I have a daily commute. It takes about 15 seconds from the back patio of my house out to the small, modernist cabin thing that I call my studio.
Most days it takes at least two cups of coffee before I can do it. The journey can be made with shoes or barefoot, depending on the weather. The space is filled with a good amount of natural light and it’s just about large enough to park two cars if the glass garage door that faces the yard were actually used for vehicles. I also have a storage room that was labeled “motorcycle garage” on the architectural plans; this was my architect’s clever idea so that the zoning department would allow more square footage. I only have one old Vespa that doesn’t run, and it sits outside under a tarp.
Every day, I’m glad to be in my studio no matter how much work I have ahead of me or how stressed out I happen to feel. This is my place and mine alone—my cave, my island, my mini-empire—and I’m thankful to have it. I have two small dogs and a collection of vinyl to keep me company through the day, and that’s about all I need. My favorite days are ones when I’m starting a new piece of work first thing. I put on some mellow music and stare at the blank wooden panel or sheet of paper lying on my worktable. At this stage the art is perfect, genius, full of potential; by the evening it will all have changed. Nothing is ever quite as good as I imagine, but it’s important to start with a vision and a positive attitude.
Looking at one of my drawings is sort of like looking in the mirror: I can’t get away from how my work looks any more than I can get away from the appearance of my own face. Sometimes this is fine; sometimes it bothers me. I’ve always felt that art, at least the good stuff, is a natural extension of the person who makes it. Inventing a style of art is like inventing a personality for yourself: It comes across as less than genuine. I just have to let it happen, even if what happens sometimes makes me feel weird about who I am or what kind of message my work conveys.
I’m the kind of person who likes materials, things you can put your hands on and appreciate how they look and feel. Weight, texture, mass. I like to hold a record, set it on the turntable and drop the needle on it. I like to load film into my camera and wait three weeks before I get my pictures back. I like the look of quality paper, just plain paper all by itself. The smell of sawdust and paint thinner. I feel good about the dry, cracked skin on my hands, stained from ink and seeming like it will never get clean again, like some sort of naturally occurring tattoo that marks me as an artist. Sometimes I like art more in the making of it than in the finished product. The way a vivid streak of paint glides onto the paper and dries to a perfectly even surface. A pool of watercolor drying slowly in the air, leaving a mark that no technology could well replicate. My books and magazines are the worlds I get lost in, studying a drawing that someone did a hundred years ago that I could never hope to match. It feels like everything has already been done, but I have to make my little contribution too, just have to; the things inside my head would make me crazy unless I had some way of making them into marks on a surface.
By the end of the day, the light is fading in my studio and I feel tired but good. I would never want to tell someone like a construction worker that what I do all day is difficult, but somehow it is. It’s difficult because I care. It’s personal and it’s nobody’s business when I’m making it, but then I know it will be seen and judged by other people sooner or later, which is confusing at times. It takes a lot of thought and often involves some frustration, all of which drains me, so at the end of the day I do feel tired, even though I mostly have been sitting and moving paintbrushes around.
About this time I may grab a beer out of the mini-fridge in my studio and study what I’ve accomplished for the day. The things I tell myself are usually too extreme, like “You’re an idiot” or “Damn, you really nailed it.” I know that real truth is somewhere in between. Eventually this thing will disappear from my studio and, with any luck, be replaced by a check from a gallery, which in turn will be replaced by things like food and car payments, all of which I’m grateful for. It always seems like some sort of clever trick I’ve pulled off. I’ll miss the work all the same and I’ll be excited to get to the studio to do it all over again.