Work practices

Ready to work?

Ready to work?

I'm trying to be better about making more art more regularly. Going to my a weekly drawing session will help. But I also want to create a body of work to show at some point. Lately my progress has been slow. The holidays consumed lots of time with travel and family. Work and commuting eat up most of my week. When the weekend arrives I have to try to squeeze in chores, quality time with my wife, painting, exercise, writing, cooking, and maybe a little fun.

I am failing at finding the balance.

Space

Before the holidays, I had my workspace set up continually so that I could, in theory start to work with little set up time. My workspace is also the spare bedroom and the holidays brought guests who cannot sleep under my work table.

My workspace is a small two by four foot folding table, placed on a water resistant drop cloth. The table is just big enough to spread out my paints with a palette, reference material, and two ex-yogurt containers for cleaning brushes. It's tight and precise but it works. It's also somewhat portable; I can easily (carefully) move the table around the room or the apartment.

My palette is a sheet of scrap window glass with the edges taped up. If you go a hardware store which sells replacement window panes, ask if they sell scrap glass. In my case I found a 12" by 18" sheet of glass for about $2.

I store my paints and brushes in an old toolbox my father found at my Grandmother's house. It's older than me. I used it in art school years ago to hold drawing supplies. When I got organized again after moving to Tacoma, I emptied it out, vacuumed the interior, and now it's my paint box.

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If I am good, and keep my workspace up, I can jump into a painting pretty quickly.

Shortcuts

I paint small these days. Partly for space concerns, and partly because I prefer the intimacy of a small painting. You have to get close to see it.

Since I'm working small I can take advantage of an old trick to get a sketch onto my painting surface without too much hassle.

Trace or copy your sketch onto standard white printer paper. Tape the sketch to a window with the drawing against the glass. Using a dark, soft pencil, scribble on the back of the sketch. You will be able to see your sketch through the paper and focus your effort on your lines.

Now remove the sketch from the window and tape it face up on your canvas or painting surface. Retrace the drawing with a sharp pencil. The pencil on the back of the paper will transfer to the canvas. Remove the drawing and you will have a light line drawing on your canvas Touch it up if you need. I will often seal the sketch behind a thin layer of clear acrylic medium, spread on with a palette knife. This prevents the drawing from rubbing off or getting washed away with wet paint.

Time

I am fortunate to be gainfully employed, but my work can be demanding and requires that I commute to Seattle from Tacoma by train. This eats time.

Time seems to be the thing I can't work around or hack. I can't easily paint on the train. I can't work less. Commuting turns an 8 hour day into an 11 hour day. Where to find the time? How to make the time?

I often daydream about finding some kind of remote job. Terrible for my long term career but I'd sure have a lot more time to paint.

Michael Barrett

Tacoma, WA 98402