ARTS | THE SPACE WE WORK IN

Stuart Loughridge | 10.11
Deborah and Michael Padgett | 1.11
 
A Visit to Mr. Loughridge’s Studio | 10.11 [IMAGE]

by Stuart Loughridge

I operate a studio located at 265 West Seventh, 3rd floor up, black door, open to visitors. The space is split into two floors. I’ve been operating out of this studio, as an artist, for at least five years now. By the third year I had most of the kinks worked out, i.e., placement of tables, use of rooms, etc., and now the studio runs with a reliable and untroubled efficiency.

Running this particular studio space (every studio is adapted to the individual running it) demands of me that I be able to shift between the operations assigned to each room without procrastination, quickly. I may be framing in the morning, running the press during lunch time, and painting on a canvas into the evening hours. This type of bouncing around takes practice. The space is broken into four rooms, two upstairs and two downstairs, and within each room is an essential aspect of the studio. Let’s start upstairs, since I try to be up there as little as possible and the more interesting part of the studio is here on the lower level. So up we go.

Here atop the staircase one encounters frames, frames, and more frames, the curse of a painter’s two dimensional world. I make frames from scratch up here, ordering raw moulding in length, already cut to size. This is my workshop shop, so to speak, not a room in which I create art, but a room for building things, and building things implies an order of steps. There is a difference between the orderly crafts and the wildly creative arts, in my opinion. So up here I follow the steps. The other room behind you is obviously for storage, which every studio needs. Many large crates for shipping artwork, large frames and blank canvas that await their turn. Downstairs now. . .

[IMAGE]The room one initially enters is the gallery and “print-making room,” and this is where we are now. This is what people see when they first walk in. The ceiling is about ten feet high (a high ceiling is important in any studio), the floor about 15 ft. wide by 18 ft. long. Tables and drawers are mainly what you see for furniture accessories. Now each table is a workstation, and the workstations are pretty well organized, so that when I’ve an assistant on hand each of us can work without intruding on each other’s space. The important thing in a printmaking studio is plenty of table space and distinct workstations. The heavy press sits permanently on one of the sturdy table tops. Other tables offer space to develop the copper plates with the use of acid, cut reams of paper, and also paper storage.

Onward to the main room, the headquarters of my career, bathed to the far corner in heavenly natural light. This is the spacious “painting room.” It breathes fresh on a cool summer’s day. One can dance in here. It can be a music room or a model co-op room. If I stand in the far corner of the room, close to the windows, and look at my large painting across in the opposite corner, there on the easel, I have a healthy distance of about 15 feet. If I need more distance between me and my canvas, I use a large mirror (no it’s not to gaze at myself). I stand just off to the side of it and look at my painting reflected in reverse, but with double the distance. It’s quite effective, almost like having someone else look at your work. In his “Notebooks,” Leonardo da Vinci talks about the use of mirrors.

All the furniture in here — the three large tables and two small tables, a large easel and two chairs — is on wheels. The center of the room can be cleared out in a jiffy. It’s much easier this way to adjust to model sittings or still life set-ups.

The prominent aspect of this room is the natural light under which I can paint during daylight hours, as long as no dark thundercloud looms over West Seventh. If there is a dense dark cloud over West Seventh or the light of day has faded into the dim of evening, I can flip this switch and the floodlights illuminate the table tops and easel, and I can keep right on working until dawn. I mentioned that these windows face north-northeast. I chose this studio for that reason. I paint under natural light, and so I prefer the natural light to be consistent rather than southern facing windows in which the sun’s beam travels through the room, like a slow moving beacon, over the course of the day’s hours. This would not be good for painting a still life, or for a portrait sitting or a landscape painting. In the winter it gets pretty dark and dreary in here, like a cave. But then spring comes, and all is well.
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Up on the wall, beside the easel, are taped many small watercolor studies, nearly all of them landscapes, most about 7x9 inches, each painted while I was on some sort of travel. This is my wall of ideas, fresh from life. I also have a shelf of ideas, hundreds of them, over there hidden behind the mirror. It’s important to know that these little watercolor studies are done directly from life. Painting landscapes (which is my primary subject matter) in the studio is not painting from life, but a blend of memory, imagination and studies from nature. It would be all too easy for me to slip into unwanted mannerisms if I didn’t have these little nature studies up on the wall, reminding me of the fleeting atmosphere and colors I struggled to achieve or the strange and unpredictable formations in clouds and twists in trees. Studio life is full of mannerisms, and I try to keep them, as much as I can, in check.

From these little nature studies I can develop larger oil paintings here in the comforts of the studio. And here we are, in full circle. I paint little studies from life, I bring them back into the well-organized studio to be enlarged onto a canvas, or I might make a print of it. Upstairs I’ll build a frame for the artwork so it is a presentable piece of art, ready to sell, to you, Dear Viewer.

Editor’s note: We want to offer all working people a chance to do a profile of themselves and their work and to do so through the lens of the spaces they work in. Workshops, ateliers, offices, retail spaces, garages, studios or the great outdoors can be the venue through which you do your work. Tell us about that work; about what kind of an environment you have created in which to do it; about the aspects that work well and those that don’t work so well. Contact Jerry Rothstein, Editor, at 651-587-8859 or editor@communityreporter.org.

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Deborah and Michael Padgett | 1.11 [IMAGE]

by Jerry Rothstein

Often artists talk of needing a particular environment, a particular vibe, a physical and atmospheric “zone” where they can go to be their best creative selves.

Michael and Deborah Padgett have lived on St. Paul’s West End for several decades and have been active artists pretty much all of their adult lives. Their living space and work spaces flow together in a fairly seamless way and are in constant evolution as they grow through everyday life changes.

As young, thirty-something artists, Michael and Deborah sought an economical, geographically suitable space that could house them, their children, guests and both Michael’s ceramic endeavors and Deborah’s love of writing, drawing, painting and gourmet cooking. No easy task. Both worked outside the home and studio at money-earning careers, Michael as a professor of art, Deborah as a businesswoman. In those early days the actual making of art took a back seat to the demands of raising a family and making a living. Their choice was to divide the house into distinct studio and living areas, using the first floor of their 1886 home as studio space and the upper two floors for day-to-day living.

[IMAGE]“Our 1880s home was purchased at a reasonable price, and while needing a good deal of improvement and located, at the time, in a less than ideal but improving neighborhood, it did offer a good amount of space, and an excellent location for making and marketing work in the Twin Cities. The improvements were tackled over many years, taking advantage of several programs offered by the City of St. Paul; however, our artistic production was in gear within a few months of purchase and construction seemed to parallel and work around the creative work.”

While the house was old and actually has some historic merit, the inside lacked any of the truly fine woodwork or decorative elements found in the more stately homes of the period. Since there wasn’t a huge necessity for historic preservation they simply gutted the second floor and set up a kitchen and living space from several small, awkward spaces. Since the third floor was unfinished and not insulated, it offered a blank palette to create a master bedroom loft. One of the features that attracted them to the space is the brownstone-like staircase from the first to the third floor. Setting up the living space on the second floor with a bedroom on the third provided an ideal and logical separation between studio and living space.

Many artists are forced to combine the making of art with everyday living, but this can be a problem with all the mud and dust of clay work. So, for many years they simply closed off the downstairs and retreated to the living space in the evenings. In 2004, they realized a dream and built a two-story studio, reminiscent of the Norwegian Red Barn studios and designed by neighbor and friend John Yust. The studio provides the ideal arrangement for clay and painting production and allowed the old ground floor studio to be converted into gallery space, a guest bedroom, a second bath and a study for Deborah’s writing.

“Even back when we first bought the property the idea of creating a gallery on the first floor was on our minds. We’ve always enjoyed collecting other artists’ work and find their work inspirational to our work. We enjoy seeing studio spaces of other artists and how the work and space interact.” There’s a busy and productive gallery scene, along with exceptional grant, exhibiting and nonprofit artists organizations in the area that provide a strong community of artists and supporters of the arts. Watching the City of St. Paul develop the artists’ spaces in Lowertown, along University Avenue as well as those in Minneapolis, provides an artistic atmosphere unique to few cities in our country. This has been a particular joy of living and working in St. Paul for the Padgetts.
Michael said, “As I grow older I find the convenience of the city, not to mention the close ten steps to the studio, offers me the easy transition I need to take advantage of the studio space. I know of some wonderful studios in the country in converted barns, places for large gardens and scenic views that are wonderful. But for me, time is the battle and not having to deal with managing a large space allows me the convenience of keeping my environment in the order I need to be creative.”

Space for creative work is a very personal element. Life and work can definitely be impacted when the environment and its ambiance do not complement the creative need. “For me, it’s necessary to more or less ‘set the scene’ that allows for uninterrupted space and time. I work best with a certain warmth of lighting, the right music and sensuous materials in addition to the physical space serving the purpose of my work.” said Deborah.

“Each particular area in our home and studio, even the back yard, provides its own unique ‘vibe.’ Whether we’re in the mood to soak up a good book, throw a pot, draw a lily, take a yoga pose or sit by the fire and sing camp songs, our little space in the heart of the city offers the ideal environment."



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