Creative Space Part II

When last we met, I had just finished going on about how wonderful it is to have an abundance of space in which to work. Having won the creative space lottery for a month via the Weir Farm Art Residency, I then had to return to the usual.

The usual at my home base right now is a medium-sized bedroom, not small, but not “master bedroom” material, either, by First World standards, at least.

Drawing Table
My drawing table set-up, with somewhat more-than-usual clutter, plus Rudie lurking in the bottom right corner.

One wall is taken up by my drawing table, with various shelves & drawers to either side. These offer extra surface alongside the table, and convenient access to supplies I use often.

Another wall features the big technology setup, a big desk for my main computer, a printer cart that handles the printer, the big 12×17” scanner, bins full of hard drives both external and internal, and some paper & such for the printer. It also has some space for my laptop to sit, as I write almost solely at the laptop, despite everything being synced via dropbox. There’s reasons for that, but I’ll leave them for another post.

The closet houses shelves where I keep the bigger canvases & pads & finished art – close by but out of the way & relatively safe. Then there’s some shelves that I always have no matter what I do that attract the worst of my clutter and would take the better part of a day to sort out properly.

Computer desk
My computer desk, complete with cat bed, clutter, and hint of the scanner & printer cart.

Each workspace has to offer some places for cats to sit, otherwise they will sit wherever I least want them to sit. And not just once cat-place, each has to offer SEVERAL places for cats to sit, otherwise cats will compete for these places and will either end up interrupting me or in some place I don’t want them to sit, or – in most instances – both.

Whoever thinks cats are aloof and unaffectionate has never met any of the cats I’ve had throughout life. I am “mama cat,” and my attentions must be pursued at most times.

The closet also features a litter box.

That’s not unlike what I had at my last place (another medium bedroom), or the place before (dining/ living area), or the place before, etc… etc…

For the most part, that’s worked well enough, with some storage somewhere for even bigger things or the larger accumulations of framed work & such.

Three cats on a computer desk.
Rudie, Rosie & Smudge all gathered on my computer desk. Possibly around dinner time.

But then I won the creative space lottery, and went away. And if I weren’t living in a place that had space to expand into, I might’ve lost my mind.

First off, I fell in love with oil painting again. And not just oil painting, but BIG oil painting, JUICY THICK oil painting.

Cats and oil painting don’t mix. The obvious problem involves fur floating around and getting stuck in something that takes forever to dry – it’s not so hard to remove from acrylics or watercolor, because those dry much faster. But there’s the problem of what can happen with wet paint that stays wet for days or weeks, on the painting, and on the palette. No matter what you do, cats find a way.

When I was at SCAD getting my MFA, I had a few projects in oils. Because the paint can stay good for a while, I was in the habit of putting out a bit too much paint & stowing my palette for future use.

Well, one day I didn’t stow it away well enough. I did not realize this until I discovered my mostly white cat looked like she’d eaten a bag of Cheetos.

Smudge plus Orange Paint (a reenactment)
I did not get a picture of Smudge and the orange paint, so here’s a Photoshop approximation. Maybe she just wanted to be an orange cat for a while. But aside from the panic, all I could think was, “she looks like she’s been eating Cheetos!”

She’d stepped in a blob of cadmium orange, tracked it around the living room, and upon realizing she had something yucky stuck to her paws, proceeded to clean herself well and good.

This resulted in a panicked call to some pet poison hotline, which amounted to them asking “is she lethargic?” and me thinking, “she’s a cat, she sleeps 22 hours a freaking day, how can you tell?” Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know there’s a difference you can tell. She was not lethargic.

This was in 2002, and the cat, whose name is Smudge by the way, is well on her way through her 18th year and heading to turn 19 in August. So clearly it takes more than ingesting a few tablespoons of cadmium orange oil paint to make Smudge lethargic or endanger her health in any meaningful way.

The picture featured here is a Photoshop construct, I did not get a picture of her at the time. I was probably out of film.  O_O

At any rate, with my renewed love of oil painting, I knew it could not happen anywhere near cats.

The first option I explored was the basement. It needed a little bit of reconfiguration and a whole lot of lighting. This was relatively easy, once I got my hands on a big easel, too.

And I did do some painting down there. A few sessions, even. It worked out ok, the lighting could have been better, but was adequate.

But the cats.

The cats were kept out of the basement long before I started doing things down there. A locked and boarded-up and cardboard-covered cat door exists between the upstairs & the downstairs. Because Rudie can’t fail.

My housemates didn’t believe me about him getting downstairs until I took this video.

When I started painting, Rudie KNEW I was downstairs. We’d already boarded up the cat door, Rudie’s determination had paid off a few times before, so he had to try. And so he scratched and meowed and scratched and meowed and scratched and meowed and OMFG, painting was not all that pleasant with that going on pretty much right above me.

I put cardboard over the boards, and that put an end to the scratching, mostly. Then Rudie, heaven forbid ANYTHING deter this freaking cat, he found the floor vent closest to where I was, and sat on it meowing and meowing and meowing and driving me crazy on a whole other level.

I like to listen to a rotation of music and audiobooks (or podcasts) while I paint, and the constant cat sound made sure that wasn’t going to happen in any measurable way. Sure, the meows weren’t *completely* constant, but it was typically a 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off sort of cycle. Just when I realized I’d had a period of peace, he’d start up again. Just when I thought I might go up and introduce him to a spray bottle, he’d pipe down. I swear, he’s got it down to a science. The cat simply cannot tolerate the idea of me doing something cool without his participation.

Luckily – VERY luckily – I had other options. In this case another building (a barn), part of which had been renovated to serve as an office… which was mostly empty as they were moving the office elsewhere. Part of this actually was my original office/studio when I got here. I moved it into the house when October set in and heating the space would prove ridiculous, and the idea of going between buildings for bathroom breaks (no functional bathroom at the barn). Also, oddly enough, I missed working with my cats.  O_O

Oil painting setup
My current painting-in-progress.

So I moved the oil painting setup, easel and lighting and all, to that space, where even if Rudie did meow all day long, I would not hear it.

I’m lucky. Holy crap, am I lucky to have had access like this. I don’t know what I would have done without it, and, of course, it’s not going to last forever, or even more than a few more months. My friends plan to do a bunch of work and put the farm up for sale by the end of the summer, whereupon I will have to figure something else out.

Until then, I’m going to paint – and sell – as many big oil paintings as I can.

So. Creative space. And I still haven’t touched upon the Great Matting & Framing flood that happened concurrent with a lot of that.

So, more about that next time.

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