Designing the perfect Summit County workshop for the artist inside
Rainer Maria Rilke, a German-language poet who wrote from the end of the 19th century and into the 20th, knew well the struggle of all artists — not only to create, but to find the right state of being as well as state of mind needed to bring forth inspiration and focus on the goal of making art.
With its soaring mountain ranges, lake, rivers, streams and forests, Summit County is an ideal example of a natural retreat to spark inspiration. It’s no wonder that many of the people who come to our county are artists, whether professional or amateur, who are looking to tap into that inspiration and create.
Just as most people find they can’t focus on their work when they’re at home in their living space, many artists find it difficult to truly get into that artist’s working trance if they, too, are attempting it in the wrong space.
Rilke understood the necessity of setting aside “space for the spirit to breathe” — an excerpt from a 1922 letter — and Summit’s artists know the same. That’s why many of them have space for an art workshop or studio reserved in their blueprints for a new house or plan to renovate a room into their special creative space.
A SEPARATE SPACE
Silverthorne artist Bonnie Norling Wakeman knows well the struggle of trying to make art without having space for it. In fact, her challenges were compounded by the fact that her husband, Joe Wakeman, is also an artist.
When they first moved into their home just off of Ptarmigan Trail, they were practically stumbling over their artwork as they moved about their everyday lives, including putting their photography darkroom in their bathroom. Bonnie laughed as she recalled having to move tubs full of chemicals every time someone wanted to take a shower or bath.
“It wasn’t enough room,” she said.
It didn’t take long before the Wakemans’ art moved out of the house and into the garage — during the summer months. Eventually, they built an addition to the garage that now serves as their art studio. Bonnie pointed out that they decided to expand their garage/workshop before expanding the house.
“Create a large space,” Joe offered as advice to anyone considering building their own workspace. “Create as big a space as you can.”
Though having his art workspace in his home caused difficulties in the beginning, he said that he’d much rather have a home studio than deal with the hassles of renting a commercial space.
Every artist has their own rhythm, whether they’re a morning person or night owl, or prefer controlled electric lights to natural light. And when working from a home studio, “you can work according to that rhythm,” he said.
Still, that separation between living space and art studio shouldn’t be ignored.
“I think separation is key because you need to go home at night and separate yourself, even if it’s only a few feet,” Bonnie said.
Designing an art studio isn’t as simple as just assigning a room the title. It requires careful planning and preparation in order to optimize the space for the exact manner and medium of its use. While a lot depends on what type of artist will be using the room — painter, weaver, potter, musician, writer, etc. — there are certain elements that are just about universal.
Light is one of those.
Tim Sabo, project manager at Allen-Guerra Architecture in Breckenridge, has helped design studios for artists in the past.
“You need to capture the right angles for their windows, depending on what time of day they like to work,” he said. “But not too harsh of a light, so it’s not casting weird shadows across their work.”
Space is another one. Storage space, that is. Every artist has not only tools of the trade that need a place to live, but also various types of materials and, of course, the finished products.
“I often dedicate one or more walls to the type of storage the artist needs,” said Tracey Egolf, of Egolf Interiors, Inc.
For one of her clients, a painter, Egolf set up a series of cabinets, which were hidden behind doors, to keep the artist from being distracted by potential clutter. Another artist, who worked with polymer clay, utilized floor-to-ceiling shallow adjustable shelves on three of her four walls for storage of clay, beads and specialty tools.
Space in an artist’s studio is measured not only horizontally, but vertically, as well. Of the one thing he could amend about his workspace, Joe Wakeman said that he’d raise the ceiling several feet. Both Wakemans deal with large projects, including tall canvases, that they have to be sure don’t knock into the ceiling.
“Typically, we’ll give them a space that’s got a lot of volume and a lot of height,” Sabo said, “so they can have their lights up high that they’re working under.”
If you’re not in the position to build a new house, the next option is find a room to renovate, if you can spare one. Some people choose rooms within the house, while others choose an outside element, like a little-used shed or barn or, like the Wakemans, the garage.
Flooring is an important factor to consider, Sabo said, because different artists will want different things. While a writer or musician might prefer carpet, a painter might not want to risk getting paint on it, whereas a potter would almost definitely prefer concrete, that’s easy to clean.
“Unused bedrooms can make great studio spaces, as well as sun/garden rooms, unfinished basements, loft or attic spaces, garages, utility rooms, even outdoor sheds,” Egolf said. “It depends on what is most important to the artist: Natural lighting? Operable windows? Quiet and seclusion? Studio space, depending upon what is needed for the medium, can be carved out of some pretty unusual spaces.”
LET CREATIVITY FLOW
The thing about artists is that each one is unique, which means each one works differently, which means each one has a specific way of interacting with their workspace.
Consulting a designer is a great way to make sure that every inch of space is utilized to its utmost potential. But it’s the artist who will be spending their more creative minutes, hours and days in the space.
Aside from helping design these spaces, Sabo said he most enjoys watching the final product put to use by the artists. “You see their personalities reflected in the spaces they create,” he said.
Egolf had a few parting words of advice for artists.
“Be bold, and see where you can carve out space to support the things that feed your soul,” she said. “Sometimes, it isn’t as difficult as one might initially think, and the benefit of having a dedicated space where your craft can be left out, instead of always stashing your projects out of the way, can be a huge boost to your creativity.”
This article first ran in Summit County Homes. Pick up a copy at the Summit Daily office, 331 W. Main, Frisco.
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