Having a Setup

November 13, 2014

Artists who have studios

Artists who have studios

“Some mornings, in a perfect world, you might wake up, have a coffee, finish meditation, and say, ‘Okay, today I’m going into the shop to work on a lamp.’  This idea comes to you, you can see it, but to accomplish it you need what I call a ‘setup.’  For example, you may need a working shop or a working painting studio.  You may need a working music studio.  Or a computer room where you can write something.  It’s crucial to have a setup, so that, at any given moment when you get an idea, you have the place and the tools to make it happen.”
— David Lynch, Catching the Big Fish

Ah, yes.  A room of one’s own!  I have yearned for this my entire life.  But in my imperfect world of making do — which I realize is an outlook I have deliberately embraced, one in alignment with my frugal tendencies — I’ve never had my own workroom, and for just one brief year or two had my own bedroom.  I’ve lived virtually all of my life in shared spaces.

But because over these past couple of years I’ve made painting a higher priority, and lately have been trying to commit to at least one sketch a day, I’ve fallen into a kind of portable “setup” that is working for me.  I keep my supplies in a basket, and when I’m ready to paint, I take this basket to the dining room table, grab a portable standing lamp to illuminate the table, and get to work.  Not much of a fuss.  And no excuse not to get started.

My watercolor painting "setup"

My watercolor painting “setup”

Still, it is fun to see other artist’s work spaces, such as those featured in Joe Fig’s Inside the Painter’s Studio.  I will try not to be envious of those who have actual studio spaces to work in, and instead try to affirm my belief in making do and just painting where I can.  Focus on the work, not on the work space.

Here’s what painter Chuck Close says about his painting setup:  “You know, I always could paint anywhere, and I was never one of those people who had to have a perfect situation to paint in.  I can make art anywhere, anytime — it doesn’t matter.  I mean, I know so many artists for whom having the perfect space is somehow essential.  They spend years designing, building, outfitting the perfect space, and then when it is just about time to get to work they’ll sell that place and build another one.  It seems more often than not a way to keep from having to work.  But I could paint anywhere.  I made big paintings in the tiniest bedrooms, garages, you name it.  You know, once I have my back to the room, I could be anywhere.  I could care less.” (from his interview with Joe Fig, Inside the Painter’s Studio)


“Every production of an artist should be the expression of an adventure of his soul.”
— W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up

My tubes of watercolor paints and brushes

My tubes of watercolor paints and brushes

A couple of my watercolor sketches in frames

A couple of my watercolor sketches in frames

“The question of what art is for has far too long been needlessly treated as obscure: it is to help us live and die.”
— Alain de Botton

After telling the story of my life in 10 objects, I realized that this mini-series was missing something important to me — an aspirational object, my watercolor paints, brushes and supplies.  These are the objects I hope to grow into.  I am prepared to spend hours with my brush in hand, palette at my side, paper in front of me — to play and practice and experiment.

Drawing and painting are more skills to help me slow down, pay attention, create beauty, play, and express myself.  So they are a natural extension of my other interests.  I aspire to become a better artist.

So now that I am truly finished with the story of my life in 10 objects, I invite you to share your stories — your 10 objects — in the comments.  I’m so curious about what your chosen objects will say about you.