Category Archives: studio

Pruning, and What Remains

In the studio 2000

Magicgroove studio, circa 2000

Last January I posted about cleaning and reorganizing in my studio.  Turns out that was just the prelude.  I find myself eager to go much deeper, more than ready to discard, update, improve in both major and minor ways.  I’ve finally installed thermal curtains to help stave off the heat entering through the twin 60-year-old 5×6-foot windows on the southwest side.  I’ll be replacing some pieces of hand-me-down furniture with rolling wire shelving.  I’m revamping my storage options for everything from blank canvases to old project records.  

But not everything is going.  In this old photo I am sitting in a swiveling armchair, the single piece I salvaged from the original owner’s overstuffed living room set.  It’s upholstered in a blinding giant brown-and-orange plaid but is otherwise perfect for silent, slightly swingy cogitation, so I threw a sheet over it and to this day do all my most useful contemplation in it.  Also seen here and for sitting:  one of a pair of sturdy yellow linoleum chairs that had already seen their best days when the previous owner left them, but are still some of the most useful items in the studio.  And next to it a thrift-shop rolling chair that has since moved on, but the shirt over its back is still with me, now on the shoulders of a modern drafting chair.  It’s a vintage roomy twill women’s overshirt from the ’40s, a  pale brown with colored flowers block-printed on each of the two big patch pockets.  And it came with its own paint stains; clearly it had been used as a studio shirt by someone before me.  I suspect it will remain as a talisman in the studio as long as I am still working in there. 

In the far corner is a dress form that belonged to the late mother of a friend.  She did dress designing, mostly for herself, late at night when the children were asleep.  It’s the old professional kind, made of fabric and hanging from a rolling metal stand.  I do use it on the occasions when I still sew; mostly it just wears items that are meaningful to me, often those of friends who have departed. 

Somewhat difficult to see in the shadows against the back wall, barely visible between the linoleum and rolling chairs, is an open trunk that had belonged to my great-grandmother.  It had traveled with her to California from Pittsburg in the ’20s, when she came with her daughter and my father when he was still quite small.  It has her name painted on the side, and I guess I can’t get rid of it although it’s pretty beaten up and not the most practical item.  It was holding props at the time this picture was taken; it’s still holding props — “props” being a euphemism for items that fascinate me and that I think I might draw someday but mostly don’t.  

And finally there are a few paintings and drawings on the wall, including this one of which I made two versions – this was the first:

"Ocotillo No. 1" - Carraher 2000

Ocotillo No. 1
2000.  Pastel on paper, 20 x 17 in. 

 

Space

Magicgroove Studio 1999-2000 (Photo by Robert McClay)

Magicgroove Studio, circa 2000

This photo was taken at least 20 years ago by a commercial artist friend who was nearing retirement after a successful career.  The digital age was dawning, and he, trained in the old school, wanted little to do with it.  He took this photo with his analog camera and kindly gave me a print.  He wanted me to have a picture, he said, of what my studio was like when it was brand new, fresh, still empty.

His implication was plain soon enough, as the place filled up with every kind of instrument, property, and consequence of work, inspiration, and simply dreaming.  Drawers of pastels and pots of paint, bins of completed and half-completed projects, piles of failed canvases, bits of nature that have blown or rolled onto the property or simply come to the surface, a jar of BBs that makes a good weight, jugs of brushes, my  father’s homemade drafting table, racks and rolls of papers.  And all the dusty residue of precious, mere existence.

I spent the first few days of this new year shaking the place out and finding more room, organizing and condensing.  I hadn’t intended to start the year with such a cleansing, but I wanted to import a rolling cart from the house, a sturdy wooden cart that would be oh so useful but the addition of which simply ground the entire studio to a halt.  It was the proverbial straw.  I must make more space.  So a reordering was imperative.

But many of the items in this photo are still in the studio, such as the French half-easel and the cabinets inherited from a friend who just happened to be remodeling his kitchen at the time I was setting up.  And the heavy, sturdy, rustic table against which I am leaning, still the center of my activities, built inside the room by the former owner who used it to clean his guns.  Pinned to the wall are a couple pastel still-lifes I remember sketching, from arrangements that would have been set up on the old rusty stool that’s standing atop, yes, another rolling cart (still doing service, by the way).

The photographer, that day he came as the first visitor to my studio, also gave me a “housewarming” gift, a mason jar holding a colorful cloth bouquet.  It’s still here.