Saturday Studio Time: Margaret Sloan

I’ve been asking my artist friends to participate in the Saturday Studio Time project, so I thought I’d better post my own thoughts about my personal studio too. Studios are so personal and private; I’m eternally grateful to the artists who have agreed to shed their natural inclination to shun publicity and offer a glimpse of their working spaces.

Artist studio
This is where I paint and draw. On the floor is a painter’s drop cloth. The lights are clamped to the bathroom door; someday I’ll get a light stand when I find the perfect thing. The easel belonged to the sister of a dear friend; she passed away, and he had no use for it, so he loaned it to me. It means so much to me to work on it.

What does your studio mean to you?
I’ve never before had a dedicated room for my studio; I’ve always worked in the living room of whatever small space I lived in. But with a recent move, I now have a room to myself, and it’s exhilarating and terrifying. Exhilarating because it makes me feel like a “real” artist. Terrifying because of the responsibility and expectations that are attached to having a dedicated space. I try to be very businesslike in the studio, as well as very creative.

Having a private space means I can allow myself  to work on projects that might be dumb. I can make mistakes. I don’t have to worry about anyone seeing them and commenting or judging. Work doesn’t have to be public before it’s ready. That’s incredibly freeing. Sometimes my mind feels like it’s spooling out into the universe and netting more ideas than I can possibly consume in a day, a week, or a lifetime. Every morning I get out of bed brimming with ideas, projects, and plans for the day.

Morning commute
This is my morning walk down a path to my studio

Where is your studio?
It’s at the bottom of the house, but since the house is on a hill, my window looks into trees.  It’s like being in a tree house, which about the most romantic thing in the world to me.

In the morning I leave the living space of the house and walk down a little path through cedars and sugar pines to get to the studio door under the house.  During that short walk, I make a transition from being at home to being at work. I’m able to set my intentions for the day during that brief time in the outdoors.

During the daylight hours I work really hard, but so far I don’t like being in the studio after darkness falls. It’s partly because we live in the country and the night is very dark. I often catastrophize about mountain lions hiding in the shadowy recesses under the deck, ready to leap out and eat me. I’m professional about it though. I stay and finish my work, because it’s got to be done. But at the end of my day, I often call my husband (his office is at the top of the house) and ask him to come walk me “home.”

What does your studio look like?
I have all sorts of plans to create a beautiful and fabulous space, but so far, working has taken precedence over decorating. Stuff is where it needs to be in order to get the job done. Sometimes I wonder why I am not the kind of person who absolutely requires a beautiful space in which to work; I think that I live in my head so much that I don’t often notice my surroundings. Except for the outdoors. I notice that.

For the most part, my studio is pretty messy, especially when I’m working on a project. Between projects I clean it a bit: collect the dirty coffee mugs and popcorn bowls, recycle scrap paper and printouts of projects, collect sketches and trial paintings and take them to the flat file, wipe up the drips of paint, sweep the floor.  I like working in a clean space. I just have trouble keeping the space clean.

Rolling kitchen cart with two drop-leaves.
Rolling kitchen-cart with two drop-leaves.

What’s the coolest, most helpful thing in your studio?
Last Christmas, my husband bought me a rolling kitchen-cart thingy at the local thrift shop. I love it. It’s the perfect height, so it has made my painting life less painful (before, I hunched over a folding tv-tray table). I can fit multiple palettes on the top of it, store my brushes and painting supplies in it, and roll it where I need it to be. I highly recommend something like it.

Also, I recently bought a light box for use in illustration. It makes transferring sketch ideas so much easier than tracing them on the window.

Light box
Light box with sketches of a current personal project


Studio tip?
My most useful tip, and one that I should heed more often is this one rule: No Facebook in the studio. I can waste way too much time looking at cute puppies and kitties or stressing over politics. I should be in my studio to work, not gander at the internets.

Saturday Studio Time: Doreen L. Barton

Saturday Studio Time is a new feature I hope appears regularly on this blog.  I am fascinated by the rooms where artists, writers, and musicians work; our spaces for creating art can be small or large, indoors or out, but they are intensely personal and private. I’m grateful to the artists who agree to share their creative spaces with us for this blog.

Painting by Doreen L. Barton
Self Portrait
© Doreen L. Barton
Pastels on paper

I met Doreen L. Barton when we studied at the Atelier School of Classical Realism in Oakland. Our teacher at the time, Christian Fagerlund, talked a lot about the artist’s mark—the way the artist touches the paper with pencil, chalk, paint. That touch and what it builds is like a piece of the artist’s soul, and gives the work depth, integrity, and substance. Doreen’s marks are so thoughtful, so beautifully sensual and graceful that they infuse her work with deeper meaning than just being pictures on paper.  Take some time to visit her website, and you’ll see what I mean. I’m pleased that she agreed to talk about her studio with me.

Where is your studio space and what does it look like?
My studio is in our converted garage. We added insulated walls, windows and adjustable lighting. It doubles as studio/office space and measures approximately 10′ x 12′. I was lucky in that I was able to plan the space and storage. The walls are a dull white/grey, mat finish. I’d advise anyone to try to adjust reflective surfaces. This is important since the light bouncing off different surfaces (including your walls) in a room will affect how you perceive light values in the subject you’re drawing or painting, even when looking at reference photographs.

I also planned the placement of my easel and work surfaces so that I’m able to stand about 12′ plus away from my work on the easel. I have several methods of checking my work. Stepping away and viewing it from at least 10′ is one; at a distance I see the whole piece at once. The first thing I usually see is where the light and shadow values need adjusting. I also see where my measurements are off. If I’m working on a portrait, standing at a distance is for me the best way I can see if the likeness is coming together.

How does being in your studio make you feel?

There is a certain amount of serenity. I think that putting time and thought into my space has helped me feel committed. I wanted a space where I could get away from outside distractions, so it is an inner sanctum of sorts.  I think we experience so many different feelings as we work on our art. It’s important for me to be able to acknowledge my impulses and choices, where ever they may come from. There are many days I am not “in bliss” in my studio; it’s a place where I can push on through the misstep, the conundrum, and try the initially grueling technique or concept again and again. It’s where I decide to take a certain path, set a goal. At times I don’t realize I’m doing so until later.

Craftsman tool chest
This Craftsman tool chest doubles as storage and a tabouret.

Describe your set up.
My easel, drawing board, tool chest and table are set up on one side of the room. The majority of my studio furniture and equipment can be collapsed and stored when I’m not using it.

I’m organized in that I can find my materials quickly. Keeping up with clutter is another issue altogether.  The stuff in my storage shelves spills out like some kind of living organism. Reference materials, class notes, business records and the like are filed.  My systems have evolved and I’ve improved at keeping up with them, particularly after I got a business license.  Art books, (catalogs and technical reference) are also in the studio. I know some folks keep their art books away from potential spills and splatters.  Not me. I want to be able to just grab and search as I need.

Homasote bulletin board covered with muslin.
Homasote bulletin board covered with muslin.


What do you use for lighting?
I use daylight spectrum lighting, bulbs and track lighting.

What’s a favorite piece of furniture in your studio?
Some favorite items are my homasote tackboards.  These are large, about 3′ x 4′ each. I got them from the local lumber store.  I covered them with muslin (I think you could just paint them if you prefer) and mounted them on two walls from about 3′ off the floor to near the ceiling line.  I like to be able to pin up images, work-in-progress, references, you name it.  I love big post-able areas.

A sturdy easel is essential. The table next to the easel is a height adjustable hospital bed-table purchased online.


What’s the coolest, most helpful thing in your studio?
My easel. It’s the wood frame type. Very solid (doesn’t shimmy or rock), very sturdy and it can hold large boards. I know they’re not cheap, but I they’re worth the investment. I often work with my surface almost directly horizontal to the floor to minimize any tendency to distortion the image as I sketch it out. I love that my easel can hold my work securely in that position or at any angle.  It’s very adjustable and steady.

Another valuable item for me is a level to use for determining the vertical and horizontal position of the subject.  Especially helpful in live model drawing.

Give us a studio tip. What one thing you use in your studio helps you to make the art you see in your head?
My best tip takes practice: Setting time to work exclusively in the studio. I try for three to four 5-hour-days a week.  This is a target, frequently not obtainable. But I find the more time I shoot for, the more time I give myself.  Secondly, I keep a notebook/journal in my studio. Mine’s in book form. On one side of the book I write down project or artistic ideas, and on the other business or logistic notes, action items that I need to complete in conjunction with my art, or to help execute. Writing down ideas frees my mind to concentrate on my work

This is about half the collection of pastels that Doreen uses in her work