Updated: Mar 27, 2021
If you’re anything like me, you love to see what other artist’s studios look like. In The Artist’s Studio series, the 3T Art Blog has looked at finding the right spot for your studio, setting up your workspace, and how to get the best lighting for your studio. To finish things off, we’re going to see how other artists (famous and local) set up their studios.
Let’s start with a brief-ish history of the artist’s studio.
Evidence suggests that the earliest art studio found to-date is around 100,000 years old. First excavated in 1991, this “workshop” in Blombos Cave, South Africa, contained tools like grindstones and hammerstones, as well as raw materials like bones, charcoal and ochre, which is an iron-rich red rock. It’s thought that these ingredients were ground down, put into sea shells with some kind of liquid and heated to make a paint-like solution that was applied to cave walls, objects or as body paint.
Numerous finds like the Blombos Cave have been made in different regions of Africa over the years, some finds dating back 77,000 years while others to around 40,000 years. As people began to develop, they started figuring out how to make more sophisticated tools and they found new materials to use as pigments.
No history relating to art would be complete without looking at the ancient Egyptians (3100 BCE to 332 BCE). Their work is well known to everyone, but did they have art studios? The simple answer is no, they didn’t. The reason for this is that all of their art was functional. Whether painted, carved or sculpted, it was created for practical purposes by anonymous artists who would probably find how we view their art today very odd.
The ancient Greeks were also of a similar mind to the Egyptians. Art was mostly produced for a specific purpose; be it a piece of pottery or sculpture. The ancient Romans were a bit different because they did commission artists to work on private pieces for their homes. It’s more than likely that much of the art created during this time, excluding pottery, was created on-site.
The Middle Ages (500 to 1400-1500 CE), began after the fall of the Roman Empire. During this time, art studios were prominent places, dominated by the influence of the Church. They directed their artists in every way, deciding for them what artworks should look like and what they would depict. Many artists worked in studios which were located in monasteries or other religious institutions. Everything produced by artists showed the worshiping of God in some way. Many spectacular pieces of artwork were created but none were the conception of individual artists.
Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1308-1311, Tempera and gold on wood
Let’s skip ahead to the 15th century, the beginning of the Renaissance period, when the idea of what we know to be an artist’s studio was born. Art was heading in a new direction. The French word Renaissance means “a rebirth”. Art was moving away from strictly religious subject matter and toward nature, human learning and individualism.
There were wealthy individuals who wanted to change the Church’s control over art. They began commissioning private works from artists which were influenced by their own financial status and reputation. Having one’s own studio, artists were able to create artwork with different subject matter for their patrons such as portraits of the patron and their family, murals, alter pieces and other paintings their patron was interested in having commissioned.
Leonardo da Vinci famously said, “An artist’s studio should be a small space because small rooms discipline the mind and large ones distract it”.
An artist’s studio at this time was a very private space, often made up of two separate rooms with distinct purposes. From the Italian, the term “bottega” was coined to describe the main workroom, often filled with students learning to paint, while a “studiolo”, meaning little studio, was a type of study or a room for the contemplation of art.
Studios, or Ateliers (defined as a private workshop or studio, specifically one used by a professional artist for fine art or decorative art) consisted of only male members: a master artist, a number of apprentices, assistants and students. They all belonged to local Guilds and had to operate under their guidelines. Being part of an atelier was a life-long commitment.
For example, a young lad who was lucky enough to have been accepted to a master’s studio, would begin his studies by doing simple tasks for his master. Only after years of increasing his knowledge and art skills was he allowed to earn the status of a journeymen. With many more years of study, up to 17 or more years all together, he may even have become a master himself. Everyone at the Atelier worked together to create artwork under the master’s supervision, which upon completion, was released under only the master’s name.
By the 1700’s, the artist’s studio became a place where respectable creators spent days and weeks creating amazing work. They were still very private places, run by a master artist and his crew. They often aroused the curiosity of the general public who had no access to an artist’s studio, making them wonder what really went on inside.
These types of Ateliers were popular in Europe and other parts of the world up until about the middle of the 19th century. The French term or slogan, “l’art pour l’art” (art for art’s sake), became popular at this time, spreading quickly to England and abroad. Art in any form no longer needed to be created solely for political, moral or educational purposes. The popularity of the Ateliers eventually began to decline and they were replaced by the French Academy system which became the preferred method of art training. Students paid for the privilege to learn from professional artists, however, in some cases the artist paid students who assisted them. And they weren’t just for men anymore. Women had their own academies of art.
Exhibitions known as “salons” were introduced and became major events throughout Europe.
All of this was a real turning point for artists. They realized they could create their work without the need for sponsors or patrons and do it for their own pleasure instead. Art was being created to inspire an emotional response or to create a mood. The artist’s studio became a place for other artists, curators of art and collectors to gather. And studios began to take on the characteristics of the artists who occupied them.
Famous Artist’s Studios
Here comes the fun part; looking at photographs of artists we know and love in their own studios. I’ve picked a selection of images I found most visually descriptive of each of these artist’s studios. There’s no need for words.
John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent in his studio in Paris, ca. 1884.Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Art.
Rodin in His Studio in Meduon, 1902.
N. C. Wyeth
N.C. Wyeth in his studio as he paints “Rounding Up,” with Allen Tupper True on the saddle posing for the painting. Photographer unknown, ca. 1905. Allen Tupper True Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
A blue-hued blur of water and plants and reflections of clouds. 1920 - Monet in his studio working on his Water-Lily masterworks. Credit: From "Mad Enchantment"
Frida Kahlo in her studio in the early 1940s. Photo: Art Gallery of NSW
Jackson Pollock – ca. 1947-Photo by: Herbert Matter – Archives of American Art
Picasso in his studio with Brigitte Bardot during the 1956 International Cannes Film Festival Credit: artistrunwebsite.com
Georgia O’Keeffe – opening the curtains of her studio in 1960. Photo by: Tony Vaccaro
Jean-Michel Basquiat in his New York City studio and apartment, 1985. Photo by: Lizzie Himmel
Chuck Close working in his New York City studio. Credit: Art Studio America - Pinterest
Local Artist’s Studios
Now, I’d like to introduce you to three amazing local artists who work out of their home studios. They’ve been kind enough to provide me with some pics and info to share with you. I would have like to go to their studios myself, but with COVID-19 and social distancing, we communicated via email, text and by phone.
How do you like Judy’s studio? It’s very minimalistic, neat and tidy. Judy works at an easel. As you can see, she likes to paint by natural light so her easel is situated beside a window that gives her north light. She mixes her paints on a larger table located right under the window so she really gets the benefits of having colours for her paintings that are as close to the real thing as possible.
Judy prefers to stand while she paints. Her workstation layout makes it easy for her step back from her easel from time to time and see how her painting is coming along.
Judy is an oil painter but you wouldn’t know it by the smell of her studio. Most people think that oil paint has strong odours and using it in a home studio may not be a good option. She doesn’t use chemicals in her studio or in her paintings, just linseed oil if needed, so her studio has no strong smells in it nor is it toxic.
With only a few elements, she finds it easy to change the configuration of her workspace. She likes that her studio set up is not fixed. Judy needs a flexible space to work in for her painting projects as well as for the art classes and workshops she teaches, and for the art shows and exhibitions she organizes at her home studio.
Judy tells me that she has many easels in her studio that she uses to place unfinished and finished paintings on. She likes to ponder over them and review what she’s painted.
If you know Judy, you’ll know that she has a great sense of humour. She keeps toys around her studio to keep the atmosphere light and happy.
She likes to paint to music when she’s working (but not rap or heavy metal) and she always leaves a spot on a couple of tables in her studio for her cats Bandit and Tommy to sleep on while she’s painting.
What a great look at your studio, Judy! Thanks so much for sharing it with us!
If you’d like to know more about Judy, her work or her art classes, go to https://shermanj.com.
How do you like Josée’s studio? It’s a great place, isn’t it! Colourful and bright. She says her studio isn’t a big space, but she’s pretty happy with it!
Because most of the time Josée works flat on a table, she likes to have many tables in her studio, giving her plenty of room to spread out and create. She also has an easel where she works only when she’s painting large pieces. This is where she prepares the background and other large surfaces to paint on.
Once the background is done, she needs to work flat on her table. As people who are familiar with Josée’s artwork know, she uses of a lot of different techniques in each of her paintings, one of which is printing. For this she always needs to work on a flat surface.
She has two different kinds of seating in her studio; one is a drawer stool and the other an office chair. Both are on rollers. Depending on the type of work Josée is doing, she will choose the appropriate chair. To make her tables the optimal height, she’s placed painted wood blocks under the table legs (very clever!) raising them slightly so she can work comfortably all day long.
Josée considers herself pretty lucky when it comes to the lighting she has in her studio space. She has beautiful natural light coming in from a large window. On days when she needs some additional light, she can use and adjust the track lighting with 10 LED lights her husband Mitch installed for her. She also has a few sources of task lighting around her studio that she can use if needed. Wow, Josée is definitely covered when it comes to lighting!
As for storage, Josée keeps her acrylic paints in handy little mobile carts from Ikea. She says they’re the best and I can see why.
For the storage of her paintings, Josée hangs some on the walls of her studio while the rest of her work is stored in her basement where she has ample room for the special racks that safely hold her awesome, colourful paintings.
Thanks so much, Josée! You have an awesome studio space!
If you’d like to know more about Josée and her work, go to https://joseesavaria.com.
Well, this next studio is going to be a treat for you to see. Here’s the story, right from her blog, of Jenny’s move from her basement studio to an awesome new workspace in her double garage!
Jenny made the move from her basement studio to the garage during the summer of 2019. She says they had to live with the original garage contents spread all over their house. Here’s a pic of Jenny with her kiln stacked in reverse order in their family room.
The biggest part of the construction was ripping up the existing concrete pad in the garage (Jenny and her husband did it themselves!) and installing a heated floor so the studio would remain warm and at an even temperature during the winter.
New windows were installed to let in ample amounts of natural light along with two solar tubes in the ceiling and a new doors.
Here’s what the space looks like now! What a transformation! I remember visiting Jenny’s basement studio. It was a very tight space with not much room between work spaces and shelves, but now it looks like she has more space than she knows what to do with. Her studio has become a well-organized, bright and comfortable place to work.
Jenny currently has two rolling metal shelves and two greenhouses/damp boxes that she can roll around to make more room in her studio and to make them accessible when she’s working. They can also be rolled tight against the main row of shelving which stores items such as tools, molds and glazes.
Jenny also has an all-purpose bench located under a large window for optimal lighting. It has a varnished maple plywood top so it’s easy for her to clean up after she’s finished glazing her pottery. She can clip a thin MDF board onto the bench when she’s working, one side for white clay, the other for brown, that can easily be removed to make more room for glazing.
Finished work is stored on a tall shelving unit out of the way to keep all her beautiful pottery pieces safe.
And here's a look at Jenny’s stand-up pottery wheel with a custom made water bowl. She says that when it’s tight to the pan, it catches more drips when her hand moves between it and the wheel than with a conventional round bowl. Very clever indeed!
It looks like Jenny has thought of everything for her amazing home studio pottery space!
Thanks, Jenny, for sharing this unique studio space with us! You can see Jenny’s work on her blog at https://jennylynnepottery.blogspot.com/2020/
Wasn’t it great to learn a little bit about the history of art studios, then to see so many famous artist’s in their studios? The best part for me was to get acquainted with three really great local artists who shared their studios with us.
I hope you enjoyed this 3T Art Blog post as much as I enjoyed writing it. Just so you know, I looked all over the internet to find pics to share with you. It was a lot of fun but took a while to do. If you’d like to see more pics of artists in their studios, check out https://boredpanda.com where you’ll find 312 photos of famous artists in their studios! How awesome is that?
Next month, the 3T Art Blog is going to have a look at different painting techniques. Don’t miss these interesting and helpful posts. Sign up at EvaFolksArt.com and have the 3T Art Blog delivered right to your inbox every Thursday.
See you next time!