“Do you think you could use the basement as your studio?”
My husband asked me that innocent question 6 years ago, when we were looking at the house we are currently renting.
At the time, however, I was a studio snob. “No way,” I responded dismissively. How professional would that make me look? When people asked me where my studio was, and I told them “in my basement,” I’d sound like an idiot. Or worse, a hobbyist.
So I did what seemed like the smart thing to do: I rented a space at a mill building filled with artists, located near my house.
It didn’t take long for me to realize my mistake. My studio neighbor on one side was a weird guy who obviously lived in his space (illegal) and was constantly microwaving awful-smelling foods for his meals. My neighbors across the hall were doing heavy-duty renovations in their space, and there was always slamming and banging, day in and day out. They were also constantly yelling into their cell phones, and I couldn’t get their loud one-sided conversations out of my head, even though I blasted music through my headphones.
I tried to stick with it, telling myself how serious and professional I must be, to have my own studio in a building especially for artists. But in actuality, I wasn’t encountering any artists, just a lot of loud and unpleasant neighbors.
Then one early Sunday morning, there was a loud banging on my studio door. My heart jumped; I had been “in the zone” and hadn’t expected such an abrupt interruption. Before I could reach the door, it flew open and in burst a policeman, who demanded, “Where’s Jimmy?”
I answered as calmly as possible that I had no idea who Jimmy was.
“Well, tell him we’re looking for him,” the cop demanded as he slammed back out the door, apparently not taking note of the fact that I could hardly locate someone I didn’t know.
That was pretty much the last straw. After six months of this madness, I asked myself, how bad could it be to work in my basement? Besides, that would free up the money I was spending on studio rent to be better spent on art supplies. So, with a great sense of relief, I gave my notice and moved my art supplies and studio furnishings to my home.
I soon realized that I had misjudged the basement; in fact, it made a perfect studio. There were large windows along one wall, and a door that opened out onto a beautiful backyard. Our resourceful landlords had built wooden shelving units against the walls that happened to be the perfect size for storing paintings. There was also a work-bench built against one wall, with shelves underneath that were perfect for holding works on paper, and many light fixtures and electric sockets throughout the room. The landlords had even left two huge tables down there, which were great supplements to the three tables I already had. And there was a huge sink down there, so brushes could be easily washed.
This studio has allowed me to establish and sustain a most productive working schedule and process. It is quiet and peaceful (ironically, considering my experience at the mill building, those are my greatest needs as an artist!). In the 5 years I have been working down here, the space has been nothing but pleasant and supportive … truly IDEAL.
Best of all, whenever the urge to paint hits, I don’t have to drive anywhere. I can pad downstairs in my pajamas and get to it. (Although I have to keep reminding myself to change into my painting shoes, or whatever I have on my feet will soon be splattered with paint.)
So what if it sounds unprofessional to say that you paint in your basement. My work speaks for itself. I appreciate the fact that I have been able to work consistently and with devotion, concentration and a sense of freedom. I know I am safe there, to make mistakes, to let my guard down, to do what I need to do to work out what I want to say on canvas.
And after all, what more can an artist ask of a studio?
Here are some photos: My cat, Petey, leads the way down to the basement.
There are plenty of built-in shelving units, perfect for painting storage:
There's a built-in workbench, with shelves underneath to hold works on paper. The pegboard against the wall is great for hanging small works:
These two large windows let in plenty of natural light:
This door leads out to ...
A beautiful, secluded backyard:
Additional shelving units hold art supplies and some of my teaching materials:
So, as it turns out, my wise husband was right all along!