When it comes to painting, where you choose to work can greatly affect the results that you get on canvas.  Your creative environment can also influence the mental attitude with which you approach your work. Having painted in various locations throughout my career, I wanted to share some of the things that I’ve learned about creating an ideal environment to work in. I’ll be posting some of my own thoughts in a five-part blog series that will focus on things to consider when setting up your ideal studio.

One of the first decisions to make before any paint gets applied to canvas is choosing where you will work. This might sound simple, but it will have a tremendous impact on both you and the paintings that you produce. For some artists, a room at home, such as a spare bedroom or garage may be the best choice, while a much larger environment like the great outdoors may be a better fit for you. Another deciding factor is whether or not you will be working from life or from photo references. If you’re a landscape painter who works from life, then you’re going to work outdoors when the light is available. On the other hand, if you work from photos, then either an indoor or an outdoor setting would work, depending on your lighting preferences.

Here are a couple of examples of how an artist can utilize either an indoor or an outdoor setting to use as a studio.

John Singer Sargent painting a landscape in a temporary, outdoor studio.

John Singer Sargent painting a portrait in his permanent, indoor studio.

When talking about working space, I would say that having as much room to move and as much privacy as possible are two important things to consider when deciding where your studio will be located.

I would recommend as much space as possible. For many years, I worked in a spare bedroom at home, whether it was in an apartment, condominium or single family home. In most cases, this was a space no larger than 10’ x 10’ which worked great at the start of my career. As time went by, I began to accumulate more art materials, books, painting equipment, etc. and needed a larger space to work in. At one point, I could only take a few steps near my easel because of the overcrowded situation. This was the point at which my wife recommended that we have a new studio built in our backyard. This would not only provide the extra space that was needed, but would also provide a quieter environment to work.

Taboret used for mixing paint on a glass palette.

In terms of room to move, it’s important to have enough leg room to be able to step back from your canvas from time to time in order to better evaluate your painting’s progress. Stepping back from your work gives you a new vantage point and allows your eye to further simplify things by grouping values and shapes together in a broader manner. It helps to simplify what you’re seeing by eliminating small details that get lost the further you move away from your work. By eliminating these smaller details, you have the opportunity to see your painting as a whole, rather than individual parts as you would when seen from a closer view. This “big picture” is very important because the weight and strength of a painting relies on how well the larger values, shapes and design hold together. On the contrary, if your painting subject tends to look “flat” rather than giving the illusion of a three-dimensional form the further you move away from the canvas, then this might be an indicator that there is not enough of a difference from one value to another. The freedom of movement in the space where you work can have a great impact on your overall perception of a painting. If a painting looks good or “reads well” from a distance, then this is often a good sign that your value relationships, drawing, color and composition work well together.

A variety of brushes that I use throughout the day when painting portraits.

On a side note, another technique that I like to use when stepping away from a work of art is looking at my painting in a reverse image with the help of a hand held mirror. A reverse image not only gives me a brand new perspective and viewpoint on my painting, but also quickly reveals any drawing mistakes. If I see something wrong in the reverse image, then I know that I need to fix it before moving further along on the painting. If not, then I will have to address it later at some point and will find myself frustrated by having to go back to an earlier stage in the painting to do so.

Viewing a painting as a reverse image with the use of a hand held mirror.

Having the ability to control the amount of sounds and distractions throughout the day is also important because painting requires a great deal of thinking and decision-making. If the space where you paint has too many distractions, it may not provide the environment needed in order to think about the decisions that you’re making during the painting process. Remember, painting doesn’t automatically happen when you pick up a brush. It’s a series of deliberate choices and decisions that are made from your eyes, to your mind, to your hand, to your palette and, ultimately, to your canvas. It’s this decision-making process that determines how you will interpret your subject. What will you include, leave out, exaggerate or simplify in your subject? The answers to each of these questions will depend on you, the artist, but will require some thinking in order to solve. Your studio environment should be a place where you have the privacy needed in order to creatively think throughout the day.

Art books which provide both instruction and inspiration.

When setting up my current studio, there were some things that I considered when deciding on how big the overall space would be which may be helpful to you as well. How much storage area will be needed for painting equipment and supplies? How much wall space will there be for hanging paintings? Where will art books be stored for easy access and reference? How will the studio be heated and cooled throughout the year? These are just some of the questions that you might want to consider if you’re setting up a permanent studio.

Remember, no matter how big or small your studio may be, there are no limitations on the creativity that can take place within that space.