Studio Glimpses

Author Virginia Woolf recommended that women writers create "a room of one's own." A great theory but practically impossible when as a young person you are the oldest of eight children, and as an older person you are a mom to three energetic kids living in a very small house. For years I worked at my drawing table, tucked away in the corner of a play room or bedroom, training myself to tune out noise and distractions, searching for a quiet space inside my own head. Now my three kids are grown and exploring their own worlds. For the very first time, I have a room of my own, a room filled with art and books; papers, paint, and pencils.

This is what my drawing table looks like  right before I start a project — clean and tidy. It doesn't stay that way very long. The wall behind my table is filled with paintings and drawings created by my three kids when they were art students. Also on the wall are two cherished gifts, given by their creators: a still life pastel painting done by author and dear friend Katherine Paterson, and a pencil illustration done by author, Illustrator, and dear friend Natalie Babbitt. 

This is what my drawing table looks like  right before I start a project clean and tidy. It doesn't stay that way very long. The wall behind my table is filled with paintings and drawings created by my three kids when they were art students. Also on the wall are two cherished gifts, given by their creators: a still life pastel painting done by author and dear friend Katherine Paterson, and a pencil illustration done by author, Illustrator, and dear friend Natalie Babbitt. 

I write on a vintage 1915 kitchen table that actually was my kitchen table in my very first apartment.  I love the old table because its wood top is covered by a sheet of spill proof, milk-white enamel. The enamel top twists and opens up to twice its size when I need more workspace. My bulletin boards are covered with photos of my family, as well as drawings and images that serve as inspiration or visual references.  

Story inklings first appear as doodles in sketchbooks, or hand written notes on legal pads. Then I begin the first rough draft of a story on my laptop. I need my battered dictionary and thesaurus close by because I am the world's worst speller. And since I am also the world's worst typist, computers and word processing programs have been my salvation!

I always carry a sketchbook, black Sharpie pens, and packs of Faber Castell artists pens. I use them for sketching outdoors or in museums, doodling while I travel, and for jotting down character and story ideas. Ideas can occur any time and any place.  I have learned  to notate or sketch an idea out on paper as soon possible, because like Pooh Bear, I have a little brain and will forget everything unless it is jotted down.

After exploring seedling ideas in my sketchbook, I start to work out full drawings using tracing paper. Tracing paper is cheap and abundant and encourages experimentation. Expensive papers can induce anxiety, make you fearful of making mistakes.  Using inexpensive tracing paper alleviates that anxiety, allowing you to loosen up and play with your drawings.

And when I run into visual dilemmas, because the tracing paper is transparent,  I can experiment, overlaying drawings to find solutions. Once I have a drawing worked out on tracing paper, I photocopy the drawing, or scan it, so that I can then make an "old-fashioned" paste-up book dummy. 

When working on black and white or color finishes, I fasten my work to boards, rather than my table, when I am drawing and painting. Boards give me more flexibility and, using several boards, I can work on more than one drawing or painting at a time.

The studio is filled with tools, supplies, and materials: light tables; cutting boards; mat knives; pastels; hundreds of colored pencils; markers of every hue; graphite pencils of various soft and hard leads; erasers of every shape and size — I make a lot of mistakes! — tubes of watercolor, gouache, and acrylic paint; brushes; palettes; piles of paper; pads of paper; rolls of paper.

In its previous life, my studio was a small bedroom. I always wanted flat files for paper storage, but the price was prohibitive and flat files are huge — no place to put them in this tiny room. My talented husband came to the rescue and renovated the old bedroom sliding door closet, creating much need shelving and flat files. If you are a young artist on a limited budget as many young artists are this idea might work for you, too.

Shelves are full to bursting with books. Books about fine art, design, and illustration. Biographies of artists. Books about writing by writers. Thesauruses and rhyming dictionaries. Books about history. Poetry books. Dozens and dozens of children's picture books. And these books are just a portion of the books in our house. We are a book loving, newspaper devouring, celebrate reading and story family!

The view outside my studio window changes with the seasons. Our lot abuts one of the few forested open spaces in town. In the winter, tall pine columns rise up from blankets of snow turning the woodland into an open-air cathedral. In spring, pale pink and deep raspberry tinted lilacs bloom, their scent wafting through the open window. Summer is an array of greens—dark firs and yellow-greens, cool blue grass greens, and greens infused with earth tones of sienna and umber. And fall is glorious, a feast of color — vibrant orange, yellow, and crimson explosions against a lacing of dark tree limbs and cerulean blue skies. .