Studio Questions / Part I
You all sent in some great questions about creativity and having a studio practice on Instagram. Since I am working on an upcoming show in June I thought I would take this opportunity to answer questions you might have about these topics!
This month will be focused on your questions around building a studio practice. Next month I will answer the questions I received about my work. If you have a question you’d like to have answered please email me. I am happy to answer all questions.
Here we go…
Do you have an intentional / practice based home life? Do you binge Netflix and eat bad?
Of course I do! I believe in being intentional, but also practical. I have to allow for life, I am human after all. I have a routine and way of living that keeps me functioning at my highest potential. I do well with routine (some people don’t). But occasionally I have to say “fuck it” and take a day off and watch a whole season of The OA, or when I am out to dinner I have to have some of the amazing french bread at Gjusta. And I enjoy it when I do, and don’t let myself feel guilty. Wiggle room keeps me happy and able to more easily flow with life. And then I just return to my routine the next day.
What are you rituals when it comes to planning your day and getting your work done?
I wish I had a fun answer for this. The truth - I am a hard worker. I like being 100% immersed in something. For this reason I love working on a show, because it provides me with a very dense period of time where all I am doing is thinking about and making my work. I also do well with a deadline. This can be a show deadline, or sometimes I give myself a deadline. I am on a writers call where I check in weekly mostly about what’s going on in the studio. Reporting in to someone else or a group of people is really great for helping you be accountable to your goals and things you want to accomplish.
Do you have any hard rules in the studio?
No rules. Though, I tend to set the studio up for optimal working. No internet. Phone is off for the most part. That way when I enter the space I know it is time for work. Every day I arrive, set down my things, sweep the floor, light an incense stick, and sit down to start working. If it is a long day I will bring lunch, or stop to take a walk so I can extend my focus and help my body not get too tense.
Did it take a leap of faith to get a studio? Did it change your work vs working from home?
Yes! Having a studio outside the home is essential for me. Even if it would mean just walking across the backyard. I have always worked outside of my home. I need the separation. It is a leap of faith, and an investment in your practice. It will pay off if it is allowing you to get to the next level in your work.
How would you create your own studio in a shared house?
This is totally doable. The most important thing is to create space. This could be a literal space, a corner of a room or desk. And be strict that it be used 100% for your chosen medium: writing, painting, drawing, weaving… So don’t also pay your bills there or use it to check your emails. If you don’t have this then think about designating a certain day of the week or time of the day where you get out your tools and set up your space to work. The most important thing is creating space for your creativity, that could be a literal space if you have it, or time. Being regular and accountable is all you need to have a studio practice, even if it is in a shared space, your kitchen table, or an hour or two every Monday night. Be consistant. It’s like a plant, the more you feed it the more it will grow.
How do you make space to be creative amidst pressure to generate income?
This is hard. Honestly I don’t know if I have a good answer. I think it helps if you believe in what you are doing. If you have passion and are dedicated. It can take years until your work starts to make you income. That’s why it’s good to have another job. And most artists do. Not many artists are supporting themselves just on the sale of work. Many artists do something else which gives them the freedom to make their work and build their careers over time.
How do you prioritize your creative endeavors? Do you create boundaries with social media?
There seems to be a theme here - having a creative space, making time to be creative, studio rituals… it’s all the same. And I’ll give you the same answer as with anything you want in your life. You just have to show up, and show up, and show up. That’s the name of the game. With writing, painting, being a photographer, a runner, in relationships, meditation… just keep showing up. It’s about consistency. That’s the secret. And it doesn’t mean it’s easy. Something becomes a priority because you make it one. You can’t wait until it’s easy, or until there is nothing else to do. That time will never come. You have to make it important because it is important to you. This means putting it at the top of the list. You have to say no to other things, perhaps sometimes other people, and things that are fun, because you are dedicated to your creative life.
I have never read the Artist’s Way, but I know lots of people like it. Part of that work is doing something called “morning pages” where you write every morning. The biggest take away from that is that you do it every day. You are creating a routine for yourself where you set aside time to devote to yourself as a creative person. My studio routine has fluctuated over the years for various reasons. But right now I am in there every day, working on a show. Over time all of that consistency creates a muscle, and days when I can’t be in there because of prior commitments are hard, I miss working, and can’t wait to return to painting again. Time and consistency will create this, no matter what it is that you want to nurture.
As for social media, I try to do more things in the day that feel engaging and fulfilling, like spending time with people and really being focused on listening when I am with them, reading, being in the studio, being outside, looking at more art in person, less multitasking, people watching when I am out or waiting in line. I find that when I am really connecting to where I am, who I’m with, and what I am doing I don’t care about my phone.
How would you recommend choosing an MFA program?
Look at the faculty. Do you like the work they make? Look at the graduates. Are they having shows? Talk to recent alums and current students. I think the best art schools are in Southern California. And even in the handful that are here each program is SO different from the next. Understand the focuses of the program. Sit in on a class or two if you can. It is also an investment. Make sure you really want to be an artist and you really need to get an MFA. As if it isn’t hard enough to making a living being an artist, it’s harder to leave with a bunch of debt. Be sure it’s worth it. If you think it will be it will be the best thing you can do for yourself.
I want to begin oil painting, how do I start?
I am a big believer in beginners magic. I think there is a quality and freedom that beginners have in their thinking and technique when they don’t have formal training in it. I haven’t ever taken a watercolor class for this reason. I have learned from 15 years of having it be my primary medium. I learn things here and there that I incorporate. I learn things every time I make a painting, that’s partly what my work is about, figuring out each new painting and it’s challenges as I paint it. And there is a lot I don’t know that might be helpful to me, things I would have learned if I would have taken a class, but I am ok with that. And that’s another option. Sign up for a local class, there are so many great resources. There is also YouTube. Don’t be too precious. Yes, there are things you have to know about certain mediums to get them to work (especially oil painting), but also have fun and explore as you make things. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
Can a dropout from college at age 50 go into the arts? Or is it pointless?
It’s never too late in my book! There is no one right way to be an artist, no one way to make it as an artist, and no one way it “happens” for artists. In our culture we tend to glorify the young, and the art world is no exception with the way we idealize the path of those ingenue artists right out of grad school who get picked up by big galleries. But sometimes those artists don’t have very long careers, or they do but their art stays the same because they are playing to what the collectors want, and that’s boring. There are also artists who have worked for 40 years and only get recognition later in their lives. There are those who start painting after a previous career and a year later they have a show. There is no ONE way to do it. And this advice goes for anyone at any age who wants to be an artist. Think about what you want. Do you want to be creative for yourself only? Do you want to be able to financially support yourself with your art? Do you want to be in the scene, showing, and part of the dialogue, and if so which one and where? Be clear about why you want to be an artist. If you feel passionate it is never pointless.
All photos by Elliot Bergman