When I ask myself why my work spaces look the way they do? Why the window in front of my desktop is bigger than my desktop, and why my other work space alternates as a dining table? The answer is that for me making art is about living simply, and about being out in nature as much as possible.
With a small house, in a hot climate, I end up spending most months outdoors, or at least looking out a window.
As it turns out my desktop is a place where very little art gets made.
It’s more a place for scribbling to–do lists, paying bills, filling up journal pages, sketching ideas for possible art, writing letters, and/or gazing out the window. Sometimes the desk is dominated by my beloved behemoth, the Random House Dictionary. Regardless this desk is not where art is actually made, it is a station for containers of pencils and paint brushes and small tools. They sprout like exotic grasses from their own particular pots. It gives me joy to see them sitting there in all their waiting splendor, as though they would be of service at a moment’s notice.
Flashback to a childhood memory: My parents have gifted me with a brand-new box of 64 Crayola crayons. l flip open the lid and there it is — a chroma- phonic chorus of glorious colors pertly standing in their elevated tiers. I don’t want to use them because they’re already a work of Art! And I did refrain for awhile, until the urge became too great. However, a few years ago I purchased a box of 64 Crayola crayons with the intention of keeping it for display purposes only. I regret that the traditional cadmium yellow/forest green box is marred by a red banner with white letters saying, in an incompatible font, “BUILT-IN SHARPENER” with bold arrows going around to the backside. Even as a child I would never dream of using a sharpener on my crayons. What a disgraceful waste! I learned to sharpen them by twirling the leading edge around as I drew. And, if I accidentally broke a crayon — those new edges were as sharp as can be. But then again, I’m not so sure a crayon needs to be sharp. I welcome opinions on this point. Anyway, now, if I want a true whiff of my childhood, all I need do is flip open this box and inhale the weird waxy scent.
Ah yes, Work Spaces: I’ve never created a piece of art larger than approx. 40 by 30 inches. So even though I’ve had two nice easels in my life, which I used for those larger oil paintings, the easels ended up, more often than not, as display props.
I tend to lean my drawing board against a sofa chair, sit on a rug with my pencils and brushes, paint dishes, water pot, and swipe rags arranged on either side of me. Then I move myself and everything else around according to the shifting light of the day.
At night, or if it’s Winter and too cold to be sitting on the floor, I place a small foot stool on top of the dining table, balance my drawing board on top of that, and work standing up. It’s very easy to take a dance break this way. I often work listening to music, usually jazz because of its infinite potential to surprise and fulfill. From time to time this causes me to dance, the feelings of which are carried right back to my drawing board. It’s a satisfying loop of activity which can carry me into the depths of night. I would love to say I work only by candlelight, but my eyes would protest! So, I make do with a full-spectrum led light bulb in the lamp on the table top. Unless, of course, the electricity goes out. In which case I usually give up and go to bed.
In daylight, if it’s too hot to be indoors, or just more pleasant to be out of doors, that’s where I’ll make my work space. I sit on a bench in the shade of a grove of bamboo facing a cement/stone freshwater pond, prop my feet on a chair and lean my drawing board against my raised knees. My supplies are in easy reach on a small metal table. Here I really give way to the unexpected. Nature supplies the music: birds, breeze, fluttering leaves, rustle of small animals, insect hum and buzz. Sun and shade — reflected, shimmering, quavering — their endless variations tricking and amusing my eyes. Even though the images and composition I’m working on have no obvious connection to the immediate environment, nothing goes down on the paper that isn’t affected by all that surrounds me.
I pass long spells with my hands idle, merely gazing, listening. There’s something so soothing and inspiring about staying still and quiet out in Nature. For one thing, Time goes away. I can watch the shadows shift and sense the Earth turning away from the Sun. There is change, but Time is not counted. I feel the evening’s dampness fall with the rise of the frogs’ song. Watch the flycatcher flit for its last honey bees in the golden evening light, the dragonflies tap their eggs onto the surface of the pond more slowly. See the faces in the rocks change their expressions as the sky turns to dusk. It’s a seamless definition of serenity.
When I’m quiet, the animals come closer, not because they want to be my friends, but because I’m not creating a disturbance. All this goes into the drawings and paintings I do outdoors. And when the light fades beyond dusk, I surrender the pond entirely to the wildlife and creep back up to the cabin carrying my basket of tools and my drawing board, and the sensations of the day with me.