The studiOH! podcast season 1 episode 2 ‘Luck is what you make it’
Last episode I let you in on a little of my background, who I am, where I’m from and how, after almost 30 years at a desk, I had been given an escape route from that drudge of a day job. You can still go back and listen to that episode if you’ve not already done so, I’ll wait right here.
This time around I thought that I’d let you in on my work routine; where and how I do that, what I love and what I dislike about studio life and generally how I get through a day without feeling the need to poke out my own eyes with a freshly sharpened pencil.
There is also a poorly articulated attempt to point out the importance of that fickle thing called luck and why we don’t always recognise it when it comes calling.
I’m blessed to have a space that is solely dedicated to my creative time and endeavours. It might sound crazy and a little over the top but my studio really is a sanctuary of sorts.
It’s a wooden out building, located within the small confines of our garden. A 12 foot x 6 foot structure with windows across its length. It’s insulated, plaster boarded throughout and painted white with more power sockets than most of the rooms in our house. It’s also networked to the web and has recently acquired an Amazon Echo. Well, we all need someone to talk to.
I’ve not always had this space though. And for many years I thought that it was something that would forever remain unobtainable. It was mid 2014 and we had just been burgled for the second time.
The area that we’d lived in for almost 20 years had become, shall we say, less than desirable. Which was a shame because when I first bought that house the area had so much potential. Sadly, it didn’t live up to that.
After the first burglary a few years before, we tried to sell up and move, but absolutely nothing went right and for various reasons the sale never went ahead. So we hunkered down and got on with our lives and tried to ignore the world outside our door that was quickly becoming more of a no go zone.
Look, It’s wasn’t as bad as I’m making it out to be, probably, but with the passing of time and the advantage of hindsight, that’s how I think about it more and more. Which is a pity because the house was really lovely.
When the second burglary happened, we’d really had enough. So I worked on the old house to bring it up to scratch and within a couple of months we were ready to put it on the market. Fortunately, this time, the gods of mount Pickfords were smiling down on us and everything fell into place perfectly. The house sold the first day of being on the market and for the asking price. Which was amazing, all things considered, however we now had to find a new home, somewhat sharpish.
Prior to the sale we had been looking online for the perfect property, as you do. For perfect read ‘within budget and well away from the old area’. Those two things being the only real criteria we had. Well, there was one other thing. I did secretly yearn for a space of my own, somewhere I could paint. But I knew, realistically, that this probably wouldn’t happen. Not on our budget. We’d been searching online for a couple of months before the sale but nothing had caught our eye so, the day after accepting the offer, we took a drive, with no particular destination in mind, to see if we could just ‘spot’ anywhere that we had missed.
Well, we drove. And we drove some more. We even got lost, ending up in a lovely little Edwardian cul-de-sact. There were about 30 houses in all. Some terraced, some semi’s and a couple of detached. And it was so quiet and private. The one thing it did lack was any houses for sale. At least, there were no boards flagging up availability. So we drove on and eventually got back home feeling despondent and a little bit panicky. As luck would have it though, that night our continued trawl of the property sites uncovered a small but perfectly formed semi-detached house which seemed to be quite promising. Mostly because it fit our two main criteria of being within budget and being elsewhere.
Apparently this house had been up for sale for months but somehow we had managed to completely overlook it. So the next day we got back in the car and took another drive, this time to find the place we had seen on line. Our route took us back to the same cul-de-sac that we had stumbled onto the day before. The house was located right there, about a third of the way in but with no for sale sign. We contacted the agent, viewed the house that morning and made an offer by lunchtime.
The rest, as they say, is history.
By the beginning of December we were in.
In the old house, on the rare occasion that I could really be creative it was either from the confines of one of the small rooms in our equally small terraced home or from an old, 6’x3’ garden shed that I’d use whenever the weather would allow. It wasn’t bad, a bit draughty sometimes and it leaked a bit when the wind blew the rain in the wrong direction. Although it was just a bit on the small side, it did serve its purpose, I suppose.
One of my major achievements was to build a screen print bed in there. But there wasn’t a lot of room for much else and the odds of getting somewhere bigger were, well, on the slim side. So I filed the dream of having a proper studio away in the back of my mind, under the ‘one day’ category.
The garden of our new home, while still not measurable by acreage, was mainly lawn with two brick out buildings at the far end. It was literally a blank canvas and I realised that I now had the space to at least consider a much larger, much more suitable, creative space. A little landscaping needed to be done to accommodate it but, within two months of the move I had selected a suitable self build structure.
In the catalogue, it was humbly labelled as a summer house, however I had a vision and within a few weeks it was delivered and erected in the space that I had prepared on one side of the garden. A Pitched roof, full length windows all along one side and more than enough room. Once it had been built I set to work meticulously planning the internal layout. I installed electricity, plasterboarded and painted the inside, lay some flooring, built an easel, put in a work bench, a desk and shelving, set up a data connection and many, many other ‘essential’ home comforts. The studio is divided into two zones, one for painting with everything to hand and ready for action and a clean space for what I like to call ‘admin’, which really means for when I’m playing about on my MacBook in between falling down YouTube rabbit holes. There’s heating for the winter months and plenty of electrical lighting for when the sun is a bit low on the horizon. It does get a bit hot in the hight of summer, so having the window side pointed directly towards the sun was probably not my finest decision but I’m not going to complain too much.
People will tell you that it isn’t important what size space you have to be creative in, however the demon I have sitting on one of my shoulders would give a reply to that which isn’t repeatable. Of course, in reality, and after telling my demon to shut the *bleeb* up, I would whole heartedly agree with that initial sentiment. Make art where ever and when ever you can and to plan your time and available space accordingly. You use the resources that you have.
Looking for the most perfect space is like looking for the perfect paper stock or the perfect shade of green or buying that book that everyone else is reading because that will make you a better artist.
That is all just crap. The thing that will make you a better artist is TO MAKE ART.
That and possibly a little bit of luck.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve had my fair share of luck over the last few years.
Things happened that I won’t go into here but, looking back, these events when strung together, can only be described as a run of good luck. Taken individually they are only separate, unrelated incidents. And although some were weeks or months apart from each other, and appeared at the time to be unlinked, no single event would have come about without the one that preceded it.
That day when we were burgled for a second time? That was luck. Ok, it was bad luck but we were able to turn that around and make it an opportunity. It set wheels in motion which allowed us to move to a much nicer home, which meant that I was able to build my studio, which meant that I could begin to paint on a regular basis, which meant that when I was presented with the chance to leave my day job that I could take it.
Luck or chance or fate, define it in whatever way you are comfortable with, but it all starts with a moment, wether you recognise it, wether you build on that moment and continue it’s motion in the best direction, that’s all on you. You are the only one who can make those choices. And I’ll confess that I didn’t recognise this at the time. I definitely didn’t recognise any of this on the day I got home to find that our backdoor had been kicked in and the cats hiding under the bed. But I did realise that this was the moment to start to make changes. Hindsight really is 20/20 and I can now see how each of those moments lead to the next and how they all connected to make a bigger and ever expanding picture.
So these days I try to be ready for it. Ready for when luck strikes, be it good or bad. I try to be ready to turn those brief points in time into new possibilities. Like being able to have my own studio. And oh boy, if you are presented with an opportunity to upgrade your space, take it, don’t think twice, don’t dither about, just do it. It will not necessarily make you a better artist, again that’s all on you, but it may serve to give you a new perspective on your work. Failing that it’ll be somewhere to put your feet up, gather your thoughts and make plans for world domination.
Or something like that.
Since the day job came to an end last August, I’ve painted as often as I’ve been able. I do have other commitments and I have done a lot to the house over these past 11 months but I certainly try to paint at least 3 or 4 days out of 7. It’s so nice to have everything set out and to hand, ready to crack on at a moments notice. Most of the time I need to work in silence. No audible distractions until the point when it all starts to come together. I’m easily distracted, as I mentioned last episode, so I need a calm and ordered environment to help me concentrate. But when the time is right, I’ll ask Alexa to put on some classic tunes, play an audio book or start ploughing through my huge list of podcasts. Sometimes I’ll hit a barrier and things start to go wrong. At which point I’ll stop. You can’t push through that as a rule. A change of scenery is required. So I lock up the studio and head back to the house or go for a walk.
I’ve almost exclusively used oil paint. It’s such a fantastic medium. It has a luscious quality to it and is really forgiving if you cock up. But it does have drawbacks, those of you who use oil paint will know what I mean. And the drying time is a big drag. To go somewhat towards solving these problems, I’m trying to paint with acrylics for the first time in about 30 years.
A while back I saw a documentary in which David Hockney talked about his series of 82 portraits that he completed between 2013 and 2016. In it, David mentioned that he had begun to use a type of acrylic paint from Golden. These were their ‘open acrylics’ series and they boosted of a longer drying time than standard acrylic paint, which dries within moments of putting the colour down. I figured that these would allow for bit more flexibility and if they were endorsed by David Hockney then how bad could they be? So, on David’s advice, I’m trying those out myself.
They are tricky, especially when you’re use’d to oils and expect them to behave in the same way, because they don’t, clearly this is a different medium so you shouldn’t expect any similarity. They mix differently, the pigments are different, some are more translucent etc but, saying that, I think I’m getting used to them and their slight eccentricities. And I’m using these now as I develop a method of making some slightly more abstract pieces. My landscapes, as they have developed over the last few months, seem less about depicting a place and more often about capturing the essence of a place, if that makes any sense? Concentrating on shapes and forms rather than creating an accurate reproduction. If this direction continues I can see a time when the abstract takes over completely.
When abstracts are done well they can be amazing and I harbour a secret desire to be able to pull of completely abstract work. There are so many great examples of abstract art on my Instagram feed and on line in general, but at the moment I personally find making all out abstract work to be difficult. I think I still need a degree of structure and definition in my mind when I paint even If I end up not sticking to that.
Despite being termed abstract art, there are still rules that need to be followed. It’s a discipline all it’s own. Abstract does not equate to random. But the more I paint the looser my technique becomes. Work from last August bares little resemblance to the work I produce now, a year later. In fact I’m sure that this will still ring true when I compare next years work to this years. And that development is something that I find very exciting.
On the last episode I talked about my love of graphic design and about my time spent dabbling with screen printing. Two creative avenues that I’m still passionate about and which makes the fact that I seem to have stumbled into painting landscapes quite incredible. That’s a sentence I never thought I’d say but this new direction is something which I blame entirely on Sky’s landscape artist of the year. I’m sure many of you have seen this, and if you haven’t where the heck have you been because It’s a very addictive and motivating watch.
As well as the actual painting work I also spend time in my studio engrossed in digital endeavours, from tinkering with WordPress to editing photographs of work to include on my web site and for listing on my various social media outlets.
Oh, and recording these podcast episodes too. There is often a bit of gratuitous design work blended into my day because, well, why not.
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You can find me on the web at mickstatham.com, on instagram and facebook at MichaelStathamArt and on twitter at mikestathamart.
I’m Michael Statham and you’ve been listening to The studiOH! Podcast.