An Artist’s Way of Working

Since I spend a lot of time thinking about Visual Voice + Studio Habits I naturally also begin to wonder about an artist’s way of working, specifically tables.

Let me start by acknowledging that there are very likely as many ways to work as there are artists in the world. The purpose of this post is not to expound upon ALL the possible ways of working!

I do want to take a look at work tables.

In my mind, there are 3 types of tables that are non-negotiable, then another list of tables that “come in handy” in an artists work space.

First, the top 3

  1. Digital
  2. Analogue
  3. Research

Let’s take a look at these tables in more detail. First the digital table.

Let’s face it, today’s artists spend time on a computer. A lot of us spend as much as 50% of our time on administrative stuff, most of which is work done digitally. There is also digitally made art, digital art records, and more. A dedicated digital desk is paramount to success. Below is a screen shot of my screen creating this post!

What I find interesting about this table is that the work can be done almost anywhere, sometimes without even having a physical table. I have been known to write a months worth of Social Media postings while sitting on a comfortable living room chair.

Some artists may prefer bringing their laptop to a local cafe. As I mentioned already, there are as many ways to work as there are artists. What we know is that a digital desk is essential.

Second, we have the analogue table.

For me, an analogue table is non-negotiable. I need a place to gather ideas through drawing and to mess around with my preferred supplies. My analogue desk is a huge 8 x 3 foot standing work table. I’d be lost without it!

©2019, Suzanne Gibbs at analogue art table.

I love to work with collage on paper. My art includes painting, drawing, and of course, use glue! The eight foot table is just barely enough space to accommodate my method of production and art process because I almost never work on just one piece of work at a time.

A second version of an analogue desk that I use frequently is a table at a cafe or restaurant with either my sketchbook or my journal at hand.

I love to draw in public. And yes, even though I love to draw in public I get stage fright every time. However, to show up in public to draw keeps my drawing skills sharp and allows others to see me working. As an artist who lives and works alone most days, these drawing field trips are an excellent extension to my studio practice. Drawing in public is something I do not do often enough because I seem to get stuck in my studio routines! Still, drawing in public is an important part of my studio habits.

An analogue desk with a sketchbook is a great place to work.

Then, there are my journals. I write in a journal every single day! Usually, my writing happens before the sun wakes up! I keep so many notes in my journals that sometimes I simply need to sit down and sort through the pages to make sure I have not missed something that I feel needs follow through. Some of the ideas need the trash bin, but I leave the work to linger in the journal anyway.

Being away from the studio or my digital desk allows new perspective on my previously written thoughts. Also, I can of course, write out more ideas and sort through things that are not working in life, or in the studio. Therefore, I build into my schedule a once a quarter analogue review session of my journal pages. A typical review session can take as many as 4 hours!

If my brain or work feels clogged, I may schedule an additional spontaneous review sessions. I can recall a few sessions where I went to a park table and sat outside to work on my creative life instead of in a cafe or restaurant. The point is always to move out of habits that are not working to shake new ideas into a workable project.

The third type of desk is the research table.

The word research desk will often conjure up a library setting. And yes, libraries are one great place to begin to do research. However, sometimes research comes in the form of field trips, conversations with others, reading books, reading magazines or newspapers, and also looking through previously made art. Any and all art practices require some research at some point, either qualitative or quantitative.

A place to conduct research is a part of a working artists practice.

I have noticed that in photos of famous artists and in the studios of the many artists I have visited, nearly all have a research desk or as seems to be more often, a research chair. This is a place where a painter, for example, sits and contemplates their work. A painter might sit and rests their eyes—blur their work into submission, looking and researching the thought, what comes next or what was the point of that move I made?

My research desk is sometimes a place to sit and look back through my old work or even newer work and let the work “talk to me.” I cannot move forward until I know what the work was made for in the first place. Since I work spontaneously and instinctively I do not always know what my work says visually.

When I take this research table work seriously, the work will often show me what I need to know to move my ideas further along.

There are so many other types of tables that are helpful in crafting the creative life. I’ll list them for you, but these other tables are not as essential as the top three listed above. The others are:

Personal table—home, kids, family and a place to eat

Finance—this table might be more of a file cabinet or a visit to an accountant or money manager

Taboret—a fancy word for paint mixing table, or a dolly type table that can be wheeled around the studio keeping supplies handy

Mailing and shipping table—an important table for artists who primarily sell work online or who need to frequently ship work to galleries or shows.

Feeds-the-fire table—I think of this as sort of like the junk drawer in the kitchen, so many artists have a messy table full of items that for one reason or another inspire their work.

I personally have a feeds-the-fire box, not a table. My box is an 8 x 7 x 3 inch box full of random toy-like objects that when all else fails, I open this treasure box and draw an item from the box or just play with the toys and then put them back and close the lid. Ooops! My private playpen is no longer private! 😉

I wonder if anyone will ask to see my special feeds-the-fire box after reading this post.

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