Store to stretcher to studio: behind the scenes of creative studio life

Working weeks in the studio vary so much as a practising artist. Often, the life of a painter is glamourized as a constant stream of inspiration and passion, black coffee, cigarettes, paint splattered clothes, and elaborate affairs with your life model; Juan. However, in reality, studio life is very different to this. Well mine is anyway.

Although there are days when I paint from dusk til dawn, before retiring, exhausted, with still-wet brushes cast upon the paint splattered floor. But in order for days like this to happen, there is a lot of organisation and preparation that must take place before creativity can flow freely from mind to hand to canvas. 

With the past few weeks being filled with exciting opportunities, open call deadlines and busy busy busy finalising works, it has meant that this week has been filled with mundane tasks, needed in order to maintain a rhythm and routine in my practical work. As such, I thought it would be perfect to use this week’s post to discuss exactly what goes on in the more humdrum hours spent in the studio…

Buying materials:

Craft store ‘own-brands’ are my go to for cheap acrylics, they are great for testing out potential palettes and for when you’re after a fluorescent or metallic effect!

Craft store ‘own-brands’ are my go to for cheap acrylics, they are great for testing out potential palettes and for when you’re after a fluorescent or metallic effect!

An often glossed over or forgotten aspect by the non-artists in society, but a crucial – and usually very expensive –  part of every artists’ practice and life. For me, this encompasses the purchase of brushes, paints, stretcher bars, canvases, inks, mixing mediums, primers, timber, screws, nails, more paint, rollers, washing up liquid, and more paint. 

Daler Rowney system 3 offer a great range of pre-mixed tones with great pigment, they are definitely my favourite mid-range brand!

Daler Rowney system 3 offer a great range of pre-mixed tones with great pigment, they are definitely my favourite mid-range brand!

Working with acrylic in particular means I get through an enormous amount of paint, due to it’s quick drying time and mixing dexterity – both a blessing and a curse. Because of this, and the current depth of my pockets, I use a wide variety of acrylic brands and qualities. When working on a piece that requires very particular colours, of multiple layers, I will opt for a slightly higher end medium in order to reduce the amount of paint required – and my cost – which is ultimately because the higher priced acrylics are usually thicker, meaning better coverage, and have more pigment, which means a more ‘true to bottle’ colour, and as such, more accurate mixing of palettes.

Liquitex offer a range of ‘heavy body’ acrylics which are great for layering and building tone, always a treat when I can afford the little extra!

Liquitex offer a range of ‘heavy body’ acrylics which are great for layering and building tone, always a treat when I can afford the little extra!

Now don’t get me wrong, I can’t be splashing the cash on every colour of the rainbow! And this is where the range of acrylic paint really begins to show. Particularly for white acrylic – which is probably my most used out-of-the-bottle colour – I buy cheap and I buy bulk. Simply because I get through so much, and more often that not I am mixing it with other colours, so the vibrancy of the white is not as vital as if I were working monochromatically. In addition to my penchant for cheap white acrylic paint, I also opt for cheaper options when using uncommon or unusual colours, like neons, pre-mixed greens, oranges and purples, or something with metallic or transparent qualities. This, in part, is due to the infrequency with which I use these paints, and is also because they once again, tend to be mixed with other mediums and so their price tag outweighs their significance at this point in my career.

When working with primary colours and blacks – the cornerstones of any palette – I am happy to crowbar my wallet open a little further in order to have a high quality base for all the tones I am mixing. Here you can see just a few of my go to low-mid range brands, which hopefully will give you an idea of exactly what I mean by cheap paint!

Wow, did I seriously just use 400 words on paint alone! You’re in for a long one kids.

The second most important material in my practice is of course the mount – base, ground, support etc etc. – which in my case is usually canvas or linen. As a student, I was adamant that I could save money and time buying pre-stretched, pre-primed canvases, and while there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, the further I have progressed in my career, the more clearly I have seen that my tutors were right; stretching your own canvases is superior. Even if it is a bit more time consuming!

Even though some of my favourite pieces are on ready-made canvases, and there really is nothing wrong with using them if it suits you better, in general, I simply find that the quality is inconsistent (unless you spend ridiculous amounts), you are limited to sizes and depths, they don’t travel well and because of the ‘value’ materials, are more likely to warp or bend that hand-stretched ones. 

If you want to build your own, then once again buying the materials is a thankless and continual task that, in time, will become part of your routine. I find it best to buy rolls of both pre- universally primed canvas, and unprimed, and always have on hand a variety of stretcher bar lengths and depths, so that you can really play around and have a plethora of canvases available when inspiration strikes!

Stretching Canvases:

So, with a shopping basket full of paints and rolls of canvas lining your halls, surely now you can get on with painting? Right?

Wrong. 

That canvas isn’t going to stretch itself! 

Now I don’t intend on teaching my grandmother to suck eggs and give a step by step guide to stretching canvases, but just to share a few tips and guidelines if you’re new to the game:

·     Buy a GOOD staple gun. Preferably one with multiple fastening options. I got mine from amazon.

·     You don’t NEED canvas clamps, but they sure do help.

·     Get stuck in. Practice will make it better, and remember, you can always adjust by moving staples or adding extra stretching pins (which usually come with the stretcher bars)

·     The bigger you go, the harder it is.

·     The bigger you go, the more likely you will need cross supports.

·     The bigger you go, the taught-ness is harder.

·     Basically bigger is more difficult but don’t let it scare you!

·     If in doubt, ask a friendly artist friend… or youtube.

Cleaning up:

So, you’ve bought your materials, stretched your canvases, mixed your paint, cleared space to work and bish bash bosh, created a masterpiece. Fantastic. But then reality sets in: you aren’t Jeff Koons, you haven’t got a team of employees to clean up after you, and those brushes aren’t going to wash themselves.

Damn.

The clearing up after creating is always a downer, and sometimes the most time consuming part of creating! Particularly if you work a la Jackson Pollock! But if you want to make the most of your brushes and your paints – which I’m guessing you do, considering the price of them! – then it really is important to look after them. Which means:

·     Saving left over paint, ie. Scrape that palette.

·     Keeping your palette clean to avoid contamination in your next mix, ie. Wash that palette after you scrape it.

·     Washing your brushes, ie. Actually wash them, with cleaner, not just leaving them in the sink until tomorrow.

·     Washing your sink. No one likes stinky drains and plug holes clogged with paint.

·     Wash yourself and your clothes; despite wanting a cool paint splattered smock, this just leaves you more susceptible to getting paint on other clothes, or other works!

And that pretty much covers what this week in the studio has looked like. It’s not all glamour and Chianti with Juan, but it is necessary and will mean that when you do work, you are not put off by the lack of clean brushes, perturbed shortage of that particular crimson you need, or disheartened by the roll of un-stretched canvas you had big plans for. 

So, if you don’t feel very inspired or need a week off creating, why not get all the behind the scenes bit tied up in a nice little bow, and then you just to sit back, relax, and wait for inspiration to strike.

Felicity BeaumontComment