The Perfect studio
Since January I have been painting and drawing in my apartment with a very humble setup. This made since at the time, the main goal was to set to task as quickly and as easily as possible. Nothing kills work like a long and arduous setup time. Time and again I have seen great artists always have materials quickly at hand in studio or on location. Either to capture a fleeting landscape scene in a moving car or aboard a plane, or a fleeting moment of inspiration with a well prepared and easily accessible studio.
Side note here, while searching for a good post about Chuck Close’s studio I happened upon this great post by Brain Picking’s where Close talks about the excuse for the perfect studio.
I was never one of those people who had to have a perfect situation to paint in. I can make art anywhere, anytime — it doesn’t matter. I mean, I know so many artists for whom having the perfect space is somehow essential. They spend years designing, building, outfitting the perfect space, and then when it is just about time to get to work they’ll sell that place and build another one. It seems more often than not a way to keep from having to work. But I could paint anywhere. I made big paintings in the tiniest bedrooms, garages, you name it. you know, once I have my back to the room, I could be anywhere.Chuck Close
I would do well to head the words of this master artist and strive to be ready anytime and anywhere to capture inspiration with minimal setup and lack of “perfect” conditions. I do recall one very inspiring day where I ended up painting in my own kitchen, the conditions were far from perfect but still the painting turned out great, although as I recall, I found the process to be more enjoyable.
As I write this post I made a note in my daily ledger to begin my next project of having a sketchbook with me at all times and ready to sketch in any situation. I think I will swap my ledger for a sketchbook of the same size and make it a constant companion equipped with drawing tools.
So, to get back to my original thought. I needed a better home studio, one that could be compact, always ready, portable, and held all the supplies I needed with good lighting conditions. I dared to dream and I think I have come up with my perfect compact home studio.
I have made a lot of notes on the idea of this transformer like studio with the possibilities of almost any situation. But to be brief I can sum up the idea as a movable taboret with adjustable glare free lighting a detachable easel, a larger working space with a glass palette and plenty of storage.
If you have shopped online for taborets you will know how crazy expensive they are. And everyone that I have seen would not match my particular needs. So I had only one choice left… I must build it myself.
Stage one: The Dresser
I started my search for the perfect taboret base at IKEA. After figuring out the approximate height that I would need the base to be, including the later addition of wheels, I chose a dresser called HOPEN. Not only was the design nice and simple but the addition of frosted glass fronts on the drawers was very stylish, and the price was great. I must say that the IKEA website is far superior to most furniture websites, too many other websites lack specific information as in exact measurements. Thanks to IKEA I knew this piece would work perfectly for my needs before I made the hour long drive to the store.
Fueled by inspiration I didn’t waste time in traveling to IKEA to pick up the base of my taboret. While on the way I even took the time to stop at a parking lot and do a landscape painting.
Like all of the IKEA furniture that I have assembled this one was simple and easy with as minimal hardware as possible. That being said, this was the most complex assembly of IKEA furniture that I have done yet, most of our previous purchases were simpler items.
The next day I took a trip to my local Loews for all the supplies I would need to turn this normal chest of drawers into the perfect taboret.
- Two panels of wood cut to size, one for the base, and one for the back.
- Four wheels at 4 inches in height.
- Hardware to attach the base and back to the chest.
- Hardware to attach the wheels.
- 1″x2″x8′ wood boards for lighting rig.
- A saw to cut the wood. ( a humble replacement for the wood working shop I once had )
The next few photos are of the additions added to the chest of drawers, you will notice that I tend to over engineer things a bit and opted to attach everything with bolts rather than wood screws. I figured there was going to be a lot of stress on these joints as it is of considerable weight and I will be moving it frequently.
I had the half inch plywood cut to size at Loews, much easier than using a hand saw. In this photo I am attaching the wheels to the base piece after previously measuring their location.
A picture of some of the supplies that I gathered.
Detail of one wheel bolted to the board.
After attaching the wheels to the base plywood I set the chest of drawers (without the drawers) on top of the base so I could prepare for attaching the chest to its base with bolts and “L” brackets.
I was accurate as possible in my measurements, I learned years ago to measure multiple times before committing to any cut or drill.
The wheels I chose are 3 inch casters that are about 4 inches in height. The thick carpet in this apartment makes rolling the chest very difficult even with these large wheels. The front casters have locks on them, but currently the carpet and weight of the chest keeps it in one place easily. All four casters swivel so that it can maneuver into almost any orientation. Unfortunately, I have found that due to the weight of a full chest and the thickness of the carpet that it is hard to get the chest to start moving because the wheels have to swivel into position first, then roll. This initial swivel makes it very difficult for to start moving but I corrected it by adding some handles low on the sides of the chest ( see later images ). I believe that if this was put on a more flat surface that it would move very easily.
More images of hardware and how the base is being attached to the dresser. I had to be careful not to have the bolts stick out too far inside the chest as it would impair the sliding of the drawers.
Detail of one of the six “L” brackets attached inside.
Outside detail view of the bolt attached to the “L” backet inside the dresser.
I used a total of 12 “L” brackets with two bolts each. Six for the base and 6 for the back. As you can see here there base sticks out from the back about two inches. This was a previous oversight on my part but it proved to be very helpful in the end.
I attached a new plywood back to the chest because the original backing was a very thin pieces of masonite nailed to the chest. That would not have held up to what I plan to attach to the back of the chest, nor would it have done well under the stress of rolling the chest around the apartment.
The Lighting Rig
The main idea of the lighting rig is to allow me to pull my lighting along with my portable taboret. My first idea was to get a bendable standing light that would hold a single Compact Florescent Light bulb but I couldn’t find a lamp that would fit my needs correctly, and I was also worried about a single compact bulb only lighting some of my canvas or paper. I wanted to end up with a consistent light over my substrate and palette with reduced or no glare.
My solution was to build a lighting rig that would suspend a light above the taboret. It would need to allow for the light to move forward and back as well as up and down to take advantage of higher ceilings in later places that I’m sure to move to.
This is the rig after completion. I used the more expensive 1″x 2″ wood a Loews because it was straighter with little to no knots. For supporting the Joints I used “L” brackets and screws plus four triangle pieces cut out of the original backing for the chest of drawers, its a fairly thin Masonite. I made sure to use glue with every connection here and let it dry for at least an hour.
These are the horizontal pieces that will eventually be above my head and attached to the light. I just used an “L” bracket on each side, but I only attached it with screws to the horizontal pieces so that the horizontals would slide easily forwards and back.
Here is a better shot of how the “L” brackets were attached to the horizontals but not the rig itself.
I didn’t want to attach the rig directly to the taboret because it will eventually need to slide up to extend as high as possible depending on ceiling space. Unfortunately the ceilings in this apartment are a little less than eight feet. You can see here that the base of the taboret sticks out about an inch, this is essential as this is where the verticals from the lighting rig will rest as well as the easel that is going to be added later.
Here is the full lighting rig attached to the taboret, complete with light. I must say a few things about lighting.
Lighting for Artists
I did a lot of research on what is the best lights to get for a studio. There is so much information out there and most of it never matched my needs perfectly, but it all comes down to the correct bulbs. Here is what I have found to be the best and least expensive.
If you work very small and don’t care too much about uneven light over your canvas and palette than go with a Compact Florescent Bulb. If you work larger and even light over canvas and palette is essential than you will need to do like I have done and go with Florescent Tubes. Originally I wanted to go smaller than 4 foot tubes but price goes up the smaller they get and there are not may options at smaller sizes either. Now the most essential thing is you MUST get bulbs that produce a color of light between 5000 and 6000 kelvin (this is the same color as north light). The bulbs I purchases are Phillips, 5000 Kelvin, 4 foot, T8, Florescent tubes. And they are housed inside a very inexpensive plug in shop light. You can go with 6500 Kelvin bulbs but I found that color to be much too blue.
The best thing about the florescent tubes is that they will cast a larger more even light over your work space and if you get the correct color (5000 kelvin at least) it will be just like working from north light. Actually the window behind my taboret in this post faces north and when I compare the light coming from the window to the light from my 5000 kelvin florescent tubes, it is almost exactly the same. The light from the window is much brighter of course, and is very slightly more blue.
Close up of the shop light attached to the horizontal brace and the “L” bracket allowing it to be easily slid forwards and backwards.
The only problem with this shop light is that the cord is very short…
Picture of paintings taken while illuminated by my new setup. Here there is a lot less glare on my canvas and the colors are exactly the same as if viewed from north light. Keep in mind these were taken with my iPhone 5 without a tripod.
I purchased an Italian made metal tripod easel that was recommended by Marc Dalessio for plain air painting for tall persons that want to do site-size in plain air. I had several necessities for choosing this easel for the taboret. First I wanted it to be easily detachable so I could use the easel for any other situation. Secondly it needed to be adjustable in height as well as in tilt. The Italian metal easel achieved all of this. The greatest thing about this is that the easel cost me only about $50 plus shipping from Madison Art Shop.
Side note, I looked at other easels locally that were of similar construction, and I would suggest NOT to go with them, they are sub par in many ways. You want to get the one by Richeson, trust me.
Attaching the easel is pretty simple. All I have is a horizontal piece of plywood screwed across the back of the taboret with about 1 inch of space between it and the back of the taboret. I have a Velcro strap attached to the top center of the taboret, that wraps around the center leg of the easel, and a metal loop below (its hard to see in the next picture) that the center leg will also pass through.
After working with this setup for several weeks now I can safely say that its very sturdy and easily adjustable. You can even see from this post that I was able to start a drawing that was almost 5 feet wide and 3 feet tall.
The humble light box
I needed a very cheap and tall light box that was easily adjustable. The solution was “Wire cube shelving system” at target. It was very cheap and would take on lots of configurations for storage and light boxes. What is really great about this is that you can easily attach a light to it from almost any angle and shine light through the wires, much better than a box with holes. Plus I use the rest of the shelves to hold extra still life items, books, supplies, and anything.
This image shows my still life all lit up with a very cheap sheet from target also. I later replaced that light bulb with a CFL at 5000 Kelvin.
I figured I would give a total of all the supplied to make my setup happen.
- IKEA Chest: $100
- Wood for base and back of Chest: $36
- Hardware: $5 + $5 + $6 + $5 + $16 + $23
- Wire cubes, Target: $25
- Sheet, Target: $10
- Chest handles: $8
- Light rig wood: $4 + $12
- CFL bulb: $6
- Florescent Tubes, Home Depot: $10
- Shop Light, Home Depot: $20
- Wheels: $25
- Saw: $11
- Easel: $60
Total = $387
That is not an exact total I would guess that the grand total is right at 400. But still this is much cheaper than and all in one store bought item like this one.