness and quiet of the studio. However, at times, she does enjoy working alongside others, especially in the company of her students.

Mary’s pieces are large, often life-sized, so she has to overcome challenges with space: “Although I do love my studio, sometimes it can be cramped, but I always seem to manage to finish without a problem.” She recently installed a life-size bronze female figure and two bronze dogs at the Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe, California. She says she had worked on all of them in the back of her studio and was relieved to see that they actually made it through the door.

A Funky, 1950s Studio Near the Malibu Beach Surf

Stylized realist Jim Salvati works out of his Agoura Hills studio just a few miles from Malibu Beach, California, a location that is essential for his afternoon surfing sessions. Although his preferred medium is oil, as a student of the Picasso/Warhol school of art, Jim is always experimenting with different mediums and processes – and his studio is set up accordingly.

Jim’s workspace has plenty of warm and cool light with lofty ceilings, skylights, and installed lighting. It’s in a renovated building “right out of the 50s with a tall clock tower” and ideal for meeting clients downstairs with its “great restaurants, wine bar, and open, arboretum-type atmosphere with plenty of trees.” Jim is surrounded by creatives – designers, film industry and casting agents, and social media professionals – who occupy the other spaces within the building.

The studio is a clear reflection of his work: a vintage drawing table given to him by his renowned architect grandfather, two 27-inch iMac computers, several 7-foot vintage posters, tall white walls, light wood floors, and classic French doors. It’s designed to serve his many project needs, with areas for supplies, painting, photography, and more. Although the space works well, he tends to spread out between his painting studio, home studio, and various locations since he does work for film, music industry, commercial illustration, commissions, gallery, and plein air.

Jim works early in the day because he feels fresh and sharp in the mornings. He also prefers the weekends when fewer people are in the building. Jim listens to diverse music and talk radio. He feels it is important to keep his workspace clean and organized to maintain peace of mind.

Jim says stylized realism is in his DNA. He focuses on “working looser and being able to experiment…shapes and abstractions, design and story.” Jim is currently working on a series of abstract figurative pieces inspired by the San Francisco Bay Modernist Movement from the 50s and 60s.

A Rural New Hampshire Workspace with a Mexican Winter Studio on the Side

Koo Schadler works in egg tempera and silverpoint from her studio in the small, rural town of Alstead, New Hampshire. Koo is surrounded by “dense woods and open fields, streams and ponds, and lots of bird and animal life. It’s a beautiful, quiet and inspiring landscape.” She finds her studio to be a fulfilling space which helps with concentration, contentment, and production.

Koo shares the first floor of the building with her husband – divided in half for her personal studio and his organic gardening and beekeeping projects. Her furniture has been customized to organize materials – such as her pigment shelf tailored to various sized jars. Koo wants to feel inspired and focused yet peaceful while she works, which is evident in the design of the space: “an open cupboard stocked with colorful jars of pigments; shelves lined with natural minutiae such as seashells, feathers and butterflies; a large library of art books; beautiful rugs on the floor; old master images on the wall, along with quotes by great painters.” She says, “Practical needs are met by a long worktable with storage underneath, a large double sink, and a business area. The studio’s windows look onto flower-filled meadows. It’s a really lovely space, but also pragmatic and productive.”

The second floor of the building is a classroom, where Koo holds workshops. She has put just as much thought into her teaching space…with storage cubbies, organic teas and snacks, demos lining the walls, cast-iron coat hooks, and handmade directional signs. She even assembles bouquets from the peonies, iris, sweet peas and lilacs blooming in summer to signify the beginning of a workshop for her students.

Koo always cleans and reorganizes her work area before she leaves for the day. She arranges her work area so that everything is at hand, especially since she has many projects to attend to (research and writing, making test and demo panels, creating reference material, color studies and mock-ups, communicating with schools and students, developing new workshops – never mind the primary occupation of drawing and painting). She says it is arranged in a very intentional way so that as soon as she walks through the door, she feels focused and ready to go.

Koo has moved through many studios through the years as she and her husband renovated homes, and she finds it is possible to work anywhere with “sufficient determination.” For the past twelve years, she has had a winter studio in Michoacan, Mexico. She describes the space as small and spare, looking out on a courtyard of flowers and citrus trees. Regardless of where Koo works, she feels self-expressed by her studio, wants to be in it, and disappears into her work there. She feels having a space she loves undoubtedly facilitates her art making.

Consider Your Own Workspace

How does your workspace influence your work? Do you have rituals or habits to help with inspiration and focus? Do you work in one place or many? Does the space serve you well?

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