Home is Where the Art is: What makes an artist’s studio feel like home?
Nov 11, 2015 09:00AM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
For most artists the studio is their sanctuary, their world. It is a place that provides refuge from the distractions of daily life, where the creative spirit can flourish, and art is made. It is also a place that can take us beyond what we view on gallery walls to discover what makes an artist tick and where the magic begins.
Although similar in purpose, artist studios differ in functionality and aesthetics. In the late-1400s, Leonardo da Vinci felt that an artist’s studio should be a small space “because small rooms discipline the mind and large ones distract it.” An interesting concept, but does it necessarily hold true today?
While visiting California-born artist Patrick Meehan in his Eastport, Annapolis, studio, da Vinci’s “less is more” philosophy seems apparent. A no frills kind of guy; Patrick is perfectly content with the basics. “As long as I have the ability to control my light source and the ceilings are high enough to accommodate an additional light fixture and a model stand, I’m happy,” he says. “North light is great if you are in a large open space where the light floods in but I don’t have that luxury.”
The large model stand sits 18 inches off the floor and fits perfectly in one corner of the room. It is company to not much more than a palette and easel, containers full of brushes, an artist’s donkey (seat) holding a drawing board, and an impressive display of Patrick’s paintings hanging on the walls. “In the future I’d like to teach a small drawing class in here,” he adds. Two additional rooms store art supplies, a wardrobe, a desk, and his computer. “This was actually an office before I leased it.”
Primarily a figure artist, Patrick was in his early 20s when he began taking evening classes at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena before continuing his studies in San Francisco, and then at Watts Atelier of the Arts in Encinitas. He moved to the East Coast just over three years ago when his wife was asked to relocate for her job. Upon settling permanently in Annapolis, Patrick was in need of a home away from home—literally. “I tend to feel anxious when I am working out of the house,” he tells me. “There are too many distractions that can pull me away from what I’m doing.”
The location of Meehan’s studio also allows him to enjoy his surroundings. He finds himself within walking distance of a harbor, neighborhood eateries, and minutes from downtown Annapolis’ McBride Gallery, where he shows his work. “Patrick is a great painter. His work has soul and people feel it,” says owner Cynthia McBride. “His enthusiasm and commitment to the area was obvious the first time I met him. Patrick was looking for a gallery and we are always looking for terrific artists. Now he is a part of the art community and we are thrilled to represent him.”
Unlike Patrick, painter Christine Graefe Drewyer does her best work when in the solitude of her own surroundings. Having grown up in the country, nature and the environment are very important to Christine and it is evident in her work. Drewyer’s landscapes are done in the distinctive ‘tonalist’ style which emerged in the 1880s when American artists began to paint with an overall tone of colored atmosphere or mist. “Painting this way requires applying many layers whereby each layer must dry before going on to the next,” the artist explains. “Although much of my work begins outdoors [en plein air], I am primarily a studio painter.”
Warm and welcoming, Christine’s home studio in Annapolis is more or less an extension of her. Located in what was the study, she decided to expand the space by removing a dividing wall, making her new studio twice the size. “It felt wonderful to be able to claim the space I needed and design it exactly the way I wanted it. The original room lacked the distance required for me to step back and get a good perspective of my work,” she says. “Now there is also enough room to lay things out and to have multiple easels set up so that I can work on more than one piece at a time.”
The space, clearly yet subtly defined, has a place for everything and everything is in its place. On one wall, beautiful exposed brown and red brick flanks a line of custom mahogany and oak bookcases that are filled with art books, awards, and some of Christine’s personal mementos. The remaining wall space is painted a neutral grey and Oriental rugs add accents of color to the bare floors.
Drewyer decided to equip one half of the room with full spectrum fluorescent lighting and the other half with incandescent and halogen lighting, further defining the area between actual painting space and viewing space. “As a painter and former gallery owner I realize it is important that when I invite clients into my studio or host critiques, my guests can not only see where I create my art but can actually view it in a gallery-like setting.”
Christine describes her studio as more than precious to her. It is a place where the entire creative process is incorporated into the world she has created for herself. “This house is where art is made,” she smiles. “When I am here, I get to be 100 percent judge while being 100 percent focused.”
For professional portrait and landscape painter Laura Era, her studio not only reflects who she is as an artist but keeps her connected to her roots—it also eschews da Vinci’s credo. The impressive 1,280-square-foot red barn structure sits proudly on her family’s property near the Little Choptank River in Dorchester County where Laura grew up. Grand windows practically fill the north side of the building, and an oversized carved crab is affixed to the exterior south wall facing the water that is Solomon’s Cove. “This is my old homestead,” Laura tells me. “At one point there were four generations of us living here when my grandparents were still alive. It was like a little gentleman’s farm with livestock and gardens. My mom, also an artist, still lives next door.”
Built by her husband Richard just over two years ago, this is the artist’s fifth studio. “I guess you could say I finally knew what I wanted!” she says. Before taking permanent residence here, Era set up her easel in a small room above the garage. She could also be found working out of Easton’s Troika Gallery with fellow artist-owner Jennifer Heyd Wharton. “We created a studio in the back of the gallery,” says Jennifer. “It was great. Laura’s mom, Dorothy, would sometimes paint there as well.” After a time however, Laura’s garage studio felt confined and the gallery studio became disruptive. It was time to find a creative space she could call her own.
Much thought was put into the design of ‘Laura’s Studio’ and it shows. Some of her top priorities included good natural north light, lots of space, ample storage, an area to showcase her work, and not being able to touch the ceiling! Add to that a comfortable cushioned floor, supplemental fluorescent lighting, a ramp for easy access, and, suffice it to say, a good amount of “wow factor.” Double doors were installed to accommodate the very large works Laura plans to do in the future. The openness of the studio is complemented by touches of wood furniture and a cozy seating area where Laura can read books about art, or contemplate her next portrait while listening to anything from Enya to Puccini.
Laura’s husband has always been extremely supportive of her and her painting. “Look at what he built me.” She chuckles. “He has been known to look at the studio and say to me, ‘Gee, there sits my Corvette’! But we built this for the future because I’ll never stop painting as, hopefully, this place will always be here, and I am forever grateful.”
Nationally recognized artist Louis Escobedo is surrounded by everything he needs in his thoughtfully designed Easton studio. “I feel good when I’m here,” he tells me. “It’s comfortable. To tell you the truth, if there were a bed in here, I’d probably move in!” Escobedo’s “home away from home” also happens to share the premises of 717 Gallery in Easton that exclusively shows his work. “My wife Yolanda runs the gallery, I run the studio, and we meet in the middle.” he smiles.
Born and raised in Sweetwater, Texas, Escobedo’s love for art began as a child. After graduating from high school Louis enrolled in the art program at a local college, then went on to earn a bachelor of arts in advertising art at Sam Houston College in Huntsville, Texas. He spent a number of years working as a successful freelance illustrator before deciding he wanted to paint in earnest, taking workshops from some of the best artists in the country. Louis’ success as a painter grew impressively and before long, his work appeared on the cover of Artist Magazine and he began to receive top awards and accolades from prestigious art organizations such as Oil Painters of America.
The Escobedos went on to live and work in Colorado for thirteen years before Yolanda accepted a new position in Maryland in 2003. It was not long before they discovered the allure of the Eastern Shore and decided to put down roots.
Located behind the gallery, in the rear of the building, the large open room with its high ceilings was originally two garages until the Escobedos turned it into a studio that is not only welcoming but functional. The area can be closed off for privacy but can also be opened up as a place to enjoy during artist receptions and exhibits. “It’s not unusual for collectors and other guests to gather here for a glass of wine and some good conversation,” Yolanda says. “People want to see where Louis works.”
Three out of the four studio walls are cinderblock that have been painted white and sealed for temperature control, while the remaining wall highlights exposed brick. Fluorescent lighting was used to “help mimic the warmth of the sun and cools of the sky”, Escobedo explains. “What’s important is that I can work with these lights 24/7 and it does not change.” A bit of whimsy can be seen on a section of the floor where paint had been spilled by the previous owner, who refinished furniture. “I left it there ‘just because’’, he says. “It gives the place a little more color!”
Escobedo keeps about half the space set up for his personal painting and works with the other half to conduct workshops and one-on-one painting sessions. “One of the luxuries of working in a studio this size is having the room to walk around and spread out and still have space for everything I need,” says Louis. “I love it here. This is the place I solve my art problems.”
Making art is what artists do, and every artist needs their own space in which to do it. Although similar in purpose, their studios vary in location, style, and, yes, personality. But no matter where each of these artists choose to hang their creative hat, their studios will forever be “where the art is.”