Creative clutter or tidy art haven?
Last week I was talking about letting go while creating art and letting go so that you can sell it. This week I'm focusing on letting go of the creative clutter that inevitably accumulates in any artist studio!
Broadly speaking since having a professional studio in Salisbury, all to myself, I have designated spaces for office and admin, storage, painting at easels and even delivering workshops; my studio has remained relatively tidy.
I have a good fortnightly routine where I give my surfaces a deep clean to prevent the accumulation of gesso, paint, dried up oil, and other detritus that can build up in particular areas.
However I have another area that has turned into one of those dumping grounds. Everyone has a dumping ground at some point in their life. In our homes it tends to be the cupboard under the stairs where mountains of shoes that we will never wear again, hot water bottles and random bits of carpet seem to congregate without anyone claiming responsibility for putting it all there!
In my studio my dumping area isn't the cupboard under the stairs but instead of peculiar space above the stairs! It's ideal for storing canvases, upright portfolios full of drawings and any unused frames yet to find pride of place as the rim of a beautiful painting.
I've let it go.
I know I've been naughty and when my studio receives it's fortnightly clean the dumping ground remains the same with piles of things, I even found some garden lights, and an old guitar.
So this morning, bright and early, before I even did my small daily painting, before I even checked my emails I started clearing out the dreaded dumping ground. It was just one of those things I had to do. I need to clear my mind and in order to do so I have to clear out the messiest bit of my studio. It wasn't even high on my list of priorities for today, even this week but I just had to do it. So armed with a strong cup of coffee I set to.
Here's how it worked.
1.If a canvas is dented, warped, rotting, or damaged in any way throw it out! It's simply doesn't matter what's on it or how good it looks. If the canvas is damaged it's no use, its not even of any use to hang up in your own house because the dent will drive you nuts.
Chuck it out don't even think about it, don't pause for thought!
2. Papers can be precious and you have to be careful what you throw out.
I discovered a big watch of heavyweight cartridge paper that had been slightly folded, there wasn't a crisp fold fold in them but it wasn't perfect.
Some of the papers I kept.
But they are now stored in a portfolio to keep them safe from damp and further folding.
Papers are incredibly useful I run workshops and I really like using lots and lots of paper to get people going. Having paper that isn't precious encourages a great habit of experimentation when sketching (see my blog from last week for more on that). However some papers simply won't going to be good enough even for practice sketches. Some pastel papers had become so warped when they have got slightly damp that they simply had to be thrown away. This is another good reason to buy paper in good firm pads as they tend to stay in better shape even when they stored badly. Loose paper nearly always ends up crumpled and useless if you haven't got a good storage habit. In the process of clearing out my dumping ground I now have a better place to store my paper.
3. Old frames mounts and other things that you think really might be useful and you ought to keep. This is a real problem territory and you need to go carefully and I did. So I have kept three frames out of the myriad of ones that I found in my dumping ground area. The three frames I kept where clean, not warped in any way and still had true 90° corners and they're worth keeping.
However I did throw away a further four frames that were simply no good, they were either damaged or simply won't work with the kind of work that I produce now.
Now that can be quite a brave decision to make throwing out something that might be useful one day, but if I hadn't have thrown out those things I wouldn't have had the space to store the things I really need.
4. Throwing out canvases that aren't that damaged.
This is really tricky. I threw out some work that were on canvases that weren't dented so why why did I make this decision?
I'm not as arrogant as Michelangelo to get rid of every sketch or anything I've ever done! If you are a student at the start of your career I urge you with all my heart to try and keep as many things from your early days as possible. I have three portfolios rammed full of sketches, pastel drawings and watercolours that record the way my style has changed and developed over the years. I value them and occasionally look at them to see how far I've come.
But in the process of my clear out of my dumping ground area I also threw out a good for five maybe six canvases varying sizes of work. So why? How could I possibly throw away paintings that actually were pretty good!
The answer is simple- neither the canvas nor the paint was of a high enough quality that I could put them with my current work. Again this might sound arrogant but it's really not meant to be. I pride myself on only painting on the high quality canvas only using the very best paints, Michael Harding, Old Holland all of those great names find their way into my work.
The work that I threw out simply doesn't fit with my brand. Okay you might be thinking but you could've given them away that might have been a lovely gift? Well maybe but it also might devalue what I'm currently doing. This isn't about throwing out anything and everything that I can't sell, I've kept a great number of pieces that I won't ever sell that are either sentimental to me or show a real turning point in the development of my art. And I'm very happy to keep those items.
I'm confident now that all of the work on display my studio, and all of the work that I will take to future fairs or exhibitions is of a standard worthy of a professional artist.
5. Donating. There is a nice little joke tootling around on social media at the moment that goes along the lines of "I will take these clothes to the charity shop but first I'm going to put them in the boot of my car and drive around with them for six months!"
This could be true of artists donating unwanted materials.
I urge you, particularly if you have changed medium, that you donate any materials that you no longer need to your local school. There isn't a school in the land nor an art teacher in that school that doesn't want your stuff! Note, they do not want your rubbish- but they do want your brushes, they want paper, canvas, they want paint, they want pastels, they want charcoal! So get it in the car and take it to the nearest school!
So now my dumping ground has had his little clear out, how have I used the spare space?
Well for a start, newly delivered canvases can now rest there safe in the knowledge they won't get dented with a load of rubbish.
Secondly my papers won't get damp and crumpled.
And lastly it means that I've been able to move some of the things around in my studio creating more space for some workshops that I'll be doing next week!
All in all it's been a pretty successful morning and I've now stopped for a cuppa.