I don't really want to talk about my current studio workspace operation here. Suffice to say I have a teeny studio I made for myself downstairs in my daylight basement, and a giant workshop I have access to.
No, I'm more interested in relating my early days as an aspiring artist. I want to talk about the will to use what you have when you have very little, and how that can make you a more versatile artist and stronger person in the long run.
Like many kids with an interest in drawing, painting, and making stuff, there was no "studio" at first. Maybe rich parents can indulge their pampered children with an art studio where they can make a mess and tease out their inner Picasso, but I hazard most of us make due with a table and a chair in our bedroom, or kitchen, or garage, or wherever. So it was for me. My first actual dedicated place to work on my little projects--my drawings, paintings, plastic models, and so forth--was a slab of plywood I scrounged from some construction site that sat on the carpet of my bedroom. I was around 10 years old, and it was the first time I actually had a room I didn't have to share with my younger brother. The slab was maybe three feet square. An old gooseneck lamp with a feeble 25 watt bulb was my light source. I sat cross-legged or worked on my knees, stooped over. I worked on my stuff mostly at night because I was either at school or outdoors constantly when the sun was shining, which it did a lot in Southern California.
When I moved out on my own I bounced around, six months here, nine months there. I was fortunate to border with an older artist for several months when I first moved out. He had his own home and studio that I was welcome to use. But when I was asked to leave my artistic pursuits suffered as I moved around. No place to do work, pesky roommates, never wanting to be home. I did do a little sporadic work in those first years, but nothing much. Eventually however, I got my own one bedroom apartment when I was 19 or 20. It was in Anaheim, perhaps a mile from the original Disneyland. The rent was maybe $250 a month. There was a carport for my series of shitty cars. There were banana trees in the courtyard and skinny iron railings on the landings and walkways. There was one washer and one dryer that almost never worked in a downstairs utility room. I lived just around the corner from the main drag of Harbor Boulevard where the car traffic was thick and prostitutes plied their trade day and night. The walls and floors were paper thin, so you could hear actual conversations at times from the neighbors on both sides and below. Or arguments. Or couples fucking. Or someone singing drunkenly along to the Eagles. You get the picture. I think the euphemism would be "working class."
But it was my own place. No roommates around to eat my food and drink my booze, not pay their share of the bills on time, bring home strange people at all hours. It was great. Except for the noise. I've for a long time been hypersensitive to certain kinds of noise.
At any rate this was also where my first true studio was housed. I think "true studio" for me means a place that is totally given over to the making of art. Even if it's tiny. Even if it's in some shack with no electricity and candles for light. It's your place; it's the place that sees the conception, birth, and completion of your art. It's actually a sacred place, no matter how humble.
My studio was in the breakfast nook beside the kitchen and "living room." It was maybe eight feet by ten. I had thrown a painter's tarp down to protect the already-soiled carpet. In that area I had an easel (given to me as a Christmas present from my employer at the frame shop I worked at during the day) and a drafting table that my Dad had given me. I had a little cabinet for paints and supplies and a couple of containers for brushes. That was it. Oh, except for the rough asphalt alleyway behind the apartment where I would do messy things, afterward sluicing off the paint or what-have-you I had left behind with a garden hose. I lived in that place for eight years. I painted a lot of paintings there, some as large as 6 feet tall. In fact, I painted a series of intensely laborious artworks on masonite that were of that scale in that humble awkward setting. I'd work all day at the frame shop, come home and paint. I had a stereo and records and a little black and white TV. On the weekends I might party, either locally, or more frequently, up in LA. Sometimes I would bring girls back to my place. Sometimes I would stay home and be lonely. I was mostly single in those days.
It took a long time to finish some of those works. Months and months. They would sit there on the easel, unfinished, antagonizing me with their un-completeness. If I didn't work on them I'd beat myself up about it. I was dedicated to making art. I was on a mission.
So, I guess if it was me who was to hear you declare: "I'd love to make work, but I just don't have the right environment, enough space, enough money," whatever you think is keeping you from it--I guess I'd be calling bullshit on you. I guess I'd be saying you don't want it enough. If you have the will and the need and the urgency to make art, you will do it in the fucking rain under a tree. You will not let anything stop you, save tragedy. You will find a way. It might take you a while, you may not create a lot, but you will do it.
Would I have loved to have been one of those fortunate souls supplied with money and a well-lit artsy loft with all the amenities to enable me to launch my artistic dabblings to the world, provided for by some understanding saint who could support my little hobby? Maybe. Hard to say for certain. But I think what I do would be different, and not necessarily in a good way. Struggle and making due with what I have is so integral to how I approach making art, that having had luxury and ease when I was developing might have messed me up, made me soft, made me weak, made me not as driven to kick ass. Guess I'll never know.
But, if a bag of money fell from the sky, narrowly missing my head, I'd be okay with that. I've done enough struggling. I've paid my dues a hundred times over. I've done an awful lot over the years. Stuff I can be proud of. So, being pampered at this time in my career probably would not affect my output. No. I'm hardwired to be an ambitious workaholic. So, lay it on me. I've done my time, created difficult demanding works with next to nothing by way of support or resources. I've worked like a sherpa, humping up Everest to make good work. Okay, a bit of hyperbole--but it has been a true struggle, an uphill climb the whole way.
Would I change a thing? Not on your life.